«It’s very important, because that’s how you find out about other researchers you might want to work with or other jobs you might want to apply for,» Wickham says.
Much of the networking happens through visiting other globally distributed institutes and labs and sharing and discussing ideas. Better yet, attend international conferences.
«That’s usually the best place to find other people interested in that topic and then building from that common interest. I’ve found it’s the best way to engage with other people,» Wickham says.
Employers seek passionate applicants who feel excited about the field. Creativity – the ability to think of new ways to solve problems — is also in hot demand, as are outstanding communication skills.
«Science is like a team project, so you need to communicate really well,» she says and highlights the need to explain complex information in easily understandable fashion, as she and her peers constantly do. Always up for a team effort, you must lastly be thorough – attentive to detail, as in pulling together a project’s little threads, she says.
Wickham advises finding all available opportunities for work experience and research.
«And follow those up as much as you can, to find out the path that excites you and that you feel passionately about. And just keep following that up and finding more opportunities … for work experience and internships,» she says.
Fellow DNA origami expert Amanda Ellis – a board member of the Royal Australia Chemical Institute – advises pursuing courses in nanotech, nano-science and advanced materials design or engineering that embeds the requisite skills. A study of maths is required.
Like Wickham, the University of Melbourne chemical engineer also advocates networking.
«It’s imperative, because the whole process requires computational modellers, experimentalists, biologists. So it’s really important because it requires so many diverse types of scientist to truly understand how to create these structures,» Ellis says.
«Go to conferences. Go overseas. Visit people’s labs and, of course, read their journal articles and contact them and go and have a visit,» she says. Then, she says, because the field is niche, the way to find work is to browse high-end science journals such as Nature and that underscores the importance of vision.
«You have to be creative. You can make any structure you want through programming, but what is the impact of that structure going to have on the particular application that you’re looking at? So you have to be creative and think outside the box a little bit, so to speak.»
The professional lateral thinker adds that she teaches students to picture the earth as an atom on which they stand.
«You need to be imaginative, creative — it’s a whole different world, and have some design skills,» Ellis says.
She describes the design medium, DNA, as cool and exciting. We are just starting to realise the fantastic material’s potential, she says, adding that we eat kilos of it every year.
«So we might as well put it to some good use.»
Tips on landing a nanotech job
Study mathematics and chemistry, physics and biology at school
At uni read nano-science or engineering, which bundles useful skills
Pick up some design skills for good measure
Attend international conferences
Arrange to visit sector scientists’ labs
Scour science magazines, such as Nature
Sell yourself as a creative problem-solver with a passionate interest in the field