The Doctor Mark Krstic Session
In this session Mark talks to us about his journey from pines to vines in the field of agricultural science. He tells us how a very early visit to the Dean of Agriculture at UTAS helped cement his choices through school, how a little memory he had of a great Aunt spurred him on in his education journey, how a community *allegedly* benefited from his two-year old pine sample at Christmas time, and what he looks for as an employer, beyond just the attainment of a PhD.
There are a lot of PhDs out there. Sometimes it’s nice to use the Doctor title or the Professor title or whatever you might have, but I think that is the myth that I wanted to dispel, that once your PhD is finished, there is still a lot of hard work ahead of you and it doesn’t finish. You know if you really want to succeed, it’s hard work… I am sorry to dispel that myth.
Listen to the Interview with Dr Mark Krstic
Q&A with Dr Mark Krstic…
What is the title of your PhD: Anatomical and physiological factors affecting adventitious root formation in Pinus radiata (D.Don) cuttings.
Where did you complete your PhD: University of Tasmania
What year did you graduate: 1997
What undergraduate degree/s have you completed: Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Hons), University of Tasmania (1993)
Any honours or masters: Master of Business Administration, The University of Queensland (2008)
What is your job title, today: Managing Director – The Australian Wine Research Institute www.awri.com.au
Interview with Dr. Mark Krstic
Tamara: Today we’re talking to Dr. Mark Krstic, who graduated from the University of Tasmania in 1997, following the completion of his doctoral research project titled “Anatomical and Physiological Factors Affecting Adventitious Root Formation in Pinus radiata Cuttings”. He has spent more than 20 years working in the grape and wine sector here in Australia and overseas, and he’s held many key positions. He’s tackled the effects of fire on wine production following the Black Saturday fires in 2009, he’s represented governments on international trade missions abroad, built a world-class grape and wine research and development facility in Victoria. He’s an international expert in viticulture and accomplished author speaker and international wine judge. I’m not actually sure when you get to do your actual job, like any good wine researcher, he loves all wine. These days you will find him in his office at the Australian Wine Research Institute here in Adelaide. So welcome Mark.
Mark: Thank you very much. Good to be here.
Steph: Just to set the scene for our listeners, what is your current role right now? So what are you doing? What does your day look like?
Mark: Okay. Currently I’m the managing director of the Australian wine research Institute. Which is a role I’ve only been in for about three months prior to that I’ve been working for the company for a bit over eight years in different roles, including in an extension role and also in a Business Development Manager role. I’ve done a number of roles in the same company. So I know the company pretty well. My day starts early seven o’clock I’m usually at work. It usually doesn’t finish until later on and it feels like every minute of the day is packed with something. Again, I think as you go through your career, you learn how to deal and skip between meetings, and learn how to make sure you’re prepared for the one that’s coming up and all those sorts of things. Yeah, lots of, we’ve, we’re, the Institute, which is based on the University of Adelaide Waite Campus, up the road. We have around about 135 staff, and we’re doing all sorts of exciting things in grape and wine science and also other areas of science. So it, and it’s really rewarding. It’s a great place to work.
Tamara: It part of Adelaide uni or is it an Institute on its own? Yeah.
Mark: Yeah. We’re a separate Institute, so we actually are limited guarantee company. We’re governed by our own board of directors. So, and they’re made up of mostly industry representatives. And yeah, it’s great. We’re quite a small, but nimble organization that was founded by the industry back in 1955. We were, formed because I guess the industry wasn’t being served by the current science people out there within the other research institutes that are around. Yeah, we’ve developed a world-class reputation in grape and wine science. That’s admired all around the world.
Steph: Considering that can’t keep it houseplant alive. There clearly is a bit more to it than just planting a great vine…
Mark: Certainly a lot more than it’s the right grape in the right spot with the good wine makers who know how to get the best out of it. Obviously putting it all together, and with a long history of tradition, and also labels, that’s why, people are willing to pay, up to $800,000 and beyond for 750 ml bottle of liquid.
Steph: It’s not just a bottle of liquid, it’s an experience.
Tamara: Do things like fires change the course of the grapevine forever, or is it something that happens and then gets better?
