Were you interested in science at school? I was!

Recently I was asked by a friend on Google+ if I would mind if her son (in Year 7) could interview me as part of a school science project. The project involved speaking with with someone working in science. I was chuffed to be asked and I received a sheet of 12 questions. I had fun putting the answers together and I thought I might share them.

1. What is the best thing about your job and why?
The best thing about my job is that I get to colour in. OK, there’s the cool technology and the high-end computing gear and the conversations with bright people who really understand their scientific specialities. That and the thought that you’re doing something useful and in a way that will be helpful to the people that come after you.

2. When and how did you become interested in science?
I think I’ve always liked science. I have always been interested in the way things work but as I got older I became more interested in the way things work together … the relationships things (and people!) have with each other … the way they interact.

3. Were you interested in science at school?
I was! I was very lucky to have teachers* who were not only interested in science but helped to teach me to think scientifically. I learned that science is not a thing you learn, a subject for memory but a way that you learn … a method if you like. Sure, we did simple experiments at school but most importantly it taught us how to think. You asked if I attended a private school? I did not … public education all the way.

4. Have you won any awards for being a scientist & if so what were they?

Not for the science or research. I have won awards for the contributions my team’s work has made to much larger projects. A lot of what I do is create block for other people to place together to create something else.

5. What qualifications did you need for your job?
I required university qualifications in natural sciences and many years of information technology experience to do well in my job. I have a Bachelor of Science from the Australian National University. Another important part of my work is explaining to others what my area does and I’m a skilled communicator.

6. What is computer mapping and remote sensing?
Gosh … how long have we got?
Computer mapping (or GIS (Geographic Information Systems)) is making database recording not only what something is (tree, light pole, drain, road, house etc) but where it is in relation to something else (on top of, next to, 100m away from, north of etc). Measuring the where of the object and how it relates to the where (or spatial location) of another object is very time-consuming and fiddly. Computers (and GPS (Geographic Positioning Systems)) enable us to make those calculations very quickly and so representing & mapping those relationships becomes much easier.
Remote sensing refers to measuring the nature or properties of something from a distance rather than directly. There are many remote sensing platforms and sensors … some slung beneath aircraft or helicopters or mounted on satellites. These sensors measure all sorts of things; light, reflectivity, radiation, magnetics. The information they collect is filtered and processed and then overlaid over data and information to again look at the relationship between things. Not only the relationships but, perhaps more importantly how the things measured change over time.

7. What type of discoveries have you made?

I haven’t made any discoveries per se. I have helped to document and report relationships between ecosystems and natural resources (eg forests and water and salinity)

8. Are you passionate about your work or is it just a job?
That changes. Mostly I’m passionate about it … I do care about the quality of the work I do and ensuring that it’s useful to others to include in their work. Other times the repetitive nature of science based work (using the same tried and true technique over and over again to ensure consistent results – there is a lot of that in science-based work!) seems a drag and it becomes a job. That said, I believe what I do is important and makes a contribution.

9. Why does this type of science interest you?

I think I mentioned colouring in. The natural world is everywhere and we really don’t understand it … sure, we get bits and pieces of it and there are lots of people studying separate pieces of it very intensely but overall we don’t know how and why it does what it does. That we don’t know is what interests me.

10. Do you do experiments as well or do you just do research?

Not experiments in the ‘test-tube’ sense but we do put forward hypothesis, develop methods, test them, analyse results and then report them … so I guess we do :). Research? Always researching.

11. Have you done other types of science before?
No, not really … it’s all kinda scientific. I just want to say again what I said earlier … that science is not something to be learned but much more a way of thinking.

12. What do you want to achieve in your career?
It’s not a career more than a lifelong journey of discovery and (hopefully) understanding what goes on around me.

*thank you to teachers Lavers, Quodling, MacFarlane, Roxby, Scown, & Roseby 🙂


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