A global pandemic is a unique challenge we are all facing together. Kylie Hargreaves is a strongly committed IMNIS mentor in in Sydney. We invited Kylie to share her advice for PhD students and early-career researchers to help them manage and navigate this hurdle.
Stay current and connected, enhance your online presence, look after yourself.

First action is to stay in-touch with their University and supervisor. The COVID19 situation is fluid, government requirements are rapidly changing, University policies and arrangements for students will change constantly too in this environment – from early graduation to extensions, to fee holidays, to news on stipends and visas and everything in between.

Now an entrepreneur, Kylie Hargreaves was previously Deputy Secretary of Energy & Resources with the NSW Government [photo: NSW Government]

In terms of research, many PhD students/researchers will already be completing work remotely, and so continue with that as much as possible. Speak openly with supervisors or collaborators in other institutions to ensure they can continue to engage and to start working out contingency plans, particularly if data-collection or lab work is slowed (labs may be totally or partially closed), putting some research at risk. Remember supervisors and other researchers may have home-caring/home-schooling challenges. Even as students start returning to school, things could still change quickly, so communicate openly and create schedules and contingency plans.

“Employers will be relying even more heavily on your digital presence to make a judgement about you in the current pandemic – make your digital impressions good”

Some things remain the same – ensure your online presence is professional and up-to-date – check all your public-facing platforms be it LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook whatever. Current employers will be relying even more heavily on you digital presence to make a judgement about you in the current pandemic – make your digital impressions good. Reach out to companies or people you would like to work with, just as you would pre-COVID19, to suggest a virtual coffee. Important: even though you are home, stay professional and show respect for the other person (but you don’t have to wear a suit).

Again, other approaches from the pre-COVID19 world are still valid for the digital / #stayathome environment. Some interesting options include “make your own internship” – research the companies that are hiring or growing in the current situation or research organisations you admire and pitch your own internship – it could be unrelated to your qualifications, but everyone is keen on motivated volunteers at the moment! Social media, digital marketing, logistics, accounting, customer service, etc – medical sector, manufacturing, food or retail, logistics or warehouses, online education, charities and non-profits of all sorts. These are all sectors needing people even if there isn’t a job vacancy.

“The key thing to remember is “This too shall pass”. Things are tough now, but the probabilities are overwhelmingly that things will get better”

There is so much free learning available now, I’d say the challenge is probably more deciding what is worth the time investment versus finding potential courses!

So what we can do in the present is focus on minimising harm to ourselves and others, have the patience to recognise there is much beyond our immediate control, ask for help – be that financial, emotional, logistical or anything. Remain interested in the possibilities of tomorrow – the global research and business communities will change after COVID19.  Future employers will want employees, researchers and partners who can demonstrate patience in chaos, agility in the face of rapid changes and above all, an ability to adapt, connect, communicate and collaborate remotely to successfully deliver outcomes.

This is a marathon, so it is important that we take care of ourselves. I limit my intake of the news to twice a day – morning and evening. I have added more inspirational posts to my Twitter feed – Ocean Conservancy, National Geographic, Taronga Zoo – things that make me smile – so they balance out the grim news feeds.

“I go out for a 1-hour walk every day – no matter what – I even mark it off on my calendar so I don’t forget given how the days can blend into each other a bit more easily these days”

On days I’m more energetic I run up and down disused light railway stairs and admire all the other people out in the sun and fresh air using concrete curbs, trees – anything to get a bit of an exercise routine going!

Finally, I stay connected by talking to friends and family, work colleagues more now than ever while trying to focus on the good things (not the news!) – people across the world and in our own immediate circles are often being creative, inspirational, kind and optimistic, despite everything. In a place like Australia, we have even more reason to be optimistic, grateful and happy – so focusing on what we have that is wonderful is critical.

About the author:

Kylie Hargreaves is Chair of the Australian Ocean Energy groups and has over 25 years’ experience in Federal and State Government, including a decade working overseas in Europe and the USA. Kylie has managed operations with net budgets of A$400m+ and teams of 550 people spread over dozens of locations. As a former Deputy Secretary (Deputy CEO) for several portfolios in the NSW Government, including Resources and Energy, she is accustomed to driving change in complex environments under intense public scrutiny. Hargreaves also has a deep understanding of the challenges of operating in highly regulated sectors and the importance of social license. As Australia’s Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner (Austrade) in the UK, USA and Spain, she has represented Australia on the international stage and worked with hundreds of small, medium and large companies to capitalise on new growth opportunities. Kylie’s experience spans consumer products, services (tourism, education and the arts), resources, energy and infrastructure. Hargreaves is a past and current Chair and Director on various Boards, a NSW Finalist in the 2017 Telstra Business Women’s Awards, and a successful private consultant. Kylie is a strongly committed IMNIS mentor in NSW. [Twitter @KylieHarg]