My story

If you'd asked me 10 years ago, when I was just leaving high school, what my life would look like now, I couldn't predict it.

I wasn't always interested in physics and I was pretty bad at maths and physics in high school. I got a D in math in year 8, and after that I kind of ruled myself out of doing anything physics or math related.  I then left school in 2011. I took a gap year, traveled to India and taught in a school, it was a really profound experience. After that I went straight into a nursing degree, moving from Canberra to Sydney to study at the University of Technology Sydney. I got about halfway through my degree when things started to get a bit more difficult and I realized that I really wasn't all that keen on nursing. It's something that you have to be super passionate about in order to do it, unfortunately like I was interested but just not passionate about it by any means. If you're going to get paid like crap and have to deal with literal crap, you have to be really passionate about it.

I began just reading a lot of books, a lot of Brian Cox, because he’s a great science communicator and really easy to understand. I also think I always had an interest in astronomy, especially growing up in a rural area. As I started reading a lot to the point where my friends were like, please go do this as a degree. You're getting annoying. I also accidentally got a job working at a telescope shop in Sydney which let me explore my interest in astronomy a bit more. I had a problem with my telescope, and so I went in to chat about that. I like to say I went in with a problem and came out with a job. When I finished that I just started applying to universities and I had decided that I wanted to move to Melbourne. Sydney, I didn't really vibe with after living there for 4 years, I'd just had enough. So I wanted to move to Melbourne.

I got into Swinburne and got into the professional placement degree specifically. I felt I wanted a degree with a professional component. Because I just think that it could put you in a better position for wherever you choose, whether it's academia or industry. At that point I definitely thought I was going into academia.

Taste of Industry

During my physics degree I had the chance to do a professional placement in industry for a 12 month period. I was excited about this because I felt like it was an opportunity to learn new skills, as well as apply the skills I'd learnt so far at University. It was in my third year that I went and worked at NAB and that's where I sort of really got a taste for industry.  It was something that showed me that industries were doing cool things in cloud computing and machine learning. And it was a very fast paced environment but I also liked that things ended at the end of the day, like at five o'clock you could kind of sign off and leave it all behind.

When I finished my degree in 2020, I was offered to continue on research in Honours but decided that I wanted to pursue industry a bit more after my experience at NAB. I applied for a job at Accenture. Accenture is like a big global consultancy firm. They’re pretty much in that top group, like with Deloitte and PWC and have one of the best grad programs in Australia. So I applied for them and got in and I was pretty happy with that.

In the graduate program you have what's called a mentor and you can message them any time, for support or if you want to chat or anything like that. I was having problems right at the beginning of my project, and I was able to talk to them about it and get it all sorted. So it's been a really supportive experience.

Translating Skills

I wouldn't say there's a direct one-to-one relationship between what I learned in physics and what I do now. I would say it's more how you approach things. Physics really tells you how to problem solve and really teaches you how to work through a problem.  I suppose something else I learned in physics that I apply daily is how to gather evidence. So that was quite a big thing for me that I brought across from my physics experience, my professional life.

At NAB we did a lot more math related stuff, we did a lot of machine learning, which is a fair amount of maths. It’s all vectors and matrices at the end of the day. I guess that was probably the most real world application and my physics degree.

Actually interestingly enough, it was not the pure physics subjects that really helped me in my career to date, it was the other science subjects, like communications to scientists. Because it just showed you that science isn't one thing. I think that's really helped me in my two years at NAB and my current job as well.

Summer Astronomy Research

I think my favorite project that I've ever worked on was when I did a summer project at CSIRO in 2018. The project was in radio astronomy, which is not something I've ever really been really interested in prior to that. But I think the best part about that was you got to meet like real working researchers and a lot of trust was put in you to do a lot of the work. The project became what you made of it. I also got to meet many new people, I met people from New Zealand, from all over Australia, from South Africa who I'm still in contact with.

I had a really good experience there as well, in terms of the project I was doing. What’s interesting was my supervisor wasn't actually a physicist, he had a computer science background. And so again, it showed me that physics is what you make of it really. His research was applying machine learning to radio astronomy. It was just a really cool project.

I often think about going back over my old code I wrote during that summer. Because I've learned so much since then, and I think it would be interesting retrying the project.

Advice

My advice is those in high school and beginning their careers is to just breathe it all in. It's going to be simultaneously the worst and best experience of your life, which sounds bad, but it's not!

You're going to have moments of absolute ‘why am I doing this? What am I doing with my life?’. But then you're going to have moments of real clarity, moments, especially in a stem career, where you think ‘wow isn't everything amazing. Isn't the universe we live in really cool’. I think just leaning into those moments and embracing it, the craziness of the university or your career It's really my advice.

Also make sure to take every opportunity that comes your way. When I started at Swinburne, that was my biggest thing. I decided that I was going to take every single opportunity, and I never regretted it. None of them. I was a In2Science mentor, I helped run a first year maths class and in my third year I did summer research at CSIRO. Every experience, just grab it, because you're going to learn something.

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