STEMM Profile: Dr Jenni Harrison | Risk Consultant for Sensitive Data | CSIRO | 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 a positive role model. A PhD-qualified medicinal chemist with a Master of Science in digital education, Jenni migrated with 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 (CSIRO) and subsequently the Director of Strategic Project and Engagement.

Over her career, Dr Harrison has forged many effective research collaborations, has secured significant research funding, and has developed strategic partnerships with many international organisations. Jenni is passionate about data with a special interest in the gender data gap and AI. Presently Jenni is consulting with Data 61 (CSIRO) in the significant area of risk associated with sensitive data.

Harrison is an advocate for women in STEM and inclusion, is a Member of STEM Women, Women in STEMM Australia, UN Women, WiTWA and is a Women in Data Science Ambassador for 2021. Jenni has presented on inclusion in STEM at several international conferences and events. She is an inclusive, strategic thinker who leads on national STEM initiatives, whilst mentoring others. She is currently a mentor for IMNIS with the Australian Academy of Technology & Engineering, and for the Australian Institute of Management in Western Australia).

On 30th October 2020, Jenni was recognised by Women in Technology WA as a Tech [+] 20 Award Winner for 2020.

An AICD graduate, with substantial governance experience, Jenni uses her skills to promote inclusion. In this regard, Jenni is Chair of SHINE, a remarkable Not for Profit organization based in the Geraldton region that collaborates with business and schools to actively engage with young female students who are at risk of disengaging from the conventional education system. Jenni is also a Member of the West Australian Therapeutics Advisory Council, a Member of the Australian Queen’s Scout Association, and the Secretary of Curling WA.

Dr Harrison is also 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