STEMM Profile: Dr Jenni Harrison | Director of Strategic Projects & Engagement | Pawsey Supercomputing Centre | Perth | Western Australia

Dr Jenni Harrison

“It’s the power of persuasion – men have an enormous role in advocating, supporting and championing women in STEMM, since those in senior positions, such as Executive Directors, have the creditability, opportunity and often the resources to change minds and influence others”

Dr Jenni Harrison is a passionate leader in technology and positive role model. A PhD-qualified medicinal chemist and MSc qualified in digital education, Jenni migrated her family from Scotland where she was delivering national multi-institution digital projects and initiatives advancing healthcare education, to become Head of Data at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre. Jenni, now Director of Strategic Projects and Engagement, has forged many effective research collaborations, has secured significant research funding and has developed strategic partnerships with many international organisations. A Jenni is an inclusive, strategic thinker who leads a national mentoring program development in eResearch, whilst mentoring others. An Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) graduate, with substantial governance experience, she uses her skills to increase diversity. Jenni is a lifelong learner and published author.

Dr Harrison is a skilled technology executive with substantial expertise from 15 successful years in research and healthcare. Her focus is the effective use of digital technology and aspects of data. Jenni is a graduate of the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews as well as the AICD, with substantial governance experience. Jenni has forged many effective research collaborations, has been highly successful in securing research funding and has developed strategic partnerships with a rang of organisations. Previously, in Scotland, Jenni delivered national multi-institution digital projects and initiatives advancing healthcare education.

Jenni is passionate about women in STEM and inclusion, last year presenting this work at an international conference. Jenni is a lifelong learner and published author.

What do you think is the most important character trait in a successful STEMM professional?

Resilience is one of the most important character traits needed for all STEMM professionals. Developing resilience will help anyone in STEMM to recover quickly when situations become complex or when they are presented with challenging conditions or change. STEMM, by nature, includes enquiry and innovation, which is high paced, variable and can include a high rate of failure. Those who can adapt well in the face of change (which can be highly stressful) are able grow as a person, developing knowledge and experience along the way, helping them to promptly “bounce back”. 

What is the role of men in advocating, supporting and championing women in STEMM?

It’s the power of persuasion – men have an enormous role in advocating, supporting and championing women in STEMM, since those in senior positions, such as Executive Directors, have the creditability, opportunity and often the resources to change minds and influence others. In addition, men leading organisations or boards are able to deliver well-articulated powerful messages that can lead to positive changes for women in STEMM. Hence, we all need to embrace and harness the power of persuasion to support women in STEMM and increase the rate of positive change.

Do you mentor others? How do you manage your time to ensure you can efficiently and effectively mentor?

I am presently mentoring one woman in STEMM, but I have previously mentored Women in a range of STEMM organisations, including being a mentor for Women in HPC. When mentoring, I ensure that I have adequately scheduled enough time to allow me to provide the level of support that I need to effectively guide – that includes reflecting, planning and thinking out with a one to one session. Reflecting and preparing outside the mentioning sessions allow me to focus all of my attention effectively when supporting my mentee one to one.         

If you have done a PhD – what are your transferable skills? How did you identify them?

It took me 3.5 years (full-time) to complete my PhD where I spent many hours in a lab or on a computer. It was physically, mentally and financially exhausting, but at the same time, extremely rewarding. During my years at St Andrews University, I developed many new transferrable skills, most of which I find myself using every day. These skills included determination and stamina – both in a physical and mental context. Being patient and having resilience also supported my journey and have remained in my “lifelong toolbox of competencies”, supporting my life inside and outside of my work. 

What are your three key pieces of advice to your younger self?

Don’t give up on your dream if it is not “mainstream” enough – someday it might just be. For example, bioinformatics is noted to have started in the 1960s, but it was not until 2008 that a group from Leiden documented the sequencing of the first female human genome. Sometimes it just takes time. 

Your career now is not necessarily going to be your career in 10 years from now. Progress happens, change happens, embrace it and be happy.

Adventure happens at any age – be inquisitive, feed your curiosity and challenge yourself daily.

LinkedIn: Jenni Harrison