my journey from astronomy to
data science & human centred design

(for career questioning astronomers & aspiring data scientists)

Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start...
— Julie Andrews (as Maria von Trapp)


Bachelor of Science (BSc)
School of Physics & Geophysics
University of Melbourne – Australia

1995 – 1999

 
  School of Physics, David Caro Building

School of Physics, David Caro Building

I finished my Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree at the University of Melbourne, with a double-major in Physics and Geophysics. I went on to do my Honours year with A/Prof. Roger Rassool in the Photonuclear Research Group (now the Experimental Particle Physics Group). My Honours research was experimental in nature. I developed a prototype for an in-field system to detect non-metallic (plastic) anti-personnel land mines, based on electrical geophysical prospecting methods. The technique relies on  measuring incredibly small (nanosecond) changes in induced propagating electric fields as they pass through the ground and mines. Although incredibly difficult to implement, this remains one of the most cost effective solutions for clearing land-mines developing countries. Needless to say I gained a lot of experience making time delay (coaxial) and building low-noise amplifiers.

 


Postdoctoral Research
Institute for Geophysics & Planetary Physics
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory – USA

2005 – 2009

 
  Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, with the Altamont Pass Wind Farm in the background.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, with the Altamont Pass Wind Farm in the background.

After my PhD, I moved to California to take up a University of California (Davis) Postdoctoral Research Scholar position at the Institute for Geophysics & Planetary Physics (IGPP). Lawrence Livermore is a Federally Funded Development & Research Centre (and former weapons lab) founded by the University of California and funded by the Department of Energy (DoE). LLNL was a really interesting place to work, particularly after 9/11 when the Institute was moved inside the lab, and employees subject to a much higher level of security than previously. As a foreign national, there were many quirks to navigate, mainly around data security, and working in a non-academic environment was difficult at times, particularly as an early-career postdoc. Our group was a mixed bag of radio and infrared astronomers, LSST astronomers & engineers, theoretical stellar astronomers, adaptive optics astronomers & engineers, and materials scientists working on the NASA's Stardust Sample Return Mission, I worked primarily with Dr. Michael Gregg, on UCD follow-ups in the Fornax, Virgo and Coma Clusters and exploring the globular cluster population of M31. Aside from a few PhD students we were the only optical, extragalactic astronomers in the Institute. The majority of our research was based on Keck/HIRES+LRIS+ESI+DEIMOS spectroscopic observations, Keck/LGSAO near-infrared observations and NOAO/WIYN spectroscopy.

 


Postdoctoral Research
Department of Physics
Oxford University – UK

2011 – 2012
 
  Oxford, City of Spires

Oxford, City of Spires

Following a lunchtime conversation with Prof. Roger Davies and colleagues in Liverpool, I was lucky to be offered a short-term research position at the University of Oxford, to work on a new project associated with the Atlas3D Galaxy Project. The pipeline I developed at Liverpool for the Coma Cluster Hubble Space Telescope imaging, was exactly what the Atlas3D collaboration needed. Working primarily with Dr. Davor Krajnovic  and Prof. Roger Davies, we explored the correlation between the angular momentum of galaxies based on SAURON spectroscopy and the internal structure of galaxies, in order to determine whether there was evidence for central cores and supermassive central black holes. Our paper; The ATLAS3D Project - XXIII. Angular momentum and nuclear surface brightness profiles was published a year later and based on this analysis we were awarded Cycle 21 – HST/WFC3 observations and funding from the German Space Agency.

 


Scientific Computing & Data Consultant
+ Independent Projects

Freelance Work – Melbourne & abroad

2016 – 2018

 
  Discussion about reproducible code, science and the value of Jupyter Notebooks. GitHub HQ – San Francisco, August 2016.

Discussion about reproducible code, science and the value of Jupyter Notebooks. GitHub HQ – San Francisco, August 2016.

After leaving Swinburne Research, I took time out to work on number of independent  projects, and explore new opportunities at the intersection of research and tech. I began a number of small machine learning, data-science and data visualisation projects, and launched techsavvyastronomer.io, a website that brings coding, web-development & tech skills to researchers. I also worked with Astronomy Australia Ltd (AAL) as a member of their Astronomy eResearch Advisory Committee (AeRAC) and Computing Infrastructure Planning Working Group (GIPWG) to develop a 5-year investment plan for scientific computing & infrastructure. These recommendations led to the recently launched Astronomy & Data Computing Services (ADACS) initiative; a partnership between AAL, Swinburne University of Technology and Curtin University/Pawsey Supercomputing Centre. I spent a month in San Francisco, where I attended Astro Hack Week (AHW), a week-long computing and data science conference that focusses on essential skills for working effectively with large astronomical datasets. This years AHW was held at GitHub HQ in San Francisco and the Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS). I also gave a number of international and domestic talks at ASA (Sydney), Future Assembly (Melbourne), ADASS XXVI (Italy), .Astronomy8 (Oxford). I also worked on a number of small projects for the new ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav); researching gender equity strategies, advising and designing OzGrav's final ARC interview presentation, and the new OzGrav website. 

