By Mihajla Gavin
Name: Mihajla Gavin
Job title: Lecturer, Management Discipline Group, University of Technology Sydney
What do you do?
My role is very mixed. In addition to teaching students in the areas of industrial relations and human resource management, I am also a researcher – currently investigating teachers’ work and teacher unions – and hold various committee and service roles.
How long have you been doing this job and what first sparked your interest in this area?
I started my role at UTS in 2019 after completing my PhD. I was inspired by many of the great teachers I had in my undergraduate studies who developed my passion for the area I now teach and research in. After a few years working in the public sector after completing my honours degree, I was encouraged to undertake a PhD which examined teacher union responses to neoliberalism as part of a broader international collaborative project looking at teachers’ working conditions in the context of marketisation and school choice in Australia and Sweden.
What do you like most about the job?
There is a growing emphasis in academia around conducting research that has real-world impact and drives social justice outcomes in society. I love that my work lets me not only challenge established ways of thinking through my scholarly publications, but potentially shape debate and public views through the media and informing policy.
What is the most unexpected thing you have had to do in your job?
I have been very lucky to contribute to leading UTS’s U@Uni Academy Program which provides an alternative pathway to tertiary education for high school students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds. I was born, grew up, and attended public schools in south-west Sydney and feel very privileged to support my community and help students develop skills and capabilities to succeed at university.
How have you adapted to online learning and to other challenges during the coronavirus pandemic?
Before the onset of the pandemic, I taught one class on campus in 2020. Since March I have delivered more than 100 online classes. The rapid shift to online learning became a significant learning experience for me, not only in new online platforms, but thinking how to retain the "human" connection in teaching and developing renewed empathy as an educator for students studying overseas, feeling the personal and financial effects of the pandemic, or even now completing group work remotely. While everyone was practising social distancing, it also highlighted the importance of staying socially connected to my colleagues, whether it was having virtual morning teas or participating in forums to share new teaching and learning strategies.
How transferable are your skills?
The skills that academics attain are very transferrable to different sectors – leadership, research, analysis, evaluation, managing projects, collaborating with others, critical thinking, communicating to different audiences and through different media, as well as developing personal skills like adaptability and resilience.
What advice do you have for people wanting to get into this career?
While studying, think about how you want to build your profile as an academic in your field and how your unique profile sets you apart. Networking, collaborating with others and building good relationships is key. Consider how your research can make a contribution not only to knowledge and your field, but to your community more broadly.
Think about how your industry experience can help in your academic career. I worked in industry for a few years before embarking on an academic career and carried across not only relevant knowledge in my field that I could immediately teach into, but also important skills I learnt in industry.
What should they study and what experience do they need to get into this field?
Most full-time academic positions require a PhD qualification specific to the discipline area. Students will also need to demonstrate skills fit for a future academic role. My recommendation for PhD students would be to say yes to opportunities when they come along – peer reviewing an article, teaching students as a tutor, convening a symposium, presenting at a conference, working as a research assistant on other projects, writing grant proposals – even if you don’t have a lot of experience.
What personal skills do they need?
Confidence and resilience. Working through a large research project can at times be very challenging. It’s important to back your own work, but also be open to learning from the constructive feedback of your peers. Also take some time while completing your PhD to reflect on your own agenda and profile as a researcher and educator.