Up and coming scientist challenges stereotypes

Up and coming scientist challenges stereotypes

Postgraduate study is exciting because of its promise. Further study expands your mind and increases your skills. It leads to opportunities you might never have imagined – but that doesn’t mean that taking it on is an easy decision.

That’s why we’re bringing you a new series on the Knowledge Blog. We’re going to speak to all sorts of people who have done postgraduate study and we’ll bring you their inspiring stories. We’ll ask them for study tips and for advice on work-life balance. We’ll ask them about their career path after they gained their qualification.

For this first post in the series, we met up with up and coming scientist Georgia Kate Atkin-Smith. Georgia works in the LIMS department with Dr Ivan Poon.

She was part of the team working on breakthrough research that captured the complex stages of the death of human white blood cells.

We asked her about her journey.

How do you negotiate a work-life balance as a postgraduate student?

I am a strong believer that you don’t have to give up everything to gain something else.

In my opinion, the key to both being successful and being able to multitask to gain a great work-life balance is loving what you do, prioritising and planning.

During my honours year I worked part time umpiring netball at the sports centre, sometimes at the Eagle Bar, bar-tended most Friday and Saturday nights at a club in Crown Casino.

I still went to the gym, had a pretty decent social life, maintained my relationship with my partner. And I still did about 9-10 hours in the lab on week days.

I multi-task. I umpire netball and demonstrate and mark third year Bio-chem.

How do you feel about being a postgraduate student?

I think it’s fantastic! You rapidly learn so much about your field and gain so many life skills – especially independence! During undergrad, including honours, you are guided every step of the way. You’re told what content you have to learn, how you have to learn it and when you have to learn it by.

Now there is so much freedom to focus on an area that really interests me.

It is a big step up as you need to take on the full responsibility to set your own goals and targets. You have to work hard and know when to ask for help and guidance.

PhD candidate Georgia Atkin-Smith is breaking gender-based stereotypes when it comes to women in STEM. She shares her tips for striking a healthy work/life/study balance.

What is the most unexpected skill you’ve gained?

Communication. There are so many opportunities to go to conferences and present your research and network with professionals.

Aside from the science, this is probably the thing I love best about my PhD.

How do you feel about being a woman in science?

I have not personally experienced or seen any sexism in the lab but I have girlfriends who have. It is definitely not okay. Something that I have quite frequently experienced is being stereotyped as a ‘dumb blonde’.

People are often very surprised when I tell them what I am studying and what my career goals are. I still remember last year I was in a beauty appointment, the beautician asked what I do for a living. After I told her I am in science, wanting to pursue a career in scientific research etc.,

She turned to me and said ‘Oh I didn’t expect someone like ‘you’ to be doing ‘that’…. Not sure if that was a compliment or insult.

I think it’s great to break through the stereotypes and show people that it does not matter what you look like, male or female or where you came from, that you can achieve anything that you set your mind to.

What are two pieces of advice you’d like to give people contemplating postgraduate study?

It’s very hard to narrow it down to two but I think, first up – be organised! You can never be too organised! Being an organised person allows you to plan out what you have done, what you are currently doing and what you have left to do.

This makes it so easy to set your goals and the work necessary to achieve them. It also makes it so easy to multitask with uni, work, socialising and having a life, which is something that is definitely a requirement!

Second tip – do what you love. Postgrad study requires a lot of hard work, effort and commitment. There will most definitely be times where you are struggling to find the motivation to do your work, especially when things are not working out as planned.

What makes this all easier is if you love what you do. You need to find both a team and a project that you love and have a passion for, then all the hard work won’t feel like ‘work’ at all. When I wake up every morning I am genuinely excited to head off to the lab and do those experiments that I have been planning.


Read more from Georgia on time management.

Considering further study? Register for the Postgraduate Expo 2018 to find out where a postgraduate degree could take you.