What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received? Master of Science (Research)
What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics? Casual lecturer/tutor
What has been your career path since you completed your degree? 2014: tried a Master of Teaching at University of Melbourne immediately after getting my MSc but I didn’t enjoy it.
Jan 2015: accepted an entry-level data science role with The Brand Agency, Melbourne in Marketing/Advertising.
Mar 2016: moved into a senior-level data science role with CHE Proximity, Melbourne in Marketing/Advertising.
May 2017: about to move into a lead data science role with 7-Eleven Australia in customer analytics.
What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia? 1. Work-life balance. 2. Didn’t get my PhD (submitted as a MSc thesis) because I developed major depression and ran out of time.
What is the job title for your current position? Lead Data Analyst
What is the name of your company/organization/institution? 7-Eleven Australia
What city and country do you live in and/or work in? Melbourne, Australia
What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant? Privileged, middle-class white guy
What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)? Sailing, photography, music
List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet. Beethoven, Arrival, Black Mirror, Thai, red, my pet cat Comet
What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss? I miss all the smart people and the camaraderie among the grad students. I do not miss the pressure to meet research milestone deadlines or the pressure to publish.
If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time? 34
What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree? Statistics, coding, mathematical modelling, public speaking, skeptical world view
What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path? There are many high-paying jobs available in data science. The market is unable to meet demand and it is fairly easy to find a 100K+ job upon graduation.
What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position? I did a few Coursera courses to learn R
What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position? LinkedIn, SEEK, Indeed, Glass Door, Melbourne Data Science Meetup Group. Sign up for daily job emails. Pimp out your LinkedIn profile, it is your number 1 personal marketing tool. Meet as many recruiters as possible – I have received interviews at companies that I wouldn’t have gotten by applying directly.
Describe a typical day at work. I start the day with a coffee and a chat with co-workers. Next I check and reply to emails – I usually spend about an hour answering emails in the morning and sporadically throughout the day. I usually have 1 to 2 hours of meetings with clients and co-workers throughout the day. The rest of the time is spent doing project work and planning. Typical project tasks include coding, solving technical problems, researching, making data visualisations, writing documents and presentations. Occasionally I will attend an industry event/talk after work.
How many hours do you work in a week? I left my last role because I was typically doing 60 hours per week. A good job should be 40 hours per week but I expect to occasionally do long hours when approaching a deadline.
What is your salary? 150000
What is your level of satisfaction with your current job? Happy
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable? I’ve always enjoyed coding and dreaming up technical solutions to problems. I like reading outside of my narrow field of astrophysics, synthesising ideas from fields such as statistics, machine learning, and economics with my own knowledge to solve novel business problems. I also enjoy the mentoring aspect of the role. I dislike time constraints and deadlines – this is something that has not disappeared since my time as an astrophysicist.
What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most? My last workplace had a really awesome cafe-style meeting area with 2 authentic espresso machines and it was a dog-friendly office. I dislike that my new job is situated in the suburbs. My previous jobs had city offices and there was always something interesting to do/see on lunch breaks and after work.
What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative? There’s plenty of opportunity to be creative so long as you are prepared to take the initiative. There are many creative solutions that you can pioneer in data science as opposed to academia where many of the techniques have become standardised. To implement your own creative vision on a new project you to think more like a business person to be able to sell your ideas in terms of the monetary benefit provided – key transferrable skill here would be research proposal writing.
How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job? I left my last role due to dissatisfaction with my work-life balance. Based on my research and the questions I asked during my job interview, I expect the work-life balance to be much better in my new role.
How family-friendly is your current position? My last role wasn’t very family friendly – the hours were long and inflexible. This wasn’t a huge issue for me because I didn’t have a child when I was working there, however, it has become more important recently as I am expecting my first child in September. I expect my new role at 7-Eleven will be much more family-friendly based on my research and questions asked during the interview process.
What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)? Don’t accept poor work-life balance. It’s a seller’s market in the Data Science labour market so you can afford to be choosy amongst employers.
Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way? I keep in touch with my astronomy friends via social media. Sometimes I have specific technical questions I like to ask them.
Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects? I was in a bad emotional place toward the end of my postgraduate studies and right after submission. I realised that I placed all my self-worth on getting a PhD and this resulted in me developing major depression and ultimately not getting a PhD. Getting a job as a data scientist actually made me feel like a worthwhile human again because I was doing something interesting and well-paid that I didn’t place all my self-worth into.