Mark: Unfortunately, it’s periodic. It happens, there’s an effect in one year, then the following year, it’s all back on track. So it’s all good. It’s just dependent on the environmental conditions in that particular year, which is great. Thankfully. Yeah,
Tamara: Yeah, thankfully because I think they were talking about wine shortages at one point, I think the world got a bit panicked. We’re going to go back to the very start and we want to talk about your family and were you the first in your family to go to university or did your parents go to university? what happened and where did you go and what did you do?
Mark: Yeah, and that’s a good question. In my small family, I wasn’t the first one to go to university certainly, but my parents didn’t go to university. They had me when they were a lot younger. I was around about the 20 years old area. We, so, went through school and battled. They actually ended up going through different education, whether it be university or TAFE, at one stage there to get qualified. For me I actually, come from a family farming background. I kind of always liked the agriculture, but it was more in my grandparents. My, mother who was just standard of my grandfather, of course, we’re in line. I always had this feeling of love for agriculture all the way through my schooling and also developed a real love for science. So, maths and science always came pretty easy and PE and all those sorts of things, but, really took to that. It was actually, this is a bit of a funny story, but I, it was in year eight. I went home one day, I’d done on my own lot of research. I looked at my mum and said, mum, I’ve made an appointment with the Dean of Agricultural Science at University of Tasmania. Can you please take me down there? I want to meet with him. So I remember rolling down and meeting the Dean, John Madden at the time down at the University of Tasmania and having a look around and he showed me around the facility and I actually thought, wow, this is pretty cool. This is something that I’d really like to get my head around. From that point onwards, I kind of always knew what my entrance requirements were. Does that make any sense? So going through, in, through, into a year 11 and 12, I was pretty clear about what I had to do to get over those sorts of things. It’s interesting between year eight and year 12, the entrance requirements became less. Does that make any sense? Cause they’re trying to encourage people to get into the system, but, I always, had that aim, right from year eight about where I wanted to go into the university and study at the University of Tasmania.
Tamara: There’s is there any, there’s only a handful of people. I think I’ve met in my life who have known what they want to do from a very young age.
Mark: I mean, look, my friends at the same time, I come from a bit of a rough neighborhood, to be honest with you. My friends used to call me the glorified farmer. That’s what it was, really. So, but no, it was good. I did, and I, identified, from a young kid in Tasmania, which is again, at the bottom end of the world, the real down under part of Australia. You know, and it was good. I found, really flourished in that university environment as well. I met some great colleagues, but what I did is I was really looking for that generalist science, I wasn’t into pure science. I was more into that applied at one of, to be applied to something practical for me in that linked to agriculture was always good. Now our family farming background was a grazing background, right. I always went in there thinking I’m going to, specialize in veterinary. I actually wanted to be a vet, to be honest with you at one stage. I was, there was no offering of course in Tasmania I would have had to go to Melbourne or elsewhere to do that. Again, my family wasn’t that rich at the time. It just was a natural progression just to stay within Tasmania and do that at the University of Tasmania in Hobart.
Mark: As I went through my undergraduate degree, I met those people that change you. Certainly a Professor in Horticulture that I had, Bob Menery at the time, he just put a really interesting spin on plants for me and I really got right into plant physiology, plant biochemistry and those sorts of things. For me, that was a real moment of change where you’re going, okay, you’re thinking animals vet, and then all of a sudden, wow, I’m going to go this way and go into plants and plant biochemistry and all of these really interesting things. That to me, and he was a specialist in, essential oil production. Looking at fennel oil and boronia and all this thing. That, to me, it was really interesting. His understanding, all of those things in the biosynthesis, in the plant, and then how do I extract that in a commercial sense to make perfumes or make, dealer oil or whatever it was, those particular things.
Mark: So that really started me off. I did, finish my Ag Science degree and did an honours in and around looking at, high menthofuran mint production. Again, it’s a different peppermint production, it was quite interesting, for me, but yeah, that’s how I got into it anyway.
Tamara: Did you go straight to school, university, honours, PhD? Was that like, was there any time off in between all of that?
