Jane Latimer – NSW Launch 2018

This is the transcript of Dr Jane Latimer’s speech which was originally delivered at the IMNIS NSW 2018 Launch on the 25th of July. 

Thank you Maggie. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here and to deliver this morning’s address.  Thank you for your generous introduction.

Let me begin by acknowledging that we meet on the lands of the Gadigal People of the Eora nation and I pay my respects to their elders, both past and present, and I thank them for their custodianship of this land.

As I look around it’s wonderful to see you all here today, a network of people who have only been intentionally assembled in recent times – industry mentors who are visionary leaders in STEM, sponsors, and PhD students, the mentees, pursuing academic studies but seeking to understand the complex problems of the real world, so that in the future they can create our ‘remarkable tomorrow’.

Journey in STEMM

Today I wanted to share with you a little of my own personal journey as a woman in STEM, and what I’ve learnt about visionary leadership and its importance in driving excellence in the way we research, connect, collaborate and innovate.

Almost 22 years ago I remember pursuing my own PhD, just as the mentees here today, and wondering what the future might hold. Not for one minute did I dream that this degree would take me from the remote Aboriginal communities of the Kimberley, to meetings at the UN in NY and at APEC in Peru, to working with colleagues at Oxford, to producing documentary films to extend my research, to working with children in rural India; and everywhere in between, all in the name of a career in STEM.

But what I did know was that my PhD, just like yours, would give me a platform from which to follow my passions, to imagine, to innovate and to dream big. To do something that would be a force for positive change in the world.

At the time I was graduating, academics with a PhD mostly followed a career in academia. The opportunities there were many, for there were few people with PhD’s.

But you will be graduating with your PhD into a more uncertain and complex world, a world where the pace of change is accelerating. There’s perhaps never been a more exciting time to graduate and work. I only wish I could start all over again. So while the traditional jobs might be harder to find, there are a myriad of opportunities that exist today that didn’t exist in the past. And that’s why IMNIS is so important – it helps connect these opportunities to you.

When I look back over my own career I see a career path that fits with the lifecycle of a female – an Undergraduate degree in physiotherapy with a focus on musculoskeletal disease, a PhD completed part-time while caring for a small baby, maternity leave and leave to care for a mother dying from leukaemia, part-time work yet success as a CIA with NHMRC project grants, a part-time Future Fellowship from the ARC, which really helped accelerate my research career. Part-time work as an academic at the University of Sydney and more recently working with my identical twin sister Liz Broderick, in her organization Elizabeth Broderick & Co. working with government and corporate Australia to create cultural change.

At the University the research I have done is not basic science research with test tubes and working in labs, but is clinical research focused on solutions for people and populations affected with disease. My main area of research has been in back pain, where in 1997 I completed my PhD designing the first machine to accurately measure the stiffness of the human spine. I then used this device to better understand the relationship between back pain and stiffness, and to teach physio students to judge stiffness more accurately. The machine consisted of a metal box with a probe that sat above the patient – the probe would push down into their back and measure the stiffness present there. I remember my early testing of the device where I’d convinced my family members to be test subjects, and in particular a few unfortunate incidents where the computer driving the device malfunctioned and my husband became pinned to the bed with the metal probe speared into his spine! It was clear a few adjustments to the prototype were needed.

I continued to work in this area until 2003 when our research group expanded and a young psychologist and our first Brazilian PhD students joined our back pain group. Over the next few years we began working more closely with the pharmaceutical Industry who invested heavily in our group as they sought solutions for their customers suffering musculoskeletal pain. The new additions to our group were so important in driving innovation. They brought new ways of thinking – the PhD students were younger, with undergraduate training in different disciplines and from different nations, and consequently they looked at the issue of back pain with a different lens, they broadened our thinking and challenged some of the basic assumptions we held dear. And this reinforced to me the importance of diversity in driving innovation – that you needed to grow a group of people that looked quite different from yourself.

