4 Nov 2021

Top tips we learned from the Monash Neuroscience ECR Career Pathway event

Dr Bridgette Semple, top left-hand corner, moderated the panel
. L-R, top to bottom, linked to each video presentation:
Dr Karen McConalogue, Dr Brittany Howard,
Dr Anthony Filippis,
Dr Bernd Merkel, Dr Heidi Nicholl, Dr Wee-Ming Boon,
Professor James Bourne, Professor Terry O'Brien

Monash Neuroscience held a special event in August 2021 for late stage PhD students and Early Career Researchers within the University network about what career opportunities are available within and beyond academia. 

The overarching goal of the event was to help attendees identify transferable skills for a post-academic career as well as hear from invited speakers from a range of fields about their career pathways.

There were an overwhelming 255 registrations for the event, with more than 100 registrations external to Monash University – this was definitely unexpected! Considering that most people seem overburdened by the copious Zoom meetings and other online meeting/conference platforms, the interest we received suggests the event was fulfilling a need felt by late stage and early career researchers in neuroscience and Monash Neuroscience as an entity had achieved excellent visibility within the internal and external community.

For young students and researchers, online platforms have become an on-going necessity. It is our new way to work, connect and be ‘in person’ without actually being in the same room. We were thrilled to have 156 people join our online event, the majority of whom were from Monash University (86%) followed by the University of Queensland, the University of Melbourne, CSL, University of Adelaide, Sydney University, Deakin University, RMIT, the University of Tasmania, and the Baker Institute, and some international attendees from Malaysia, India, Hong Kong, and Nepal (truly amazing, thank you all!).

Key themes (communication, business skills, management) and take home messages arose during the event, a few of which we thought we would share with you here -

  1. Identify and apply transferable skills learned through your PhD to help you through the transition into a new field.
  2. Work beyond the scope of your current area by looking out for opportunities to bolster your strengths and learned skills.
  3. Timing is everything – knowing when to push and when to hold is important.
  4. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture – It is easy to get lost in the weeds in a research career, but there is a lot more to it than that, you are developing a lot of transferable skills that can help you make a successful career transition. 
  5. Consider the organisation’s culture before you jump to ensure that they share your values.
  6. Volunteering within the industry will give you a better idea of the role you are interested in and if it is a career you want to pursue.
  7. Relationships matter – connect with people using social media, don’t be afraid of talking to people and asking questions.
  8. Find a mentor or a few – ask your mentor for advice and what they think your strengths and weaknesses are.
  9. Be prepared to take a hit – Leaving academia can take an initial financial and mental toll on you, learn to ‘leave your ego at the door’.
  10. Strive towards a good work-life balance – Set limits and boundaries to help prioritise your mental health (self-care) and your family – know the extent to what you are willing to compromise.
  11. ‘Don’t wedge in nonsense’ during a job interview. Be direct, honest and provide concrete and relevant examples to questions.
  12. Take an interest in your budget to understand how to run a business. This will involve a balance of the technical aspects and business aspects and prepare you to help run a successful business.
There were so many more messages and tips, which came about in specific areas. We invite you to view the talks in your own time to see for yourself!

What did you think?

We received feedback from over a quarter of attendees about aspects of the event. Most of you felt that this event was helpful in identifying and developing transferable skills (98%). The most popular and highest rated post-academic career pathway of the event was Government research funding agencies (presented by Dr Wee-Ming Boon), followed by Medical research and strategic management (Dr Karen McConalogue), equally Community Advocacy and outreach (Dr Heidi Nicholl) and Industry – Non-governmental organisations (Dr Anthony Filippis), Industry – Pharmaceuticals (Dr Bernd Merkel) and IP, Patency and trademarks (Dr Brittany Howard). The same pattern was identified in relation to what attendees would like to hear about more in the future. 

Attendees were most interested in both academic and post-academic career development, management training, and mentorship programs for future Monash Neuroscience initiatives and events. 

Most of you liked hearing about the different experiences and trajectories of careers, a good overview of the career options available ‘all the way from a speaker’s PhD to their current role’, the diversity and quality of speakers and appreciating the speaker’s providing their personal journeys in a ‘raw, honest/genuine and sincere’ way. 

The panel Q&A was also felt to be very informative and enjoyable highlight of the event. One attendee commented that ‘I am so glad I was able to attend this event. The questions posed in the Q&A section are similar questions that I have had throughout this year.’

The pandemic experience has brought a change in the way that people once considered their careers. Many have pivoted into other areas they ordinarily would not have had the courage to take a leap and possibly leaving the lab or academia. So these types of events are invaluable for gaining insights as to what is out there because you might have heard a particular job title or two but you will probably have no idea what they actually do!

Questions you need to ask yourself - 

  • What are you interested in? What are you passionate about? What job are you going to love showing up to each day? [see this TED talk]
  • What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? (Need help trying to identify these? Well, fear no more as you can use this helpful guide or visit the myIDP web-based tool
  • Do you think you need a PhD for the type of career you want to pursue?
  • If you are doing a PhD, do you enjoy doing it? Can you see yourself doing this each day as a career? Do you have that ‘fire in your belly’?
  • Who will you be working with on a day-to-day basis? Who will be your colleagues?

Keep up-to-date with #MonashNeuroscience through the Monash News alerts and visit the website.

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