Mark: I was a good social students, so there’s no doubt about that. I made fun all the way through. I did keep going all the way through just, I was just keen to get finished and always had the end goal in mind of getting there. I will say though, that, when I went into the undergraduate degree, I had no idea I was going to do a PhD. I had absolutely no idea. I came to the end of my third year undergraduate and had the Mark: s to be going to an honours program. I did, and again, did really well out of that. I remember writing my honours thesis, from whoa to go in three days, stayed awake for three days and just pumped it out, but it was due on that day. So that gives you some insight into the way I work.
Mark: So, you know, I, I did that. The opportunity was looking in the Ag Science field. You can either go out and kind of be a field agronomist or a technician in a high value horticulture operation or into salmon farming. There’s a whole lot of different options there, but the option, it wasn’t until kind of, like I said, when I started to get toward the end of my honours degree where, my supervisors were starting to say, Hey, what about a PhD? And I started looking at it. At the time for me, I looked at it and went well, tax-free wise and salary wise I was probably, I could go out and be a sales agronomist or something like that, or go off and do this. And there was no real salary difference. It’s probably not like say law or I’m just dreaming about law or commerce, that there’s this huge jump there wasn’t a real difference. I always had in the back of my mind. A great auntie from way back who died when I was young, but a little thing that she said, whatever you do, make sure you go as far as you can with education. And that actually resonated at the time. I thought, well, if I got the opportunity to go on and improve myself, why wouldn’t, I at least have look at that? So maybe a little naive, but I thought that was a good way to go in, at that particular time.
Steph: So, you had access to a scholarship?
Mark: Yeah I did. I was lucky to get, again, in choosing the project, it was a range of projects put in front of me because this is what they had for linking my Commonwealth scholarship, my APA with a particular project that then had an industry top up.
Mark: That was important at the time, because that was the difference that really made me think I’m not losing economically as well. Yeah.
Mark: The one thing about doing a PhD is you’re probably not gonna make it up financially, compared to some of your colleagues that went offered to do accounting or something like that. That was, the path that I took.
Steph: Yep. You weren’t able to have complete freedom over your project, but you could choose from a range of projects. Yeah.
Mark: Yeah. I had a lot of, and again, I was, in the Ag sector, there was quite a few, the university was quite successful in having a range of different commercial partners coming in, talking about, Hey, we’ve got these problems industry, what do you think is going on? So, and mine was the one that I picked at the time was just one that I, I was interested in kind of nursery production a bit of, branching out into a bit of Agri-forestry as well. That makes any sense. Also the commercial partners that I had were a big timber player in Tasmania, but also a big timber player in, on the mainland, in Victoria and in new South Wales. They also had branches in New Zealand. It was a good opportunity to kind of, getting with a company that was bigger than just Tasmania as well at that time.
Tamara: Agriculture must have a lot of industry ties then, cause I don’t think we’ve spoken to anybody else that’s talked about having this industry link as strongly as you have.
Mark: Like I said, that’s my background. It’s probably been my strength during my professional career to always having that. Like I said, that professional farming background and also seeing more of a general. You do an Ag Science degree, it’s a very, you’re not really targeted. You’re not a very, you could be doing, like I said, Aquaculture, you can be doing Agri-forestry. You can be horticulture, you can be broad acre grains is all of those require quite different disciplines. It just, you’ve got the tools to then go and learn more, which I found was really good.
Steph: What was your actual project? Explain it to me like on five,
Mark: My project was just, it’s just around nursery propagation of the Radiata Pine. If I can say that, so we, instead of planting them, but you can plant them by seed, but they had a whole genetic improvement program. It was about producing higher quality timber, from soft wood pine, but they had some problems with the propagation from cuttings in the nursery. What they were doing is you’re going to the mother plants taking a lot of cuttings, putting them into a raised nursery bed, but there was mixed chances of success in those cuttings. My project was just about trying to understand what were the causes for, the mortality or decline in cutting success and, understanding structural reasons why that was failing or whether there was more of like an internal biochemical reason for why they were failing at different times in the season.
Mark: Yeah, it was good and, really was commercial. There’s lots of trips to the, into the commercial sector to really do a lot of sampling, but then also a mixture of really doing a lot of really detailed biochemistry and phyto-hormone analysis in the lab, understanding, what’s going on in the processes behind that.
Tamara: How long does it take you to complete.
Mark: Go to where it was less than just a bit less than four years.
