Michelle Zajac

STEMM PROFILE: Dr Michelle Zajac | Strategic Initiatives Manager  |  Biomedical Research Victoria | Melbourne | VIC

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Dr Michelle Zajac

“I took a big risk when I decided I did not want a career in academia. I quit my postdoctoral fellowship without knowing what I would do next and trusted I would find the right space for myself”

I am the Strategic Initiatives Manager at Biomedical Research Victoria (BioMedVic). BioMedVic is the peak body representing Victoria’s diverse and remarkable health and medical research community.

I completed a Bachelor of Arts / Bachelor of Science (Honours) from The University of Melbourne and have a PhD in neuroscience from The University of Melbourne (Howard Florey Institute).

I have been working for BioMedVic for almost 5 years firstly as Manager of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program; a position I took because I was passionate about the opportunity to expose the best and the brightest science students to a career in biomedical research.

In my current role I am responsible for planning and implementation of BioMedVic’s initiatives supporting our members to deliver innovative, world-class health and medical research, ensuring Victoria is recognised as a global leader in the field. This involves working on projects with our members, government, industry and many others.

What I love about my job is that everyday is different. I get to spend my time thinking about how to support our science sector and talking with lots of people about the best ways in which it can be advanced. Then I get to support and implement projects both big and small to further this goal.

What support structures did/do you have in place that have facilitated your success?

In the workplace I have a very supportive boss who has encouraged me to work out what I need and then to negotiate for it. I had financial support for parental leave and support to return to work flexibly in a way that accommodated childcare responsibilities and expressing breast milk.

What do you believe are the greatest attributes of a successful leader?

An ability to make strategic decisions, to read people and empathise with them, and to know when to let go and delegate. All the great leaders I know lead by example.

What is it about you that got you to where you are today?

Decisiveness and a willingness to take risks. I took a big risk when I decided I did not want a career in academia. I quit my postdoctoral fellowship without knowing what I would do next and trusted I would find the right space for myself. I set myself a six-month deadline and just a couple of days before the deadline I started in my new job.

Do you set boundaries? If yes, which is the most important one?

Yes! I set boundaries at home and at work. Most importantly I don’t routinely look at my work email when I’m not working.

Do you have a mentor? What is the most important advice they have given you?

Yes, I have more than one. I think mentoring relationships are extremely important; both being mentored and mentoring others. I have found great organic mentoring partnerships often work in both directions.

The most important advice I have been given by my mentors is 1. Just go for it, 2. Never apologise for yourself, and 3. Intuition is important, use it.