The life of a scientist can be complex. Scientists need to be creative, executive, and efficient. They also need to be leaders, managers, administrators, teachers, and mentors.
Becoming a scientist is challenging because of the plethora of hard and soft skills the job demands, and there is little time to develop them before entering the job market. So, how do you find out whether this is the right path for you?
The Researcher Development Group (RDG) endeavours to help Early Career Researchers (ECRs) of the Centre of Excellence for Plant Success to develop the required skills to become successful artisans of scientific methods. In the RDG, we practice “learning by doing”, and provide the platforms to create professional habits that can help young researchers enter a path of discovery and impact with a broad range of skills.
ECR members of the RDG play a fundamental role in the creation and execution of activities for Centre members, with great emphasis on PhD student and Postdoctoral Researcher development. These ECRs are leaders in training, exposed to the tough yet inspiring job of becoming a scientist. At the Research Retreat last month, the fantastic efforts of the ECR members of the RDG where recognised with an award for inclusivity (pictured in the header image above).
The RDG receives mentorship from Chief Investigator Professor John Bowman and I, with administrative support from Business Manager Melissa McKain. In setting up the RDG we established three development domains:
- The Blue Domain, presently led by Dr Candice Bywater, Dr Jazmine Humphreys, and Ola Amoo, creates workshops and activities that help ECRs be at the forefront of knowledge and skill in their fields, as well as on writing training and advice across different Centre activities (e.g., co- reviewing papers, writing a compelling CV, identifying target journals for your research).
- The Orange Domain, presently led by Dr Buddhini Radawaka and Dr Akila Wijerathna Yapa, focuses on activities that improve the wellbeing and mental health of researchers, as well as increasing broader non-science-specific skills such as people management, time management, managing work/life balance.
- The Green Domain, presently led by Sam Barton and Dr Tom Fisher, fosters interactions amongst ECRs, creates spaces for dissemination of scientific information via the Science Webinar series, and links ECRs with collaborators and external partners.
But the contributions of ECRs to the scientific development of others does not stop there. Through their leadership roles in the Virtual Labs, ECRs are making a difference in the ways in which we communicate across the Centre. They are also providing training on presenting complex ideas to a general audience and facilitating discussion about the many efforts taking place across the Centre. I have witnessed the transformative power of their enthusiasm in these activities and would like to thank Virtual Lab leaders Dr Akila Wijerathna Yapa, Dr Brodie Lawson, Dr Nicole Fortuna, Dr Jonathan Mitchell, Dr Chris Blackman, Dr Buddhini Ranawaka, and Dr Hamish MacDonald for their efforts.
Currently, the Centre comprises 46 Postdoctoral Researchers and 41 PhD students! They bring a variety of skills across multiple fields of knowledge. ECRs in the Centre are growing to become a unique type of scientist; one who can speak the languages of physiology, genetics, mathematics, breeding, ecology, computers, and more. They can communicate with specialists and generalists alike and aspire to communicate complex ideas to the public in understandable terms. I have no doubt that ECRs from the Centre will be assets to society.
Recently, Centre ECRs from across the country met in person to discuss scientific ideas, and plan collaborations. ECRs were greeted by Professor Bruce Walsh (Centre Science Advisory Panel), a passionate teacher and researcher. Bruce, who has helped generations of ECR scientists to understand the language of genetics, drove an insightful activity for all who participated. By having attendees go through a series of questions about the creative process in science, he helped ECRs create strong personal and intellectual bonds with their peers. This priming activity led to vigorous discussion during the ECR poster session. These collaborations will come to fruition as the RDG gets ready to release the Centre Kickstart Grant Program soon. The Kickstart will help ECRs gain training in grantsmanship and secure funds to execute research beyond their current projects.
This brings me to a final point I would like to share. ECRs are developing in the middle of a call for excellence, a mandate of integrity, and a continuous invitation to be inclusive. ECRs design experiments, collect data, coordinate teams, write papers, mentor peers and students, and participate actively in the success of the Centre, to fulfil the promise we were entrusted with. This is a challenging environment, both intellectually and emotionally, and we must protect their wellness and growth. We must continually create a nurturing, edifying, and shining ecosystem of development. We have a responsibility to each and every one of them to help them find their own voice!
In ‘Letters to a Young Poet’, Rainer Maria Rilke encourages the young writer to “keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to questions that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer.” The Centre strives to provide that space for the young scientist, for them to find their innermost reasons for curiosity and discovery. As a Centre, we ask “How can we give our ECRs the space where they can find their own intellectual and personal voice?” “How can we reply to their questions with care and direction?” Our commitment is to strive to sort out these questions ourselves so we can facilitate their exploration and development of self in their own scientific pursuits. This is critical for their success and for our success as a Centre.
“Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes a great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty Describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is no poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sound – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attention to it.”
– Passage from the first “Letter to a young poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke.
Associate Professor Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos
Chief Investigator and Researcher Development Co-Leader, The University of Queensland