AQ | Q&A

AQ: Australian Quarterly - - CONTENTS - DR JAC­INTA DELHAIZE

Post­doc edi­tion

Where in Aus­tralia would you call home?

I'm from the town of Man­durah in Western Aus­tralia but I stud­ied in Perth, in­clud­ing my PHD with the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for Ra­dio Astron­omy Re­search at the Univer­sity of Western Aus­tralia.

Where in the world are you?

I'm in Za­greb, which is the cap­i­tal city of Croa­tia. I've been here for four years work­ing as a post­doc­toral re­searcher in the field of astron­omy at the Univer­sity of Za­greb. Croa­tia is an amaz­ing coun­try and I've re­ally en­joyed my time here.

In a sen­tence can you sum up your re­search?

I'm a ra­dio as­tronomer. I work with data from large ra­dio tele­scopes to study the evo­lu­tion of gal­ax­ies to try to un­der­stand how and why they have changed over the his­tory of the uni­verse.

What were the driv­ers that led you to an over­seas post-doc?

I re­ally wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing and liv­ing in an­other coun­try and cul­ture. In a rel­a­tively small field like astron­omy, it was wise to cast a wide net while job search­ing and in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence is highly val­ued.

Has work­ing over­seas given you pro­fes­sional op­por­tu­ni­ties that you wouldn’t have re­ceived in Aus­tralia?

The big­gest ad­van­tage was to cre­ate and fos­ter strong net­works with Euro­pean and in­ter­na­tional re­searchers. This has pro­vided in­valu­able col­lab­o­ra­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­creased my ex­po­sure, and dra­mat­i­cally broad­ened by sci­en­tific ex­per­tise.

What has been the big­gest sur­prise or most pro­found out­come of work­ing OS?

The most pro­found out­come has been per­sonal growth. Liv­ing in a for­eign, non-english speak­ing coun­try has cer­tainly had its chal­lenges, but it has been a defin­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I met in­cred­i­ble peo­ple, ex­pe­ri­enced a dif­fer­ent cul­ture, learned some of the lan­guage, gained enor­mous ap­pre­ci­a­tion for non-na­tive speakers of English, seen beau­ti­ful parts of the world and devel­oped in­de­pen­dence and per­sonal strength.

Is com­ing back to Aus­tralia at­trac­tive pro­fes­sion­ally?

Def­i­nitely. In the long term I see my­self re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia to work with the Square Kilo­me­tre Ar­ray (SKA), the Aus­tralian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and the Murchison Wide-field Ar­ray (MWA).

ASKAP and MWA have al­ready, or will soon, com­mence op­er­a­tion in Western Aus­tralia. The SKA is a longer-term pro­ject and will be con­structed in both Western Aus­tralia and South­ern Africa.

These gal­ax­ies are like the light­houses of the uni­verse. By study­ing them, we can un­der­stand what was go­ing on in the uni­verse at dif­fer­ent cos­mic epochs .

These tele­scopes will make Western Aus­tralia one of the world's great­est hubs of ra­dio astron­omy. That's cer­tainly some­thing I want to be a part of.

Who has been the most in­spir­ing per­son you’ve had a chance to work with?

I've been for­tu­nate to work with many ex­cel­lent re­searchers, but I'm par­tic­u­larly humbled to have had the op­por­tu­nity to work with the late Pro­fes­sor Steve Rawl­ings of Ox­ford Univer­sity. He was a fan­tas­tic role model, an ex­cel­lent ra­dio as­tronomer and a driv­ing force be­hind the SKA. I was lucky to have him as one of my PHD su­per­vi­sors and he is sorely missed by the as­tro­nom­i­cal com­mu­nity.

What do you see as the fu­ture of your re­search area? Why should we be in­ter­ested in dis­tant gal­ax­ies?

I think the next gen­er­a­tion of gi­ant tele­scopes, such as the SKA, will com­pletely rev­o­lu­tionise our un­der­stand­ing of the uni­verse. They will help us see deeper into space, and there­fore fur­ther back in time than ever be­fore. This will help us de­tect many more dis­tant gal­ax­ies than was pre­vi­ously pos­si­ble.

These gal­ax­ies are like the light­houses of the uni­verse. By study­ing them, we can un­der­stand what was go­ing on in the uni­verse at dif­fer­ent cos­mic epochs.

