Experts share soft skill career secrets

Employability Week is 8-12 August – the perfect opportunity to find out which soft skills, part-time jobs and career lessons our researchers have learned along the way.

It’s never too early to be career ready! That is the unanimous advice of researchers and teachers from across the School of Biomedical Sciences.

They say, there is much more to employability than honing the technical skills required to land your dream job. In fact, soft skills are just as important. These include communication, teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking, taking initiative, planning and organising, resilience and networking.

Professor Matthew Watt, Head of the Department of Anatomy and Physiology, said he learned many of these employability skills during part-time work at his local tennis club and Coles supermarket.

The diabetes researcher landed his first job in biomedical sciences as a postdoctoral scientist at the University of Guelph in Canada. There he learnt the importance of: “being prepared and not presenting scientific data unless you have the correct control experiments in place”.

Dr Jacob Coffey, a Research Officer in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, was the self-claimed: “best pizza delivery driver for at least two or three suburbs” during his studies.

Dr Coffey’s work focuses on developing better ways to deliver drugs and vaccines to make them more convenient, potent, cost effective and longer lasting. This included his PhD on micro-needle skin patches to administer vaccines without a needle and perform diagnostic tests without a blood draw.

The biggest career lesson he’s learned is that: “Being smart in medical research or academia is not enough. You need to put theory into practice. I’ve seen people who weren’t the highest achievers in school do well in research because they are good in the lab or they developed critical thinking and problem-solving skills later in life.

“These skills aren’t really taught in school or even university, but are learnt during a PhD or on the job. Look forward to developing these additional skills as you move through your education and training as it’s a big part of what makes the job interesting.”

Dr Nikeisha Caruana, of the Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology, said transferrable skills and traits such as resilience have held her career in good stead.

The bioinformatician explores proteins, metabolites (such as vitamins) and lipids (fats) that are involved with mitochondria – the powerhouse of the cell.

“I am a bit like a detective. I take all the evidence and sift through it, making connections to come up with a result. Being able to shed light on biological problems is really exciting and helpful to the wider community. However, it takes persistence, resilience and motivation to keep going, even when you are faced with challenges along the way.”

Dr Caruana also worked at Coles from age 16 to 27. Her first job in biomedical sciences is also her current job – a Post-Doctoral Researcher in Proteomics and Bioinformatics at the Bio21 Institute of Molecular Science and Biotechnology.

The biggest mistake she’s learned so far is that there is not just one pathway to achieving your goals. “Remember, it’s okay if a pathway doesn’t work out because if you are determined you will find another way!”

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