INDUSTRY MENTORING IN STEM AROUND AUSTRALIA

There was a full house for the official National Launch of the Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS) at KPMG in Melbourne last month. IMNIS is a prestigious flagship initiative of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) that partners PhD students in STEM with an influential, high profile industry leader to prepare them to lead and excel within any part of the STEM ecosystem.

The National Launch was a standout celebration of how far IMNIS has come in the last year; and announced for the first time that in 2018, all IMNIS programs are on offer in every State and Territory around Australia. In a video message, the Hon. Karen Andrews MP, Co-Chair of Parliamentary Friends of Science and Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, congratulated ATSE on taking IMNIS to the next level.

A qualified Engineer, Ms Andrews emphasised the importance of skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to enhancing employment opportunities for our future workforce. She said, “As highlighted today, closer partnerships between education and training providers and industry are critical to building a strong STEM workforce”.

Ms Andrews added, “Surveys show businesses that focus on innovation are twice as likely to rely on STEM skills and that 70% of Australian employers identify STEM employees as the most innovative”. Ms Andrews also expressed strong support from the Parliamentary Friends of Science group.

Keynote speaker, Professor Bronwyn Harch, did the official launch at KPMG in Melbourne. Professor Harch is a Board Member with Innovation and Science Australia. She shared the ISA’s Innovation Plan for 2030 and emphasised how initiatives like IMNIS strongly align with this plan, “Australia is great at knowledge generation but we need to do better at knowledge transfer. IMNIS is one response to this challenge”. Professor Harch also spoke to her own professional journey saying, “Mentoring and networking have been critical throughout my career”.

Professor Bronwyn Harch, Board member, Innovation and Science Australia

Other speakers included ATSE President, Dr Hugh Bradlow, and MTPConnect CEO, Sue MacLeman who reiterated the commitment of ATSE and the industry growth centres MTPConnect, METS Ignited and NERA to the IMNIS iniatitives’ goals. They also emphasised the benefits of industry mentoring and empowering the next generation of leaders to Australia’s STEM sector overall.

A highlight of the National Launch was when IMNIS mentors and mentees shared their mentoring experiences. WA and VIC were well-represented with the panel including mentors Alexandra Atkins and Martin Elhay, and mentees Nazanin Nourifard and Niveditha Vathsangam. Alexandra and Nazanin were matched within the Energy-Minerals program in WA, while Martin and Niveditha were matched in the MedTech-Pharma program in Victoria. All of the panellists shared positive experiences from their one year mentoring partnership, their advice for success and the unexpected benefits IMNIS had on their studies and their career.

Matched IMNIS mentors and mentees [L to R]: Martin Elhay and Niveditha Vathsangam (MedTech-Pharma program, VIC), and Alexandra Atkins and Nazanin Nourifard (Energy-Minerals Resources program, WA)
IMNIS has over 400 active participants around Australia – more than 200 industry leaders volunteering and giving back to the next generation; and more than 200 PhD students who have said “YES” to accelerating their professional development. In-line with ATSE’s Diversity and Inclusion Policy, IMNIS has achieved gender parity at a national level, establishing an inclusive and diverse cohort of mentors and mentees.

IMNIS Executive Director Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea, said, “IMNIS is about people. People make research and innovation happen. People embrace opportunities and drive transformational culture shifts”.

Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea, IMNIS Executive Director

IMNIS also launched Australia’s first International Mentoring Program in Regenerative Medicine in partnership with the Centre for Commercialisation of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) Australia. This pilot involves industry leaders from the US, UK and Canada; and includes a Travel Award for mentees to attend an international conference and meet their mentor. CCRM Australia has selected five outstanding PhD students from QLD, VIC and SA to participate.

The future for IMNIS is bright! Participating member organisations are breaking down barriers, and extending the professional network and career horizons of their students and early career researchers. IMNIS has been approached by multiple organisations keen to get involved. Such strong engagement from the broader STEM ecosystem ensures IMNIS will achieve its goals.

