Agile skills

Staying agile

Jump-start a stellar career and build agile skills by forging your industry links early.

By Fran Molloy

Let’s face it, taking on undergraduate and postgraduate studies can sound like a slog. But that investment could pay off big time through a rewarding career.

The ultimate destination of most postgraduates is with industry. Australia’s 2014 Postgraduate Destinations survey showed the private sector employs more than a third of postgrads (38.3%). A further 25.5% of postgraduates find work in education, 15.8% in health and 11.8% in government.

Whatever the industry, today’s workplace is changing rapidly. Traditional employment models are being replaced by agile work environments focussed on the ability to respond to fast-changing global markets.

Being ‘T-shaped’

Employers want people who are flexible and adaptable – often described as T-shaped – who have deep skills in a specialised area but are also able to apply their talents more broadly.

Postgraduate degrees can be highly specialised, but during your study you will develop agile skills across a range of other useful areas.

Andrew Purchas, the national account manager at GradConnection, says employers value the deep analytical and research skills postgraduates have. “A lot of students have in-depth knowledge in a niche field, but also present themselves to employers with transferable skills from their study,” he says.

These include time management, organisational ability, presentation skills, research capability and networking – but they can also encompass talents that are in demand in your chosen field. Postgraduates who make connections with industry early – during their studies, for example – are well placed to develop the agile skills they’ll need to score amazing jobs.

An environmental edge through agile skills

Michelle Senerman Finkelstein worked with consultancy firm Edge Environment while doing a Master of Sustainability at the University of Sydney. She helped develop a proposal for an app that helps consumers assess product lifecycles by scanning supermarket barcodes.

“I think it’s vital for postgraduates to build industry links while they’re studying,” Michelle says. “It helps tie the two together – your work has context and your studies make more sense.”

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) senior research scientist Dr Krystyna Saunders worked in labs analysing naturally occurring radioisotopes in lake sediments while completing her PhD on the human impact on environments. This work led to her current research-based role.

“You need to be open to different opportunities as they arise, even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do in the end,” she says.

Race ahead to the endgame

Forensic chemist Dr Adam Cawley is science manager at Racing NSW, where he heads the Australian Racing Forensic Laboratory and works at the forefront of forensic drug analysis.

Much of his PhD, which looked at the detection of androgenic steroids in athletes, was done during an industry partnership with the National Measurement Institute, the organisation responsible for Australia’s measurement standards.

He says agile skills are critical in his field. “My work has evolved from organic chemistry to managing a research project on gene doping.”

Adam says students can focus on their degree endgame through industry-PhD partnerships, completing research that will jump-start their career.

“There are advantages for everyone – industry receives the benefit of a really good academic project and students are able to spend a large amount of time in labs with access to real data,” he says.

Read more