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Mentoring: Helen and Jessica

When Jessica Bohorquez moved from Colombia to pursue post-graduate research, she was new to the Australian water sector.

Unsure of her future career pathway, Jessica was paired with Helen Edmonds in the Australian Water Association’s mentoring program. While Jessica is now aware of all the fantastic opportunities waiting ahead of her, Helen has also come to reflect on how she contributes to the sector.

Mentor: Helen Edmonds

Senior manager capital projects PwC Australia

When I joined the program, I was looking for a way to get back into doing some mentoring. And at the time I was working for SA Water, so it seemed like a perfect chance to get involved and do some mentoring again. The mentoring I have done before has been within companies; working with Jessica was the first mentoring I’ve done outside of my organisation.

The Australian Water Association’s mentoring program is definitely different. It’s also really refreshing. It’s nice to have a mentee with a different background doing something very different, because you learn more about what’s going on in the wider industry.

I also found myself reflecting a lot more on decisions I’ve made as a result of that mentoring relationship. Mentoring is a two-way thing; you learn from your mentee as much as you help your mentee going forward.

One of the things Jessica was thinking about was where she wanted to go with her work and I was in a really similar place at that point in time in my career.

We had regular catch-ups and check-ins, and we would talk about whatever Jessica wanted to do at that time, what she wanted to talk about, what she wanted to work on. Our conversations slowly progressed throughout the year.

Initially, Jessica wanted to get some exposure in the industry and was looking for industrial applications for her research. But she also needed help to figure out whether she wanted to stay in academia or move closer to industry.

Once Jessica decided to stay in academia, we started to discuss what she needed to do to make that happen. Once she’d made some of those really big decisions, we focused on the details.

It was rewarding watching her change throughout the year. Jessica was gaining new experiences and realising what her passion was and what she really loves doing. She did some more teaching at a university and she did some guest lecturing overseas.

By the middle of the year, she was talking passionately about how much she loved teaching and helping others. But it was also great to watch her embrace the industrial experience she was getting at the same time.

I was lucky because when I started my PhD I had already been working in industry. I decided that working in industry was the path for me following my studies, but our shared experience with postgraduate studies helped me guide her.

Jessica is very focused, very professional, and asks some very smart questions.

Mentoring outside of your organisation gives you an opportunity to think differently, and apply your learnings and knowledge in a different way. It helps broaden your knowledge of what’s going on in the industry. I get huge satisfaction out of doing it. It’s both a personal and a professional growth opportunity; I end up doing a lot of reflection as part of it, too.

Mentee: Jessica Bohorquez

PhD candidate, The University of Adelaide

I saw the AWA mentoring program in the weekly newsletter. It was my first time in a mentoring program, I’ve only been in Australia for three years. I thought it looked perfect because I wanted to gain more perspective of the Australian water sector.

I also joined up because I’m doing my PhD and had been unsure of what path to take when I finish. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue in research or if I wanted to move to industry. It was the perfect opportunity to get some insider views on the industry side of things.

At the beginning of the program, Helen and I decided to meet on a monthly basis. It was more of a catch-up. By the end of the program, it felt like catching up with a friend.

When we met, I would update Helen on what I was doing at university. Helen took the opportunity to tell me about her experience, which was really cool – it was great to have her insight.

The main objective I had when I joined was to know how the industry works here in Australia. I’m from Colombia, and it’s quite different over there. It was really interesting learning how things are managed in Australia. Helen was extremely helpful because she has plenty of experience in industry; she was
able to put everything in simple terms for me to understand.

I was very lucky to be paired with Helen. The water industry is very broad. For my PhD research, I have worked with pipelines and water supply, and Helen was working on something that was very related to asset management.

It was really great to get the chance to ask her questions. Helen was running the asset management team at SA Water and I had the opportunity to learn from her. That was an awesome professional experience.

At the opening event for the mentoring program, everyone was introducing themselves and I didn’t know her at that time. I was like: “Oh, I hope she is my mentor because she sounds like the perfect match for me!”

Helen has an academic background, so she has had a similar history. Being paired with her has given me a vision of what I could be doing in the future.

Helen opened my mind in terms of what I can do after a PhD. When I started, I thought I got in to a PhD because I wanted to be an academic. I loved that idea. But, talking to Helen, I realised that the Australian sector works differently. There are so many more pathways. I definitely experienced a change in my outlook, which I wouldn’t have achieved if I hadn’t been in touch with her. It was definitely an eye-opening experience.

We were not only talking about career paths, we also shared some of the experiences I’ve been having here as a person in a new country. I had certain objectives related to what I want to do with my life here in Australia and Helen was very helpful with that, too. I would definitely recommend the AWA mentoring program for someone in a similar position.

Coming to a new country can be challenging, both personally and professionally, but having someone to help you explore how you might develop your career within the new context is invaluable. It also helps you to build new relationships in the industry. Being paired with such a successful water professional in such a high position was an inspiration.

First published in Current magazine May 2018.

To get involved in the Australian Water Association’s mentoring program, contact your local branch.