Bachelor of International Studies
Current Position: Leader, Environment and Spatial at Data61, CSIRO
I work for Data 61 which is now part of CSIRO. I’m in the Business Development and Commercialisation team, leading Environment and Spatial Projects. As a team, this effectively means we bring in revenue for Data61 which can be through funded industry projects, research collaborations or partnerships. I work really closely with the engineering and research groups to connect with industry to understand the data driven problems they have.
The great thing about my job is that no two days are the same. At the moment there is a lot of travelling and my office tends to be in an airport lounge. I usually have a series of internal and external meetings, and many are with government stakeholders. These meetings are about understanding where the problems and opportunities are in terms of data. For example, this morning I met with someone who wants to do work in the retail analytics space and my role is to hook them up with researchers and engineers, and to facilitate a series of workshops after that to try and focus on a problem so we can deliver real data driven solutions.
My colleagues. Having great managers and encouraging teammates, and being able to learn from them every day, to me that is the most exciting part of my job. Having a supportive team, and a trusting team, enables me to work on the projects that matter to me. It is very empowering in a work place.
Definitely not. My 17-year-old self would probably wonder why I wasn’t working for the UN. If you told me even 5 years ago that I would be driving projects working across research teams consisting of statisticians, engineers, software developers, I would have told you “definitely not, never going to work there, you’re insane”. But I love it.
Because I wanted to work for the UN. It’s true, I wanted to save the world. I really just wanted to do something that would make a difference. International Studies was the sexy degree, you got to go overseas, you got to study all these really cool subjects from all different parts of Arts & Social Sciences. I knew the field I wanted to work in but I didn’t know how to get there, and International Studies seemed to offer the opportunities that I was looking for. And I chose UNSW because it offered a better, more well-rounded degree.
The reason why I am the Business Lead for Environment and Spatial projects is because it is in the environment space. I have the autonomy to drive these portfolios for the organisation. The types of projects that we work on like water quality monitoring on the Great Barrier Reef, and ground water and understanding fracking throughout NSW, are all very important projects environmentally. When I originally thought about making a difference I thought that I would be in a developing country on the ground, building a house, which is a very naive way to look at your career path. In this organisation I can pick and choose and drive projects in areas where I can help to make a real impact. For me the opportunities are here, just wearing a science hat, not a humanitarian hat.
I studied in Spain for a year on exchange and every single one of those memories is way up there as some of the best. Certainly, most of my friends are from UNSW and International Studies, and I think that is something that can never be underestimated. It gave me the foundations for life, it sounds super-cheesy, but it did.
The most beneficial thing that my Bachelor of International Studies taught me, and it should never be underestimated, is how to write and how to think critically. Also, how to be very diligent, and dedicated and passionate about what you do is something that is rare in the workplace. The ability to build relationships, to connect with and to motivate other people, is so important in the International Studies program. Ultimately those skills have built who I am today. Even though I work in a very technical field, the reason why I am successful is that I am able to use all the skills, the people skills, and the writing sills, and the communication skills that International Studies taught me.
Certainly the network of people that I built there, most of them are my friends to this day. Also the kind of thirst to know something a little bit more, and know something a little bit deeper was something that International Studies gave me. If I hadn’t taken that degree I don’t think I would have pursued languages. In each one of your classes you’re always encouraged to ask more and ask why and to debate. We had very lively debates and now it is an area that I feel very comfortable in, so I think instilling that confidence to stand by what you believe was something that I really took away from International Studies at UNSW.
If that is what your gut is telling you, then just do it, go into it head first and make the most of it. If it is not what you want to do then it is always flexible, you can always transfer out of it and do something else, but you will never know until you try it. I was so stressed-out going into university worrying about all of my degree options and making the right decision, but it just isn’t the biggest decision you will make in your life. There are so many options, even within Social Sciences, and there are so many people who can help you to figure out what you actually want to do. Just do it, it’s so much fun.
Four years flies by, it seems like such a long time but it’s not, and you really have to think about the skills you want to acquire before you start applying for jobs. University gives you this very unique time in your life where you can get away with doing effectively nothing because you are studying. So you can go and do that volunteer job you want to do, you can do unpaid internships, because university gives you that flexibility, and there won’t be another time in your life where you can really hone in on those skills that you want to develop at such an early stage.
When I first started working I was quite timid... over the course of my career I have definitely surprised myself with where I have gotten so far. I’m a woman in IT, I’m the youngest in my team by about 10 or 15 years, and doing the same thing that they’re doing.
I am working on a startup company at work and I would really love to see that come to fruition. I’d really like to move into that startup and small business space. After that I would probably love to move overseas again and try my hand at a different market, that would be awesome. But we’ll see!