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Navigating the future of work with Michelle Dickinson

Dr Michelle Dickinson is a nanotechnologist and science educator based at the University of Auckland, and founder of social enterprise Nanogirl Labs. Her Nanogirl science blog became a YouTube channel and has led her to numerous speaking slots at events such as TEDx. Michelle has been recognised with a number of awards for education and leadership.

Because she works in the area of technology Michelle is constantly learning in order to keep up with the play.

‘Be open to trying new things and mastering them early so that you become the person that people go to when it’s in the public domain. Try and look ahead all the time at what things are coming up.’

Michelle has taken the time to identify the role models she admires, and she has also put in the effort to connect with them.

‘I’m inspired by those people who have worked really hard and really broken the mould. Some of them I stalked and tried to drop myself into a meeting, or I introduced myself. I’ve tried to put myself in the right place at the right time, so when I know that they’re at an event I’ll buy a ticket and hope that I can, while passing, just meet them. I make sure the one thing that I have to say is so important that they stop for another sentence. I’ve been quite pushy in trying to meet the people that I think could really help me.’

Michelle values networking because it brings her diverse thinking and new ideas.

‘To me, human networks are the core of success in people—they’re so important. And networks being diverse is really important to me—spending time with people who are very different to me. It’s very easy to network with people who are like you, because you all just agree, and you’re like, “Well, that was easy. We’re all great.” What I love is networking with people who challenge me in a kind way.’

However, she avoids traditional networking events because they just don’t suit her style or personality.

‘I think what’s important is making sure you network in a way that is true to yourself. We have these big networking events where you’re supposed to go to a place and meet all these people. I’m not that sort of person. I don’t like wine with strangers, I’m not confident in that environment. I look at the people that are in my network, and most of them are introverts, and our strength is through virtual connections, by meeting online.’

Michelle uses digital media as a central way of connecting with people that she can learn from.

‘Social media has been my strongest point. As an introvert who doesn’t like to put herself out there, it’s very easy to do that in an online persona. Being very active on social media is a place I like to be, because I don’t have to be with people—but it’s also a place that has worldwide growth. A lot of my personal networks have come from online interactions. I look at when I met Sir Richard Branson: that all came about because there was an online nanotechnology thing that I’d written about, which a Silicon Valley venture capitalist read, and then realised that I was exactly what Sir Richard was looking for and connected us up physically. For me, virtual connections and a presence in the world through that have been really important.’

Digital media also helps New Zealanders overcome the tyranny of distance.

‘It’s really hard when you’re in New Zealand to gain that bigger-picture context around the challenges. Living in a world online means that I just had a Skype with someone in my network yesterday, and they’re on the other side of the world, and we’re still talking as if we’re meeting in a co ee shop and having those same conversations.’

‘I think it should be a symbiotic relationship. I’ve never just gone to a mentor and taken. I’ve tried to find mentors where I felt that I could offer something as well.’

Michelle values the wisdom that mentors can offer.

‘I couldn’t live without those people. Why make the same mistakes again? Somebody’s made them—you don’t need to learn them again. Mentors are really good for two reasons: for motivating you to hold yourself accountable to timelines and deadlines, and goals; and to make you dream bigger than you think you can. I think especially with women, we underestimate our potential and we tend not to have as much confidence. A mentor is really good at saying, “You can do this. I believe in you.”’

Mentoring for Michelle is a mutually beneficial experience.

‘I think it should be a symbiotic relationship. I’ve never just gone to a mentor and taken. I’ve tried to nd mentors where I felt that I could o er something as well. Then it becomes less of a power relationship and more of a friendship relationship. I hope that I can keep offering things to these people, and as they grow and I grow, we grow together. I always say to people, “Make sure you’re bringing something to the relationship and that you know what that is, and at some point you may nd that the tables turn and you’re mentoring more than you’re receiving.”’

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