Reflecting on the past 6 months

I like to think of it as fun-employment...

At the end of January 2016, I came to the end of my contract with Swinburne Research. While some people fear uncertainty and job insecurity, I relish time off between contracts. It forces you to re-evaluate your passions and priorities and it's the perfect opportunity to pursue ideas and to kickstart new projects. Recently my professional life has focussed on the intersection between astronomy, data-intensive research, and tech, with a little bit of social development and enterprise thrown in for good measure. I don't believe in boxes, and lean towards projects which support and nurture grass roots initiatives or bringing together communities and teams of people that wouldn't normally that work together. I'm a big believer in shaking things up for the better.

Over the past few months I've been working on a number of small data-science and data visualisation projects, and revisiting astronomy research projects from previous research positions. I recently launched a new website – techsavvyastronomer.io – to encourage researchers to become "tech savvy". This was a project I wanted to do since attending my first .Astronomy conference in 2014, and from running Swinburne Hacker Within.  Sustaining a long-term career in academia, particularly in astronomy, is difficult. Really difficult. Fortunately astronomy researchers (and those in STEM) are inherently well equipped for alternative careers in fields as diverse as finance, climate science, bioinformatics, tech, science policy and strategy. It just takes a few extra skills and the desire to learn new things, to make the switch to a new career. Building a community of tech-savvy astronomers that have the confidence to collaborate with people from other disciplines; the confidence to participate in both astronomy– and social–hackathons; the ability to develop tools for research and outreach; and skills that enable them to more easily transition into alternative careers, is something I've been championing for a while now. 

I've also been working closely with Astronomy Australia Limited's (AAL) Computing Planning and Infrastructure Working Group (CIPWG) to ensure long-term sustainability of AAL funded projects and people. I spent a few weeks in April 2016 as a visiting researcher at the Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing (Swinburne University of Technology) and most recently did some consulting work in preparation for the proposed OzGrav Gravitational Wave Centre of Excellence – providing feedback on interviews, designing slides for the pitch, and researching gender equity strategies. In June I flew over to Denmark and then onto the UK for the .Astronomy8 conference in Oxford.  At the start of June I also be working with a small number of change makers to "hack for humanity" as part of the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) Winter Hackathon. I worked with Sam Rye as a RHoK Tech Lead on his new Volunteer Impact project. I also co-hosted the event with my fellow RHoK organisers. Most recently I attended and chaired a session on Diversity in Industry and the Workplace, at the 2016 Diversity in Astronomy Workshop. I also gave a talk at the 2016 Astronomical Society of Australia's (ASA) Annual Scientific Meeting, on the benefits (and challenges!) of Building a community of Tech-savvy Astronomers.

I've spent time with family and reconnecting with old friends. Travel used to be a big part of my life and that slowed down these past few years. It great to be back in Europe and out of my comfort zone. Most importantly, I was able to help out a close friend of mine who had, how should I say it? a really shit time this past year dealing with secondary cancer. Most of the time I feel pretty helpless, but being able to drop everything to run errands, hang out in hospitals and generally spend more time with her is something that I can do, and love doing.  

so what's next?

I'm currently looking for new opportunities in,

  • astronomy research that focus on blue-skies research tools development, data visualisation, and finding innovative ways to engage with the tech industry,
  • opportunities with Australia's growing space-oriented start-up and satellite industry, and
  • data science (or similar) roles within global development-oriented technology companies.

With so many options it's difficult to settle for something that just pays the bills...