Steph: So that’s pretty good for a PhD. Yeah. So, and I, look,
Mark: I look back and I go, Oh man, I was so naive. Like watch when I went out and did my postdoc with CSIRO. Now the number of people that are still working and getting paid a lot better than you’re getting paid at a post-grad level. Still hadn’t finished writing up their PhD. I’m like, Oh dude, why didn’t I do that. But there is a scary percentage of those that didn’t actually finish as well. Yeah.
Tamara: Yeah. There is a, there is an argument for pushing yourself through and going. I’m going to finish when this scholarship ends and that’s my that’s.
Mark: Yeah. I was so pleased to see the ass end of it, for sure.
Steph: What did your day look like when you were a PhD student?
Mark: Oh God, I was coffees in the morning. It was completely different lifestyle. No, look, I know seven o’clock starts and look, you wax and wane through that initial stages going off in a range of different directions. I was also focused on a lot of different sporting activities at that time. I had a lot of distractions and, girls and all that stuff came in there as well, which was great. I think for the first couple of years, it really just, finding your feet about where you wanted to go and where you want to take the project, being your own boss and just trying to drive your own agenda. Fortunately, I’ve been okay with kind of setting that and being self-directed so it’s okay. It can be a bit of a trap for the young players.
Steph: I have a bit of self-discipline you spend a lot of time not getting a lot done.
Mark: You can get a little spend a lot of time in the bar and the cafes and so forth, catching up with friends.
Tamara: How old were you when you were doing a PhD?
Mark: I think I started when I was about 21. Yeah. I think I was pretty young. To be honest with you, I do look back and go, wow. If I was just more mature, I probably could have got a lot more out of it. I’m like, I’m glad I got it nailed. I was out of there, but I’m wished that, from an inexperienced perspective, if I was just a bit more mature, I would have got a lot more out of that. There is something to be said for having those gap years and those sorts of things. Cause I think you watch some of those mature students that were coming back into the system and you could see that they’d kind of got that worldly experience and they knew what they really wanted to focus in on. They really became a more enriched experience for me.
Steph: Yeah. They were there for a reason. And then you where they were going. Yeah.
Tamara: What was the most challenging part of your PhD, whether it’s, part of the experiment or part of, just the doing.
Mark: I think a lot of PhD students probably suffer the kind of the midterm, what am I doing here? I don’t know whether that’s come up at all, but I remember going Oh wow, this is, do I, look, it’s all feels like it’s going, but too slow. Will they ever get to the end? Supervisors probably beating down on you and you need that kick up the backside, don’t get me wrong at the same time. Like you’re going, wow, there’s gotta be a better life than this? And I remember, looking at applying for jobs about the two-year Mark: and going, I just want, I want to go and do something else here. This is great, but can I ever see the end of this? And I just envisaged, being more, practical, I guess, in a bit sooner. I became impatient with myself, and certainly hit that low point in that about that two year mark and wanting to, I remember applying for a couple of jobs at the time. Fortunately, I didn’t get them and I kept going, but yeah, look at the same time. I think, I had great support from my family as well. I think that’s really important to encourage. Hey, look, you need to keep going on because it was the only, person in the family that continued on to do a PhD as well, which was great. That was a bit of a motivator.
Tamara: When you’re halfway through a PhD, even though it’s very hard to see the wood from the trees, you’re almost there, that finishing line is actually pretty close and it feels like it’s an enormous, still an enormous journey, but actually when you can look back at it and go, actually it was just two years.
Mark: The thing for me, I have a lot of friends say to me, how the hell did you finish a PhD? How did you focus for more than five minutes and finish a PhD? I say, it comes down to, for me just outright stubbornness and determination, like I’ve started something I’m going to finish it. Yeah, I just wanted to keep plowing on and I should say that I did work very hard. I remember at one stage in my PhD, starting at 5:30 in the morning to, because of the timing of different extractions and analysis of machines running and finishing up at about midnight and doing that for a month and they’re sitting there with the results for your PhD supervisor and they’re looking at me and they looked at me and they said, is that all you’ve got? We’ve got this feeling of launching horizontally across the table to choke them to death with what was going through my mind, that stage.
Tamara: So from your experience of, being a student and being a supervisor, what do you, what is the life of the PhD student then?