 


PhD Astronomy
Astrophysics Research Group
University of Melbourne – Australia

2000 – 2004

  The Fornax Cluster of galaxies, with NGC 1399 & NGC 1365 (right)

The Fornax Cluster of galaxies, with NGC 1399 & NGC 1365 (right)

 

After nearly a year travelling overseas, I returned to Melbourne, took up my University of Melbourne Postgraduate Research Scholarship and joined the Astrophysics Research Group. The subject of my Ph.D. thesis was to study the evolution of galaxies in the Fornax Cluster. Under the supervision of Prof. Michael Drinkwater (now at the University of Queensland), my research focussed primarily on the in-falling dwarf galaxy population, the E+A "post star-bursting" dwarfs on the outskirts, and the ultra-compact dwarf galaxies (UCDs) in the core of the cluster.  

 


Postdoctoral Research
Astrophysics Research Institute
Liverpool John Moores University – UK

2009 – 2011

  Albert Dock, Liverpool – with the Royal Liver Building, Port of Liverpool Building, and Open Eye Gallery in the background.

Albert Dock, Liverpool – with the Royal Liver Building, Port of Liverpool Building, and Open Eye Gallery in the background.

 

In April 2009 I moved to Liverpool and began my second postdoctoral research position at the LJMU's Astrophysics Research Institute to work with Prof. David Carter as part of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST/ACS) Coma Cluster Treasury Survey. This was my first time working within a large international collaboration of more than 70 research scientists. During this period I also developed an interest in Science Policy and was fortunate to engage with policy analysts at the Royal Society and   participate in the the first astronomy-led science policy workshop focussing on the cooperation between UK and Iranian astronomers.

"Hubble isn't just a satellite, it's about humanities quest for knowledge"

– John M. Grunsfied, American Physicist, former NASA Astronaut & Hubble Hugger

 


Research Data Librarian/Analyst & e–Research Consultant
Swinburne Research – Office of the DVC (Reasearch & Development)
Swinburne University of Technology – Australia

2013 – 2016

  Swinburne Research @ Swinburne University of Technology

Swinburne Research @ Swinburne University of Technology

 

In October 2012, I moved back to Australia. I was keen to take a break from pure astronomy research and explore some of my other interests, namely science policy, research data management and strategy, reserach infrastructure, and how universities could engage better with the technology sector. I also wanted to catch up developments within the Australian astronomy community that I had missed while overseas. In this respect, Swinburne Research proved to be a good stomping ground. I established Swinburne's e-Research presence, and worked on numerous data management, policy, and strategy projects, building capacity in e-Research and big-data infrastructure, supporting scientific computing and tools for research, developing strategies to ensure ongoing sustainability of data-intensive projects, and kick-starting several grassroots initiatives. During my last six months at Swinburne I focussed on the value of multi-disciplinary, data-driven discovery initiatives, and worked with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Development) to establish the new University Research Institutes model, to facilitate collaboration with industry and solve real world problems. 

 


Data Scientist
London & Melbourne

2018 – present

Around August/September 2017, I began thinking more seriously about pivoting careers and moving into data science full-time. I continued to stay involved with the .Astronomy conferences series – “where astronomy meets tech”, and I was invited to speak talk at .Astronomy9 conference in South Africa. Experiencing life in Cape Town, discovering it’s burgeoning tech industry and meeting African astronomers and computer scientists working in micro-financing and life changing global development initiatives had a profound affect on my ideas of what a data science career could look like. I continued working with RHoK Australia – a non-profit organisation that facilitates tech development for social impact; co-organising three weekend-long hacks and revamping the RHoK website. I completed IDEOs Human Centered Design course; working with a diverse team of analysts, tech consultants and product managers, and participated in the Designing for a Circular Economy Sprint at IBM Studios in Melbourne. In May 2018 I was accepted into the Science to Data Science Fellowship program. In July 2018 I flew to London to meet the 89 other fellows, selected from around the world. Alongside three other Data Scientist, I worked for London-based tech startup, Shoppar; modelling customer behaviour and predicting in-store engagement, and developing a prototype (or framework) to create responsive, computer vision triggered, personalised marketing content.

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