Taking some risks

In 2008 I made a choice that many said was crazy, that would reduce my opportunities, that was career suicide. But it was an issue I cared deeply about and gave me the opportunity to work with my identical twin sister Liz Broderick, who was at the Human Rights Commission, and some inspirational Aboriginal women living in north western Australia struggling with the scourge of alcohol. And so my collaboration with Aboriginal Australian’s began. You may have heard some of their names. Emily Carter, and June Oscar, now Australia’s Social Justice Commissioner – the first Aboriginal woman to hold that role. Just a few weeks ago June was named NAIDOC Person of the Year.

In 2007 June and Emily’s efforts to restrict access to alcohol in the communities of the remote Fitzroy Valley, in the Kimberley, had come to Liz and my attention and we decided to work with June and Emily to raise the visibility of the promising practices they had developed.  We agreed to make a short film about the alcohol restrictions and then to screen this in the Australian Federal Parliament and at the United Nations in NY to get decision makers to do more.

But this work involved me temporarily moving from LBP researcher to film producer – a job I knew very little about. The project seemed doomed! Luckily I found a generous anonymous donor who agreed to fund the films, and from here a decade of work followed culminating in a large community championed study that sought to determine the number of children in the Fitzory Valley that were affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. FASD is a condition that occurs in children when mothers drink alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol is teratogenic – damaging the brain of the developing fetus and these children are often born with lifelong learning and behavioural difficulties.

In 2015 we reported the first results of our large prevalence study finding that around 20% or 1 in 5 children had a diagnosis on the FASD spectrum, one of the highest rates in the world. FASD is not unique to Aboriginal Australians but is seen in people right across Australia. Aboriginal woman are leading the way in finding solutions for all Australians.

In 2016 I began working part-time with my sister in her organization EB&Co. and it is during this time that I’ve had more opportunity to reflect on what makes a visionary STEM leader.

Visionary leadership

After a life in academia working with research leaders, I’ve come to the conclusion that the traits that make a good researcher are often inversely correlated with those that make a visionary leader. For example, excellent researchers need to be obsessive with detail, they must operate with a strong negativity bias as they have a responsibility to find the flaws in all that is presented to them, they must accept nothing on trust but challenge all assumptions, and they must be extremely cautious in their approach not extrapolating too widely. I’ve also seen the frequency with which researchers assign ill-intent to colleagues who hold opposing views, perhaps caused by years of having to robustly defend their own research ideas.

So it takes great courage and intention to step outside these ways of operating, to become the visionary leader so important for growing the STEM field. So for the mentees here today, who will become the visionary leaders of tomorrow, here are a few suggestions on some actions you might take that will make you an exceptional leader – one who can connect, collaborate, innovate and create the solutions to the problems of our future.

The visionary STEM leaders I have met are those that never stand still, that recognize there is no institution or field in the world that can’t be better. They want to understand closely what’s happening in their institutions. When problems arise rather than avoid these, they lean in to learn the hard truths, not so that they can punish those involved, but so their institutions can learn. Often, they are the people that have been told along the way “You can’t, you won’t, you’ll never …” but they are people who have chosen to follow their own paths, and if there is no path to follow, to create their own.

Visionary leaders recognize that the best solutions arise from diversity of thought and that within their research groups or institutions there will be strongly held opposing views. Because of this, discussions can quickly become polarized. Visionary leaders do not assume that those who hold views contrary to their own, come with bad intent. They understand that when we assume good or neutral intent we give our minds a much stronger framework for dialogue.

Visionary leaders develop psychological safety within their teams. To be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, to share the things that scare us without fear of recrimination. When chairing meetings visionary leaders ensure equal share of voice and conversational turn taking with everyone having the opportunity to speak, they allow people to add insight from outside their specific area of expertise without fear of recrimination, and they agree to set up confidential spaces for people to disclose the things that aren’t working well, without fearing that the disclosure will spread beyond those walls.

Visionary leaders are those who understand the importance of sharing vulnerability, which many of us find very hard to do. We associate vulnerability with weakness.