Mark: I think it’s just that understanding of what they’re going through. I think, you can be a science coach, but sometimes it’s also being a personal coach in some of those things and just trying to keep them motivated. I think there’s students that you know are gonna really do well and are self-motivated and they’re kind of low input. You kind of just sit back and let them go. There’s others that do require a higher degree of maintenance and looking after him and maybe a little bit of forceful pushing. Yeah, cheerleading, thank you. Be careful what you say bullying.
Mark: Different people require different styles. I think it’s recognizing that from afar and those that are kind of self-motivated versus those that do, just need more guidance. I think, you’ve got to appreciate both types exist out there and be willing to adapt your style of supervision to meet that.
Steph: Learn your supervision strategies from your own supervisor.
Mark: Yeah. I think you do initially pass it on, but I think you also think, what did they do wrong that I want to fix it? If that makes any sense. I always think, very much..
Tamara: Don’t say, is that all you got?
Mark: Yeah. I think you do have to kind of adapt and just, work out what those individuals are and just, no, one’s, there’s no one shoe size shoe fits all kind of approach.
Tamara: What became of your research and your findings did they, are they useful to agriculture today or, why is it important to everybody.
Mark: I’d like to think that they were used, but yeah, no, my feeling is that they helped the nursery sector, which still operates pretty actively, certainly in different parts of the world. It also, around the timber production, just be more successful in, the rate of nursery production, the strike rate and success in that nursery phase and all, just make that process a bit more economic and a bit more sustainable in terms of a business, for the industry and providing high quality genetic material to the forestry sector.
Steph: It had a real practical application that is in place.
Mark: I’ve got it. I’ve got a slight detour, but funny story to tell you about my, so I was looking at taking cuttings from different age, pine trees. I had to, one day I was going out near Christmas to my two-year-old pine trees to go and collect some samples and they were all cut down.
Steph: Oh dear, I think I know where those trees went.
Mark: They might’ve been sold on the side by the local scout group or something like that. At least they went to a good cause for it, for around Christmas. Yeah, that was a bit of a major problem.
Tamara: So, what did you do?
Mark: You adjust and keep going. Yeah. Fortunately I had some other two year old stuff that was there that I could still use and all that stuff, but yeah, it was a bit of a shock that day when I went up there, drove an hour and a half from here.
Steph: Where did the forest go?
Mark: I can see where they’ve been cut off nicely on the bottom
Steph: Oh, your careful love and attention gave a family, a month’s worth of enjoy.
Mark: Yeah, exactly. This is lovely smelling houses everywhere.
Tamara: How did you get from there Tasmania to Adelaide?
Mark: It’s a bit of a long journey, but I, so towards the end of my PhD, I did start applying for jobs and I really liked the idea of going to work with CSIRO. So there’s a couple of postdocs going. I actually applied for a post-doc in Perth, working in carrot research on water relations in carrot research.
Steph: It seems very specific, but carrots have their own problems.
Mark: Look, I thought, wow, this is great. I’ll get out of Tassie and live in WA. That sounded really good. Anyway I applied for the job and I didn’t get it. I was devastated, but anyway, one of the guys in the interview panel said to me, Hey, look, Mark: , you interviewed really well, but look, we just had a guy who finished his PhD in carrot research in Western Australia, working on water relations. So I was kind of snookered. Anyway, so he said, look, Hey, but we’ve got this other job going in grape research up in Mildura. Would you be interested? Oh yeah, sure. Send me the position description. It came through and it sounds really interesting actually. Jumped into it, packed up the car, moved up to Mildura in the middle of the desert up there in the, on the Murray River. I remember the first month of being up there, it was, did the, a drop below 35 during the day. And I thought, what have I come to here?
