A former US scientist describes her drive to trade autopsies for digital innovation

Image: Getty Images / Viacheslav Peretiatko; Andrew Brookes

Image: Getty Images / Viacheslav Peretiatko; Andrew Brookes

Jamie Ford’s journey is nothing short of remarkable.

As a former US scientist who began assisting with autopsies at the age of 18, Ford has had roughly three different careers in the time it takes most people to have one.

However, her ability to pivot was driven by trying to find a sense of purpose in her work more than anything else.

Jamie Ford speaking at UQ Business School MBA Awards night at the Hilton in Brisbane

Jamie Ford speaking at the UQ MBA Awards Evening

Image supplied by Jamie Ford

Growing up in a family with two scientists for parents, Ford explains that the choice to enter microbiology was a process of elimination.

“During a conversation with my Dad, I said, ‘Well, I don’t like chemistry. What about biochemistry?’ I think the appeal came down to the tangibility of being able to see science in everyday life.”

“My Mum found an opportunity for me to work in a lab… so that’s when I started with the autopsies and that kind of work.

“I found it a fascinating way of learning about the human body and just understanding it better by being able to see the inner workings of the human body.”

However, it wasn’t until Ford met her partner at the age of 21 when she began to question the longevity of her career.

“At our first dinner, I talked about autopsies I’d done and I suddenly realised, ‘I don’t know if I want my whole life to be like that.”

“You start getting wrapped up in it, and wrapped up in the emotion of this person passing away, and what happened [to them] and I just thought, ‘Maybe a whole career focused on that wouldn’t be good for my mental health.'”

As Ford discusses, it was also around that point where she realised the lack of social interaction was another drawback in her line of work.

“I think I should have known this about myself, but I realised that I was quite an extroverted human…and being a pure scientist in a lab, even if you’re managing a team of scientists, is often quite an isolating role.

“I think the last straw for me was when I moved to Malaysia to set up a world-leading Renewable Energy Laboratory,” Ford continues.

“The biological sciences component of the research was my responsibility and I found myself not really interested in it enough, even though it’s amazing work.

“I didn’t feel connected to it enough to do what everybody else was doing. I didn’t read about it all the time – I wasn’t infatuated with it,” she admits.

“I was looking around and it was like, ‘What’s next?’ Something for me just had to change.”

Images: Getty Images / Suntorn Niamwhan; EyeEm; Tetra Images

Female scientist looking through a microscope.
Test tubes in a laboratory.

From there, Ford quit her job and moved to Australia to begin her Master of Business Administration (MBA) with The University of Queensland Business School.

“I chose to do an MBA because I really wanted to understand my value in a business context. In the UQ program, there is a focus on connecting into who you are which was aligned with the journey of self-exploration I was on.”

“I got my first opportunity after the MBA doing some business consulting work with EY and met a director at the time who was in customer experience.

“I found him so inspiring that I wanted to work with him on the big challenges facing the Health and Human Services organisations, and that’s when I found my passion and purpose.”

Jamie Ford speaking at UQ Business School industry launch

Jamie Ford on the panel for the UQ Business School Industry Lunch

Jamie Ford on the panel for the UQ Business School Industry Lunch

Ford now works as the Executive Director of Practera, an experiential learning edtech provider, focused on preparing global leaders for the future of work by connecting the world of work and learning through technology.

“My personal drive is to help people solve complex problems in creative ways, and I think the current pandemic has really reminded us how important that is.

“It’s been a rewarding experience working with education clients during the coronavirus outbreak, to help them innovate and pivot quickly by delivering experiential learning online.

“My MBA studies really helped me understand and develop my skills and network well beyond my initial background and experience, providing me with the leadership tools and ability to apply my critical thinking across any industry.”

Images: Getty Images / vgajic; PeopleImages

Team meeting with ipads.

For anyone who finds the idea of an MBA daunting, Ford offers this tidbit of reassurance: “What I found, particularly with the UQ MBA, was the first course that you took was about yourself and your leadership style and understanding… it was much more of a personal growth journey and was a great place to start.

In terms of advice, Ford insists that looking inward is how you’ll determine if you’re moving forward.

“If you’re not at least 20 per cent scared, then you’re not living life,” she states bluntly. “Asking questions of myself, like ‘Am I still learning? Am I still growing from this? Is there an opportunity for me to learn here?'”

“I mean, a basic rule of humanity is nobody likes change,” Ford continues. “We humans generally don’t want to change and there needs to be a burning platform in which we change, and that burning platform can be driven internally or externally.”

Jamie Ford speaking at UQ Business School MBA Awards Evening at the Hilton in Brisbane.

Jamie Ford at the UQ MBA Awards Evening.

Jamie Ford at the UQ MBA Awards Evening.

This story originally appeared in Business Insider.

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