Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.
Job title and company: Manager, Organistational and Career Development, University of Tasmania
Approximate salary range for your type of role: AUD$91 – 105k
I completed my undergraduate, Honours and PhD studies in Microbiology at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Through this journey I knew I was going to become Professor Preston, and was fortunate that my PhD supervisor introduced me to members of the lab I eventually moved to at the University of Sheffield. What started as a three-year postdoc was extended as more funding became available, so in the end I spent five years on the project including a 12-month visiting fellow post at the University of Pittsburgh, USA.
While at the University of Sheffield I joined the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Research Staff Association (MDHRSA). As a committee member, communications officer and departmental champion I developed skills in collaboration, event coordination and management, succession planning, negotiation and influence. I also learned the value of mentoring for career progression and success. I started to realise that the time I spent with the MDHRSA was more satisfying and better aligned with my values than postdoctoral research, and was fortunate to have been matched with a fantastic mentor through the Researcher Mentoring Programme, who helped me to sort through the fog to identify exactly what it was that I enjoyed, and what I didn’t, about my academic career trajectory.
On return to Australia I retrained and have been working in career development for 4.5 years. My focus remains in the higher education sector, initially supporting early career researcher development, then transitioning into the student careers space as a mentor program coordinator.
The transition from academia to career development was not an easy one. I’d spent years studying and working towards my goal of Professor Preston, so for a long time leaving was akin to failing. I wasn’t good enough. There must be something wrong with me. In truth there was nothing wrong. Academia just isn’t the right path for me. My values were not aligned, and my strengths not realised in the way they are now.
I’ve recently been promoted to the role of Manager, Organisational and Career Development at the University of Tasmania. In this position I manage leadership and career development initiatives aligned with the needs of individual academic and professional staff and their organisational units, while considering the University’s strategic vision.
My role is based within the central Staff Experience team in Human Resources, ensuring our suite of learning and development programs is accessible to all staff across the institution. Throughout the year my team works on a range of programs, including Leadership Development for Women, the Executive Leadership Program, Career Development Scholarships, online skill development workshops and courses, and Professional Staff masterclasses. We are also tasked with ensuring that staff engage with the Performance and Career Development (PACD) process, our SRDS equivalent.
Is my PhD important for this role? Both yes and no. A PhD as a qualification level isn’t a requirement for employment. It is the transferrable skills that have made all the difference. Research, data analysis, project management, communication, teamwork, negotiation, awareness of higher education politics and processes – all have contributed to my success in each role I have taken on since leaving academia. In some cases my “been there, done that” experience has been beneficial in providing a level of authenticity to the conversations, workshops and programs that I’ve developed and facilitated. Unfortunately, there is also a small section of the academic community that seem to show more respect for me as a professional/general staff member because I have a title.
If I could leave you with one tip, it is this: make the most of all opportunities provided to you. Join the v i s t a mentoring programme to learn first-hand from someone who has also moved into a non-academic career. Join your relevant Research Staff Association. Attend seminars, workshops and public lectures inside and outside your field, building a strong professional network. Be authentic in your engagements, signing up because you want to learn and contribute, not (just) because “it will look good on my CV”. I know this all takes time, but career development for me wasn’t an accident. It look time and deliberate effort, and I’m happier and more fulfilled for having taken the time and made the change.
Where can researchers look for jobs like yours?
My role was advertised on the University website. Many medium to large organisations, as well as government departments, also have a learning and development team. The key is definitely networking.
What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work?
The Career Development Association of Australia (CDAA) has been instrumental in my career progression. I joined as a student in 2012 and moved to Professional membership after completing my degree. I met my first manager in this new career path at a CDAA committee meeting, and was recommended for my next role through a CDAA conference connection. It really is all about networking!
I completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Development, a requirement of professional membership of CDAA and qualification level required for many career development positions in Australia.