Mark: Look, I, I spent 10 years up and around Mildura and I worked, with so CSIRO during my postdoc. I moved on to work with, now Agriculture Victoria, still up in Mildura and leading a team of people up there. I, early in my career I had some really good mentors, older guys that looked at me and said, Hey, he’s a goer. Let’s throw some resources his way and see what he can do and kind of lived up to that expectation. All of a sudden, I found myself, managing 12 or 15 people and all of a sudden all, and budgets and resources. And I thought to myself, far out. I haven’t trained for this people management. I think, some of my prior experience, not saying that they were bad managers, but they’ve just science managers, they were good people, but really weren’t, experienced in probably, traditional management stuff. Actually, said to myself, I don’t want to be like that. I couple of years, I think I was in about 2004, I actually started my MBA. I did, and I was really particular about the program that I wanted to go into. It was with the Mount Eliza through Queensland University actually issued the degree, but it changed hands. I’ve learned that business schools make a lot of money as well. It changed hands about two or three times. I think it started off with Queensland University, went to Monash University finished in Melbourne Business School, but I got a UQ certificate at the end of it. I found that was really good cause that really, again, all the science training, but it was important to, for me to really understand more about managing people, resources, negotiation, finance, all of those things become really critical for business operations,
Steph: It is so intimately associated with the industry itself. Yeah.
Mark: It is. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I went off and did more study, but it was, that was more fun. I felt like it was more of a learning about yourself more than learning about science or maths or that stuff. It was, it was nice. I flew in, flew out from Mount Eliza, which is on the Mornington Peninsula. Yeah of course. Yeah yeah. I was living in Missouri for most of it. Towards the latter part of it, I moved to Melbourne in 2006 and finished it down there as well. I was living down in Mornington there for a while as well. So doing that as well. I’ve been lucky through my professional career to also get a lot of trips in, some, for short stays some longer and being able to experience, different research institutes all around the world, different industry, it’s always good to go and see different Wine Ministries in different countries and, meet those people and, develop really strong networks in North America, Europe, etc.
Mark: So it’s been really good.
Steph: The skills that you developed during your PhD, you use them in your current role or was, or do you use your, MBA more?
Mark: Oh, it’s a bit of both. And when we’re a science driven organization. Absolutely. We’re probably more commercially focused. We’re not completely discovery blue sky science where we’re, we’ve got elements of that, but we’re more in the applied. How does it make a difference commercially to industry kind of approach? So I think a blend of those has really been good, right. From my farming background through to my studies, it’s been really important, but you’ve also gotta be able to hold your own when you’re talking to, the genomics group, on the board of the South Australian Genomic Centre, which has only just started up and there’s a whole lot of medicos there and how you put all those things together and make sure that again, you’ve got your science fundamentals in what you do.
Tamara: Yeah. Would they not take you seriously if you didn’t have that PhD background?
Mark: I think there’s a bit of that. I think there’s a bit of that. I think title is important to a number of people for me. I see how they operate first and then go from there. Title, it’s handy to have, but at least levels the playing field for when you’re talking to those people and you can get on it and talk about it. I think to certain people, it makes a big difference. Certainly, if you’re looking into the university spheres, it makes a very big difference. Could you.
Steph: Could you have done the job you’re doing now without a PhD?
Mark: I think you could have, but would they have appointed you? Probably not. Yeah. So, we’ve always had a history of having very strong science leaders involved in managing our organization that do have that industry crossover and that passion for the industry as well.
Tamara: Do you still get to get your hands dirty with research, or are you kind of probably a bit more hands-off these days?
Mark: I’m probably a bit more hands off to be honest with you, but if the opportunity arises to go and give a talk to industry on smoke taint, or it goes, get in the lab and taste some of the wines that they’re doing, putting through sensory and all that stuff. It’s not always good, let me tell you. Mostly good, but not always. Yeah. Cause you remember, a lot of our stuff is about problem solving, so you get to taste a lot of, mistakes.
Steph: Did you end up with any papers, have your PhD?
Mark: Yeah. Yeah. There’s some, certainly some publications that have come out of there for industry and so forth as well. I guess I’m probably different. I haven’t been a paper driven, that’s not been probably why I’ve not gone into academia, professionally that’s not been the hugest driver, but certainly, I’ve helped publish and published a lot of stuff myself over the years, be it, peer reviewed or industry trade articles or whatever. Yeah. Yeah, we get involved in the output that we have from a science perspective at AWRI is very strong. We were very comparable to the university standards, so yeah,
Tamara: A lot of, I notice your CV is quite long with conference, The long one. So did you enjoy your PhD experience?
