When I began my Masters of Biotechnology at the University of Melbourne in 2013, I was on the fence about dedicating myself to a career in life science research. The other option in my mind was the possibility of STEM consulting.
After undertaking a year-long research project at the Royal Melbourne Hospital during my Masters, I decided that a PhD and a research career were not for me.
After graduation, I took a seven-month break to travel, and when I got home I was itching to use my brain and get back to work! I started looking for consulting roles and applied to be a KPMG graduate within their R&D Tax and Incentives Team, having come across the role at a biotechnology networking event. It felt like it would bring the right balance between using my science and technical skills, learning new skills in taxation and incentives programs, and growing my business and commercial knowledge.
Three months after applying for the role, I was in the KPMG offices reading over taxation law and trying to get my head around it!
Initially, I found it hard to get the work-life balance thing right and to be more organised. I had to learn to be more selective about which activities I undertook outside of work and I struggled to maintain the right levels of sleep throughout the working week – but I truly appreciated having weekends and the opportunity to use my free time better.
Despite all this, I think that my degree prepared me for my career incredibly well. My Masters gave me the chance to mix things up and develop a wider set of business and professional skills. I had the flexibility to do coursework on advanced science topics as well as to take classes at the Business School, which helped me develop a wide array of skills.
The chance to do a research project, as well as an industry internship at a start-up, allowed me to explore two possible career paths during my studies. I had the chance to work in a lab full-time while also working on market research and risk consultancy for a start-up – and was surprised that I found the latter more enjoyable and motivating. When it comes down to it, this is why I decided not to pursue research.
Most of all, though, the thing I think best prepared me for full-time work was the crazy balancing act that was maintaining a social life, coursework, internship, research and my part-time tutoring role during my final year. It helped me realise how to manage my time better, work more productively and be more organised. These skills have been the most valuable to me during my working life so far.
I guess it would have helped if I’d known anything about tax or accounting before I started my job, though!
My biggest advice for graduate students looking to the future is to try to learn outside of their areas of study. Things like general business skills such as Excel and using macros have been difficult for me to pick up and I wish I’d learnt them at uni! I have discovered that just putting “can use Excel” on my resume does not mean that I really know what I’m doing.
I’d also suggest trying to gather skills such as email etiquette and general professional skills like meeting scheduling and presenting or pitching to audiences. I wish that the Mind the Gap series had existed when I was a student.
My last piece of advice for grad students is to be brave. Be open to the fact that your initial career goals might not really suit you. This was a tough one for me.
It took me a while to realise this, but I’ve realised that I’m the only person who can take control of my career and what I want in life.
I’d say that current grad students who are worried about the future should be proactive in their job hunts and think big picture about the roles they’re applying for. Can you see yourself doing this in ten years?
If you love what you study, keep at it. If not, think hard about how you could use your knowledge and studies, and apply them to something else like I did. Never be afraid to try so
Simon is a University of Melbourne graduate and is currently working agt KPMG Australia.