The ability to be vulnerable with colleagues is a vital leadership skill, particularly for building inclusion and for enhancing collaboration and innovation. For example, the breakthroughs that come from being vulnerable enough to speak your truth around a difficult issue; being vulnerable enough to not have answers, or to be wrong; to listen to a perspective that is vastly different to yours and be willing to learn something new in order to identify possible actions to progress a tough challenge. These are all examples of vulnerability that build high performance, that delivers capability, that will provide you with an organisational and research culture where both men and women will thrive. They are part of the same unwritten rules we often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond. And those human bonds matter as much at work as anywhere else. In fact, they sometimes matter more.

And finally visionary leaders are those that have recognised the importance of work life balance and the importance of ‘being’ as well as ‘doing’. It’s only in the last few years I’ve come to understand that for most of my life I have focused way too much on “doing” and not enough on “being”. Being is about stillness, it’s about having presence. It’s hard. But it’s during these times that the clearest thinking occurs and the best ideas arise.

So thank you for inviting me to take part in your celebrations today. To the mentees – embrace the mentoring opportunity that has been offered you, follow your interests, try new things, invent your own role. Shape the future. Create a remarkable tomorrow.

To the mentors and sponsors, congratulations on your dedication and commitment, for all that you do to make this mentoring network a success, to growing the talent that will ensure a strong and sustainable future for Australia and the world. Know that I will be watching from afar, and celebrating all the successes that you will surely achieve. Thank you.

About the author:

Dr Jane Latimer is Professor and Deputy Director of The Institute for Musculoskeletal Health in the Sydney School of Public Health at The University of Sydney. She is also Director, Strategy and Engagement, at Elizabeth Broderick and Co., an organization working within Australia and globally to drive change in the areas of gender equality, diversity and cultural renewal. These dual roles provide a unique opportunity to take insights from visionary corporate leaders, who are building the organisations of the future, and use them to grow the vision and careers of academic STEM leaders, and vice versa. Jane’s own research career has focused on the management of musculoskeletal disease, but she has also used her research expertise to impact an area she cares deeply about, that of Indigenous health. More recently she collaborated with Indigenous leaders in remote Australia to address the challenge of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). For this work she brought together Aboriginal communities, national and international researchers, FASD clinical experts, governments, philanthropists, the Australian Human Rights Commission, advertising agencies, corporate Australia and filmmakers.

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Industry mentoring is visionary leadership in action

The Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS) had a terrific morning celebrating visionary leadership in Perth on Tuesday, 7th August. With standing-room only, this event celebrated the close of the 2017 Energy-Minerals program in WA and the opening of the 2018 IMNIS Programs – including for the first time both the MedTech-Pharma and Energy-Minerals programs in WA.

IMNIS is a flagship initiative of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering which has grown to over 200 partnerships (400+ participants) in WA, SA, VIC, NSW and QLD in its first year, and it is now on offer around Australia. Member organisations in WA are The University of Western Australia, Murdoch University, and Curtin University, including the Perkins Institute and the Telethon Kids. In the next year it is expected to reach over 300 partnerships (600+ participants).

One mentor’s perspective on leadership

Esteemed Keynote speaker Ron Douglas, Executive VP of Global Project Delivery for Ausenco and strongly committed IMNIS mentor in QLD, shared his perspectives on mentoring and visionary leadership. In addition to big ideas, and inspiring and motivating others, Ron said visionary leadership “includes hard work, tenacity, failure, and hoping you won’t stuff it up”. Ron also urged all in the room to have a team of mentors.

IMNIS Mentor and Keynote speaker Ron Douglas shared his perspective on visionary leadership and mentoring at the 2018 IMNIS programs launch in WA
Great news for IMNIS

IMNIS also welcomed a new Sponsor to its network. Dr Vanessa Lickfold, Head of Geoscience, WA Iron Ore at BHP, officially announced that BHP is will sponsor IMNIS to support and expand in Energy-Minerals programs nationally. Dr Lickfold said,

“This partnership with IMNIS, research institutions and their PhD students will help us on our drive to ‘Think Big’ by producing work-ready, diverse thinkers

Dr Vanessa Lickfold, Head of Geoscience at BHP, announces BHP sponsorship of the IMNIS Energy-Minerals program

