Career Pathways in Science

case studies and Resources


The scientific workforce is strikingly diverse with roles in and out of academia. Here, you will find case studies from people with different career paths in science to help you understand how they got to where they are now. Also, you'll find a number of resources to inspire and enable you to be in the driver's seat of your career.


Career Case Studies:

+ Martin Elhay - Senior Business Development Manager

  • What was the biggest factor in deciding on your career path?

    Being ready for new opportunity. I always wanted to do research but as the years progressed I found myself becoming more translational and this led to certain opportunities in Industry and the Academy. Part of becoming ready was leveraging my network for advice and understanding the environment I was seeking to enter.

  • How did your scientific background prepare you for the career you have now? Did you need additional training?

    Having done a PhD meant that I had good analytical skills and provided a basis for evidence-based decision making that has proved invaluable. I did do some additional training in-house at CSL and Pfizer in team building, management, finance etc. and did a Grad Dip in Frontline Management (sort of an MBA-lite if you like).

  • What are the challenges and rewards of your job?

    Most of the Challenges revolve around trying to find high quality leads that may be suitable for commercialization. This is hampered somewhat by the low level of understanding in the Academy of what is required to successfully commercialize intellectual property. The rewards far outweigh this as we get to see the very best research ideas and support them through to having an impact.

  • What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in your job?

    Being able to listen to researchers and understanding to some degree the importance of their work. Being able to synergies and connections with other researchers and their studies. Understanding what motivates researchers and providing context for maximizing the effect of their research.

  • What advice can you offer to someone wanting to transition into your field? Would you recommend joining any professional associations?

    Think about what the future will look like and how you may be able to participate. Keep up to date with research methods and discoveries by having a generalists eye over the scientific landscape. Network with purpose. Attend/join AusBiotech, BioMelbourne Network or IMNIS. Get a mentor - formally or informally.

+ Anna Ayres - Operations manager

  • What was the biggest factor in deciding on your career path?

    Interest in public Health and science but felt I was under utilising what I felt were my key strengths in leadership, people management and project management. No room for progression in research. I do not have a PhD and had worked part time for many years while raising my family, which I felt always limited my options. Working as a founder for a charity organisation for many years (Committee Assist) and my volunteer role in managing a junior football team gave me the opportunity to utilise my other strengths which I thoroughly enjoyed and was successful at, so I started to look for career opportunities within health and science which would allow me to use these skills.

  • How did your scientific background prepare you for the career you have now? Did you need additional training?

    Broad range of knowledge of science, research, compliance and Public Health - helps with the understanding of key concepts. Allows you to work cooperatively with a broad range of people across multiple organisations. Public Speaking by presenting at conferences. Statistical analysis - which I apply often in my current position. However my scientific role was limited so I engaged in activities outside science and my work to expand my skill set. I gained invaluable experience from my experiences outside my scientific role and to supplement this I have engaged in further educational training - in particular, leadership management and have completed a Green Belt certificate in change management.

  • What are the challenges and rewards of your job?

    The biggest challenge I face on a daily basis is staff management - within a large organisation juggling the concerns and issues raised by staff can be stressful and demanding. Working within an organisation which I feel is dedicated to providing an excellent service to the public - seeing great outcomes for patients, discovering new ways to detect disease, working closely with clinicians to diagnose very ill patients. I am extremely lucky to work with a team who love their job, are dedicated and who I know, will support each other to meet sometimes demanding and stressful deadlines. While I don't work at the bench my role plays a vital part in this service and can be very rewarding.

  • What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in your job?

    Leadership, communication, stake holder management, customer service - a science background is a definite advantage. I think one important personal quality is to back yourself, scientists are often overlooked for positions outside of science/research/bench work - science trained staff have many skills which can be applied to a myriad of careers but this is generally not recognised, where as engineers for example, are often employed in various different roles.

  • What advice can you offer to someone wanting to transition into your field? Would you recommend joining any professional associations?

