Science Pathways 2016: Future leaders EMCR forum
Two of our committee members, Dr. David Gonsalvez, Ph.D. and Dr. Jaclyn Pearson Ph.D., were selected to attend the Early and Mid-Career Researcher Forum annual conference in Sydney in September 2016. Below are personal accounts of their experiences.
Dr David Gonsalvez, Ph.D, NHMRC MSRA Peter Doherty Fellow, School of Biomedical Sciences, MDHS | The University of Melbourne
“This report is to complement the official document released by the Australian Academy of Sciences that summarises the Future Leaders Event. I have focused on areas where I perceived the talks, or workgroup sessions to be different to the official summary provided to delegates. For sections in which my observations were not significantly different to what is described in the official document I have stated referred the reader to official conference summary:
Day 1 Session 1: Opening Address: Simon McKeon AO, Chancellor of Monash University
Back Story: Simon started of as a businessman who has served as the chairman of Macquarie Group, AMP and CSIRO. In addition to his role as chancellor of Monash University, he holds current position as the Chairman of In2Science, the Group of Eight’s Industry and Innovation Program. Main focus: Despite being the chairman of so many institutions, the main focus of Simon’s talk was to tell his story of how he as part of a team (including engineers and sailing enthusiasts), managed to design, build and pilot the first sail boat to crack the 50 knot mark.
For me he really used this story to emphasise some key points:
- Take the risk to pursue what you are passionate about
- Get a sense of other peoples passion and skills (try to identify the common goal that everyone is trying to achieve in a group)
Pay attention to other peoples interests and goals, sometimes they may be truly common to yours, this leads to the formation of the best working groups (comment he made to me when I asked him a question after the talk)
- For innovation to really occur, you must be willing to be a little bold, and you must be willing to get into the drivers seat.
The Chewen Keynote: Professor Emma Johnston (UNSW Australia).
Back Story: Despite being profssor, and one of the most eminent researchers of marine ecology and ecotoxicology Emma, is an exemplar science communicator and television presenter. Main Focus: Leadership in science, science communication and the need to engage the public and take on public office.
For me the main take home key points were:
- Leadership is something that scientists just simply cannot overlook; some scientists think that investing their own leadership development is a waste of time. Emma strongly disagrees (as do I).
- Being a leader in does not simply mean you publish in the best journals, or that you are the most successful at getting grants it goes far beyond this.
- In order for science to be come more prominent in the Australian political agenda scientists have to bring about change, currently <10% of our politicians have a STEM qualification! Why is politics a no-option, in terms of a career path for people with a PhD???
- You have to put yourself out there, and prepared to accept the fact that for change to occur (either for yourself or more broadly) you need to be willing to put the hard yards in, despite knowing that there is potentially little short term personal return.
- Scientists taking on leadership, with respect to public engagement must be valued more strongly. Only with public awareness, comes public debate, comes political interest… The public’s perception of the value of science is up to us to create and currently we are not focused enough in this regard (comment relating to a question asked).
Breakout Session A. This was a small group discussion in which our group addressed the question “What makes a great leader? What makes a poor leader? Think about your own experiences.” Aside from what is listed in the official document, included are some of the more tangential points that were raised in our breakout group session:
- The capacity to identify what motivates people
- Trust, and a genuine desire to share success
- Being bold, a willingness to take calculated risks
Additional more tangential points:
- Funding longevity (or a lack there of), in most cases the term of employment contracts makes it difficult to focus on long-term leadership goals.
- There is very limited acknowledgement for demonstrating leadership in most of the Major Universities KPI’s, however some of the private institutes i.e. CSIRO did have leadership as a focus in terms of promotion.
- Include leadership as a metric in evaluation for ARC and NHMRC fellowships
- Start small (lab based initiatives like student evaluations and mentoring) then get bigger.
- Be the leader you want to see, have the courage to hold your ground when it counts, develop listening and communication skills, and even formally invest in up-skilling.