This year, programs in MedTech-Pharma and Energy-Minerals Resources will run in in Queensland (QLD), Western Australia (WA), South Australia (SA), New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria (VIC). Tailored programs are also on offer to the Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania. New member organisations include The University of Queensland and Griffith University in Brisbane.

Nationally, 87% of IMNIS participants rate this initiative as successful. This has only been possible due to the tremendous support and funding from industry growth centre partners MTPConnect, NERA and METS Ignited, our consortium partners AusBiotech and Mentorloop, and our sponsors CSL, KPMG and Bellberry. We also have a growing network of collaborative Supporters.

The ATSE Board strongly supports the IMNIS initiative and IMNIS is embedded into the Strategy Plan 2017-2020. Several esteemed Academy Fellows are mentors, advisers and champions. IMNIS is also rapidly gaining a broad public profile. IMNIS actively engages via social media. The website also has blogs, mentor and mentee profiles and program information.

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More about IMNIS

IMNIS was kick-started by passionate Foundation donors working with ATSE. This was a collaborative effort with multiple partner groups and ‘friends-of-friends’ involved. Many of these generous professionals continue to support IMNIS today as members of the Expert Advisory Panel, including the new Chair, Ms Ronnie Wood, who attended the National Launch along with Panel members Tony Radford FTSE and Paul Wood FTSE. In recognition of its positive impact, IMNIS won a prestigious B/HERT Best Higher Education and Training Collaboration Award in 2016.

IMNIS mentors and mentees are carefully matched by an experienced state-based panel of STEM experts using a range of criteria including professional expertise, skills, discipline areas and career interests. IMNIS mentees learn about commercialisation, start-ups, entrepreneurship and innovation, and the professional skills needed to lead and excel within the STEM ecosystem. For mentors, IMNIS is an opportunity to ‘give back’ and contribute to the professional development of the next generation of STEM leaders.

Acknowledgements

IMNIS respectfully acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land – the people of the Kulin nation – on which KPMG Australia, Melbourne is located, and pays respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging; as well as Elders and representatives of other communities who may have attended the launch.

IMNIS thanks our Keynote Speaker, Professor Bronwyn Harch, University leadership, partner organisations, mentors and mentees, supporters and champions – many of whom spoke, engaged positively and attended this event. We gratefully acknowledge our Partners MTPConnect, NERA and METS Ignited, AusBiotech and Mentorloop, and our Sponsors CSL, KPMG Australia and Bellberry.

Thanks to Alun Needham and Lucy O’Malley at KPMG Australia for providing a stunning venue and logistical support. Thanks also to Claretta DSouza, the AusBiotech events team, David Glanz and the ATSE communications team, and the IMNIS team for their support of this event.

Thanks to Adrienne Bizzarri Photography for terrific images. View the full event gallery here.

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The Power of Science Communication

Everyone who has ever written a post-graduate thesis will appreciate how much time and energy it consumes. A true test of mental health. And yet, after all this effort so many scientific theses end up gathering dust, tucked away in a gloomy corner of the university library. This is because students are not strictly required to publish their research in order to complete a degree; universities only recommend publication. For international students with temporary visas, thesis by monograph may also be preferred over thesis by publication, as the review process involved in publication can take, well… forever. As a result, a big chunk of the research done by students is never published in scientific journals. What a waste!

Research only has value if it is communicated, at the very least, to the wider scientific community. The benefits of publishing your research through scientific journals are obvious: its quality is ensured through peer review, it can be tested for reproducibility, and it is preserved for future use. Scholarly communication is easier than ever in the era of open access. Also, while some scientists are reluctant to use social media for academic purposes, social media is a rapidly growing means of communicating scientific research. Hopefully social media continues to have increased usage in academia – what better way to reach a diverse audience that can provide different points of view? Interestingly, it has even been suggested that highly tweeted journal articles are 11 times more likely to be highly cited.