Dr Dan Grant, CEO of our Partner organisation MTPConnect, was proud to announce MTPConnect will continue to fund IMNIS as it grows and develops over the next two years, until the end of 2020. IMNIS will use these funds to help expand its existing programs, service regional and rural Australia, explore virtual mentoring options, and establish its Alumni program. Our thanks to both MTPConnect and BHP for this tremendous investment in the professional development of Australia’s future leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Dr Dan Grant, CEO of MTPConnect, announces another two years of funding for IMNIS to grow and develop the MedTech-Pharma programs nationally
Top tips for success in mentoring

A highlight of this event was the panel of 2017 IMNIS Mentors and Mentees. Industry leaders Dr Hema Wadhwa, Engineering specialist at INTECSEA, and Andrew Woodhams, Process Engineer and Consultant, together with their mentees, PhD students Manuel Herduin (The University of Western Australia) and  Sangita Bista (Murdoch University), discussed the value of mentoring, the unexpected ripple effects, the challenges of kick-starting a mentoring partnership, and their top tips and advice.

Hema encouraged mentees to make the most of having an industry mentor by carefully considering what they want to learn, and Andrew urged everyone to practice their pitch and put themselves out there. Sangita said she learnt how to be more strategic in her networking, while Manuel said he was much better informed about the career opportunities in industry which gave him hope for the future.

The benefits of these successful IMNIS mentoring partnerships were clearly evident when Manuel and Sangita met two Federal Ministers at the Queensland Mining Expo in Mackay recently. Both readily communicated their research and confidently networked with a suite of industry leaders.

From the IMNIS team

Dr Claretta DSouza, IMNIS MedTech-Pharma Program Coordinator and National Projects Manager at our Partner organisation AusBiotech, briefly reviewed the IMNIS Guidelines. Dr DSouza is alumni of the IMNIS MedTech-Pharma pilot in Victoria, and she emphasised to all mentees that they must take the initiative to set goals, take notes, track their progress, and drive the mentoring partnership.

Dr Claretta DSouza reviews the IMNIS Guidelines and shares her success as an IMNIS mentee in the Victorian MedTech-Pharma pilot program in 2015-16

IMNIS Executive Director, Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea congratulated all IMNIS mentors and mentees on making this high impact initiative such a success. IMNIS mentors are executive and management level industry leaders who generously volunteer their time, expertise and energy to mentoring Australia’s future STEM leaders. Dr Evans-Galea said,

“IMNIS is visionary leadership in action. IMNIS strengthens ties between industry and academia, and fosters a transformational culture shift across the STEM sector through mentoring. We cannot do this without you

About IMNIS:

IMNIS is a national flagship initiative of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering and the goal is to develop a new generation of PhD graduates who can communicate and engage with industry, network across professional sectors, kick-start collaborations and understand their career options. Learn more at www.imnis.org.au. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

 

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IMNIS Mentees engage with Ministers and leaders in the Resources sector

Six outstanding PhD students from the Energy-Minerals program with the Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS) in Brisbane, QLD and Perth, WA were in Mackay on a beautiful balmy evening last week at the Queensland Mining Awards Gala dinner with METS Ignited and the National Energy Resources Australia (NERA).

IMNIS Mentees Jomana Al-Nu’airat, Zakia Afroz,Sangita Bista (Murdoch University),  Manuel Herduin (University of Western Australia), and Kasia Sobczak and Mutah Musa (Queensland University of Technology) made the most of this opportunity meeting influential politicians like Senator the Hon. Matthew Canavan MP, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, and esteemed leaders like Ian McFarlane, Jodie Currie of Bowen Basin Mining, Rag Udd of BHP, and Rob Porter of Mackay Airport. Everyone enjoyed the evening of networking and connecting.

 

This was followed by a remarkable day for our PhD student mentees who had a highly engaging meeting with Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash MP, Minister for Jobs and Innovation, at the Queensland Mining Expo at the Mackay Showgrounds. All IMNIS mentees were thrilled to meet Minister Cash – a long-standing supporter of early stage STEM researchers and professionals, who actively champions women in STEM.

