Anne is a senior project officer in the Department of Primary Industries having returned to Australia after post doctoral work at Nottingham. Her career profile offers insights into changing career as an experienced post doc as well as moving country and combining family and a career.
After completing my PhD in plant molecular biology (genomics of cereal cell walls) at the University of Melbourne I took up a post-doctoral research position within the Division of Plant and Crop Sciences at the University of Nottingham. I investigated the molecular control of germination and dormancy in cereal crop species. I enjoyed the challenge of the work and the practical laboratory aspect, but I was unsure about the feasibility of pursuing an academic career and wanted to broaden my skills to improve my chances of employment outside of research. So, I took the opportunity to participate in the University of Nottingham’s Women's Development Programme APPLE (Academics and Administrators Professional, Personal and Leadership Experience) in 2007/8, and as a postdoc representative on the Biosciences Staff Development committee, which included setting up some career workshops for the postdoc staff in 2008. In October 2009, while still mid-contract, I left Nottingham to return to Australia for family reasons.
I had concerns about finding employment back in Australia, so I took steps to find a post remotely before I left the UK, including an interview for a research position in a government research department (the Victorian AgriBiosciences Centre). During the interview, I mentioned that I hoped to develop my career in terms of leadership and management, and that I had recently completed some training in that aspect with APPLE. I was not successful in securing the research position as I lacked experience in some technical methods, but the interviewers still wanted to employ me in some capacity. As I had mentioned my interest in management, the interviewers thought I might be suitable for a project management role, and contacted me to talk about my interest in that opportunity.
When I arrived back in Australia I was told that the project management role wasn't approved because I had requested to be part-time (having a one year old son). However, the interviewer had spoken to a manager in the compliance department and thought there was a suitable part time role available there. After speaking to the compliance manager I was more than happy to take up that role, as it involves new challenges but is still related to science.
The department is building a new, very large research facility in collaboration with a university and my job is to help develop the Operations Management Agreement between the two parties, and the associated Staff Operations Manual. I've now been in this role for six months, and it's been fantastic. It's been a huge learning curve, but a great opportunity to see how a large project like this is managed, and also to contribute to the development of procedures and processes using my background knowledge in laboratory work. I'm also now developing skills in networking, planning, management, and drafting formal documentation (a real process in the government sector!).
Anne's views on managing your career
I've always known that career is a lot about luck and circumstance, and this opportunity was definitely a case of being in the right place at the right time. However, I feel that I created that luck - I chose the way I wanted my career to develop and I knew it would involve moving away from laboratory research. Taking on APPLE/ILM and the Staff Development committee was a conscious step in that direction, and it paid off.
Networking was also key – I’m someone who is scared of the concept of networking, but I do keep in touch with people I respect in my field, and one of these was a previous colleague of my interviewer. She was happy to put in a good word for me and I’m sure that helped a lot. Finally, I’m glad that I didn't compromise on what I wanted to do, especially in terms of working part time. I’m looking forward to the challenge of continuing the development of my career progression with my second child on the way.