But the idea of science communication is by no means restricted to sharing knowledge within the scientific community. For many research topics, especially those related to public discourse, it is also essential to bring them to the attention of the general public. The UK Government ‘s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Mark Walport, says:

Science isn’t finished until it’s communicated. The communication to wider audiences is part of the job of being a scientist, and so how you communicate is absolutely vital

Why is this so important? A certain level of science literacy among non-scientists is critical for a truly democratic society. A science-educated electorate promotes ethical thinking and informed decision-making, which in turn greatly benefits the society, environment and nation’s economy. Public debate on issues such as alternative energy, climate change, or genetic engineering is more effective when the general public understand and trust the scientific method. It also allows the public to distinguish science from pseudoscience. Pseudoscientific beliefs and practices, such as the anti-vaccination movement, can have disastrous consequences, and they stem from poor or erroneous science education, and from easily spread science misinformation such as sensationalist mass media coverage. The remedy is to improve the population’s understanding and appreciation of science, and to establish a dialogue between scientists and the public.

Kasia (seated in centre) is part of the inaugural IMNIS Minerals Resources Program in Queensland [Image: IMNIS]
Science can be communicated to the public in a number of ways such as face-to-face events (e.g. public lectures, science festivals) and via online interactions (blogs, social media, podcasts). Whatever the means, it requires quite a bit of skill on the scientist’s part to communicate complex information effectively. While I’m not naturally gifted in articulating scientific information in an especially gripping manner, in my 10 years of taking on casual work in a range of science communication roles, including with the World Science Festival and Wonder of Science, I have developed useful strategies and learnt to be flexible when addressing diverse audiences. Good communication practices include contextualising scientific research and pointing out its relevance to the modern world; using metaphors and storytelling; avoiding technical jargon, while still introducing and using relevant scientific terms. Although it is desirable to refrain from going into unnecessary detail, it has been increasingly recognised that it is beneficial to discuss research methods rather than just findings, and to explain the importance of reproducibility and peer review. This equips the general public with tools to critically assess scientific information encountered in the media, and distinguish true, reliable science from false or exaggerated claims.

Developing my science communication skills has proven invaluable to me as a researcher. Explaining my research to non-experts has given me a broader understanding of my work, helped me focus on its most significant and practical aspects, and convince fellow scientists of its value (which comes in handy in many scenarios, such as when applying for funding). Science communication programs are now also offered as both majors and minors at many universities. This shows that scientists, with well-developed science communication skills, and who are keen to integrate a dialog with the general public into their research, are highly valued for graduate positions in industry, the public sector and academia.

About the author:

Kasia Sobczak is an international PhD candidate in Earth Science at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. Kasia specialises in sedimentology and basin analysis, and her current research focuses on investigating far-field tectonic events as drivers of provenance change in sedimentary basins. Before moving to Australia, Kasia graduated with BSc and MSc degrees from the Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland, where her research focused on sedimentological analysis and hydrocarbon potential of Silurian oil-bearing shales. During her higher education in Europe, Kasia took the opportunity to participate in two student exchange programs at the University College London and the University of Vienna, which proved to be invaluable. Kasia has a passion for science communication, having undertaken various professional and volunteering roles communicating STEM-related topics to the general public, including as a Wonder of Science Ambassador. Despite her experience so far being mostly in academia, including working as a sessional academic and organising conferences, Kasia has recently decided not to pursue an academic career after completing her PhD. She started mentorship as part of the Queensland IMNIS Minerals Resources program, and it motivated her to extend her knowledge about other career pathways. In particular, she is interested in taking on industry and public sector roles where the skills developed in academia can bring new insight and add value.

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IMNIS Mentees Meetup!

The inaugural meeting of the 2017 NSW IMNIS Mentees (we’re open to suggestions for a catchier name!) took place in late April.

The concept of the meetup was so popular that even some mentors expressed interest in coming along. Unfortunately none were able to make the first one, but we hope to have special guests in the future. One keen applicant for the next IMNIS intake, Claudia, came along to hear about the mentee experiences so far!

