When I was 15, I wanted to be a forensic pathologist. I was enamored with the British television show “McCallum,” which followed the investigations of truth-seeking, crime-fighting forensic pathologist Dr. Iain McCallum, and I wanted to be just like him.
I lived in a country town in Western Australia and applied for a scholarship program that supported and nurtured country students who want to study a Doctor of Medicine. The application resulted in my first rejection letter. I was told that I should look to do something else that better suited my academic potential. For a 15-year-old with a report card of four As, one B and one C, I didn’t think that I was particularly academically challenged.
It was a pretty brutal letter, and it worked. I gave up my dream, and by the time I finished my final year of schooling I decided that I would study biochemistry instead.
Choosing to study biochemistry was down to two factors:
- It interested me
- Someone believed I could
My chemistry teacher was a fun, energetic young woman who decided to take a few students to a university open day in Perth. She took us to the biochemistry department, where the students showed us a range of experiments. I was fascinated and said to my teacher, “I wish I could do this.” She replied, “Of course you can. You can do this.”
Fast forward a few years: after receiving a degree in biochemistry and genetics, plus a graduate diploma in scientific communication, I was working as a science communicator. I traveled around Australia doing science experiments with students and adults to explain the wonders of chemistry, physics and biology.
One day, I was in a country town in regional Australia, standing in front of a classroom of 15-year-old high school students performing chemistry experiments. One of the students yelled out to me, “Miss, what’s ya nato?”
It is worth saying that I am Black, of South African decent and the daughter of immigrants, and I was in a classroom full of children of immigrants. “Nato” is our slang for “nationality.” I told them that I am a “bitsa” (bit of this, bit of that), but my parents are South African. The inquirer said he is a bitsa too, and his parents are Lebanese.
I chatted with the students about my background and was finally asked how I got a job like mine. I explained that for this job, you need a science degree and communication skills help. There was disbelief that a Black girl from the country could get a degree and that they could do it, as well. It was my turn to look a group of students in the eye and tell them, “Of course you can. You can do this.”
Along my career roadmap, I have been on many roads, made U-turns and met stop signs. From my initial start as a science communicator, I have gone on to lead communication and marketing teams. I have found my passion for employee communication and engagement while gaining experience in change management and project management. I have had the support of managers, executives and colleagues who have worked with me on my career goals and aspirations, and at times opened doors to lead me to where I am now.
Within my IABC chapter in Victoria, we believe deeply in diversity, equity and inclusion and the continual development of communication professionals to be communication leaders. We know that for some communication professionals there are structural and cultural barriers that prevent them from accessing IABC membership and all the benefits it offers.
In 2019 we developed the Professional Development Grant program that provides recipients with an IABC membership, access to all chapter professional development events, career coaching and exposure to the chapter’s board work and activities. The recipient is supported for two years and has the opportunity to build networks, skills and career development. It is our way of saying to upcoming members of the communication community, “We see you and you can do this.”
Merrin Fabre is passionate about removing the barriers that stop people from fully participating and being included in society. When working in the science communication field, she provided access to information and science equipment to students in rural and remote Australia. In the not-for-profit sector, she implemented diversity and inclusion programs to improve social cohesion and acceptance. In 2019, she developed an initiative to make a region of Melbourne more inclusive for autistic people.
She currently focuses on internal communication, change management and employee engagement, working with leaders to help them transition their staff through changing environments.