Tag Archives: Natalie Chapman

STEM work experience

STEM work experience exciting the next generation

Featured image above: Nat Chapman recently welcomed a year 10 STEM work experience student, Isabella, to gemaker

Think back to your formative years. Was there an experience that inspired you follow the career path you did? Or a person who made a difference in the choices you made?

If we truly want to attract the brightest minds to science and technology, STEM companies have a responsibility to inspire the next generation of innovators.

We have a responsibility to give opportunities to high school and university students in the form of STEM work experience and access to our staff.

And a responsibility to make those opportunities genuine, inspiring experiences – not just something to tick a box.

A week in the life of gemaker

When a work experience student came knocking on gemaker’s door, we had one warning for her – we don’t do boring.

Photocopying was off the cards.

Instead, she spent a busy week meeting researchers, assisting with events, attending client meetings and working on projects that gave her real insight into the world of research, commercialisation and start-up culture.

In a single week, gemaker’s work experience student:

  • attended the AGM of an ASX-listed mining company and spoke to shareholders and directors;
  • watched researchers training in how to pitch to industry;
  • toured a university robotics lab;
  • filmed scientists with a videographer;
  • visited a start-up technology company;
  • went to a business meeting with a potential client;
  • helped create an infographic explaining the commercialisation of research;
  • compiled survey data;
  • wrote an article on her experience for the gemaker website.

Through it all, the student was a delight to take out.

She asked interesting and intelligent questions, and the enthusiasm she showed reminded us why we got into this business in the first place.

Yes, it can be challenging to design a program for a STEM work experience student.

Yes, it might be easier to point them at the lunchroom and the photocopier.

But if a small business like gemaker can do it, imagine the opportunities large, established companies and research organisations might be able to offer.

With a STEM work experience student, you win too

Taking on a work experience student can be exciting and have huge personal rewards for you too. A student can help you revitalise, recharge and remember what you love about your profession. It is inspiring to watch them be inspired.

Students can offer a different viewpoint, new ideas and a two-way learning opportunity that might surprise you. Why not ask a student how they think you could improve your social media presence?

Work experience is pivotal to the choices kids make in upper high school and beyond.

If we want to see more students in STEM, and believe passionately in the value of science and innovation, we have a social responsibility as a STEM organisation to provide genuine opportunities for students.

If we don’t make time for the next generation, we’re losing a massive opportunity to show what researchers can do.

Where to start

If you’re not sure how to go about inviting students into your workplace, here are three steps you can take this week:

  1. Tell staff that STEM work experience opportunities are available if they know students with a keen interest in science.
  2. See what STEM work experience programs are running at your own child’s school, and if you can contribute.
  3. Reach out to your local high school (start with the principal) to offer your services to the school.

You have the power within your hands to totally inspire a student or utterly turn them off.

At gemaker, we don’t have all the answers but we’re doing our bit.

And if each of us contributes, we can inspire the next generation and attract the brightest young minds to science and innovation.

– Natalie Chapman, gemaker

commercialisation

research and industry partnerships

What you can do for industry

My team and I have just run a two-day workshop at a Sydney-based university aimed at empowering academic researchers to engage professionally, effectively and sustainably with industry, and it was an eye-opening experience for us all.

As always happens when I teach, I learnt a lot, even though technology transfer is my expertise. I learnt more about what holds researchers back from beneficial partnerships with industry, and shared the joy of ‘A-ha!’ moments, when they realised what they could change or start doing, to seed the relationships they need.

From 1 January 2017, academic researchers will need those ‘A-ha!’ breakthroughs more than ever, as the Australian Government intends to introduce new research funding arrangements for universities that give equal emphasis to success in industry and other end-user engagement as it does to research quality.

After two days exploring industry imperatives and restrictions, and developing skills in market research and commercial communication, I interviewed the 16 participants, to determine any leaps in understanding they had made during the workshop. I found two major developments in their thinking:

1. Looking at the relationship with industry from the other side

‘I need to engage with the needs of the stakeholder,’ said one participant.

‘Go with open questions – don’t make it about you,’ said another.

To paraphrase JFK, academics should ask not what industry can do for them, but what they can do for industry. Only by identifying and understanding the needs of businesses (driven by the needs of customers), can academics think about how outcomes of their research – innovative ideas or new technologies – might solve some problems faced by industry. This is the first step in building a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

A particularly switched-on workshop participant realised the value of talking to industry before starting a new research project, then designing the project to deliver a real-world solution, identifying the ‘importance of prior planning – allowing time for the relationship to develop’. A-ha!

For many, the breakthrough came when they realised that this is not selling out – that commercialisation is not the dark side of research. Commercialisation is how researchers can turn their potentially life-saving or world-bettering discoveries into real products or services to make an actual difference in medicine, the environment, space, communications, data, energy, or wherever their passions lie. I have written more about this here.

