A retreat is a time of reflection but, also, if you get like-minded people together, it’s a great way for new contacts to be made, friends to be forged and, in our world of science possibilities – of new collaborations identified. I attended the QIMR Berghofer PhD Student Retreat in the Tamborine Mountains. The GPS said it would take two hours. It hadn’t factored in 20 km of single road laneway where trees defined the edges and part of the task was to avoid wallabies jumping around the place. But the view from the top of the mountain was spectacular. Indeed it still is surreal for me to see bright red and blue plume parrots flying around the place.
But I wasn’t there for the nature. I was there to talk to the 100 or so PhD students from the Institute. I spent time bringing to their attention career choices that follow a PhD. This is essential in a period when the linear career path from PhD to independent research Group Leader is a low probability for most. I put particular emphasis on identifying possible commercial opportunities in their research. By getting into the habit of making disclosures of ideas that they think may be worthwhile, they will not miss something of real benefit. I linked this to the sore need in Australia to establish start-up companies and thereby generating a new line of employment possibilities for those with PhDs. A final point of emphasis in my talk was on the need for highest quality of performing their research as the problem of selective presentation of data or, worse, the fabrication of data appears to be growing worldwide.
After this opportunity to talk to them I had a series of casual conversations over dinner and afterwards. It struck me, and this is a contrast from other years, that many of them really wished to have a career in the biotech sector. Their questions were more about how to get started, where can these opportunities be realised etc.
I think that the retreat for me signalled an advance/change in the thinking of the young researchers. They now recognise that there are diverse career pathways and some of these jobs are very interesting and challenging and should be considered, in addition to the standard path of aiming to run research groups in institutes or universities.
When I woke this morning the valley below was bathed in sunshine and my spirits were lifted by a wonderful evening with great young people. Then I had to drive back down the one lane road!