“Be true to yourself – whatever that means for you. You might want to work in one discipline for a while and then move into something different... There was a time when specialising and following a straight line was advantageous for career progression. But I don’t think that holds true today.”
Lucie holds a PhD in Chemistry, but her choice of career may surprise some. As well as working in science communication, she is also the co-founder of Laneway Learning, a community learning platform that was awarded the 2018 Melbourne Award for Contribution to Community by a Community Organisation. Below, she talks transferable skills and what a PhD and a startup have in common.
Laneway Learning is a not-for-profit organisation that focuses on community education. My co-founders and I wanted to empower local people to connect with each other and share knowledge.
The organisation aims to improve our local community and the lives of its members in a few main ways. First, it helps people connect with others. This reduces loneliness and isolation, and the associated negative effects. Bringing people together from all walks of life also builds social unity and tolerance.
Second, it fosters lifelong learning. This helps people stay mentally young and fit, warding off issues such as dementia and mental illnesses.
Third, it empowers learning and teaching outside of traditional educational spaces. Through this, people of all ages ignite new hobbies and develop their professional lives. Many of our teachers have small businesses that have grown dramatically through their involvement with Laneway Learning.
The fact that Laneway Learning is thriving in its eighth year is incredible to me. Especially because I know that many small businesses do not continue past their first five years. I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, and although I have found it challenging at times, I’m extremely proud of what the organisation has achieved. I get a great deal of pleasure hearing from people whose lives are enriched by Laneway Learning – attendees, teachers and volunteers alike. It’s a real feel good factor.
On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much overlap between completing a chemistry PhD and running a community education organisation. However, there are many transferable skills, which I continue to apply to both facets of my career. For example, my science background granted me confidence with maths and data management, which is extremely useful for managing budgets and marketing analytics. Running Laneway Learning helped me to develop my writing, editing and web skills, which are integral to my communications work. A healthy dose of determination and perseverance is vital for both doctoral studies and entrepreneurship, and – of course – scientific knowledge allows me to teach science-based classes!
Good science communicators are an important bridge between different parts of society. They work to share knowledge between distinct groups of people, guiding us towards positive outcomes. For example, science communicators help policy makers and researchers understand each other so that our laws and funding decisions can be based on the most up to date information available (although whether that knowledge is acted on is often another matter!).
They also inform the public about scientific issues and discoveries. This can enrich people’s lives in many different ways – from providing interesting anecdotes to chat about, to sharing important health information that could change people’s habits for the better. Ultimately, discovery is most useful when other people get to know about it and use it, and that's the job of science communicators.
As you can tell, I love to learn. As such, I rarely limit myself to a single idea or goal. Instead, I am always open to new opportunities and am motivated to undertake personal and professional development. Most recently, I have taken a few courses through platforms that offer free or inexpensive courses either face-to-face or online. The existence of these mean that professional development doesn't have to be done through the workplace. Volunteering is another great option to learn new skills and expand your prospects.
I’ve come to realise that I have many transferable skills and love variety. At first, I followed the subjects If was good at and enjoyed at school. But this leads to a problem; ‘if I don’t get a career in that field, what am I supposed to do?’ Some of the things that I enjoy or excel at are not tied to a particular discipline – in my case, chemistry. Instead, they are linked to tasks and ways of working or thinking. For example, researching, communicating ideas and pursuing intellectual challenges.
I’ve also learnt that there are millions of jobs that I never knew existed and that I don’t have to follow a defined route. It’s exciting to know that I can continue to forge my own path and that taking unusual turns opens more proverbial doors.
Be true to yourself – whatever that means for you. You might want to work in one discipline for a while and then move into something different. Perhaps you’d prefer to work two different part-time positions. Or maybe you want to find (or create) a single role that involves wearing many hats. Go for it!
There was a time when specialising and following a straight line was advantageous for career progression. But I don’t think that holds true today. Specialists will always be needed, but technology is constantly changing and workplaces and jobs are adjusting. To be a generalist who can adapt is becoming more and more beneficial.
The traditional career path isn’t for everybody. Even if some steps are sideways, or even backwards, if you are enjoying yourself or are working towards your goals, that’s what matters!