Day 1 Session 2: Panel discussion: Pathways to research leadership
This was a panel discussion with several speakers (Kevin Pfleger, Sarah Wheeler, Tamara Davis and Matthew Hill). Each speaker gave a quick talk about his or her career followed by a panel type discussion at the end. Personal take: I feel as though this session was more focused on how these scientists became successful, I would have liked it if there was more of a focus on leadership, but the key points that I have listed below focus mainly on how to become a research leader rather than what these people believe they did to become successful, for that see the official document:
- Focus on how you can guide your group, staff and students into new innovative territory
- Pay attention to when change is necessary, and be bold enough to drop a research program that you do not believe is going to take you to new places. Also have the guts to put yourself out there and take your group into “unsafe territory” that may be a bit risky
- Drive collaboration with partners funded outside of the NHMRC and ARC, they exist but you have to take the rains and steer the interaction (try doing this through small partner grants, commercialisation grants etc…)
- Be aware of problems and address them ASAP, don’t avoid having the difficult conversations, listen then talk to people, always keep a clear communication line open and try to mitigate forcible problems early.
- You need to be resilient and have some self belief, all of the panel members emphasised how they had been rejected many times, it’s a matter of having the guts to stick it out sometimes, this can be the hardest part of leadership. When you take people down a path, don’t expect it to be smooth sailing.
Day 1 Session 3: Session Presenter: Mark Douglas (ETHOS Australia PTY Ltd)
For the most part please refer to the information provided in the official Academy of Sciences document. A couple of points that I thought were important but not emphasised in the official summary, they mainly relate to the relationship between the University sector and Government:
- If we want to improve government engagement with science, then we have to consider refraining from simply banging on the door asking for more funding, instead, we should look to see how we can assist government in improving their operation, or help them to better achieve some of their targets. If we do this, Government will look more favourably at funding science going forward.
- By demonstrating the value of high quality science to government operation, we may move the stereotypical political view that the ARC and NHMRC and nothing more than “welfare for scientists”
- Like it or not, there is a current government objective for academic researchers to be more engaged with commercial partners.
- Think about how to communicate your science to the general public. Public opinion and perception can significantly impact decision-making processes, regarding how resources should be allocated to science.
Day 2 Session 4: Panel discussion: Balancing Leadership and Management
This was a panel discussion with the following panellists (Douglas MacFarlane, Julie Cairney and Susan Pond). Each speaker gave a quick talk about their view on balancing management and leadership.
Some key points that supplement the information outlined in the official conference summary:
- During the question time it became clear that in general the perception is that the ARC may be more effective in judging “relative to opportunity” compared with NHMRC
- Empower you staff and colleagues, try and take them with you, perhaps even allow your self to be lead, this might be a way for you to expand your research and foster leadership development within your team!
Day 2 Session 5: Panel and short presentations: Communicating visions and outcomes
This was a series of presentations followed by a short a panel discussion with the following panellists (Robyn Williams, Associate Prof Darren Curnoe, Rick Baker, Dr Esther Levy, Dr Thomas Barlow). This section is covered very well in the official conference summary however I have added some additional points.
- Utilise the media connections in your university, help them to promote your work if you have something big
- Don’t waste your time trying to engage media unless you have something Big, Novel or very interesting to a large audience
- Make your communication simple clear and demonstrate enthusiasm for your work.
Breakout Session B. This the second small group discussion session, in which our group addressed the question: “What are the greatest risks to our path to leadership as EMCRs? How will we get over them? Aside from what is listed in the official document, these are some extra points that came up in our group discussion:
- The personal risk landscape that we take on by pursuing, and guiding our staff to a novel new direction
- Diverting from doing only what is required in the Metrics that funding bodies value as important
- Engage the ‘higher ups’ for support, after all EMCRs make up the majority of the research workforce
- Seek development in the from of formal leadership training
- Use ‘safer periods’ (periods where you have just got a grant/flellowship) wisely to build long term strategies.”
Dr Jaclyn Pearson, NHMRC Peter Doherty Early Career Research Fellow, Department of Microbiology and Immunology.
“The EMCR Forum is a network run out of the Australian Academy of Science that supports and promotes the career development of early – mid career researchers who are up to 15 years post-PhD. They engage with the NHMRC, ARC, local and national government and industry to help identify and promote career and funding opportunities for EMCRs. Importantly, the Forum has a strong focus on gender equity and diversity.
This 2-day conference was focused on identifying and understanding how to promote pathways to leadership, an area that many EMCR members had flagged as an important area in which they required help/advice. The program centred around a range of diverse speakers including the renowned Simon McKeon AO (Monash University) and Robyn Williams AM (ABC Radio). These talks were followed by panel discussions with plenty of time for questions and discussion from the audience. In between the speaker’s sessions there were breakout workshops which aimed to focus our thoughts on key questions around leadership and strategies towards becoming a strong and effective leader, as well as the obstacles that we face in trying to achieve this. All of the discussion points were collated on the final day and delivered back to attendees in a report distributed by the EMCR Forum committee.