Ar­guably, ra­dio as­tronomers get to play with some of the world’s most im­pres­sive sci­ence toys. Do you have a favourite?

Work­ing with big ra­dio tele­scopes is cer­tainly one of the best parts of the job. I def­i­nitely have a soft spot for the Parkes Ra­dio Tele­scope in New South Wales. It has an enor­mous 64-me­tre dish and I'm awe-struck ev­ery time I see it.

I spent many hours there dur­ing my PHD us­ing the tele­scope to de­tect the very faint sig­nals of hy­dro­gen gas in dis­tant gal­ax­ies. It's also a movie star – fea­tur­ing in the film ‘ The Dish' about the role it played dur­ing the first moon land­ing.

Has it been a pretty ob­vi­ous and straight path to where you are now?

I have ac­tu­ally fol­lowed a fairly tra­di­tional path through academia, but have also de­voted a lot of time to sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion along the way. I'm very glad to see in­sti­tu­tions start­ing to value this sort of work and re­ward (or at least not pe­nalise) re­searchers for tak­ing part.

You’re quite a pro­lific com­mu­ni­ca­tor of your sci­ence. Which do you pre­fer more, the sci­ence or the sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion?

I think they go hand-in-hand and are equally im­por­tant. Af­ter all, what's the point of pro­duc­ing new re­search and mak­ing new discoveries if no one knows about them? Sci­ence af­fects the daily lives of ev­ery­one, so I think it's es­sen­tial for ev­ery­one to have at least a base level of sci­en­tific lit­er­acy and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the sci­en­tific method.

Astron­omy com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a very pow­er­ful tool in this realm be­cause many peo­ple are at least a lit­tle fas­ci­nated by the mys­ter­ies of

I’m very glad to see in­sti­tu­tions start­ing to value [Sci­ence Com­mu­ni­ca­tion] and re­ward (or at least not pe­nalise) re­searchers for tak­ing part.

the uni­verse. Astron­omy can there­fore be used as a hook to pique in­ter­est in sci­ence, pro­vide ex­po­sure to the sci­en­tific method and even to build trust be­tween sci­en­tists and the gen­eral pub­lic.

If you were a sci­ence su­per­hero, what would your pow­ers be?

I would choose the abil­ity to teach ev­ery­one on the planet how to think crit­i­cally and in­de­pen­dently, which is the cor­ner­stone to the sci­en­tific method.

We are ex­posed to a mas­sive amount of in­for­ma­tion on a daily ba­sis, through TV, so­cial me­dia, newspapers, books and many other plat­forms. While this can be a good thing, it can also make it dif­fi­cult to dis­cern fact from opin­ion, and even from fake news and pseu­do­science. I think that if more peo­ple could be trained in as­tute crit­i­cal think­ing, it just might save the world.

If you could give 1st year Jac­inta some ad­vice, what would it be?

Two things: 1) Trust your­self. You might not have the same set of strengths as oth­ers, but your par­tic­u­lar strengths are unique and valu­able to sci­ence and to the world. Have the con­fi­dence to take risks and carve out your own niche.

2) Take very good care of your men­tal health. Your mind is your most valu­able re­source so treat it with great re­spect. Don't view ex­ces­sive stress and burnout as a rite of pas­sage, but take ac­tive steps to man­age it prop­erly. Fu­ture you will thank you!

What’s next for you? What’s the most ex­cit­ing prospect?

I'm just about to fin­ish up my con­tract in Croa­tia and move on to an SKA South Africa Fel­low­ship at the Univer­sity of Cape Town. I'm in­cred­i­bly ex­cited be­cause I'll be work­ing with data from the brand new MEERKAT ra­dio tele­scope.

MEERKAT will switch on in South Africa this year and is part of the next gen­er­a­tion of enor­mously pow­er­ful ra­dio tele­scopes that will help us to peer deeper into space than ever be­fore.

We have lit­tle idea what we'll find out there, mak­ing these tele­scopes our metaphor­i­cal ships in one of hu­man­ity's great­est voy­ages of ex­plo­ration.

I think that if more peo­ple could be trained in as­tute crit­i­cal think­ing, it just might save the world.

IM­AGE: Parkes Ra­dio Tele­scope

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