Menu toggle

ACEMS Student and ECR Retreat goes Virtual in 2020

In the same way that the 2020 main ACEMS Retreat that was reconfigured, the 2020 Student and Early-Career Researcher (ECR) Retreats were also held in a hybrid format in the days preceding the Main Retreat. Almost 80 students and ECRs registered to attend the retreat which was held over two half days on Monday 2 and Tuesday 3 November. Attendees had the option to attend in person at the University of Adelaide, University of Technology Sydney and Queensland University of Technology nodes with ACEMS members from the other nodes joining individually via Zoom.

With a focus on the impacts of the pandemic, the retreat program was designed to help attendees prepare for what comes next in their career whether it be in academia or industry, how to attract research funding and how best to sell themselves and their research. The retreat also provided an excellent opportunity to see what other research was going on around the Centre as well as a much-needed connection between local, interstate and international ECRs and students, after a tiring and perhaps lonely year.

As with previous years the students and ECRs brought their energy and creativity to their retreat. PhD student Behrooz Niknami designed two ACEMS Zoom backgrounds that were used by members during the week and have been made available on the member portal. A website was created with useful information including the code of conduct, schedule, tips for presenting on Zoom and some mathematical humour (see the fictional location of Hotel Hilbert, Mars) regarding the venue.

Behrooz Niknami

Rachael Quill

One of the highlights of the retreat (and arguably of the whole week) was the keynote presentation by Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer. As one ACEMS member noted, “His presentation was exactly what a keynote should be – a high-level reflection of a distinguished career, with observations on the industry and where things are going.”

Hugh Durrant-Whyte

Hugh Durrant-Whyte

Hugh Durrant-Whyte

Hugh Durrant-Whyte

There was a motivational industry career panel and Q&A with presentations from:

  • Dr Ruth Luscombe, Technical Product Manager at Fireball International
  • Sharon O’Donnell, Head of Data Solutions at Australian Post
  • Aude Vignelles, Executive Director, Program & Capability at Australian Space Agency

In addition to her current work at Fireball International and her continuous acquisition of skills on the job, Ruth spoke about her pathway from mathematics in academia to industry as a data scientist and the importance of networks and introductions to secure the next job opportunity.

Sharon also described her varied career history, making the choice to move on to new areas, retraining along the way to fill gaps in her skillset. Her advice was: communication is key, embrace opportunities, find passion, be curious and maintain connections.

Aude talked about how her natural curiosity led her to a career in space research and her current dream job at the Australian Space Agency where mathematics, statistics, probability and data science are all applicable. She also outlined a range of opportunities.

All ACEMS ECRs and students were given the opportunity over the two days to present their research in parallel sessions. With five minutes for each ECR and three minutes for each student, speakers were challenged with condensing their research into short, meaningful presentations, an important skill to master.

The Happy Hour at the end of the first day was a highlight with social activities to connect everyone despite the remote nature of the retreat.

“I think it went really well actually. Behrooz ran games in one of the rooms, and in the other room we just chatted, by the end of the hour we were all laughing and sharing stories about COVID lockdown. I was actually sad to see it end” – Aaron Snoswell

“The happy hour was a fun way to wind down after an eventful day and meet people in a casual environment, but on a national level. Aaron’s hosting skills ensured there was no ice to break and kept the conversations flowing” – Behrooz Niknami

On the second day, ECRs were given some excellent and practical tips and advice from an experienced academic panel on moving forward in the time of the pandemic, particularly in relation to grant and funding opportunities.

Inger Mewburn

Inger Mewburn

In a parallel session, The Thesis Whisperer, Associate Professor Inger Mewburn’s presentation to students was titled ‘So you are graduating with your PhD in a pandemic – what next?’.

In her talk, Inger used her team’s research on the post PhD job market to tell students how to:

  • Enhance their understanding of the changed academic job market, analysing the effects of hiring freezes and travel restrictions
  • Increase awareness of career opportunities in industry; which sectors are looking for research talent?
  • Help them approach the non-academic job market with more confidence.

The retreat concluded with a technical workshop titled ‘Sell yourself and your research’. CI Rob Hyndman (Monash) talked about ‘self-promotion for researchers’, Media and Communications Officer Tim Macuga described how researchers can ‘build their communications toolkit’ and Stakeholder Engagement Officer Angela Dahlke presented on ‘selling yourself and your research’.

Congratulations to all students and ECRs who contributed to this important and successful event, especially the organisers, the ACEMS student committee chaired by Aishwarya Bhaskaran and supported by CI liaison Tim Garoni and the ACEMS ECR committee chaired by Rachael Quill and supported by CI liaison Matt Wand.

There were 113 retreat registrants:
Students 64
Research Fellows 14
Associate Investigators 24
Industry partners/Affiliates 2
Chief Investigators 4
Professional Staff 5
Some of the attendees at QUT
Some of the attendees at QUT
Some of the attendees at QUT
ECR Mohammad Davoudabadi (QUT) presenting his talk titled ‘Advanced Bayesian approaches for modelling soil carbon sequestration’
Student Louise Campbell (UoA) presenting in Adelaide
Student Wathsala Karunarathne (UoM) presenting virtually.’