“Strive for what you want, not for what others say you need”
Dr MaryAnne Aitken has been the Executive Director of the Research Office at La Trobe University since 2014, after being Head of Strategy for seven years at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), and prior to that role she worked in genetics education at MCRI for 10 years, heading a research group which focused on community implications of genetics and genetic screening programs.
She loved working in research, as she said that while her four children were small, she was able to work flexible hours and pick kids up from school and spend quality family time with them. A healthy, happy and supportive family is essential to be able to manage everything.
“You have to work really hard, you want to be with the kids, but still want to keep up with work, it’s not easy. People were very surprised that I had more than two children and still worked. I think a lot of people feel that if you are a working mother you shouldn’t have more than two children”.
After coming to La Trobe, she says that she is happy to see flexibility in working hours for staff, “La Trobe University is a great place to work for women. It offers flexible working hours and that is something great to see.”
MaryAnne always wanted to be a researcher and explore human genetics. After spending years in research, and now having a leading organisational role, she is able to compare the two:
“When I swapped over to the role of the Head of Strategy, I committed to try it out for six months and see. Then I realised that in a high-level role, you can make such a difference to the organisation. When you are a researcher or head of the research group, you are focusing more on that group and your research rather than the whole organisation.”
“I love to be able to make changes which could be better for other people in the organisation”.
Then she just couldn’t go back to being a research group leader. Her typical day now is packed with interactions with different people, which she finds great. From researchers, six teams and managers, and a whole variety of people from the University.
“I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to come to La Trobe and see all this diversity in the students and staff. I just love it. They are comfortable and enjoying themselves and they feel good about being on campus.”
She loves La Trobe’s campus, and ducks and ducklings she can see while driving into the campus, making the start of her days lovely and easier to face challenges of being in a leadership position.
One of the biggest challenges in her role today is to sustain a high performing team, and she adds that “you can create a high performing team, but sustaining it is a real challenge,” having around 40 people in her team.
“You have to have a vision of how you want things to work and talk to everyone you are working with. Make it a joint vision and have a clear vision and purpose for your work.”
“Always put the needs of your organisation first”, she adds as advice for all women having a leadership role or striving for one.