Mentees from The University of Sydney and the University of Technology Sydney came together on neutral territory (a pub!) to discuss their IMNIS journeys [image: M. DeMayo]
Discussion at the meet up varied widely. It included further discussion of an IMNIS session held earlier that week, “The Value of Networking”. This was a happy coincidence, as chatting about that drove home some of the key messages. Having business cards, being able to succinctly describe what you do and finding your “in” when you are aiming to engage with a specific person were some of the mentee highlights. The advice that “you’re never just having a coffee” was one point of discussion – how to make networking coffees worthwhile.

A personal highlight for me was hearing about the range of industry positions that mentors held. Every IMNIS event I attend, I find out about new roles and new pathways within the industry sector, and this was no exception!

Navpreet Kaur Walia, a fellow contributor to the IMNIS blog, discussed the Red Cross Blood Service and her growing exposure to, and passion for, science communication. Navpreet’s explanations of science communication illustrated how widespread science communication is, I hadn’t previously considered how important it is organization such as the Red Cross (who I think do an outstanding job of it – for example, explaining where your blood or plasma donation goes).

Mentees offered reflection on the opportunities and challenges presented by their mentors. Anh explained that at each mentor meeting, she and her mentor were working through a hypothetical commercialisation of her PhD project, developing pitches and budgets, understanding the process that takes discovery from bench into the commercial sphere. She reflected that being paired “with such an engaged and supportive mentor, and who has given invaluable words of wisdom” had been invaluable for her. Tiziana’s mentor had arranged for her to have a coffee (but not “just” a coffee) with someone in a large pharmaceutical company where she discussed roles which may be suitable for her planned transition to industry after her PhD.

All the mentees felt that IMNIS had done an excellent job in creating the mentor-mentee pairs. The mentees were really appreciative of the time and effort mentors had put in, with some offering quite a structured approach (such as hypothetical commercialisation and development of targeted pitches for specific audiences) while other mentors have a more opportunistic style. Anh, reflected that participation in IMNIS had given her “a clearer insight into what industry entails”. A key outcome of the initiative! Attendees expressed appreciation for the opportunity to develop a relationship with someone outside of the academic “bubble”, who approached helping us develop skills (that will serve us well as we progress through our careers) with enthusiasm and a fresh set of eyes.

“I feel much more confident engaging with people both within and outside of my field, communicating to different audiences”

Finally, there was reflection on what happens to the mentor-mentee relationship after its formal IMNIS ends. We all are enjoying the program immensely; I personally recommend it highly to any students who are considering options outside academia. The experience, thus far, has been an incredibly valuable one, I feel much more confident engaging with people both within and outside of my field, communicating to different audiences (such as IMNIS blog readers) and am excited to see what’s next for all the mentees.

This enthusiasm is what brought about the IMNIS mentee meet up. A chance meeting with a fellow mentee, Tiziana, led to discussion about our experiences with the program. As we reflected, we thought it would be great to hear about different mentee perspectives. IMNIS supported the idea, creating a group with all the 2017 NSW Mentees for us to organize our own meeting. The concept of a mentee meetup was received with excitement, and discussion was enthusiastic, as participants shared lessons and advice from their mentors. One such example was using a PhD proposal as a basis for a foundations paper, recognising a concept that would be of interest to others within their field.

After the event, Anh, said the meetup had been a great opportunity to “reflect, discuss and share what we have learnt thus far on this journey”. A future meetup is in the works, hopefully with a special guest mentor. It may be that these meetups form an ongoing peer support group, even when our official participation in the program ends. Thank you to IMNIS for your support in making this happen!

About the author:

Marilena DeMayo is a PhD student at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre. Her research focuses on the differences in brain development between children with autism and typically developing and investigating oxytocin as a potential treatment for children for autism, examining its effects on the brain. Marilena is passionate about improving the quality of life for people with autism through her research. As an inaugural mentee in the NSW MedTech-Pharma program, she has been expanding her networks and developing her communication skills.

