Last Thursday I had the privilege of attending Sulis Minerva Day, a day celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The final event in a day of inspirational and fascinating talks from eminent female scientists and engineers and engaging soapbox presentations from Bath's doctoral and postdoctoral researchers was a panel event on 'Pioneers and Pathways', with a wide range of speakers from academia, industry and science communication. The panellists, with help from some lively and honest contributions from the audience, discussed their own experiences and thoughts on how to attract more women into science and engineering
The Chair of the panel, Professor Carole Mundell, Head of the Department of Physics at the University of Bath, opened the panel session by asking each of the panellists what success looks like for them. Clearly this is a very personal topic with a wide range of possible answers; a Google search for 'career success' yields 27, 700 000 results. Nevertheless there were some common themes arising in how the speakers defined success. Professor Mundell said that for her success is two-fold - 'in my personal life knowing my family is happy and thriving, that I have time to be part of that and, in turn, sharing in their successes and passions. Success in my professional life has a similar shape: doing a fulfilling job that I love and for which I am recognised, working with good people and, in turn, recognising and celebrating their achievements, being authentic and having integrity. I am fortunate to work in fundamental research which comes with tricky problems, but when one is the first to discover something new about the world, that is a real thrill. Success for me is really an accumulation of tiny triumphs, some of which are ultimately recognised formally, which is wonderful and necessary, and others which may go unnoticed.'
Similar themes came up in the panellists' definitions of success. Dr Patrick Goymer, Chief Editor of Nature Ecology & Evolution, also said that part of success for him was achieving work/life balance, as well as the satisfaction of launching a journal from scratch. Work/life balance was also important to Melanie Welham, Chief Executive of BBSRC. Melanie noted the importance in personal and professional success of being brave, taking opportunities as they come up and taking a leap without knowing where you'll end up. It did occur to me that 'leaps' can be fundamentally scary; and I wondered whether changes or new personal or professional directions might be more helpfully described as steps. We often take steps without knowing exactly where they will lead; career success can be experimental and exploratory as well as carefully planned. Melanie also highlighted the importance of a support network, and advised finding a mentor who is one or two steps ahead of where you would like to be - mentors who are many steps ahead of you can be intimidating.
Developing supportive relationships was also important to Dawn Bonefield, Director of Towards Vision, who said that for her, 'success looks like collaboration'. For Emily Grossman, a science broadcaster and writer, success had meant the ability to bring together her scientific knowledge and creativity, which she considered to be key aspects of her identity, and also having space to look after herself emotionally and to make a difference through her work. If 'making a difference' is important to you in life and career, this great blog post by Warwick Careers Service will help you to think through what that might look like in practice. The Warwick Careers blog also has a lovely post on how mentors can help you achieve career success, particularly by championing your cause and giving you encouragement.
To help you work out what success means to you, think about what is important to you in the different aspects of your life. What is the purpose of career for you? How will you know when you've been successful?
Many of us find identiying our successes quite challenging; take a leaf out of Carole Mundell's book and celebrate your 'tiny triumphs'; keep a mental or physical record of what you've done and think about what you're most proud of and what you learned from the experience. To help build your confidence, think about what you're interested in and enthusiastic about, and then share it with others. Dr. Gerta Cami-Kobaci, a Research Fellow in Pharmacy and Pharmacology, who did a soapbox presentation on her research on designing medicines for pain relief, said she very much enjoyed the opportunity to present her work to a broader scientific audience, and feels that it is very important to be able to communicate with specialists working in different fields of research.
And if you find putting your successes into words a struggle, this blog also has some tips on How to Sell Yourself and Feel ok about it.