    Yes I would highly recommend this - broadens your connections, knowledge and skill set. I also highly recommend participating in working/volunteering or becoming a member of a committee/organisation beyond areas associated with science - it allows you to expand your networks and again your skill set. Don't be afraid to put your hand up for challenges both at work and outside your work environment, it really provides you with the opportunity to test yourself and your abilities. Talk to people who are already in careers that interest you - find out what their career path was, what additional study or skill set that may be needed. Stay connected with individuals you aspire to - perhaps use them as mentors, let them know you are looking to transition into a new role. Depending on where you want to be additional courses maybe necessary and for some career paths essential.

+ Gabrielle Callander - Team Leader Research Infrastructure and Strategy Support

  • What was the biggest factor in deciding on your career path?

    My strong personal values of fairness, integrity and the desire to live a life with greater presence and mindfulness.

  • How did your scientific background prepare you for the career you have now? Did you need additional training?

    It gave me a kind of resilience not found in people who have had other careers. People think resilience is just remaining postivite in the face of difficulty but that isn't it at all! It is a person's capacity to cope with adversity and scientists have that in spades. I also find that many of my stakeholders are more receptive to working with me because of my background. Empathy is so important in estabishing and maintaining relationships in my role. I did not need additional training to move into my current role, however in my first job out of the lab I worked on the early phases of major construction projects and had excellent on the job training in Project Management.

  • What are the challenges and rewards of your job?

    One of the greatest challenges is the complex matrix management environment of universities. It requires you to have influence in areas where you have little authority to do so in order to get things done. But it is so worth the effort! When I manage to make a change to a process or practice that benefits the research platforms I support, I'm really proud. So many people find the governance of universities difficult to navigate and I enjoy seeking out pathways to solutions. It's like mapping signalling pathways of G protein-coupled receptors, but instead of signalling molecules, it involves people and committees!

  • What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in your job?

    Willingness to question the status quo: Accountability, Emotional intelligence, Confidence, Resilience, and an ability to repeatedly swallow your pride

  • What advice can you offer to someone wanting to transition into your field? Would you recommend joining any professional associations?

    Talk to people who already work in research management as networks are very important. I am a member of the Australasian Research Mangement Society.

+ Michelle - Managing Director

  • What was the biggest factor in deciding on your career path?

    Unmet need and business opportunity.

  • *How did your scientific background prepare you for the career you have now? Did you need additional training?

    Gave me a language and an understanding of key concepts. Yes. I needed a business qualification to be completely capable, equipped and confident in moving into the industy role I was converting.

  • What are the challenges and rewards of your job?

    Financial management has always been my greatest weakness and challenge. I desperately wish I had done accounting or business maths in VCE. This is an area that I feel very unprepared for and ill equipped. Greatest reward is working in building people up and helping them to achieve success. I reap a massive reward and I feel ridiculously proud of them.

  • What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in your job?

    Self awareness and honesty in knowing what you are not good at. It has taken me years and years to be absolutely honest about my abilities and weaknesses. It’s only now - 35 years later - that I recognise how I work, why things don’t work and who I need to partner with to achieve success.

  • What advice can you offer to someone wanting to transition into your field? Would you recommend joining any professional associations?

    Self learning is more important than academic learning in my field right now. It is such a frowntier space that academia has not yet caught up and there are no experts. Confidence plays a big part too. Setting out to be the leader, seizing the opportunity and pushing and working 10x more intensely than peers.

+ Leanne Mills - Chief of Staff

  • What was the biggest factor in deciding on your career path?

    To know that I am contributing to something of significance - that I can add value, and feel valued.

  • How did your scientific background prepare you for the career you have now? Did you need additional training?

    I really began my preparation during my PhD without me really having a career in mind. I made best use of the amazing academics around me during my studies and the professional development opportunities it provided. I became a better writer and communicator and I became more confident interacting with senior members of the faculty (who also became referees, mentors and sponsors who have supported me long after I finished my PhD). I trained in medical research and have remained in medical research, so being familiar with science has obviously been very useful, as well as having a sense of what life is like as a scientist to understand and have empathy for the changing nature of funding and career opportunities. While I still feel that I didn't ever need another degree beyond my PhD to be where I am today, one thing I would strongly encourage my younger self to have done earlier in my career is to focus on personal development (in conjunction with professional development courses) - a life-changing experience for me was attending a management and leadership course where I learned more about myself in a week than I had in my life to that point. The experience allowed me to understand my own motivations and strengths and weaknesses, to know where my own specific talents and qualities can be utilised, and identify where I needed to focus, stretch and up-skill.