 

Congratulations again to Mutah Musa, Jomana Al-Nu’airat, Zakia Afroz, Manuel Herduin, Sangita Bista and Kasia Sobczak!!

An enormous thanks to METS Ignited and NERA for supporting these six rising stars to travel to Queensland, meet two high level Ministers and a suite of outstanding Executive level leaders in the METS sector! The students gained a tremendous amount from this experience.

Every one of these talented future leaders were confident, professional networkers who readily engaged, communicated their STEM expertise and research, collected a deck of business cards from executive industry leaders and met two Federal Ministers. They were impressive, polished representatives of PhD student mentees with IMNIS, of their respective organisations, and most importantly, of themselves. Well done to all for saying yes and embracing this opportunity with gusto!!

About IMNIS: The Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS) is a flagship initiative of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. Visit www.imnis.org.au to learn more. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

About the author:

Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea is a scientist, executive and entrepreneur. She is Executive Director of the Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS) with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE). Dr Evans-Galea is an internationally recognised biomedical researcher, consultant and STEM advocate. She received an Australian Leadership Award for her vision of the future for Australian science. Strongly committed to empowering early- and mid-career researchers, Marguerite mentors students, fellows and faculty, and was the founding chair of the EMCR Forum with the Australian Academy of Science. Dr Evans-Galea is co-founder and CEO of Women in STEMM Australia, and an inductee and Ambassador with the Victorian Honour Roll of Women.

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My entrepreneurial journey: planned happenstance

Never underestimate the power of chance! “Planned happenstance” is a career theory introduced in 1999 by Mitchell, Levin and Krumboltz, and it has dominated my career as a whole, including my entrepreneurial journey. I believe, many entrepreneurs are also where they are due to planned happenstance. By some estimates, entrepreneur ventures have a staggering 90% failure rate, making it difficult decision to jump if some happenstance doesn’t push you. But what are the planned happenstances that befell me?

Let’s start with how I obtained my PhD scholarship. I was a software developer working for a commercial company. Out of the blue, I received an email from a former senior colleague. She was having a watercooler conversation with a professor about how she had a research assistant position open.  The requirements for the position made my ex-colleague think of me, and an email quickly ensued.

Taking risks and cultivating skills

I was not looking for a new position, but I have a policy of ‘not saying no to interesting opportunities’ without some exploration. During my interview for the research assistant position, I mentioned that it was my life goal to get a PhD. At that point, the job offer was modified to a scholarship. I wouldn’t have accepted a job offer, but I could not say no to the PhD scholarship.

The story of how I ended up doing a PhD when I did is planned happenstance at its finest. The planning part was the skills I cultivated as well as the social connections I made, often by going out of my way. The senior colleague who remembered me did not have daily contact with me. She noticed me because I made myself known during company-wide events.

My PhD was very applied, and the domain of application was the motion picture industry. The latter was because my PhD was funded through the Centre of Excellence in Creative Industries (CCi). My thesis, “Ontology-Based Information Extraction and Classification: Exploiting User Perspective within the Motion Picture Industry”, was in the field of information retrieval and knowledge management. I calculated expertise based on a domain model and used the results for better information retrieval. Because I had to work closely with experts from the creative industries, I have grown into a much better cross-disciplinary communicator and much more adept at thinking in terms of the big, interconnected picture.

Understanding commercialisation

I also worked on the academic side of my entrepreneurial skills during my PhD, taking advantage of any and all opportunities to study commercialisation that I could. My efforts culminated in obtaining a graduate certificate in research commercialisation. A degree in entrepreneurship is not something I would recommend outside of a compliment to a PhD, but I am glad I took the time to have a formal, academic look at the whole process of commercialisation.

Of course, if you don’t have the skills, people knowing you will amount to nothing. But if no one knows you, they can’t offer you unexpected opportunities. Take for example how planned happenstance struck again for my post-doc. For various reasons, I have always wanted to work in the UK. So for my post-doc, I almost exclusively applied for positions in the UK.

