Dr Jaci Brown is a mathematician who works as a Senior Research Scientist in the Agriculture and Food Division of CSIRO.
Jaci went to school in rural New South Wales.
I always loved maths, even as a three year-old, I thought maths was beautiful and numbers were magic.
In year 12 she studied Maths, Physics, Chemistry, English and General Studies.
The school ran 4 Unit maths even though I was the only one in the class. In the end we didn’t even learn the whole course but I was very proud that despite this, I came in the top 10 students for rural NSW.
Jaci loved maths but wasn’t sure what career she could have with maths. She thought about becoming an accountant, but felt that it would be too boring. She did research and went to a careers workshop and found out that mathematicians solve really large complex problems. Jaci loved that idea so decided to become a mathematician.
I regret not doing more social science and psychology as that is a useful aspect of my work now.
My teachers were extremely supportive.
I worked in a corner store in my home town in country NSW. I loathed it! It convinced me to make sure I went to University and got a job that I enjoyed.
My Mum returned to work so that I could afford to go away to university – I will always be grateful to her for that.
University and first job
My love of maths convinced me that I should study it, though my parents were quite nervous about me studying something that didn’t have a clear career path
At university, Jaci studied a Bachelor of Science, majoring in maths.
When I first arrived, the maths department wasn’t going to let me take the high level maths as my high school marks weren’t good enough. I was very determined to prove them wrong and got high distinction at the end of first year and a University Medal by the end of my degree.
She took an elective in Ocean and Atmospheric Dynamics, which she found was all about equations and she then went on to a PhD in Oceanography. During that time she worked as a TV weather presenter on the Weather Channel and then on the ABC evening news in Tasmania. Her first science job was at Yale University as a Postdoctoral scientists studying El Nino dynamics in the Pacific Ocean and the effects of climate change.
Jaci’s advice to students
It’s not all about how good you are at exams. Surprisingly, Jaci says that the most important skills for success in her line of work isn’t just being good at STEM. It’s being a person who can:
- work in a team.
- write clear, convincing arguments.
- be an engaging public speaker.
Jaci says that she has found that the most valuable personal attributes and skills that have contributed to her success are:
- tenacity – to keep at something
- adaptability – to make the best of any opportunities that arise.
I never give up. I see change as an opportunity it doesn’t scare me. Do what you really enjoy, because where you find your joy is where you're going to be happiest.
STEM excites me - my life without STEM would have no colour in it – I love that having a career in STEM has helped me to push myself beyond my perceived limitations and do things I think I would never have done. We are all so much stronger than we imagine.
A science career is not about picking what you are interested in studying, but about finding a problem that society needs solved.
Being a woman in science has advantages and disadvantages. The most effective strategy is to talk with other women and seek out mentors in higher management that can be your champion.
Jaci is a single mum of triplets. She says that there are many obstacles in her career and life. She just tries to deal with them one day at a time and not get stressed about the ones that are far away.
Jaci is passionate about supporting women in science and runs the Women’s Forum at CSIRO in Hobart.
Jaci’s current job
Jaci’s work is based on predicting El Nino, which she used to do, but now she is working more closely with the end user, helping farmers better understand and use weather and climate information.
My day-to-day job involves talking to farmers to find out how weather and climate affect what they do and why. Then trying to forecast the information they need. For example graziers in the north of Australia want to know when the wet season will begin while in the south farmers want to know when it will rain in April to sow their crops. The work I do now can often involve making Apps for farmers to use. I’m based in Hobart but I travel all over Australia quite a bit – often once a fortnight. This has advantages and disadvantages. I get to go to interesting places in Australia and overseas but it is also taxing on my family life.
Recently, she and her team ran a workshop in Darwin and Katherine to learn more about what producers in the Northern Territory (NT) want to know. They discovered so much they didn’t realise about the way farming operates in the NT. They came back with many ideas to research.
Jaci chose to work in this area because she is fascinated by mathematics and how it can predict the future. Working in agriculture allows her to study something that interests her and feel like she is helping to make the world a better place.
STEM at work
I like having a job where I am continually learning new things and have new challenges. STEM is a great opportunity to do this. My job will have completely changed in the future. Just as being a climate scientist now is so completely different to what it was 20 years ago. Technology is constantly evolving so the data and computing power available in the future will allow for so much more to be done so quickly.