In 2015 Tich-Lam became a full-time research manager at the Monash Centre for Atomically Thin Materials. Part of the role was running training workshops and forums for students and early career researchers. ‘It was fulfilling to provide them with training opportunities that I did not have access to when I was a student,’ she says. ‘By showcasing different career paths for STEM graduates outside of academia, I wanted to broaden their perspectives and inspire them to consider non-traditional avenues within their field of expertise.’
And although she’s uncertain about her destination once her tenure as COO of FLEET concludes, Tich-Lam is enthusiastic for the array of possibilities that lie ahead in her career.
‘I’ve never been a long-term career planner,’ she says. ‘I didn’t know that my current role existed until about 15 years ago and didn’t even consider it until 8 or 9 years ago. However, what has remained constant for me is staying true to my passion, always choosing what I enjoy doing and never turning down an opportunity to learn. This has helped me broaden my horizons, discover new career possibilities and keep me motivated. As I continue to explore my own capabilities, I am confident that my STEM skills will propel me even further. ’
This passion to keep learning and exploring has set Tich-Lam up for a successful career in research management. But her background and identity also benefit her work.
‘While my journey to Australia was not as nearly as traumatic as my dad’s, it was very challenging to try and fit into the foreign life and learn the language as a teenager,’ she says. ‘But through my experience, I learned resilience, perseverance, adaptivity and resourcefulness, which helped build the person that I am today.’
‘I think immigrants bring with them a unique cultural perspective and experience. Their participation enriches the organisation by introducing a broader range of ideas and perspectives, and research has shown that diverse teams make better decisions. Immigrants can often communicate effectively in multiple languages, which not only facilitates collaboration with international partners but also expands the reach of research findings, ensuring their broader impact.’
‘I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have many supporting and motivating teachers and mentors who have been instrumental in shaping my journey throughout school, university and professional life. Their encouragement prompted me to pursue scholarships and supported me through transformative training opportunities. Their guidance has also inspired me to give back, uplift others and foster a spirit of paying it forward.’
How to improve diversity in STEM
So how can STEM organisations reap the benefits of a diverse workforce?
‘It starts with respect and kindness,’ Tich-Lam says. ‘Organisations can create a culture of inclusivity by cultivating diversity, equity and respect for all. This can be achieved through training on unconscious bias and increasing access to education, training and mentorship for underrepresented groups. Workplaces can address bias in hiring and promotion by using objective criteria and actively seeking out candidates from underrepresented groups.’
Tich-Lam also has a personal drive to encourage more women of colour in STEM. ‘I went through my career without any role models that look like me,’ she says. ‘There are not many Vietnamese–Australian scientists in my work environment, and the number of women is even fewer. I understand how difficult it is to try and be what you cannot see. So I feel a personal sense of responsibility to lead by example and be a role model for younger women of colour.’
Some of her advice to those women? ‘Don't be discouraged by setbacks. Find a strong network of mentors and allies. Every obstacle is an opportunity to learn and grow. As long as you follow your passion and strengths, and work hard towards your goals, success will find its way to you.’