Michelle Gallaher – medtech/biotech industry expert and IMNIS mentor alumni

“Mentoring is a major investment in the Australian innovation ecosystem. If we want the industry that we have worked so hard to build to succeed, we should enthusiastically invest in supporting younger colleagues”

Ms Michelle Gallaher is Co-Founder and Creative Director at The Social Science. Her expertise encompasses healthcare and biotechnology having worked in biotech start-ups, major teaching hospitals, research organisations and pharmaceutical companies throughout her 20+ year career. As former CEO of the BioMelbourne Network, Michelle developed an international professional network. Passionate about small business and entrepreneurship, Michelle is an influential advocate for women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM). Michelle is also a TEDx Melbourne alumni, an avid blogger and tweeter, and regularly speaks on innovation in Australia and women in leadership. She is Co-Founder and Creative Director of Women in STEMM Australia and is keen to encourage more women in STEMM to become entrepreneurs and innovators.

Twitter: @StartupShelley @womensciaust

Why did you participate in the IMNIS program?

I participated in the IMNIS program because Paul Wood (co-founder of IMNIS) asked me to – it’s that simple.  It’s not easy to say ‘No’ to Paul. Professional networks are powerful and influential, typically playing a huge part in your success from early career through to transition stages.  When the network relationships are not transactional but based on mutual benefit and with genuine warmth and respect it’s relatively easy to ask for help and near on impossible to refuse. Having said that, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this opportunity – to see Paul succeed, to offer support to a young person starting out in a life science career and for the deep satisfaction I expected it would offer me.  It also aligned directly with my core values of paying it forward.

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

I’ve always actively sought mentorship and sponsorship, and still do from a range of people.  One of my mentors at the moment is someone who is about twenty years younger than I. She is frank and fearless in her advice and has offered me incredibly valuable opportunities to accelerate my learning and growth in the past three years. Her support has been invaluable. Having a much younger mentor initially was awkward (for me) to navigate, but when I focussed more on her unique knowledge and less about her age, I found what she was offering me was like a golden ticket at a time when my career was transitioning to a new stage.  I would never have seen this perspective from someone older or with more experience.  Right now I’m looking for new ways of doing things – I’m not interested in the way things have been done. The reason our relationship works for me is because I’m brutally honest with her, as she is with me.  She’s comfortable telling me I’m wrong and I’m really proud of that.

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

My mentee and I stumbled at first in making time to get together.  Initially I was frustrated as geography and crowded diaries were our enemy. To her credit, she made all of the effort and finally we found a way to meet almost every week for over a year. She offered to help me solve a problem and that gave us a reason to meet each other regularly, even when she was writing up her thesis over the lead up to Christmas.  I was surprised at how proud of her I felt when she recently completed her PhD.  Our conversations have covered so many topics – some typical and others very personal. My approach was to make her feel comfortable asking me personal questions by offering her insight into my life, not just my career. Science is a huge part of our lives but it is not the whole of our life. I don’t think mentors can really prepare for these experiences other than to bring an open attitude based on generosity, honesty and value. Finding a way to make the engagement rewarding for me as well as her, was the secret ingredient in being able to make the relationship last and have genuine impact. I introduced my seventeen year old son to my mentee. The influence she has had on him to strive for more and aim higher academically has been astonishing to say the least.  I can’t wait to see what my mentee does next.  I have every confidence in her ability to ask for help and to accept advice.  I have no doubt whatsoever that she’ll do very well.

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

If we all continue to invest in our professional networks within our own experiences (and age) level, it will unfortunately eventually be an investment of diminishing returns. Mentoring is a major investment in the Australian innovation ecosystem. If we want the industry that we have worked so hard to build to succeed, we should enthusiastically invest in supporting younger colleagues build their knowledge networks. Mentoring is something that universities can’t teach and not every job experience can offer.  It’s low risk, high reward. And more often than not, the greater reward has been mine.

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

Mentoring someone is deeply satisfying for those of us that value the role of the education system and have a personal investment in seeing the Australian science and technology sector become the wealth and knowledge generator that it is capable of being. Mentoring someone offers you a perspective on yourself, reflected in their response to you and your experiences. It makes you think quite hard about your own opportunities, risks and failures.  At the heart of it, IMNIS is the program that I wish I had available to me in my early career and ultimately I hope that my children will benefit from when they eventually choose their career pathway in years to come.