My GOAT networking experience and what I learnt: Take that chance, immerse yourself in the experience, and pay it forward.

ECA Blog, Senior Academic Perspective: April 2024
Associate Professor Helen Keen-Dyer

Disaster Management and Health, School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences, CQUniversity Australia, Senior Fellow, Higher Education Academy

In an earlier blog post, Associate Professor Megan Teychenne reflected on the importance of surrounding yourself with GOOD people, and I wholeheartedly echo that sentiment. For me, the role those GOOD people play has changed over time (but has not in any way diminished in importance). In the very early years of my career, they were instrumental in supporting me in pushing my boundaries and taking chances on opportunities I would not otherwise have pursued. The result of taking one such chance was a networking experience that has been foundational in my academic career and has been a driving force in my work to support others: to ‘paying it forward’.

Take that chance
After having a paper accepted at a large international conference, I was encouraged to trawl the conference website for opportunities to maximise my conference experience. My early career self (very early career at this stage) decided that the advertised mentoring program was entirely out of my reach, that I was too inexperienced and that the research project that would form the basis of my application was not of sufficient scope or scale to be competitive. My band of GOOD people convinced me otherwise, and I applied. Not only was I accepted into the program, but I was paired with the scholar whose data analysis approach was being used in my research project.

Immerse yourself in the experience
Rather than waiting until the conference began and the official mentoring program meet and greet, I sent a ‘cold call’ email (in this regard, I also agree with Megan). That ‘cold call’ email resulted in me attending a pre-conference small group professional development workshop being run by my mentor, plus additional one-on-one catch-ups. These additional activities afforded me the opportunity to not only unpack the data analysis approach with the scholar himself but also speak to my research project and my plans in great depth, and after systematically walking him through my proposed approach, to have him act as a critical friend and push me to think and act beyond that initially conceptualised. It was a humbling and awe-inspiring experience and one that reinforced my belief that we can achieve great things when we support and lift each other up.

Pay it forward
As networking opportunities go, this one almost defies description, and frankly, this small snapshot does not do it justice. Without a doubt, this experience was foundational in the success of the project I submitted as part of the application process and, importantly, it was a masterclass in ‘mentoring beyond the things to get done’. My mentor was gracious, generous with his time and his intellect and supportive – even when challenging me and pushing me to think and act beyond my early career view of self and academic practice. It was a networking opportunity like no other, and without my band of GOOD people around me, it would have slipped through my fingers. Left to my own devices, I would have had no chance because I would not have applied. To quote my husband, “don’t cut yourself from the team, make the coach do that”. As my career has progressed, I have actively sought opportunities to pay this experience forward. Working with colleagues and being part of supporting, curating and cultivating spaces to share and grow from the experiences of others is incredibly rewarding. Unfortunately, this type of work is not always ‘counted’ as part of a standard academic workload. Still, by leveraging activities that are ‘counted’, we can all play a part in supporting each other’s growth.

To the early career academics reading this, I say, take that chance. Surround yourself with GOOD people and take that chance. Once you have grasped the opportunity, make the most of it. Not all opportunities will necessarily result in the overwhelmingly positive and career-defining experience of mine, but you won’t know if you don’t try. Learning and growth can come from all sorts of experiences, even those that aren’t overwhelmingly positive. And, importantly, pay it forward. As you move through your career, capitalise on the opportunities to pass on your knowledge and experience, support and be supported by those around you. One of the key benefits of surrounding yourself with GOOD people who are all at different stages in their career is that you can learn from each other.



Associate Professor Helen Keen-Dyer is part of the CQUniversity Appleton Institute, an emergency and disaster management teaching academic and an Advanced HE Senior Fellow. Helen came to higher education with nearly two decades of experience in the emergency and disaster management sector and has a particular interest in the creation and curation of spaces and opportunities for developing the capabilities needed for our increasingly complex world. Building capabilities to respond to the increasing frequency and intensity of disaster events is a key driver of Helen’s work.

University profile:

My one-hour lecture on a non-work topic without any preparation would be: Handmade papermaking. I have been fascinated by handmade paper for as long as I can remember, and in my travels, I’ve been fortunate to attend workshops in Egypt, Bhutan, the United States, Thailand, Japan, Uzbekistan and, of course, Australia. I love to hear about and experience the papermaking process and hear about its use and its meanings across time within different cultures.