LinkedIn: Marilena DeMayo

Twitter: @MMDeMayo

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A successful mentoring partnership takes commitment and open communication

The Mentee Perspective: Benita Tse 

Benita Tse, IMNIS Mentee [Image: B Tse]
I completed my Bachelor of Science and Honours at The University of Sydney. Currently, I’m now a third year PhD student in the Cellular Photoimmunology group of the Faculty of Medicine and Health. My PhD project investigates the immune modulatory mechanisms of ultraviolet irradiation with the hopes of identifying novel biomarkers. I am a mentee in the 2017 IMNIS MedTech-Pharma program.

Prior to joining the IMNIS program, the career path for a PhD student seemed very linear- you finish your PhD, get publications, Post-Doc for a high-profile lab, apply for fellowships and start your own lab. Not knowing whether I want to follow this exact path, I joined the IMNIS mentoring program and was paired up with Dr Geoff Symonds from Calimmune. From the onset it was clear that I was paired with the right mentor. There was so much crossover between our fields and it was wonderful being able to understand each other’s work. Geoff was very open about his career journey and keen to introduce me to industry.

I went into the IMNIS MedTech-Pharma program aiming to know my options outside of academia and Geoff definitely provided that. From the first meeting, Geoff outlined the different positions available in the industry pipeline to trial and produce drugs and vaccines. Many of these jobs I had no idea existed. He challenged me to think about where I would want to go and what courses I could take to upskill myself. Whilst it was quite confronting to consider the future, it was so valuable. He pushed me to think outside of the academic “bubble” and consider the options in industry. Geoff expanded my understanding of future potential job prospects and gave me confidence that I didn’t need to stick to the linear academic pathway.

Knowing the options and opportunities in industry has been beneficial when attending other IMNIS networking events. Over the past few months I’ve been able to exclude the positions which does not interest me and identify the commonalities between the jobs which do interest me. I realised that I definitely prefer being involved in asking and/or answering scientific questions rather than the business and commercialisation aspects of industry. Figuring this out is definitely a milestone for me in this mentoring program.

Surprisingly to me, Geoff’s mentorship extended beyond career paths but also into my current PhD as well. Having an outsider with no ties to my project and a vision for clinical translation has changed my perspective. Geoff reminds me that basic research is the preliminary stage in any translational work, and that I should frequently look beyond my narrow scope of research. He also reinforced that assertiveness, clear communication with my supervisor and regular chapter planning are key to finishing the PhD on time.

It has been wonderful having a mentor who is supportive but also challenges me. Whilst it can be difficult to meet up on a monthly basis as Geoff is overseas for several weeks at a time, I am very grateful that he has been so willing to share his experience and mentor me. There is no doubt that having such a valuable connection will make career transitions a lot easier in the future.

The Mentor Perspective: Geoff Symonds

Dr Geoff Symonds, Chief Scientific Officer, Calimmune and Senior Director, CSL [Image: Calimmune]
I have a BSc (Hons) and MSc from The University of Sydney and completed my PhD at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. I pursued post-doctoral experience at the University of California in San Francisco and was a Laboratory Head at Children’s Medical Research Institute in Sydney, Senior Director at Johnson & Johnson Research, Professor at UNSW Australia and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. I am currently Chief Scientific Officer at Calimmune and Senior Director at CSL.

Benita has been coming to me for mentoring sessions for around 8 months and I believe it has been a productive relationship. I volunteered for the IMNIS program to attempt to “give back” some of my learnings through the different aspects of my career (undergraduate, PhD, post-doctoral, academia, industry including drug development and clinical application). It has been an interesting journey with Benita as she opened up to the possibilities beyond PhD, post-doc, lab head and opened to the diversity of career paths. It has become very clear to me that there is a definite need for such mentoring as young scientists come to terms with exactly in what area of science they wish to be involved. In a way it is like holding up a “looking glass” that they can step through without the subjective issues of the PhD environment to ask questions like: Do I really want to do basic research? Does industry interest me? What of commercialization?

I congratulate Benita on her openness and willingness to look at the possibilities. She has been an eager mentee and I commend her application and thinking processes. I see the IMNIS initiative as “ground-breaking” and suggest it should be widened even further.