I would like to list the inspirational, helpful and take-home points from the speakers that really stood out to me. A summary of all speaker’s talks and of discussion group outcomes can be found in the EMCR full conference Report.
Simon McKeon AO – Monash University
- It is easier to lobby Government for funding for sports facilities than science because it has a more developed sense of competitive psychology, from years of effort and resource input. Science needs to learn how to do this, to effectively engage and communicate. Some scientists think it may cheapen their sense of research but he says “science has no merit unless it can be understood by the person selling you drinks”
Tamara Davis (Cosmologist) UQ
- Leadership skills can be developed in diverse areas, in and out of science. Take opportunities wherever you can, create new visions, take the step of deviating form the plan, take the risk and make new plans!
Matthew Hill (Chemist) CSRIO
- Keep an open mind and display courage, believe that you are brilliant
- Collaborate whenever you can to get bigger papers – this is key
- Ask the question: ‘who am I going to work for and what are they doing for me?’ but also ask ‘what can I do for others’.
- Think about growth areas in Australia: small companies working with scientists, NOT large firms.
Kevin Pfleger (Endocrinologist & Pharmacologist) UWA
- Find a niche
- Look outside NHMRC and ARC for funding
- Recruit people who will challenge you, those not afraid to make mistakes. Get your team to understand the END GOAL of your research, develop a culture.
Sarah Wheeler (Natural Resource Economist) Uni of Adelaide
- Never take no for an answer – be resilient
- If you are not getting rejected – you are not submitting to high enough journals
- Inspiring people within and outside your discipline makes good research leader
- Learn how to pitch your research in 3-4 minutes. Describe the world of your research did not exist, how is it benefitting the wider community?
- Use surprise: counterintuitive information (facts that other people don’t know), this build attention and curiosity. Strive for simplicity, use proverbs, stories, metaphors.
- The 3 elements of research leadership
- lead yourself, know your strengths and weaknesses
- lead your team, you will get value from them
- lead your discipline/university, become known across the disciplines
- Get to know yourself: Be alert to your team and your own behaviour – do you talk too much? Not listen enough?
- Seek a 360º evaluation from people you respect
- Be a constructive driver of change: Steer clear of ‘complainers’ – look to the people who are the catalyst for change
Robyn Williams AM (ABC Radio)
- We are in a state of stasis, we need to free up creativity and talent
- Qualities of a good leader: 1) TRUST!!!! 2) Actively recruit people who are good at what they do, you can’t be good at everything.
- Record yourself in an interview with a friend, see how long 3 mins is, see how you sound. Show enthusiasm without going over the top.
Darren Curnow (Anthropologist) UNSW
- Writes a column and has millions of readers
- Get a WordPress account and just write!
- Media is not about self promotion, just communicating the science to the people
- Your greatest asset is that you are a scientist
- Guiding principles: understanding (of stakeholders e.g. media, knowledgeable on subject), be detached (facts not people), be passionate (let it show), be genuine (always be honest), quality (of writing and speaking).
In addition, there was a social evening which was essentially a workshop in itself – probably one of the most enjoyable and beneficial social events I have attended for such an event. Whilst having drinks and food the organisers placed us in groups of ~8 people. We had to nominate an ‘actor’ or ‘speaker’ who would deliver a speech to the whole audience on why they were such a great leader (all sarcasm) – full of self importance and everything being about themselves. This was supposed to identify what being a ‘bad leader’ looked like but with humour added. We took all of our knowledge from the talks and workshops on what a good leader should be and just flipped it on it’s head – a fun and insightful way to exaggerate the points of effective and ineffective leaders.
Overall this was a fantastic conference and provided some essential strategic planning ideas for early and mid career researchers. I would highly recommend this to all EMCRs in the future. I believe that the University of Melbourne ECR Network could build a collaborative relationship with The Academy of Science EMCR Forum and that this would increase the presence of The University of Melbourne within the Academy of Science (which is currently lacking) and open a platform of information and opportunities for wider networking, government and industry interactions and alternative funding opportunities.”
Perfect Pitch – Grant Writing Workshop
Are you an ECR planning to submit a grant or fellowship application in the 2017 funding round? Are you looking for tips on making your application more competitive? If so, this Perfect Pitch event hosted by the MDHS ECR Network is just for you.
