Posted June 20 2018
Faculty: Creative Industries Faculty, School of Design, Urban Informatics Research Lab
Year graduated: 2015
Thesis: Mobile interaction design approaches for reducing domestic food waste (PhD by publication)
Career category: industry
Dr Farr-Wharton is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the CSIRO where he uses his research skills to develop life-changing solutions to real-world problems.
What employment opportunities did you look for after graduating?
“I was lucky. In 2014, prior to completing my PhD, I was employed at QUT as an Associate Lecturer, co-coordinating one of the largest first-year units, teaching to over 800 students annually. In 2015, after completing my PhD, that position translated into a Lecturer role and I also started, my first postdoctoral position, working with some of the largest consulting firms in the world on Australia’s largest ever digital transformation project. That was an eye opener to the world of academia for me. It gave me a flavour of impact and the importance of research. After all, one of the key reasons I began my PhD journey was to change the world for the better, by researching the world’s greatest mysteries and problems, then exploring opportunities to shape our future.
Also, I finished my PhD with a number of publications, which anyone who has applied for these positions would know are a key metric for hiring academic staff into academic positions. I’ve known many PhD colleagues who completed their PhD with less than a handful of publications expecting to walk into a position. By that time, it’s too late. You will never have more time and flexibility than during your PhD journey. Though honestly, I didn’t realise that during my PhD journey.
But I would encourage all PhD students who would like to pursue an academic career, publish early and publish often. It’s also one of the best ways to confirm your work is on the right track.
To be honest, I didn’t know what other opportunities were available to me other than: (i) an ‘E-card’ (early-carer academic) position, which was a mix of teaching, research and service engagement, (ii) a postdoctoral fellowship, which seemed harder to get than E-card positions, because they were research intensive, (iii) short-term temporary roles (tutoring/lecturing etc), which was what my Associate Lecturer and Lecturer roles were – renewed six-monthly or yearly.
Again, I got lucky. I had one of the best mentors that I have had in my professional and academic careers. At the time and also what I had learned throughout my PhD experience, I thought having a PhD would guarantee me an academic position at a university. When in reality, this expectation simply wasn’t and isn’t true.
That mentor showed me that there is a world for PhD holders outside of academia (private/public sector, and entrepreneurship), and in that world, applying the same hard work and determination, you can have a greater impact than you ever could or thought possible in academia. Those roles would also give me greater capacity to achieve exactly what I signed up to undertake a PhD in the first place: to change the world by solving real problems.
My end goal/pursuit is entrepreneurship, but it’s taken a lot of lessons along the way to realise this and I don’t necessarily have a timeframe in mind. It’s important to remember, there are a lot of stepping stones in our lives. It’s about recognising these when they arise and having the courage to invest in ourselves to make that leap.”
What skills did you need to demonstrate or learn to be employed in your role at the CSIRO?
“In short.. a jack of all trades can be better than being a master of one. In today’s roles and certainly into the future, it will become more important to be well versed in whole range of disciplines and methods, and only great at a small number of things.
However, if there is one word of advice for a key skillset that will help you with every aspect of your career, and indeed your life… learn to talk to people, network and continually discuss aspects of your career, projects and life with people. Your network is your social capital and will give you access to jobs, and opportunities far beyond what a jobs website can… and remember, if you don’t ask, you won’t have an opportunities to find out, start today if you haven’t already and reach out to connect with others. Start with LinkedIn.
I made the choice to pursue impact and I do a lot of really exciting things at CSIRO. I’m lucky enough to work with amazing colleagues on some really life-changing projects, from (re)designing our Australian cities for the coming future, to shaping the role of technology in healthcare, liveability and well-being. I even get to play a role in reshaping the futures of young Australians through artificial intelligence and machine learning. I get to work closely with industry, with different levels of government, and with tech start-ups to drive solutions for a better future.”
What interests, skills or research questions are key to your work right now?
“A lot of the work I do is mixed methods research, but I prioritise qualitative approaches, because I find this gives me the deeper understanding I need to innovate real outcomes for the context. Within this, there are a number of really interesting, and hard to answer research questions that I’m currently working on. However, my key pursuits are around technology and specifically exploring digital assistance. That is, understanding yours and my circumstance, including everything there is to know about you – medical, financial, social… and predicatively connecting you to services, people and resources that will help you achieve what you want to achieve, while also providing advice to help you shape your everyday context – work, relationships, health and well-being…”
What is your current career goal?
“For now, I’m happy where I am, gaining the useful skills I will need to advance my career in any direction I choose as opportunities present themselves. I’m also establishing the important connections with industry and individuals that will support any pursuit I take well into the future. I see myself moving towards a trajectory of business development and an entrepreneurial role, that will enable me to scale and build my research to have far reach impact – and while this is my career goal, there are many aspects that continue to shape this pathway along the journey. Once I achieve this goal, I will move onto the next career goal, which is something we should all look to – continually reshaping our pathways forward and do our best to ensure a positive legacy. What was it Yoda says… “Failure is the best teacher of all”.”
What is the most valuable piece of advice you could give to someone close to completing or has recently completed a PhD at QUT?
“Spend a day, a week, a month or as long as it takes you to really explore, within yourself, what really makes you passionate. For me, it’s changing the world… to play a part in reshaping it towards my dreams. For you, well it can be whatever you want it to be, but make it something worthy of your blood, sweat and tears.
Throughout your PhD, you’ve learned how to do research effectively, you’ve been trained to become an academic, and if that suits you then go for it! But academia isn’t the only direction available to you. There are many many many others directions you can go. So now that you’ve learned the way, it’s time to find your own way. Be bold in your pursuit!”
Want to know more about the kinds of opportunities outside of academia that are open to PhD graduates? Feel free to get in touch with Geremy at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss these or any questions or thoughts relating to his Q&A.