You are using an out of date browser. For the best experience on this site and added security, please update to a modern browser.

Update your browser

A Reflection on the Inaugural iAccelerate LIFT Leadership Retreat

Category In the Press

I took a break from working in the lab to attend the inaugural iAccelerate LIFT Leadership Retreat at the pictorial Sebel Kiama Hotel. Thirty PhD students, early career researchers, and academics gathered for a two-day workshop retreat to explore what it means to be a leader as a woman in STEM. As a PhD student, I thought “Leadership” was almost too remote; leadership is for established academics or persons of higher industry ranks. However, Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” book states we should “begin with the end in mind”. Consequently, this retreat helped me understand that leadership is just like a PhD; it is a continuous process of learning and development rather than a destination or a title.

Participants of the Leadership Retreat in a breakout activity.

We delved into understanding what leadership meant to each of us with our pre-retreat work, but the activities in the workshop assisted us in clarifying and putting everything into perspective. We got right down to the essentials of what makes a good leader, from developing one’s own style of leadership to learning to listen actively; my favourite saying was “Shut the Duck Up!”- so appropriate as the only way we can listen is by turning off that noise in our minds and allowing ourselves to hear and take in what that person is trying to say. The Strengths Profile tool assessment was an eye-opener for me regarding my leadership capacity. This superb tool made us understand our “realised strengths”, things that we use most of the time and “enjoy”, and our “unrealised strengths”, hidden potentials developed but not utilised as much. It also presented our “learned behaviours” and “weaknesses”, providing a developmental trajectory for me personally and professionally. Learning how to use my strengths to supplement my weaknesses and the knowledge of the hidden strengths I possess was an absolute eye-opener. The activities in the workshop were empowering as we learned how to improve our leadership skills while focusing on the values we would want to embed in our leadership legacy.

Guest speakers of the retreat: Ms Grace Kennedy (left) and Professor Martina Sanderson-Smith (right).

Moreover, the retreat was a platform where I was fortunate to listen to several inspiring stories. We had the chance to listen to the ideas of two great women in STEM, which resonated well with me. Grace Kennedy, Systems Engineer and human factors expert shared her transition experience from Academia to Industry. She told us how important transferable skills and flexibility are in our professional journey. Professor Martina Sanderson-Smith, a Molecular Microbiology expert from the University of Wollongong, related her real and stirring experience towards success. The story, which was full of experiences, told us that she had undergone victories and defeats, but, above all, the challenges during the journey were mere learning curves. I am grateful to these two great personalities of intellect whose time, knowledge, and experiences gave us invaluable guidance.

Furthermore, meeting and sharing experiences with fellow PhD students and researchers from different disciplines brought new inspiration and strong solidarity, which holds great promise for future cooperation on our leadership journey. It has been an experience so enriching that it imparted tools and insights to lead from the inside out, harness strengths, embrace lifelong learning, and build genuine, long-lasting relationships. Now, I feel equipped to forge a path to a fulfilling career. When I left the retreat, I felt this was where things started. Now, as I start with an end in mind, I hope this unfolds where I can lead more people by inspiring them to become their best version!

LIFT Leadership Retreat participants at the end of the dinner function.

I’d like to thank Lorraine Denny, Associate Professor Shamika Almeida, Professor Grace McCarthy and the iAccelerate LIFT team for organising this Leadership retreat, for bringing this brilliant group of women together, and most importantly, for unwrapping the “LEADER” within us.

This event is supported by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources through the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship (WISE) Initiative.