Trinity Alumni Dr Amy Nisselle (TC 1991) knows only too well the importance of networking. It has been a cornerstone of her fascinating career story.
Dr Nisselle is currently Specialist Project Officer with the Australian Genomics Health Alliance based at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and a leader in the multidisciplinary field uniting science and communication. She has forged a successful career – one that’s taken her to London and New York for a decade – explaining science to students and the public, working with graphic designers, videographers and developers to produce websites, animations, short films and apps to make complex scientific information accessible and exciting.
But that wasn’t the plan. Her father Paul Niselle (TC 1963) had studied medicine, and she followed in his footsteps at Trinity, aiming to be a forensic scientist. By her Honours year, however, she realised that bench science wasn’t for her. ‘I thought, “I’ve only ever wanted to be a scientist and here I am, finally in the biochem lab, playing around with test tubes, doing research and … I’m not very good at it. I need to interact with people!”’
Her challenge was to find a new path and passion. Over time she accumulated a network and put those connections to good use, to learn and grow professionally and to pick people’s brains for possibilities. She complemented her science background with IT project management training in London, then back in Australia as a medical researcher at the Murdoch, discovering her passion for communicating science using cutting-edge media. It was exciting science, but not as she had first imagined.
‘When I realised I could be a science communicator and could switch other people on to science … that was great. I didn’t have to personally save the planet through bench science but I could show other people that there are all these different ways to do it. You can still end up doing really rewarding things, but it just might not be what, or how, you thought.’
Dr Nisselle recently told her story at a Career Connect – STEM event at Trinity College. It was a great opportunity for the students who attended to hear stories about how she and her fellow speakers, all Trinity alumni, found knowledge, support and fresh approaches thanks to their connections. And Dr Nisselle has a suite of tried-and-tested strategies she’s happy to share.
‘A lot of my career has come about because I’ve had the gutsiness and the willingness to network over a drink with people,’ she reflects. ‘And I stress that it had to be over a drink. It can be a coffee or beer or wine, or whatever, but it cannot be in their office. It has to be in a social setting where you’re not clock watching so much and you can keep talking, see where the conversation goes.’
She agrees that not everyone is comfortable networking face-to-face but urges students to consider all the other ways to reach out. If you hear a speaker you admire at a conference or presentation, make contact by email and ask a question or start a conversation. Connect on a social media platform, or ask a mutual acquaintance to connect you.
‘You don’t need to be an extrovert, you can do a lot of this networking via email, very passively. There’s more than one way to skin a cat,’ she says. ‘Make contact with those who are passionate, aske if you can ping
them one day. Stay in touch with your network; you never know what will float to the surface.’
Volunteering presents another great opportunity, according to Dr Nisselle, offering the twin advantages of developing skills and knowledge as well as broadening connections.
She has a powerful personal example: as a first-year PhD student, she volunteered for a regional careers speaking tour for the Australian Society for Medical Research. The following year, as a volunteer, she arranged the talks and the year after that, organised the media coverage for the tour. At the ‘fancy pants gala dinner’, she chatted with the MC, Bernie Hobbs, who worked in the ABC science unit. Not only did she pick her brain for useful career ideas, she was quick to accept an invitation to visit the ABC Sydney office, at her own expense. Finally, she was offered an internship at the ABC’s flagship science program Catalyst
‘It was an invaluable experience,’ she says. ‘I worked in television, learned about storyboarding and cameras and sound and lighting and editing … all this cool stuff! I got one of my stories up on TV and it’s on my portfolio … There are so many opportunities from volunteering.’
And she walks the walk, as a volunteer with Sisters In Science – itself an inspiring network of young women – telling her story in schools to help encourage more young women to consider careers in STEM.
‘All I do is give my spiel: follow your heart!’ says Dr Nisselle. ‘If you’re not sure what to be when you grow up, do stuff you like in the interim and don’t discount the fact that your job may not exist yet.
‘In 20 years from now, there’ll be a completely different set of jobs anyway. Take bioinformatics – the qualification didn’t exist when I was at uni but now it’s one of the hottest, and well-paid, jobs in my field. You won’t have two or three different careers … they say you’ll have 17! I’m already on to my third or fourth, and I didn’t anticipate it happening that way.
‘And lastly, if you don’t know what to do, go travelling! I tap into my global network all the time, also now for my students, which is really rewarding.’
Stay in touch with other Trinitarians, wherever you are in the world, through the My Trinity Connect portal. It's a great way to keep up with friends, share memories, seek mentors and help forge valuable professional connections. Visit www.mytrinityconnect.com.au to sign up now!