STEM & Supercomputers – Pawsey’s first careers night

Like many other year 10 students in Australia, Charlene* is starting to think about her future. She has just spent the last two weeks in Florida at NASA to experience a career in space.

The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre held its first careers night on Thursday 26 July and Charlene decided to go along and see if the event could guide her into the future.

A group of Pawsey staff came together with a mining expert, and a PhD student to talk about their career paths. The one thing the presenters have in common is that they ended up in a career that did not exist when they were in year 10. They all followed their passion, took the opportunities that were presented to them and kept an open mind.

Pawsey’s first Careers Night attracted nineteen students, like Charlene, who were able to listen to six short, engaging presentations about how these professionals achieved careers in science, supercomputing, mining and engineering.

The opening speaker was Alex Atkins, Ausdrill’s first female Director. Alex attended ‘La Salle College’ in Perth. But it was a Mining in Focus camp at the WA School of Mines, which allowed her to discover her passion in earth science.

Since that time, she has become the first woman to be permitted to work underground in WA; the first female UG Mining Engineer in PNG and the first female WA District Inspector of Mines. Her presentation was inspiring and she encouraged the young group to find the field where they can be the best version of themselves and maybe even make positive changes.

Alex was followed by Mark Gray, one of Pawsey’s Data Technical Specialists, who like Charlene, has also ventured inside the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre; in his case, as a Senior Scientific Programmer & Analyst.

Mark’s career has been shaped by serendipity and his passion for the unknown. This Western Australian with a strong American accent was born and raised in Perth. When he had to start thinking about his future as a year 10 student, he was torn between Physics and Music, however, an injury early in his career as a professional musician instead led him to select a Bachelor of Science, Physics at Curtin University. The rest is history and, after some time in the US, he landed back in Perth when an opportunity arose at Pawsey six years ago.

One of the most relatable speakers to the Year 10 students is Siobhon Egan, who took a Pawsey internship – a twelve-week hands-on supercomputing and data analysis journey – in 2017. Siobhon knew nothing about supercomputing back then, yet now, she logs in to Magnus every day in order to carry out her work at the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences at Murdoch University.

She introduced herself as a molecular biologist, parasitologist, entomologist, wildlife biologist, ecologist and bioinformatician, who is always learning more.  She encouraged Charlene and the other students to trust their instincts and keep their minds open. And if anybody in the audience thought that being a scientist was boring, Siobhon demonstrated how in the same week, she had been in the field collecting samples in Queensland, a taxonomy conference in Adelaide, then back to Perth to share her story at the Careers Night.

Last but not least, the evening cumulated with Pawsey’s Head of Supercomputing, David Schibeci. David did a double major in Computer Science and Mathematics at Murdoch University (the parents in the audience appreciated hearing about his passion for maths and its importance in day-to-day life).

He explained how Supercomputing and Data Science were not career options when he was at university, and he suggested that some of the students could also develop careers in areas that do not yet exist.

David’s recommendation is that anyone who likes science should pursue a double major in their preferred scientific field as well as in computer science so that they can respond to the technological advancements we are now seeing.

Charlene left the Pawsey Centre, after meeting other year 10 students and the presenters, not knowing where the future will take her, but confident that Computer Science will be part of it.

Pawsey will continue to run Careers Nights twice a year before the Term 2 and Term 3 school holidays. If you are interested in attending upcoming events or you want to find out more about future careers nights, sign up here to be on the Pawsey Friends mailing list to receive Pawsey newsletter and information about events.

*the name of the student has been changed for the purpose of this story.