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Career spotlight: Claire Naughtin

Dr Claire Naughtin is a Senior Research Consultant in the CSIRO Data61 Insights team.

Briefly, what does your day-to-day work look like?

I work with government and industry organisations to help them better understand their future. I conduct research to identify trends in technology and other factors. I run workshops and interviews with experts and I write reports that summarise the research and what it means for an organisation. I also present my research at conferences and other events to communicate the findings more broadly.

What led you to this career/job?

I was always interested in solving complex problems - it was what attracted me to a career in research in the first place. But rather than specialising in a particular field of science, I was interested in exploring a variety of problems in different fields. Working in a research consulting role, I am able to use my research skills to solve complex problems in a variety of different areas — like employment, transport or health — and translate research into real-world solutions. I love the variety that I get in my job as it keeps me challenged and engaged in interesting projects.

What training do you have for this job?

I have a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience - basically, the study of the human brain and how this relates to human behaviour. While the specific topic of my PhD is not directly relevant to my current work, its the transferable research skills that I learnt which are really critical. My PhD equipped me with the ability to critically evaluate scientific information; write and communicate research; collect and analyse data; design solutions for solving problems; plus many more things. Many people who do a PhD don't realise just how valuable their skill set is to organisations outside of the academic sector.

If you could change one thing about your industry/job what would it be?

I think there needs to be more of us! With so much information available these days, it can be difficult sometimes to figure out what's fact from fiction. I think there needs to be more people who play a role in translating the excellent science conducted in Australia into policy and commercial realms and also helping people with non-scientific backgrounds understand what the research tells us. Otherwise we risk people misinterpreting the research or (potentially worse) missing the value or benefits that the research provides for Australia.

What are the key skills, both technical and non-technical, you need to succeed in your job/industry?

You need to communicate well, both verbal and written communication. If people can't understand what you're trying to tell them, then your message can lose its impact. Also, you need to be comfortable with using data and identifying trends in the data. Finally, there's a whole bunch of 'soft skills' that are important too - like working as a team, collaborating, engaging with others and exercising emotional intelligence that help you incorporate different perspectives and manage different team and client dynamics.

If you had one piece of advice for young people getting into your industry, what would it be?

I would encourage anyone thinking of getting into research consulting to get as much 'on the job' training as possible, particularly as you transition from academic training. There's many organisations that now offer opportunities for research graduates to complete internships in organisations. This will give you the opportunity to apply your research skills in government and industry environments and develop some of those 'soft' skills that are needed in translating science to the real world.