Three years ago I did something pretty scary for a scientist with absolutely no business experience – I launched Franklin Women, a women’s network for professionals working in health and medical research.
The seed was planted on a flight from Sydney to Brisbane when I read a book I picked up at the newsagent called ‘Do cool sh*t’. It was an inspiring but quick read so I also had time to flick through a few pages of a Marie Claire magazine.
That month they had written on the value of professional networking and showcased a number of groups for women working in different sectors, from business to law. The idea of such a group immediately appealed to me.
I had just started a new job, in a new research area and in a new city, so I had a limited professional network. So after that flight I started ‘googling’ for a group for women in health research careers that I could join. But … there weren’t any! So in a moment of craziness I decided that I would start one.
After six months of researching what the needs were in the sector and getting my head around all the business bits and pieces, Franklin Women was launched – a social enterprise aimed at bringing together women working across the health and medical research sector to create opportunities for networking as well as personal and professional development.
It turns out I wasn’t the only one who wanted to connect with other women in my field. Nearly 100 women turned up to our launch event ‘Let’s Meet’. Since then we have grown to over 400 professional members representing women in diverse organisations, roles and career levels within the health and medical research sector.
Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to meet many of these women and discuss why a group like Franklin Women is so valuable. The reasons that come up are varied and many, but the same three always stand out.
What makes a women’s network so valuable?
Support and understanding
As in other sectors, women are under-represented in leadership positions in the health and medical research sector due to a number of systemic and cultural barriers.
Meeting with a women’s network of like-minded peers who have experienced the same challenges as you can take away feelings of isolation. It also provides an opportunity to share ways to overcome any challenges as well as resources that are out there to support career progression.
But most importantly, you will always find a compassionate ear from someone who understands what you are going through. That in itself is invaluable.
Career connections outside your immediate circle
Collaboration is something that underscores successful research. However, there are limited opportunities to connect with professionals in different research groups of the same institution let alone those in different organisations or even different roles.
One of the great things about Franklin Women is that we connect women who have a common passion of improving health but otherwise may never have connected.
At any one event we have university academics mixing with policy advisors, epidemiologists with lab scientists, and those working at hospitals with museum curators. The opportunities that come from these diverse connections are endless.
Learning new skills outside of the technical sciences
Researchers have invested in many years of study so that they are experts in their chosen technical area. With all that science to learn it leaves little room for training in non-technical career skills that are just as important for career progression.
Like other professional networks, Franklin Women provides the opportunities for learning broad professional skills, from networking and mentoring to using social media effectively. Not only can these skills be incorporated into academic careers but they are also seen as transferrable to roles outside of academia.
As we are finally entering an era where a successful career in science is moving past a single trajectory in academia, acquiring these skills is essential.
More opportunities for networking in the sciences are popping up around Australia so think about joining a women’s network. You never know what you may get out of it… a new collaboration, a new job opportunity or if nothing else just some good company!
Senior Research Fellow, National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, Sydney
Founder, Franklin Women
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