In October 2018, as my postdoc at Oxford drew to a close, I felt confused and unsure about what path I wanted my life to take. I knew that academia wasn’t the right career for me. Although I enjoyed the scientific pursuit of knowledge and the academic rigour, I was frustrated by the slow pace of the work itself, as well as its translation into the real world. At the same time, I became increasingly interested in technology and its impact on life sciences and innovation. However, I was unsure how to go about translating that budding interest into a fully-fledged career. I was also unsure whether I had the requisite skills and mindset to leave the world of academia, which I’d been preparing to enter for most of my life.
This state of confusion, uncertainty and myriad other emotions formed the backdrop to my RisingWISE application. I remember thinking that it was going to be just another one of those programmes that provides you with food for thought, but without effecting any lasting, sustainable change.
However, I was wrong. Whereas most other programmes focus on building skills through workshops, RisingWISE has created a curriculum based around mentors and peers, fostering community building through sharing vulnerability. In that room of 60-odd incredible women, I was struck by the diversity of thought and expertise, as well as the congruence in our experiences, challenges, ideas and insecurities.
I learnt many lessons during those three RisingWISE weekends, which were a refreshing break from the stress of job hunting and trying to identify and forge a path for myself. The personal and professional insights I gained instilled in me the confidence to change the course of my career, exploring consulting before founding a precision medicine company called intelligent Lab on Fiber. There are several I’d like to share in particular:
1) Don’t wait for perfection before taking the leap
As women, we can focus too intently on achieving perfection, tying up all the loose ends so we can’t possibly feel underprepared. Although that approach can have its advantages, it can also lead you to miss opportunities in today’s fast-paced world. Thoughts like ‘I’m not sure I’m ready’, ‘I don’t think I have the skills for that role’ and ‘I need to prepare more before I try this out’ circled through my mind as I mulled over taking the leap into entrepreneurship. That is, until I realised I was projecting my fear of the unknown and, to some extent, my fear of failure. At some point, you’ll need to just take the plunge. RisingWISE was vital in helping me reframe the idea of potential failure as just another learning opportunity. It was also helpful to realise that most people didn't yet have it all figured out; everyone’s learning as they go along.
2) Pitching yourself
Women tend to undersell both themselves and their skills. If you also happen to be a scientist, that can make the tendency much worse. Whatever you’re doing, be it founding a company or advancing in a corporate or academic career, you’ll need to pitch yourself to persuade others to believe in you and invest their time and resources in you. Changing my own pitching style is a work in progress, as I'm now more conscious of the level that I pitch at and whether I’m underselling my ideas and expertise.
3) The power of community
As women, other women are the greatest resource we have! Initiatives and networks like RisingWISE play a crucial role in nurturing these communities so that we can learn from our peers and support each other. They're also key hubs for finding mentors and sponsors who can show us the ropes. Through RisingWISE, I’m very fortunate to have made life-long friends and found mentors who support my existing aspirations, while challenging me to go further.
Founder, intelligent Lab on Fiber