In this Career Spotlight, we have the pleasure of talking to Tash Jamieson, Global Founders Program Manager at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) about her unique career in the public and education sectors.
Biography: Tasharni (Tash) Jamieson is the Global Founders Program Manager at the University of New South Wales, helping established startups with their international ambitions.
She has previously worked in Strategic Policy at the Australian Department of Defence, was the inaugural China Alumni Engagement Manager for the Australian Embassy, Beijing, and worked for the China - Australia Chamber of Commerce.
After graduating from a BA in International Studies from RMIT in 2011, Tash completed a Masters in International Relations at Tsinghua University. Whilst completing her thesis, Tash received a scholarship from the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network and UNHRC to undertake studies in Thailand on refugees and statelessness, and interned at the UNDP in Beijing.
Tash is the International Youth Representative for Tall Ships Australia and New Zealand, and is a qualified group fitness instructor. Tash has also performed as a professional musician in both Melbourne, Sydney and Beijing, and recorded vocals for Chinese director Jiang Wen’s box-office film Gone with the Bullets (一步之遥).
Going back to the beginning of your career, what did you study at university? Did you have a set plan for your career trajectory after graduation?
When I was graduating from high school, I was tossing up between studying music therapy, and international studies. After shadowing a music therapist for a day, I ended up going with International Studies - the idea being that I would teach in Japan via the JET program after graduation (at this stage I’d been learning Japanese throughout high school).
During my final year of a Bachelor of Arts, International Studies at RMIT, I had this straight-up conversation with my Asia Communications professor, who opened my eyes to the burgeoning opportunities that China presented for someone with my interests. That changed my trajectory completely. I stopped learning Japanese and took up Mandarin, and I ended up enrolling in a Masters of International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
My MA was the most incredible opportunity. Most of my best friends are still from those two years in Beijing, and are spread all across the world. Throughout my MA, I was hell-bent on working for the UN, and was focusing on specialising in refugees and statelessness. After interning with the UNDP over six months, I realised I would be more fulfilled with work that had more direct action, and so decided to completely alter my focus towards the business world! I guess the lesson here is to get as much exposure and work experience with professions you are interested in – you’ll learn pretty quickly what is and what isn’t for you!
You’ve had a fascinating career working with the China-Australia Chamber of Commerce (AustCham) and later the Australian Embassy in Beijing before returning to Australia and transitioning to the field of education and startups. Was transitioning to your current role an adjustment?
For sure it was an adjustment! The first adjustment was moving back to Australia. After almost 7 years living abroad, I moved from Beijing straight to Canberra and took up a graduate role in the public service. I had a pretty hard time in my first 4 months. As you can imagine, going from a city of 21 million plus to around 450,000 was a huge change. You become so accustomed to the bustle, noise and pace of life in China. Every day you are facing new, exciting and confronting challenges in your external environment. Back in Canberra, you have a lot more time to get acquainted to silence, and yourself. While it was a hard transition, it was a positive one. Sometimes you need to detoxify yourself from the addiction of always moving and chasing external validation through ‘the hustle’ that big cities like Beijing present. It’s important to take time to be gentle with your transition, and to remember that a lot of the expectations you put on yourself no longer are needed or serve you in a positive way in your new environment.
The next transition was from government, to education, and then into startups. This was slightly easier for me, as I had been already working closely with the education sector while at the Australian Embassy, and with business and industry at AustCham.
One adjustment I needed to make moving from government to the startup ecosystem is the appetite for risk and failure. Obviously when you are working for government agency or funded organisation, you can’t just be always be pivoting your ideas and taking too may high risk - high reward moves. However with startups, especially in the early stages, it’s all about experimentation and failing fast so you don’t waste time on projects that are not meeting your customer needs. Mentally it’s a big shift, and you need to open yourself up to criticism and become more resilient!
Tell us about your current role as Global Founders Program Manager at the University of New South Wales. What does your role entail?
It’s really about supporting startups who have global ambitions in whatever ways they need. I do a lot of work creating partnerships with other accelerators and universities and meeting mentors, founders and supporters in overseas markets. This is so our startups always know where to go and who to talk to when they face barriers to international expansion. It also means our ecosystem of startups is better placed to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities happening here in Australia, and internationally.
I spend a lot of time also working with international students on their journeys to becoming entrepreneurs. International students and graduates have a lot to offer the global startup ecosystem, as they can easily move between markets and cultures. But they also face unique challenges to their domestic counterparts. We aim to create a community who is there to support founders from diverse cultural backgrounds along all stages of their journey.
At the moment I am also focusing on individual coaching with startups who have a social impact thesis. This is just around meeting with founders, listening to and assessing their individual problems, and then setting goals and making plans how to move forward.
What has been your greatest professional achievement so far?
I’m super proud of the UNSW Health 10X accelerator program. I’ve was lucky enough to work on the pilot iteration late last year. It might sound cliché, but these start-ups are honestly saving lives and changing the world. Health 10X supported five medical technology startups, all which have a focus on solving non-communicable diseases in developing or under resourced markets, to grow and expand their solutions. We took the five teams to India, where their technologies are really going to have big impact. I was even able to help support a local Indian medtech startup with coming to Australia and accessing market here. They have been recently accepted into the Sydney Landing Pad, which is a huge win!
Working with the Australia China Youth Dialogue has also been a career highlight. It's incredible when you see such an impactful event come together, completely off the back of hard-working volunteers who are spread across the globe!
Those who know me well will also know I work as a casual singer and musician. I’ve had a few moments I’m super proud of in my musical career. Namely, recording vocals for Chinese director Jiang Wen’s Gone with the Bullets (一步之遥), and performing with live with Wang Lei & Yile (磊落声音). I got to perform their song Hymns for Earth [大地上的美好] at Wukesong MAO Livehouse. The original rendition of Hymns for Earth is performed by a Puerto Rican father-daughter duet and sung in Swahili language. It’s a beautiful song, and when performed live, it’s accompanied by a stunning visual display of marine life. It was a magical experience to perform that with the live band to a packed-out venue.
Finally, what advice would you give to students and young professionals looking to pursue a career in international affairs?
In international affairs, we often get caught up in believing there are very clear jobs we should aim for and pathways to success. Often the pinnacle of international career success is to become a diplomat. We are led to believe is the best way forward for an international career. But, there are SO many jobs where you can have a similar lifestyle and achieve similar things! When you break it down, a diplomat is an official representing a country abroad. You can do this through so many channels – through sports, business, music, arts, environmental protection, and more.
When you think you want something, a particular role, job or title, make sure you ask yourself – “Is this what I want? Or is this something that I am expected to want?”. Spend the time to really meet the people in the roles you aspire to, and experiment through different forms of work experience.
Always aim for roles that align with your personal values, rather than external perception or pressure. Spend time ranking your top ten values (1 being most important, and 10 being least). Match up any prospective roles to this list, and assess if there is a match, and if you will be really fulfilled with that job. When we don’t align our values to our job, you run the risk of spending 9-10 hours a day in disharmony with what I like to call your ‘authentic self’. That friction is just exhausting!