Be bold for change was the theme for the 2018 International Women’s Day celebration. If you are at a junction or on a journey of  discovery, these lessons may be useful. 

October 2016 marked the 5 years anniversary of what I call the journey to discovering my purpose. It all started when I completed my post graduate degree and found myself at a cross roads where I was contemplating my next steps. I had time on my hands after a year of lectures, assignments and working to deadlines and I had to fill up that time. Through this gap filling process, I learnt, I grew, I failed, I evolved and more importantly, I discovered my purpose. I was no longer at a cross roads. My path was clear.

As we celebrate InternationalWomen’s Day today, I use the occasion to celebrate my growth and how I’m learning to be bold for change. By sharing some of the lessons I’ve learnt from my journey, I hope to inspire someone else to be bold for change.

Below are some of the recommended experiences and discoveries I made during that time. If you’re a on a path to discover your purpose, particularly if you’re at the early stage of your career, then some of these may be of use.

Careers Fair – Everyone must attend a career fair at least once in their life time – I attended a life science careers fair at the University of Westminster after my post graduate degree. It was the first careers fair I had attended. Up until then, I was pretty much going with the flow into what I felt maybe ideal for me without having sufficient information into the career path. Information with regards to career prospects, what a typical day would entail and salary expectations is not readily available in a relatable way when you try to research online. What I learnt from this careers fair was the various options and sectors within the life sciences which I had no idea about. Some of these included policy, communication and science journalism. By meeting with and hearing from real people and having the opportunity to ask questions I left with a wealth of knowledge about careers in the life sciences which better helped direct my path. One of the talks during the event was a career in academia which was given by my current PhD supervisor. It felt good saying to him during my interview, ‘hey I was in your talk at the life science careers fair a few years ago’. This leads on to my next recommendation, Networking!

Networking – You’ll be amazed at the number of partnerships, projects, businesses and even job offers that come from networking. I’ve come across individuals who decide to attend an event because of a particular person at that event they want to connect with and that first meet has led to successful business partnerships. I can’t advise on successful networking tips but I can guarantee you that there’s almost always an event in your area of interest on a weekly basis. Obviously, it’s practically impossible to attend every networking event, lecture or conference but there will always be that one event you really want to go to. Whiles we may have an interest in various topics, one thing will surpass the other. For me, this is what influences my ease of networking and making contacts at an event. For example, networking an immunology conference may not be as comfortable as networking at a dermatology conference. I’ve had various opportunities and relationships established through conversations at networking events.

From these connections, there will come a time where you may need to ask for something, which leads in to my next recommendation, #JustAsk.

#JustAsk –  I embraced this phrase after volunteering on a project a friend was working on. I needed experience in event planning and she had what I needed so I offered my services to learn through the process. One valuable lesson she taught me which has served me well to date is to just ask. You will be amazed at the number of people who are always more than happy to say yes. And if you consider the worst case scenario, what have you got to loose?, nothing! but the time you spent asking. So next time you are contemplating whether or not to ask, just remember to #JustAsk.

This bring me to my next point on volunteering.

There is a wealth of experience in volunteering –  I’ll tell you a story. I came across an advert that read ‘standing up for science in the media workshop for early career researchers’ This was a workshop meant for PhD students and above and it was being organised by an organisation called Sense About Science. I needed to attend that workshop as it was offering something I needed yet I did not qualify as a graduate student. So going my #justask mantra, I sent an email to ask if I could attend and of course the answer was yes! but as a volunteer. This was great news. Not only do I get to attend the workshop but I also get to gain skills in running a workshop. After that workshop I spent about 3 months working at the Sense About Science office gaining invaluable experience on working for a science charity. This is just one of several examples about how volunteering has helped shape my career to date.

Professional membership – Every industry will have a professional group. Whether this is a small network or an established professional organisation, I’ll recommended you sign up to one in your industry. There are usually various membership levels and some of the more established ones will come with a fee with discounts applied based on your career level. These groups serve as a vital source of information for current news and trends in your sector as well as opportunities, career development programs and networking events.  It is advisable to stay updated with your industry and these groups offer a way to keep up.

Training adds value –  I consider myself a science communicator and a public engagement expert and in 2016 I received a prestigious science communication award. I came to this point through various training programs. At the first science communication training workshop that I attended, I barely had any knowledge of the field and attended out of interest. When I got into the industry I still attended training programs designed for those new to the sector because there was always something new to learn, potential collaboration to form and ideas to share.

However much you think you know and whatever your level of expertise, there is always something new to learn that will be of added value. The investment will add value to your knowledge.

Get a mentor – I can’t emphasise this enough. It only took me one meeting with my mentor to re-focus and awaken my inner confidence and to remind myself of the value my work added to that of others as well as why it was important to celebrate success. Whatever stage of life that you find yourself, having a mentor adds value to your development. This can be someone at the peer level,  a spiritual level or a professional level. The important thing with a mentoring relationship is identifying the right mentor for you and having clear targets and expectations of what you hope to gain through the process. Whiles I had known about the value of mentoring for a long time, it was only when I identified the perfect mentoring match that I instigated the relationship and it’s proven to be just what I needed. I’ll explore the value of mentoring more in another post.

Last but not the least;

Take a break – There will be times when you will feel drained. It is ok to stop during these moments for the sake of sanity. In recent times, I have gone through periods where my brain just feels saturated and I just can’t seem to focus or get organised. What, I’ve come to do during these times is turn to my TV. There’s probably three times a week now where I get home and all I do aside the usual routines is relax and find something entertaining to watch. Currently loving #BeingMaryJane. Reading a good book before bed also helps although for me, this only works if the book is a page turner.

Finally, I’ll like to add that, it’s ok to fail as every failure comes with its own lessons learnt. My first PhD upgrade date had to be cancelled as everything was going wrong and I was just not ready. I was determined not to postpone the date, which put me under so much stress. Eventually I had to make the call to cancel which sucked then but it meant I was even more prepared when the time came (or so I thought).  The experience came with several useful lessons and on hindsight I’ll rather it was with the upgrade than the final viva as the lessons learnt will be useful in preparing for the viva.

I wish you all the best in your endeavours as you discover your own purpose.