Natalie Chapman speaks at the University of Sydney Graduation Ceremony


First of all congratulations!! You’ve put in a tremendous amount of hard work to be here today. You and your family must be so proud. What an awesome achievement.

As a Science graduate of the University 24 years ago. I’m extremely honoured to be delivering the occasional address at your graduation. Thank you for inviting me.

As I walked through the grounds this morning I remember have fond memories of studying here, enjoying walking around the campus, spending many hours in labs and getting a cheap meal at the Wentworth canteen.

When I left school I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew I loved science so I choose a science degree and I chose the University of Sydney because it was internationally recognised. I figured this meant when I went looking for employment after graduating, wherever I went people would know my education was of the highest standard. 

When I graduated from Honours I hadn’t secured my first fulltime position, I had an offer to do a PhD and a short term position in a lab.

I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up, but I did know one thing.

I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a lab! All of a sudden I had this horrible thought.

Did I do the wrong degree?

Did I just waste years of my life???  Thankfully, no.

As Science graduates, you are the moral, ethical and environmental compass of the world.

Your training in science with critical thinking has provided you with a solid evidence-based approach to gather and evaluate large volumes of data to solve complex problems.

Fundamental evidence-based decision making is crucial for governing the country, leading scientific research and growing the next generation of knowledge-based industries. The world is your oyster. Just look at Alan Finkel, a neuroscientist turned entrepreneur and then Chief Scientist, Angela Merkel a Physicist turned Chancellor of Germany, and 20% of Australia’s top 50 ASX listed companies CEO’s have science degrees.

As for me, I hadn’t wasted my time. My science education provided me with the perfect platform combined with marketing to help researchers and inventors take new technologies to market.

Just a few of the inventions I’ve been fortunate to help; low energy wastewater treatment for decentralized sewage systems, new radiopharmaceuticals for cancer treatment and diagnostics, a shrink wrap which protects homes from the elements after storm damage and software that helps disaster response teams share information, photos and videos in real time.

In each role I learnt so much and enjoyed applying my chemistry knowledge to understand new technologies and translate their potential into business speak so they could get out of the lab and into use to make our lives and the health of the planet better.

I’ve learnt plenty of Lessons since graduating.

Some of which I thought I’d share with you.

1) Do what you love! I love science and complex problem solving and as it turns out I love marketing too. So for me a job that combines these is what gets me out of bed every morning.

2) Success is not how much money, promotions or awards you have. For me, success is enjoying what I do, working with people that I want to work with, being paid and respected appropriately and having impact, so that what I do makes a difference to others.

3) If you are rejected – for a job, or promotion,… Then instead of wallowing in self pity for too long, think.

This wasn’t meant to be, because there is something better out there. This has kept me positive through every rejection and things just have this way of working out for the better.

Even the most successful people have been rejected at some point.

  • Walt Disney was fired because his boss felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
  • Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV job for getting “too emotionally invested in her stories.”
  • Enrico Fermi’s paper on weak interaction, in 1933 was first rejected from Nature for being ‘too removed from reality’. His paper went on to be the foundation of the work that won him the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics.

4) Put your hand up, volunteer and grab opportunities to expand your skills and knowledge beyond your job description. These days graduates are expected to have 12-15 jobs/careers over their life, so constantly learning is good for you and your career.

5) Apply, apply, apply. I have missed jobs that I’m more than qualified for because I didn’t apply and had people with less experience then in charge of me because I doubted my ability. Now as an employer I know that when I put out an ad for a job my job criteria is my wish list. I’ll still always choose someone with the right attitude and some of the criteria over someone with all of the criteria and the wrong attitude. 

I graduated in this great hall 24 years ago. I can remember the excitement about finishing but also the apprehension of leaving friends, uni staff and the routine.

In 1995 when I graduated the world was a very different place.

  • Only 35% of women were employed,
  • and 13 out of 100 people had a mobile phone.
  • I didn’t yet have access to email and the internet at home. Websites were not common. The university and Qantas did not yet have them and there was no social media. Laptops were …. rare? And not usually light weight. Work from home or “flexible work” just didn’t exist.

In 2011, when I set up my company.

I did it with $10k. My staff who are mainly women with caring responsibilities, all work flexibly from home. We all use the internet and cloud based software to collaborate, work and communicate. We all use mobile phones and laptops and not only do we have a website and social media but we design and develop them for clients as well. And female participation in the workforce is 60.5%.

The world is changing at a rate of nots and the workforce will continue to change as well.

In 1995 I had no idea where I would end up, and here I am leading a company and doing what I love.

What I did is not rocket science, but it’s the rare mix of my skills and experience which is in demand.

Like me, as graduates you don’t have to know right now what you to do in the future. Try to experience and learn as much as you can. Find what you love doing and do as much of it as you can. The feeling is awesome!

And always remember to give back to your ecosystem. When you rise up through the ranks, get awards and have a platform use it for good. To raise others up with you, right injustices and make a difference!

What do you love?

How can you make an impact that matters?

Thank you!!