When: Monday January 23rd; 3:00 -6:00 pm
Where: Sanderson Room, Ground Floor, West Wing, Building 181 (Medical Building, Grattan St), The University of Melbourne, Parkville
Session 1: 3:00 – 4:00 pm
Several speakers who have recently sat on fellowship and grant panels will present information about how the review process works, what reviewers are looking for and strategies ECRs can employ to prepare a comprehensive and competitive application. Session 1 of the program is open to PhD students and post-doctoral ECRs from the Faculty of MDHS.
Session 2: 4:00 – 6:00pm
4:00 – 4:30 pm: This session will begin with ECRs being paired with another ECR working in a different field. The partners will exchange the first page of their fellowship or grant application for review by each other. For effective use of time, this first page must be prepared prior to attending the event. ECRs will be given 30 minutes to read the applications.
4:30-6:00 pm: Partners will provide feedback to each other on their applications. ECRs will also be given the opportunity to network with other ECRs. Session 2 of the program is open to post-doctoral ECRs only from the Faculty of MDHS.
Light refreshments will be provided during Session 2.
Who: FREE and open to all MDHS PhD students (Session 1 only) and post-doctoral ECRs; but please note that registration is required prior to the event for catering purposes. Those registering for Session 2 must prepare the first page of their application in advance. Register here. Registrations close Monday January 16th at 4 pm.
MDHS ECR Network End-of-Year Drinks
New – the ECR Writer’s Room!
You asked for it – so we’ve organised it! Do you need dedicated writing time for that paper, grant or editorial? Join us for a monthly at “The ECR writer’s room”. We will write using the Pomodoro method (4 x 25 minute sessions) over 2 hours. Bring coffee, tea, snacks and commence writing!
Date: Friday October 28th, 9 am till 11 am
Location: Jim Potter Room, Old Physics (G-16, Blg 128), Parkville
What to bring? Laptop, notes, food and drink
Questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s time for the 2016 Symposium!
“Seize the unique opportunity to showcase your research and network at the 2016 MDHS ECR Symposium”
After the success of the 2015 Inaugural MDHS ECR Network Symposium, the ECR Network has organised another symposium this year for researchers to network and showcase their research with the opportunity to win the $1500 best oral presentation prize, or one of the many other prizes available. The theme for the symposium this year is ‘collaboration,’ and features Professor Leann Tilley as the plenary speaker.
The scientific program will include oral and poster presentations by MDHS ECRs (see below) and a lunch time panel discussion by mid-career researchers on collaborative research. The event will conclude with the opportunity to network with fellow ECRs whilst enjoying some light refreshments and an award ceremony.
For more information, see the 2016 Symposium page.
Upcoming Event: TRIVIA NIGHT!
Thursday July 28th 6 pm
Come gather with your fellow ECR’s for some good food, craft cider (as well as the other usual suspects) and an action-packed night of Trivia.
What: Dinner followed by trivia hosted by Seb Dworkin (Trivia Buffs). Come solo and join up with new friends on the night, or bring a team of 5. Prizes to be won!
Where: The Cider House, 386 Brunswick St, Fitzroy. Enjoy tasty food and a stellar bar list!
When: Thursday July 28th. Dinner at 6:30 pm sharp (doors open at 6 pm). Trivia begins at 7:30 pm!
Who: All Early Career Researchers in the MDHS Faculty are welcome.
How much: $10 entry (cash at the door); includes dinner and trivia. Choose from 4 delicious meals including vegetarian, gluten-free and lactose-free options.
HAPPY HOUR drink prices all night!
Limited places – register now!
Announcing the new MDHS ECR Network Committee for 2016-2017!
Co-Chairs: Bridgette Semple and Hamish McWilliam
Secretary: Camille Shanahan
Treasurer: Michelle Hall
General members: Jess Fletcher, Jac Pearson, Claudia Marck, Angela Pizzolla, Amy Chung, Michelle Peate, Kevin Lau, Bao Nguyen, Alice Hucker, David Gonsalvez and Nicole Hill.
A huge thank you to the outgoing committee, especially co-chairs Scott Kolbe, for the tremendous job they’ve done over the last year.
If you would like to get involved this year, it not too late! Please contact the Network Committee at email@example.com. There will be plenty of opportunities to help out with events over the coming year.
Musing of a NHMRC Grant Panel ECR Observer
How to Apply for a Postdoc Fellowship