Dr Jenny Malmstrom – Developing the future science leaders

Dr Jenny Malmstrom – Developing the future science leaders

Part of a series of stories from the 2014 Public Annual Report. This profile comes from the Leadership section where we discuss all the things the Institute is doing to help develop “scientifically astute, entrepreneurial and socially active leaders.”   The MacDiarmid Institute is dedicated to growing and developing scientifically astute, entrepreneurial and socially active leaders at all stages of their scientific career. In 2014, postdoctoral fellow Dr Jenny Malmstrom took up the opportunity to develop further leadership skills in taking on a role as head of the organising committee for Get It Out! From Fundamentals to Market, the annual MacDiarmid Institute Student and PostDoc Symposium, held at the University of Auckland in November 2014. The Symposium is a critical opportunity for our students and postdoctoral fellows to take responsibility for the design and organisation of a research event, under the guidance of a MacDiarmid Principal Investigator mentor—in this case, Dr Geoff Wilmott. It is usual for the organising committee to consist of a mix of PhD and post-doctoral fellows. And in 2014, Jenny, who is part of Professor Jadranka Travas-Sedjic’s research group in polymer electronics at the University of Auckland, was asked by the existing PhD students on the committee to represent the Institute’s postdoctoral fellows. Jenny was reluctant to take on this additional responsibility at first, as she was concerned that is would take her away from her research and interfere with her home life—she has two young children. “But then I thought, as a feminist, I can’t say no!” Ultimately, she is pleased that she made this decision—she ended up developing a critical role in providing leadership within a group of students, being responsible for decision-making and problem-solving during the preparation for and the duration of the symposium itself. The pressures for early-career researchers, especially those with families, are myriad: Jenny, like many other early-career researchers, had valid concerns that undertaking a role like symposium organisation or similar academic service roles would detract from what seems the most important academic imperative—research and publication. “In the end though, I could see that the opportunity to have experience in organising an event and the people management that goes alongside this was good for me and my career,” says Jenny. Balancing the demands of research and service as a postdoctoral fellow, required Jenny to draw upon the example of a number of key role models of leadership—she cites her mother, her PhD supervisor (Duncan Sutherland – Aarhus, Denmark) and Professor Jadranka Travas-Sedjic, all of whom contributed to her sense of how to approach the task at hand. “It is important to take on responsibility, but to also feel supported in taking it on.” The MacDiarmid Institute’s processes, people and structures provided this essential support, with Jenny noting the importance of Sarah Dadley’s advice and assistance: “we had really helpful Skype meetings to align our to-do lists.” Similarly, the rest of the organising committee—Nihan Aydemir, Cherie Tollemache, Lakshika Perera and Nina Novikova—were instrumental in enabling the success of the symposium. Jenny also credits the wisdom and advice provided by Dr Geoff Wilmott, who acted as mentor to the organising committee. “Geoff’s experience in structuring conferences and symposia in the past was hugely helpful as we developed the plan for the days.”   Jenny’s reluctant undertaking of a leadership role has had a far greater impact than she imagined: “I do feel that knowledge and capability has been passed on to me,” she says, reflecting the values of the MacDiarmid Institute, which seeks to support the development of continuity of knowledge and capability in students and postdoctoral fellows, in order to develop future scientific leaders.