 

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Extending myself as a scientist

I have a strong passion and fascination for science and innovation. I will probably never lose this hunger for knowledge and became interested in scientific research at a young age. As a scientific researcher, I hope to contribute to society by improving the current knowledge in my chosen field and ultimately creating more a scientifically advanced future that provides a better quality of life globally.

A major challenge facing the world today is the growing global population size with its increased demand for food, energy, water and effective means of waste disposal. The field of biotechnology offers the best possibility of meeting the demands of a growing population and this influenced my decision to undertake Bachelor and Masters degrees in Biotechnology. With a desire to further my knowledge in biotechnology, and conduct exciting and innovative research, I saw a PhD as the next natural step towards my career goal.  My PhD at the University of Technology Sydney aims to optimise microalga culture conditions to increase the yield of recombinant protein. This project aims to develop microalgae as a viable platform for recombinant protein production.

As I spent most of the time working in the lab and doing research, I thought the Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS) was a good opportunity for me to interact with people who also work in science outside of academia.

“I joined IMNIS last year as a mentee to explore and broaden my connections. However, it turned out to be much more – a very useful and excellent experience for me”

I joined IMNIS last year as a mentee to explore and broaden my connections. However, it turned out to be much more – a very useful and excellent experience for me. My mentor is Professor David Irving, director of research and development at Red Cross, Australia. We meet every month and David has helped me to understand industry work culture as I am interested in a non-academic career after my PhD.

Navpreet networking at the NSW IMNIS MedTech-Pharma Program launch in Sydney, 2017 [Image: IMNIS]
I joined IMNIS to get a better idea and explore opportunities in industry after my PhD. Also, being a researcher I spent most of the time in lab so I wanted to meet new people and to interact with them. I am very much interested in a non-academic career so IMNIS gave me the best insights about the career options. I am extremely thankful to IMNIS for providing me this opportunity to interact with high level industry mentors who have a lot of experience.

I am very fortunate to have David as my mentor who is very committed to provide me his time and always encourage me for my PhD. He has helped me understand industry culture and the targets they have to achieve. My mentor introduced me to his colleagues. He helped me to work on my presentation and interview skills. Being an international student, I had no idea about Australian science industry but he showed me several industries where I could work after completing my PhD.

David explained to me the research and development they do at the Red Cross with blood cells which is fascinating and exciting. My mentor also helped me to refine my CV and learn about professional networking sites. He also explained how I can implement my PhD project skills in industry. One of the best pieces of advice I received is that when looking for a job, you have to have something unique that will make you stand out from others in the crowd. Therefore, it is very important to write a short but eloquent cover letter for a particular job. He also told me how important it is to dress professionally for an interview. Now, I have a better idea about what a recruiter looks into a candidate while offering a job. I am very grateful for him for his time and efforts.

“My mentor introduced me to his colleagues. He helped me to work on my presentation and interview skills. Being an international student, I had no idea about Australian science industry but he showed me several industries where I could work after completing my PhD”

IMNIS helped me broaden my professional network. IMNIS has shown me the path and opportunities in industry. I am naturally an introverted person and networking was a big taboo for me, but now I am confident. I know how to approach and talk to people without reluctance. I am very grateful to IMNIS for this opportunity and for cultivating this change in me.

IMNIS has given me the opportunity to build a professional network with industry leaders through IMNIS events, and the best advice from these networking events is to work on your pitch and listen more. In addition, we must always be open to chance meetings because you never know where they can take you!

About the author:

Navpreet Kaur Walia is in the final year of her PhD, in the climate change cluster at University of Technology Sydney. Her research aims to create a viable platform for recombinant protein production using the microalga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.

Navpreet is passionate about her research, highly motivated, determined, and intellectually curious. She especially enjoy problem solving. Navpreet has been a mentee in the inaugural IMNIS MedTech-Pharma program in New South Wales.

LinkedIn: Navpreet Kaur Walia

Twitter: @Kaur_Nav16

 

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