Lachlan Campbell – Research Data Specialist, Pawsey

Translating a user focus into seamless connections for researchers 

Lachlan Campbell likes problem solving and helping other people solve problems.  At Pawsey, he does that every day.  With a research background in astronomy, Lachlan originally joined Pawsey as part of the Astronomy Data and Computing Services program to provide astronomy-specific training to help astronomers access Australia’s data and computing infrastructure for their research.  Now as a full-time member of Pawsey’s services team, he is a vital link connecting astronomy researchers to Pawsey.

“I’m not doing astronomy research, although I’ve done that in the past and I know how to talk to researchers about what they need and what they’re trying to do,” says Lachlan.  “I’m also not a supercomputing or data specialist actively assisting with coding and setting up workflows, but I know how they work and I know what is possible at Pawsey.  I basically coordinate and bridge the gaps between the two groups.”

Lachlan is essentially a facilitator, managing regular meetings with the astronomers using Pawsey facilities in their work with the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) and Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP).  “Communication is the key,” says Lachlan.  “For example, our astronomers have been using our distributed filesystem Lustre at Pawsey for at least the last six years.  We might assume they know exactly how to use it and interpret the filesystem reports, but in reality they know just enough to get on with the research they want to do, and don’t necessarily know how to use it in the best way from a computational point of view.  It can cause frustration and inefficiency on both sides.  So, I worked with the astronomers to gauge the level of their knowledge and identify the gaps, and how best to fill those gaps.  It’s about getting the right information to people in the right form for them so we can optimise how we work together.”

Facilitation means communication, but it often also means training.  Lachlan also develops training resources for people using Pawsey facilities, most recently for the Nimbus cloud service.  While the regular face-to-face training ‘road trips’ around Australia are paused, even more effort is being put into online training.

“Giving training to Nimbus users, I interact with all sorts of researchers, not just astronomers.  I still love science and research, so I relish the challenge of very quickly  getting to a reasonable understanding of a particular subject, being able to ask sensible questions about it, and then helping bring that user focus into what we do at Pawsey, tailoring our training and our systems to their needs.”

“I’ve got the best of both worlds at Pawsey because I see what we do from both the internal and external perspectives.  It combines my loves of teaching and assisting people, while still being able to immerse myself in the research and stay involved in astronomy.”