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Where do we go from here?

November 23, 2011 Leave a comment

My CRC has been good to me, over the years. Apart from providing the scholarship that makes my research possible, they also incorporate student training workshops into each year’s conference. I think it’s important to develop a broad range of skills, to avoid graduating and forever being the brunt of jokes about “experts,” who know more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing at all…

Previous workshops have covered research commercialisation, media and presentation skills, ‘pitching’ business ideas, and managing intellectual property. This year, one of the workshops leads into a speed-dating style networking event when the industry partners arrive on Day 2. Warren sent an email to all the students yesterday, with a few pointers:

Give thought to where you want to be in 5 years, what you need to do to get there and what type of people/skills can help you along the way. Your 5 year vision may or may not have anything to do with your current areas of research: you may desire a total sea change or you may see yourself running a company or climbing the ranks of the academic world. Whatever you choose you will need to gather people around you with the right contacts and skills to help you get there. Your pitch should articulate your vision and also what you need to get there so that other people excited by your vision can see where they might assist, and if you are lucky offer to help you achieve your goals.

It’s a question that I’ve been asked a lot, during the past few months: “What comes next?” It’s not something that I find easy to answer: there are many things I’d like to do, and even more uncertainty over which ones will be available to me.

My goals are quite generic, and don’t require any particular industry or specialisation: I want to use the skills and knowledge that I’ve built over the years, but one of those skills is the ability to learn new things as needed. I want to be challenged. I also need a job where I can balance work and life: I’ve worked around the clock for years, and no longer enjoy it. I’ll work damn hard on a project that drives me, but outside of work I need time to spend with my family.

I woke at 5am today, with the tiniest beginnings of a business concept in my head. Since then I’ve been scribbling down notes and thinking through the questions that will eventually shape a business plan. I enjoy the planning process, and have something that I think will make it through the many hurdles between idea and reality. Importantly, it taps into skills that many of my closest friends share and take for granted, but aren’t actually all that common. Taking skills that people have a passion for and finding ways to apply them in other areas fascinates me. It also helps to find a niche. An important piece of advice that has stuck with me is that a small business doesn’t need to be all things to all people: it should find a niche, and own it. When developing a hobby into a business, it’s important to know where to draw boundaries: My business does X. I also do Y and Z as a hobby, but those are not the focus of my work.

If the concept has legs, it will help me reach those generic goals: more than anything, I love the range of challenges that a small business throws at you. If not, then preparing a rigorous business plan should help identify problems before it’s too late to change direction. Either way, it has an important (if counter-intuitive) secondary function: helping me to get my thesis finished. Starting a new project adds to the workload, but you always work faster when you’re preparing to move into what comes next…

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