As a PhD student, I take every opportunity I can to improve my skills, network, and eat delicious food... Earlier this year I attended two really useful postgrad workshops: Research Bazaar (all about digital literacy, skills, and tools) and InSPiRE (all about communication, collaboration, and innovation), both held at Curtin University.
I learnt a LOT, met some great people, and ate plenty of tasty food over those five days. I'd highly recommend attending next year if you can! In case you missed it, here's five of the key messages I took home from both workshops:
1) Find a mentor
I've been hearing this a lot lately. It seems as though successful people always have a mentor! Someone to follow for inspiration and advice, someone to provide guidance and support, someone who celebrates your achievements. Sounds perfect, but how do you actually find a mentor? Do you just email someone cool with "hello, will you be my mentor please?" and hope for the best?
Okay, not exactly... but close! If you've noticed someone doing well in your field of interest, don't be afraid to reach out to them. Tell them a bit about yourself, and ask whether you can buy them a coffee and chat about how they got to where they are. Most people who would make good mentors will be happy to take the time to chat with you - plus, they get free food and you get good advice, so it's a win-win!
If you want something a bit more official, you can try checking whether your university or another organisation already has a mentor program that could match you with someone working in academia or industry. Do some digging, there's probably a lot of options out there!
2) Learn a programming language
Hands up if you've ever felt that learning a programming or coding language was a big, scary, impossible task? My hand is up, fo sho.
Learning how to write and understand code is maybe a bit difficult at first, but once you've got it, it's an incredibly important skill. Personally, I need this skill to be able to perform statistical analyses on my data, and to finish my PhD! Looking to the future, it seems like many workplaces in both academia and industry are looking for people that have this skill ... so how can we get it?
Well, luckily, there's heaps of resources out there to help you! Your university probably has some courses or workshops to help you get started. Or, you can start a study group with some friends and colleagues to work through problems together. Check online for free courses - I've tried some at software-carpentry.org, edx.org, and datacamp.com - have a look to see what might work for you!
3) Be a science communicator
Some things just go together: fish and chips, cookies and cream, research and communication. Wow, I'm hungry. Anyway, the point is, research can't just exist in a vacuum - it needs to get out there to everyone possible: fellow researchers, industry, policy-makers, stakeholders, students, interested members of the general public!
You can communicate your science by writing your own blog, sharing research experiences on social media, making videos, giving a talk at schools or public events, volunteering at a science museum... there's so many options out there, so why not choose one and give it a go!
Alternatively, you could work closely with a communicator you trust, to help get your research story out to a new audience. At ResBaz, I was interviewed by Daniel Kelsey-Wilkinson from the podcast Vaguely Accurate Science - it was pretty cool to chat about my research for the show, you can listen to the Special Showcase of ResBaz Researchers here!
4) Work on your industry pitch
Imagine that you're in an elevator with a Very Important Person from your dream industry. You've got a rare opportunity to tell them about yourself, your research, and your ideas. But you've only got ninety seconds. Okay, go!
Challenging, right? We all love to talk about our area of research, so refining it down to just over a minute is pretty tough. Personally, as a biologist who deals with increasing ecological knowledge, framing my research as something to sell to industry was even tougher. If you have this same issue, try thinking outside your research box - maybe there's a product or service that could improve research efficiency or outreach potential?
As far as the actual pitch goes, we learnt at InSPiRE that you've really got to focus on the "why" of your research, to draw people in. Why is it important? Why are you doing what you do? Why should anyone else care? Once that's established, then you can go into how you do it and what you actually do!
5) Recognise your thesis writing monsters
At InSPiRE, we had an awesome workshop by Dr Cecily Stutt, who reassured us that everybody has writing monsters... There's the quiet sly monsters that say seemingly helpful things like "ooh you should really get a few more references before you start writing!", there's the distracted bouncy monsters that say "was that an email notification? better check that!" and there's the louder meaner monsters that might say "this is terrible, you're terrible, everything is terrible!!"
This workshop encouraged us to notice those monsters when they stop you from writing, give them a name, then put them to one side! They can wait, and be dealt with after you've done some actual writing for the day.
We also received some great tips and techniques for writing throughout InSPiRE, but those might have to wait for another blog post (this one is already almost a month later than it should be, which is actually a little bit ironic, because this last section was the one I found most difficult to write...)
Next time ResBaz and InSPiRE come to a university near you, I'd definitely recommend coming along! If you've been to either of these events before, I'd love to hear about the most important lessons you took away from it!