2. Appreciating the importance and value of social media – especially LinkedIn – in finding industry contacts and maintaining industry partnerships.

‘I need to advertise myself better,’ was one participant’s succinct take-home.

Yes! Otherwise industry will struggle to find you, even if your R&D capabilities are a perfect fit for their needs. It came as a surprise to several academics that the kings and queens of commerce do not spend hours trawling ResearchGate, seeking potential partners, or in many cases even know of it. They hadn’t considered that ResearchGate is a closed door to non-researchers. In contrast, a targeted, professional and proactive presence on LinkedIn will rapidly get a researcher’s foot in the right industry door.

Other breakthroughs in learning about research and industry partnerships

One workshop participant found it enlightening to think about research outcomes ‘in measurable terms’.

Another experienced ‘surprising results from acting outside my comfort level’ when they were tasked with approaching and engage strangers in conversation.

Engaging with industry can be confronting for researchers, requiring investment of time and some additional knowledge and skills, as I know from personal experience, shared here. But what if you consider the potential comfort of ongoing funding from a productive industry partnership, plus the satisfaction of turning your research findings into measurable real-world benefits..?

A-ha!

– Natalie Chapman, Managing Director, gemaker

You might also enjoy this post on research and industry partnerships:

Engaging industry in research

commercialisation

Is commercialisation the dark side?

As an avid Star Wars fan I’d like to explore the topic of research commercialisation using terms that a Jedi Knight would recognise.

The Federal Government is seeking a better return on its sizeable investment in research through:

  • better commercialisation of research
  • more engagement between researchers and industry, and
  • changing the requirements for funding for research institutions and the incentives for researchers.

To some, this push for a more commercial and applied approach to research is like the Emperor urging Luke Skywalker to embrace the dark side of the force.

Like a Jedi apprentice, I began my science degree because of my love of science and desire to make a difference. I was not interested in doing a business degree or any degree that would purely maximise my salary prospects.

I chose an honours project close to my heart, involving ‘cis-platinum’ chemotherapy for breast cancer, with which my aunt had been recently diagnosed. Unfortunately the project was given to a student who was less passionate about it, but had a higher grade point average than me.

I was forced to find an alternative project. Seeking something with a practical application, I changed universities and chose a project sponsored by a company seeking a solution to a problem. My honours thesis titled ‘The wettability of rough surfaces’ looked at why roughening a surface could make it more hydrophobic for practical applications in non-stick surfaces.

When I started work at ANSTO, in a role that was half research and half business development, I was tasked with creating a spin-off business involving one of the research instruments.

As I was introduced to other research staff, a term came up that I was familiar with, but not in a work context. Some researchers referred to me as having moved to the “dark side”.  This was said as a joke, but it stemmed from an underlying belief that anyone associated with commercialisation, or engaging with industry regularly, was doing something wrong.

The implication was that there was something suspect about me for being involved in this type of activity, ‘tainted’ by commerce.

Being older and – I’d like to think – somewhat wiser, I now reflect that, had I continued along the pathway of medical research into breast cancer, perhaps I would have made an amazing discovery that could have saved many lives. But for my research to result in a cure would require the involvement of commercialisation experts – the kind of person I have become.

Between a cancer research discovery and a cured patient lies the long and arduous process of commercialisation which requires a team-based approach, where research and commercial staff work collaboratively.

I know now that being responsible for industry engagement, or commercialisation of a project rather than the research, does not mean my work is any less important, pure or noble. I’m using my strongest skills in the best way to have a positive impact for humanity, in my own way.

Commercialisation experts are not the Sith, we bring balance to the force by forging new Australian industries and actively training young researchers in the ways of industry, for research alone cannot achieve a better future.

I believe commercialisation is not the Dark Side, it is A New Hope.

– Natalie Chapman, Managing Director, gemaker

commercialisation

Natalie Chapman is a commercialisation and marketing expert with more than 15 years of experience turning innovative ideas and technologies into thriving businesses.

She co-founded her company gemaker in 2011 after almost a decade leading business development and marketing projects at ANSTO and, in 2013, won a Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Natalie specialises in mining, new materials, environmental and ICT technologies. She takes technologies from research through to start-up, assisting her clients with commercialisation strategy, building licensing revenue, securing funding grants, tenders and engaging with industry.

Natalie also heads corporate communications at ASX-listed mining and exploration company Alkane Resources and is responsible for attracting investment, government relations and marketing communications.

Natalie has a Bachelor of Science with honours (Chemistry) from the University of New South Wales and a Master of Business Administration (Marketing) from the University of Wollongong.