Putting yourself out there

Looking for work can be frustrating and daunting, often made worse by stumbling across opportunities a little too late. That’s what happened with one position listing. I saw it about two days past the application due date. I could have just moved on, but instead, I emailed the professor and made a case for my inclusion in the application process despite the lapsed due date. I never heard back from him, but a couple of weeks later, one of his colleagues emailed me asking me to apply for a position he had open. The first professor remembered me and recommended me to his colleague, even if he never replied back to me. That’s how I secured a three-year post-doc in London, England.

I returned from England at the conclusion of my post-doc for a combination of personal reasons. Following my return, I tried to stay in research but with little luck. Around this time, a friend who had already made the jump from research to startup suggested that I explore developing some of my ideas for research projects into commercial ventures. But how do I even start?

Showcasing expertise

I began by developing my professional portfolio by coding a niche app. My time was my primary development cost, but I did have some monetary outlay from purchasing stock graphics. I also incurred some Facebook advertisement costs as I explored how I could go about promoting an app. I learnt a lot, so my app served its purpose. I was one step closer to my “big idea” about personal health and well-being.

More importantly, apart from my friend, who moved to the US shortly after my return to Australia, I didn’t have any contact within the Brisbane startup space. But then I happened upon an advertisement for Techstars Startup Weekend. I remember looking into it, being confused by it but signing up anyway because, why not?

Developing networks and community

That first Startup Weekend served as a big boost to my entrepreneurial journey. I got to meet people already involved in startups. I got to hear ideas and see what resonated and what didn’t. I started to make connections, and through those connections, I am now in a position where I can realise my ideas around health and wellness, partly through my own startup and partly through my involvement in another startup, Your Happy Place, as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

The Your Happy Place CTO position came my way through the new social network of entrepreneurs that I now possess. I met someone at a startup weekend, who knew someone whom they felt I could help. At the two degrees of separation was an urban designer looking to find new ways to gather data about people and how they use places. Before I knew it, I am developing the minimum viable product (MVP) as the CTO of Your Happy Place. The goal of the startup is firstly to empower individuals by enabling them to understand their emotions and their association with the physical spaces they inhabit. But also to use the data to create emotionscapes that will hopefully lead to better urban designs.

Embracing happenstance

To bring it all together, you need to work on your skills and cultivate your network. But you also need to be ready to embrace happenstance when it befalls you. Because for all the planning, you’re best opportunities can come by chance!

About the author:

Dr Sharmin Choudhury (Tinni) does a lot of things and wishes to do more things! She has a double degree in Computer Systems Engineering and Commerce from the University of Queensland. Following that, she worked as a research engineer with Distributed Systems Technology CRC (DSTC), leaving the centre once described in parliament as “gigabyte playpen for propeller heads” to join Mincom, now ABB. She left Mincom to do a PhD in Computer Science with Queensland University of Technology (QUT). While at QUT, she also obtained a graduate certificate in Research Commercialisation. After receiving her PhD, she moved the UK to undertake a post-doc with Middlesex University on a project jointly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Ministry of Defence UK. Since returning to Australia, she has slowly transitioned into the exciting but terrifying world of entrepreneurship and startups. She’s currently the CEO of Route 17, operating under the business name Virgo 19, and the CTO of Your Happy Place.

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A lot can happen over a year – it’s enough time to learn who you are, and it’s enough time to completely change the direction of your life

I had no idea what to expect before my first meeting with Dr Anna Lavelle. I did my homework: “in 2015 Scientific American Worldview: A Global Biotechnology Perspective named AusBiotech’s CEO Dr Anna Lavelle among the 100 most influential people in global life sciences” – so why on Earth would she be putting in time and energy to mentor me? This Imposter Syndrome-esque question permeates the mentality of the IMNIS mentees at the beginning of their year (which I’ve noticed has been touched on during IMNIS panel events), but dissipates as the mentee-mentor relationship grows.

My first lunch meeting with Anna went for about two hours (and each subsequent meeting was not much shorter). She sent me away to brainstorm every single thing I wanted in my future job and what I didn’t want – down to the type of shoes I would want to wear to work every day. When I first met Anna, I had no clear idea of exactly what I wanted to do in the future, making it difficult to be detailed with this list. I have always enjoyed sharing interesting science, with young people in particular, and through this program I was exposed to the world of science communication. Anna gave me direction, and over the course of the year, my initial list became a clearer picture as we discussed the people I should meet, what steps I should take, the opportunities I should go for, and defining possible career paths and jobs.

