Research Officer for the Data Analysis team at the Monash University Accident Research Centre.
Who do you work for?
The Monash Injury Research Institute (MIRI) at the Monash University Accident Research Centre in Melbourne: http://monash.edu/miri/research/research-areas/transport-safety/
What does your job involve?
I usually take Police-reported crash data and use it to evaluate (with respect to crashes) road safety programs such as red light speed cameras, all road safety cameras, and road improvements. I also use the data to project casualty and serious casualty crash changes that may occur if safety features or designs were mandated in passenger or heavy vehicles or vehicle sectors such as taxis or corporate fleet vehicles. I do work on the data and statistical analysis of other projects within the institute.
Why did you choose to work in this sector?
I originally trained and worked as a Chemist (not a Pharmacist). I have my Diploma of Education and did some high school teaching as well, in QLD, NSW and Vic. I think there will always be a shortage of Science/Maths teachers so I have always found it easy to get employment in that field — so the Dip Ed has served me well.
After taking time off to raise children, I decided to give up Chemistry and re-train as a Biostatistician. Although this job fits within the broad area of Public Health, it is not a Biostatistics job. I found it difficult to find work in this area (due to gender bias and limited work experience), so had to widen my choice of statistical job applications. Hence I fell into this sector.
What is the most rewarding part of your current job?
The area of road safety is really popular in the media so it is great to hear/read in media discussions around statistics that I produced. It is also great to know that policy recommendations from my work are being taken up and that my work does save lives. On the personal side of things it is also very rewarding to work in an environment flexible to the needs of families.
What has been one of your recent achievements?
The most recent would be influencing the current push for mandating of autonomous emergency brake systems in new cars.
What is the most challenging part of your current job?
Probably there are two: writing the syntax to do the analyses that I want in an efficient way, and keeping the clients happy.
What do you hope to do in the future?
I’d like to continue in my the area of data analysis, and now that I have more experience, I am able to use these skills in any field. As statistics is looking at numbers, it really doesn’t matter what the numbers are from. It makes you employable in any field. I think that in the future, big data may surpass statistical sampling and analysis of sub-sets in many fields, so I am trying to keep up to date with the new methods being developed to analyse big data to stay relevant.
What are some of the benefits of your job?
I spoke about the flexibility above. Probably not working in the city is one for me, too. Working on a university campus is also very enjoyable as I have access to concerts and interesting talks, libraries, etc. I get to learn and apply new things all the time, which keeps it sharp and interesting. I also thrive on autonomy.
What training did you have for this job?
In high school, I had to do the same six subjects for two years: English, Math (the one with probability and statistics, calculus, algebra and trigonometry), Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Art. I also took all the Science and technology subjects offered.
When I did my Bachelor of Science, I majored in Chemistry and took courses in Biochemistry (second and third year), Physiology (second year) and other 1st year subjects in first year (Microbiology, Zoology, Cell and Tissue Biology, Pure Maths, Computer Science). I did enough variety to meet the requirements for Dip. Ed. entry and followed the B.Sc. with a Dip. Ed. and honours in polymer chemistry.
I chose Computer Science because I new nothing about computers and felt a need to learn a bit. The programming basics (it was Pascal back then!) I learned set me up for the position I have now. In fact one of the interview questions was whether I had learned computer programming. They didn’t mind what the language was. I also did some FORTRAN as part of the honours year. Statistics uses high-level programming languages in packages such as SAS, SPSS and STATA to do data cleaning and analyses. Programming knowledge, or coding as it is often called now, is adaptable to any statistical package.
The other subjects I studied I chose because I liked them. My favourite at the time was probably Biochemistry, but I took the Chemistry path as their department was better organized and had better options for post-graduate studies.
I did not study statistics in my undergraduate years, but while was working as a Chemist in Sydney I found that it was important for my job so I took some undergraduate statistics in evening classes at Macquarie University. To get my current position, I required additional training in statistics so I did a Masters of Biostatistics from the Biostatistic Collaboration of Australia.
I studied teaching as a back up, as I graduated at a time of recession and there was very high unemployment–much like the youth today are facing. I really love Chemistry and prefer it to both teaching and statistics and would still rather work in that field. I like statistics, and it pays a lot better than Chemistry but tends to be more sedentary job.
Is mathematics important in your job?
Yes, because I do statistical analyses (mostly Poisson regressions of counts of injuries or crashes but also logistic regressions and some other analyses).
What career advice would you give to school students interested in a similar career?
Do what you are interested in and enjoy! The key to a happy work life is in actually enjoying your work. Be aware of future labour market demands and the salaries that go with different careers, so your expectations are realistic.