I'm a data scientist working at the intersection of technology and design. Reformed astrophysicist & former e-Research/data consultant.

OzGrav Centre of Excellence - Mock Interview

Yesterday I was back at Swinburne to sit in on the OzGrav - Gravitational Wave Centre of Excellence mock interview. OzGrav is one of ~20 proposed Australian Research Council (ARC) Centres of Excellence (CoE) so it was a real privilege to witness this part of the process. Getting to this stage is a mammoth effort – research expertise aside it requires a ~500 page application – but if funded, it will set the stage for Australian astronomers to compete globally in cutting edge gravity wave research and drive technological innovation.

For those of who are unfamiliar with Australia's CoEs, the goals are to;

  • undertake highly innovative and potentially transformational research that aims to achieve international standing in the fields of research envisaged and leads to a significant advancement of capabilities and knowledge
  • link existing Australian research strengths and build critical mass with new capacity for interdisciplinary, collaborative approaches to address the most challenging and significant research problems
  • develop relationships and build new networks with major national and international centres and research programs to help strengthen research, achieve global competitiveness and gain recognition for Australian research
  • build Australia’s human capacity in a range of research areas by attracting and retaining, from within Australia and abroad, researchers of high international standing as well as the most promising research students
  • provide high-quality postgraduate and postdoctoral training environments for the next generation of researchers
  • offer Australian researchers opportunities to work on large-scale problems over long periods of time
  • establish Centres that have an impact on the wider community through interaction with higher education institutes, governments, industry and the private and non-profit sector. 

Needless to say CoE applications are competitive. In 2014  (application rounds are every three years) the ARC awarded twelve CoEs to the value of up to $4 million per year for seven years. These twelve were awarded after a lengthy selection process that began with 103 expressions of interest, endorsed and recommended for consideration by the ARC by the various host universities. Of these, 22 proposals were shortlisted and the prospective Directors and their teams interviewed by the ARC. Only 54% of those shortlisted were successful. 

It's tough, but the rewards are great - in some cases fame and glory.

So you might ask how the heck did I end up in this room of outstanding gravitational wave and pulsar researchers, pitching their centre to a mock selection committee? Well, preparation is key, science teams really need to nail the interviews and the intensive Q&A session that follows. It also helps to have a killer presentation – and that is why I was there. For the rest of the week, I'll be working with future OzGrav Director to create a visually awesome presentation that knocks the socks off the ARC. It needs to telling the compelling story of gravity waves and the recent first detection, as well as outlining the structure and operations, and technology and science milestones leading to future success of OzGrav. All this in 20 minutes to a mostly non-scientific audience.

So what are Gravitational Waves?

Simple really, gravitational waves are the cosmic ripples that distort space-time itself, for example when two black holes merge.


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