Research Chair shares career experiences with grad students

Melanie Pilkington, Canada Research Chair in Chemistry, delivered the opening address at the 2012 Mapping the New Knowledges Graduate Student Research ConferenceMelanie Pilkington promised that she wouldn’t deliver a science lesson as part of her opening address at the recent Mapping the New Knowledges Graduate Student Research Conference.However, true to her field, the associate professor in Brock’s Faculty of Mathematics and Science and Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Chemistry, drew on her own journey to break down the elements – personal drive, support, new experiences and life balance – that work together for a successful research and supervisory career.She told more than 60 graduate students gathered at Plaza 400 Level Mezzanine that her journey began as an undergraduate student at the University of Kent, United Kingdom. In her third year she participated in a one-year exchange at the University of Bologna in Italy – a formative experience for her both personally and academically.After graduating with a BSc degree from Kent, Pilkington went to work at Pfizer as part of the pharmaceutical company’s discovery research group. She said she is grateful to her Pfizer colleagues for their support and encouragement in her decision to leave the company and return to Kent to pursue her PhD.“When I look back on this part of my journey, I realize that I was determined and self-motivated from the very start of my graduate studies,” said Pilkington. “I figured out early on that the key to a successful PhD thesis would be to work closely alongside my supervisor and to put as many hours in as I could manage to get the work done.“During my grad studies, I lived for my research; I was very driven to find out if my reactions had worked and if not what had gone wrong.”It wasn’t all about work, added Pilkington. Just as important was time spent at department cricket matches, watching Saturday afternoon football on TV and the all-important daily tea breaks that brought a sense of relief and balance to the intensity of research life.It’s all about enjoying this part of your life, stressed Pilkington as a take home message to the group of future researchers and scholars.“It is your opportunity to grow academically, broaden your mind and make memories that will sustain you later on in your lives and careers,” she said.“Have the courage to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. Be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses and work hard to improve yourself. Be kind, supportive and respectful to your colleagues and peers. Stand up for yourself and don’t be intimidated, speak up to defend your ideas and thoughts. Learn all you can from your mentors, listen to their suggestions and don’t take their criticism too personally since their objectives are to mould you into the thinkers of the future.”Following the opening address, more than 90 graduate students gave oral and poster presentations throughout the day at the seventh annual conference, which is held by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, the Office of Research Services and the Graduate Students’ Association.

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