Mark: Yeah, it did. I think it is great. I mean, again, it’s, I think, universities do create a great environment to allow a lot of good learning and I think, you meet some great colleagues, need to retain those all through your life. It’s, it is a hard slog sometimes, but it’s worth it in the end. I think if you can be doing a job that you love, it doesn’t feel like a job. I think, and that’s the way I feel at the moment. Yes. There are long hours with what you do, but I really don’t feel like it’s, I’m lucky every day you get up and go, wow, I’m going to work at the Australian Wine Research Institute. I feel very proud of that. Like I said, the team we’ve got, there are an amazing team of very talented people.
Mark: Like I said, when you have those conversations that people go, wow, I never even thought about that. You know, that’s fantastic. And there’s just so much talent there. Also within that Waite Campus, more broadly as well and the world,
Tamara: Do you feel like you had to make any kind of compromises or sacrifices in order to complete your PhD or I suppose you’ve already talked about that financial loss? That’s not loss, but missed those years that you weren’t earning, you had to catch up.
Mark: Yeah. I always had a, just a longer-term vision on it all. Like I used to see my friend, I remember a friend of mine, one of my best mates, went off to the Navy when he was 16, came back and he was driving all the best cars, at 21 he was driving all the best cars, had the best motorbikes and know house and all that stuff. I’m like, Oh God, where am I? What am I going to get anywhere near this? But, I always had that mindset that, I just wanted to, I was pretty clear about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. And for me, that drove me anyway. Yeah.
Steph: Yeah. So to you, what is a PhD?
Mark: A PhD is to me is just a way of really trying to focus your thinking and think deeply about stuff, understand the processes that you can, the tools that you have available to you to understand, a problem or an opportunity, and really explore that in all of its dimensions. Also, to ask questions and have a hypothesis about how you might think, go about answering that and building on new knowledge. That, to me, it’s about the training in the process of science. Yeah.
Steph: The topic is less important perhaps than that process.
Mark: It’s also making sure that you’ve got that open mind to look at it objectively from all angles. Then, like I said to use all the tools of science that we have available to us to answer the question in the most thorough and robust way.
Tamara: If somebody, if anybody’s listening and contemplating a PhD, what advice have you got so graduates about to complete their undergraduate degree?
Mark: My thing would be just to be able to talk, find those networks and those people and talk about, what they’re doing, go and talk with other PhD students that are enrolled at the moment. I think it is, don’t be afraid to come and talk to the CEO’s, the managing directors,
Steph: Send them an email. They might invite you to come for a tour.
Mark: If I’ve got someone who’s going, Oh wow, this is, and happy. We’re really happy to be involved in, how do I say high school, year 11, 12, what it might be people to come and see what science is about so they can understand that. For me, I think it is a very rewarding career for me, I’ve really enjoyed the technical challenge. I love that, how you can really flex your brain on all dimensions. For me, it’s also about the networks that I’ve built. The places I’ve been able to travel internationally as a result of doing the work and the career that I have. And I’ve really enjoyed that. I feel like it’s really enriched my life and I’ve actually like, it’s interesting when I left my PhD, dude, I never want to see this again for a long time, but now it’s it at this stage of my career. I’m not saying now for at least maybe the next 10 years, but at some stage I’d like to give back at some stage as well and really try and, help enrich some of those undergraduate or postgraduate people as well. Look, I still, like I said, I’ve been involved in supervising a lot of high degree students and I think, I really keen to get back, at some stage to give back more as well. Cause I think that’s really, it’s really great. I love seeing people grow, and I think that’s really great knowing that I’ve worked with you and now you’re that person, I’ve seen, there’s been people that have had long careers, in the University of Adelaide, I know quite well, Peter Dry I’ll call that Peter Dry, who worked at the university for 40 odd years. He kind of knew everyone who he’d trained or had some influence in their viticulture careers.
Mark: It was really nice to say, he’s really had an influence on those people and, made a big difference to the industry. I think the industry acknowledged that, but I think for me, those are the sorts of things and hopefully I’m doing of that in my current role with, mentoring and taking people through the organisation.
Steph: A legacy, as in addition to the research and the roles you’ve had, the impact you can make on the people who are coming up in that industry.
Tamara: They’re being interviewed on a podcast, they will be calling you out.
