Dr Leonie Walsh – STEM leader and adviser, and IMNIS Mentor [Image: veski]

“I liked the idea of a program [IMNIS] that brought PhD students and industry professionals together to break down some of these out-dated stereotypes and open up more opportunities”

Dr Leonie Walsh is an experienced leader and adviser in technological innovation with a background that spans more than 30 years of experience both locally and internationally across a diverse range of industries and applications. Leonie draws from this experience to support government,  academia and businesses on strategic science, innovation and technology issues including new energy, digital disruption, advanced manufacturing and the future skilled workforce through a range of related boards, advisory and advocacy activities.

Leonie has recently completed a 3-year term as Victoria’s inaugural Lead Scientist from 2013 to 2016. In this capacity Leonie was a contributing member on the Future Industries Ministerial Advisory Council, provided contributions to the Education State activities and STEM plan via the Tech Schools STEM Future Industries Advisory Panel and the STEM advisory committee, represented Victoria on the Forum of Australian Chief Scientists and continues to participate on a range of government and industry advisory committees and funding assessment panels spanning innovation, education, new energy, ICT and advanced manufacturing.

Leonie also holds the honorary roles of President and Chairman of the Fight Cancer Foundation, Non-Executive Director on the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Register and Board member of the World Network of Blood and Marrow Transplantation and Co-Chair of the Patient Advisory and Advocacy Committee for WBMT.

Leonie is also a strong advocate for attracting more women into science, engineering and technology, and was recently named as the inaugural Ambassador for Women in STEMM Australia.

Leonie Walsh has received a BSc and an MSc from Swinburne University, an MBA (Exec) from the Australian Graduate School of Management and is a Fellow of the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. In 2014 Leonie received an Honorary Doctorate (HonDUniv) from Swinburne University of Technology for contributions and leadership in scientific enterprises, innovation and the community.

Why did you participate in the IMNIS program?

When I was asked to join the IMNIS program I immediately thought back to my years in industry as an applied scientist where there were very few PhD students employed. There were a number of factors that contributed to this. I think equally it was due to the stereotyping of PhD students as being more specialised in their field and also because industry was not presented to PhD graduates as a challenging and viable research career compared to academia. I liked the idea of a program that brought PhD students and industry professionals together to break down some of these out-dated stereotypes and open up more opportunities for these students.

Do you have a mentor(s)? What is the most crucial aspect of this professional relationship for you?

I have not had a formal mentor however I have had mentoring support from a range of different people throughout my career. My earliest memory of a mentor was in my teens as a part time employee of Coles Supermarket. The supervisor took me under her wing and provided support beyond the requirements of her role. In those early days I learnt about responsibility, loyalty, accountability and stepping up to take on activities that were uncomfortable. I have had many of these types of experiences throughout my career with people providing an unexpected level of confidence building support. It is fair to say that many of the more significant career opportunities I have had have been from people giving me a nudge when I hesitated to step forward for a role.

How often did you meet with your mentee and did you prepare for these meetings?

The relationship I had with my mentee was very informal and depended on her availability as much as mine. In between formal meetings I would share knowledge and resources that I had come across that I felt were relevant to the path she had communicated. The biggest focus was on confidence building however I also helped provide input with regards to professional development tools relevant to her future career choice including providing some feedback on her CV. The information provided was always on the basis that my mentee would need to take some action herself in the follow-up. I think an important aspect of mentoring is to be open and accessible when needed.

Would you recommend participating in the IMNIS program to your colleagues?

I would strongly recommend the IMNIS program to my colleagues. The employment market today is very different to what I experienced coming out of University and much harder to navigate. There is a great need for Bachelor and PhD graduates to understand the breadth of opportunities available and also how these opportunities are changing. Many of my colleagues understand and have lived this in more recent times and can share these experiences. I would also recommend it from the perspective of my colleagues benefiting from receiving a different perspective on the job market and careers from someone just starting out.

What was the most rewarding aspect of the IMNIS program for you?

The person that I mentored was delightful as an individual and as a professional young women. It was frustrating to see the unnecessary challenges she was facing with some serious decisions in her life and career. It was also extremely satisfying to get to know her as a person and I benefited a lot from seeing how she tackled some of the challenges and confronted her own personal confidence issues. We have stayed friends and I am always happy to hear from her and hear how she is progressing. I cannot help smiling when I catch up with her as she has so much enthusiasm and honesty in her communications and it helps me with my focus on what is really important.

Leonie Walsh on Twitter: @lkw_sci