  • What are the challenges and rewards of your job?

    There are many things I find rewarding about my job - working in health and medical research I feel that even in a strategic management role I am helping improve the lives of children and young people and I derive a lot of personal value from that, I work for and alongside amazing lovely smart people, every day is different and interesting, and I learn something new every day. Two challenges to the role (that are also rewarding aspects) are keeping an eye on both the big and the small - knowing what the end game is while you zig and zag, and sometimes go backwards, to get there - and communicating effectively in ways that engage people in a shared journey.

  • What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in your job?

    I have an interest in and excitement for research and its possibilities. Science is a noble pursuit and I feel privileged to work at the MCRI where I can support talented researchers in some small way. My role requires all of the soft skills like being organised, following through, building relationships, but it also helps to be able to deal with rapidly changing landscapes and ambiguity, so resilience, optimism and patience, and a mix of intuitiveness and good listening skills to ensure you have a broad perspective on things are needed, and an affinity for solving problems is key as connecting the dots from all parts of the organisation is a big part of my role.

  • What advice can you offer to someone wanting to transition into your field? Would you recommend joining any professional associations?

    Three key things were instrumental to my move from the laboratory to where I am today: take advantage of opportunities as work and life doesn't always happen in a straight line (I applied for a short term maternity leave position in a medical research institute as a Laboratory Manager to gain the work experience on my CV and it turned into an ongoing role); demonstrate your value to the organisation you work for every chance you get and take advantage of opportunities particularly when they stretch you (my Lab Manager role evolved into an Operations role where I gained a world view beyond the laboratory and began to be involved in strategy); and develop relationships (my line managers and referees also became 'sponsors' and opened up opportunities for me). My advice if you are thinking about a change in career is to firstly and most importantly revise your CV - the transition is largely a shift in mindset as you are already a highly functioning individual with a great set of skills, it is about how you view them and how you would apply them to an administrative/management setting. You are likely to be surprised at your own fabulousness when you update your CV and list your skills in this new context. In terms of professional associations, I am a classic introvert (and I am not a natural networker) so for many years I was not an active member of any associations, but in the spirit of recognising this is something I should work on I joined the Australia Institute of Management (it has a focus on leadership and management which suited my current role and career development). As a starting point, you may like to look at joining the Australasian Research Management Society (some places like the MCRI hold organisation memberships you could explore taking advantage of) - it is a great way to get a feel for the array of opportunities in research management, there are courses available to members, and you get to know people in the field (and they have state meetings so you can meet people in your local area).

+ Annabella Newton - Patent Attorney

  • What was the biggest factor in deciding on your career path?

    I wanted a job where I could still use my scientific knowledge in a commercial setting.

  • How did your scientific background prepare you for the career you have now? Did you need additional training?

    Yes, I use my scientific skills every day to understand the inventions that I am protecting. I had to study intellectual property law so I have now completed a Masters of Commercial Law part-time while working in order to become qualified as a patent attorney.

  • What are the challenges and rewards of your job?

    It is very satisfying to help companies develop their IP strategy in Australia and around the world. I love the problem-solving aspects of my job, coming up with solutions that help the client move their patent applications forward. I also love how global my job is - we work with clients from all over the world. It can be challenging when faced with tough examination or an invention in a crowded space but that makes it all the more satisfying when you come up with a solution.

  • What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in your job?

    Communication skills are absolutely key - a key part of my role is translating between science and the law so being able to quickly grasp scientific and legal concepts is really important.

  • What advice can you offer to someone wanting to transition into your field? Would you recommend joining any professional associations?

    Network as much as you can and try to speak with as many professionals in your chosen field as possible to learn about how the industry works. There are professional associations for patent attorneys but you are only really able to join once you have a role as an attorney - the good thing is plenty of us attend lots of scientific events as well so you can meet us at those.


career Resources:

Jill Noble - Pivotal HR - recommendations

+ Business books

+ Self Development Books

+ Career Management books

+ Websites


Marilyn careers - recommendations



WisPP - Recommendations