Mark: You’re welcome to ask them to come through my PA to try and get to me. Natalie’s, that’s a call out to you. Yeah. So no, but look, it is good. I think we’ve got, like I said, happy to, for people, if they want to come in and see what happens in grape and wine science and understand more about where some of that basic science can really go. I’m happy to show them.
Tamara: I can tell you now if I had a choice between carrots and wine, I know which one.
Mark: I think, I think the other thing just that can be debilitating sometimes in science is the grant writing process, right? So, finding money to keep alive, but at the end of the day also, you can look at it from a, Oh, I have to apply to get money, to stay alive here, but there’s the other side of it is, Oh, wow. I can create my future. You can actually go into areas where you want to go to,
Tamara: That’s true. You can kind of divert a little off. Yeah. So you talked about school kids, but if you, if a group of school kids were about to leave school and start university, but they’re feeling a great deal of pressure, about the decisions that they to make forever, what do you say to them?
Mark: I say, if you still don’t really know what you want to do, go and start something and you’ve got the ability to change as you go through. I think that university environment can help, perhaps define what you really want to do. The number of colleagues and friends that I’ve seen start on something, but then switch and major in something else, is phenomenal. At the end of the day, they did find by going in, at some point they did find where they wanted to go.
Steph: You haven’t done this reflection on your PhD journey before? You finished it and it was like done.
Mark: I reflected on it a lot, but I’ve never done a podcast about it.
Tamara: Do you know where it is your thesis?
Mark: Yeah, it’s in my, on my desk, in my drawer.
Steph: We do ask that not everybody can lay their hands on it.
Mark: It’s got I, so I’ve looked, I’ve just moved to Adelaide three months ago and I made sure when I set up my office at home that, it’s there, I know where it is. I’m not going to forget the four years of hard work. And it’s also available in the University library at Sandy Bay in Hobart.
Tamara: Finally, what ha what myths have you heard about the life of a PhD student or being a doctor, that you really want to say, No, that’s not true. I want to set the record straight about that.
Mark: Myths that, I guess people who go there just to come out with a doctor name, if they think that’s going to be, that’s going to grant you all of a sudden the license into a huge salary boost or what’s, whatever stuff I think there, the myths that you’d need to be aware of that, there are a lot of PhDs out there, that it is yes. Sometimes it’s nice to use the doctor title or the professor title or whatever you might have. But, I think, it really is the myths that I want to dispel is that once your PhD is finished, there’s still a lot of hard work ahead of you and it doesn’t finish. If you really want to succeed, it’s hard work hard.
Steph: No resting on laurels here.
Mark: I’m sorry to dispel, but yeah, look it’s a gateway, but it, like I said, I guess it’s, you’re learning how to do research. You’re learning all of the process of it, but if you really want to be successful afterwards, you need to apply that, and be diligent about that as well and have a good work ethic..
Tamara: Yeah. Cause it was certainly something I heard a lot was when you’ve done your PhD, all these doors will open. And I was like, where are they?
Steph: Like those doors were there, but yeah, you really did have to keep pushing.
Tamara: It is a lot of hard working to get those doors open? So it’s not, it doesn’t, it’s not an automatic sliding door.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, when employers are looking for people, PhD’s just the tick box part. If that makes any sense. Yes. You’ve got the, you’ve got those hard skills, on a CV that says you meet the minimum requirements, but just remember when you go to an interview, you’ve got to be prepared and just demonstrate all your soft skills that you can bring to the organization. How are you going to fit in with all the rest of the team? How are you going to, what’s your track record and what have you done since your PhD? That’s the big one too. A lot of people are looking, at all of those different attributes and, did you do your undergrad at the same place you did your post-grad, have you had some overseas experience? All of these things really matter, when employers start looking and picking apart.
Mark: We put an ad out for a senior scientist role, and we’d put it out globally, we’ll get, a hundred or 150 applications and they’re all got PhDs. Right. I don’t want to just, so, we go through and we’re looking for the cream of the cream and you’ve got to work and look at what sets you out from the others as well.
Tamara: Wow. Excellent advice. We know your time is precious. We are really very grateful for your time today and your generosity and your stories. We, yeah, just thank you so much for coming along.
Mark: No worries. Thank you for the invitation. It’s always good to catch up and talk about these things. No worries.