“I feel empowered to pursue a path that gets me to wherever I want to go”

Surrounded by supervisors, mentors, colleagues, and friends in academia, Anna was one of the few people with whom I could talk openly about what I want to do and how to go about it. While I’m often told by some academics that extracurricular activities are “a concern” and “distracting”, Anna encouraged me to go for as many opportunities as I could and celebrated with me whenever I achieved something in science communication: internships/communication positions, awards, etc. She even supported me to the extent that she listened to my 3-Minute Thesis over the phone prior to boarding a plane so that I could get her advice before the grand final. I can’t share half of the “distracting” extracurricular activities that I do with my supervisors, and therefore to have a mentor with whom I can share my journey openly is something I’ve come to greatly appreciate.

It’s difficult for me to distinguish which changes in my life over the past year are a direct result of the IMNIS program and which are ripple effects. Not only did my relationship with Anna help me to grow as a person, but the program itself also had a lot to offer. (My advice to the IMNIS cohort of 2018-19: Grab all of the opportunities!) I represented The University of Melbourne in the “Pitching to Industry” IMNIS panel event (during which Anna supported me from the front row), which opened my eyes to a completely different perspective on my own work. With constructive feedback from experts in commercialisation and R&D, I was invited to consider aspects of my research that I had never considered before: the financial impact of my work, how I would deliver any therapeutic, etc. As it is, my PhD research is focused on basic science, nevertheless, beginning to think about how any research area can become translational or how you can take it across scientific disciplines is a valuable skill.

Catriona pitching her research to industry at the IMNIS Pitchfest [Image: IMNIS]
Outside of my studies, participating in the IMNIS program gave me confidence to strive for my goals and actively seek out opportunities to get me there. In November, I attended a STEM career panel held at the Royal Society of Victoria (RSV) in partnership with IMNIS where I met Mike Flattley, CEO of RSV. One coffee later, we had initiated a project to celebrate Victorian scientists and the RSV lecture series in the form of articles in their newsletter and website, and Twitter posts. I also had the determination to pursue other science communications roles, and over the course of the year I have been communications intern at the National Youth Science Forum and am now a science communications officer at RSV and the Convergence Science Network. I didn’t know where to look before, but there are so many jobs available to share and teach science and I now have a network of people with whom I can discuss what I can do after my PhD.

The lessons I have taken away from this program are varied – some are more personal and others are more career-focused. I’ve tapped into my mentor’s network and met incredible people at networking events (including IMNIS events) who continue to support me in my endeavour to become a science communicator. Thanks to Anna, my official IMNIS mentor, as well as the mentors and role models I’ve picked up along the way, I feel empowered to pursue a path that gets me to wherever I want to go.

About the author:

Catriona Nguyen-Robertson completed a Bachelor of Science (Hons) and Diploma in Languages at the University of Melbourne (UoM), with a short study abroad course in the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. During this time, she took part in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) as a research assistant at the Western Centre for Health Research and Education in Sunshine Hospital, working on projects for the Australian Institute for Musculoskeletal Science (UoM), and College of Health and Biomedicine (Victoria University). Catriona completed her Honours year in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology (DMI), UoM, where she decided to stay on as a research assistant for four months before starting her PhD candidature. Catriona also has a large amount of experience in working with school students in science. She is a science mentor at the Gene Technology Access Centre (GTAC), where she teaches biology to students from years 5-12, a demonstrator in the DMI, and an In2Science mentor at Simmonds Catholic College. She also ran events for the Day of Immunology (high school immunology workshops), and National Science Week with CSIRO. The aim of her PhD is to create novel reagents to identify and characterise specific subsets of “unconventional” lipid-reactive T cells that recognise abnormal lipids in skin cancers, mycobacterial infection, and skin allergy. Catriona is very passionate about educating younger students, and encouraging them to be engaged in STEM.

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