Getting a parent to help you learn your times tables is one thing, but climate research informatics manager Joanna Aldridge’s dad taught her how to solve differential equations when she was in primary school. Far from a chore, Joanna says she enjoyed the challenge. “I was able to grasp the concepts straight away, so I even liked doing my homework.”
Joanna got involved in competitions and science camps throughout school, which only encouraged her to keep going. “I enjoyed it because maths is like learning a language,” she says.
However, after high school, she wasn’t as sure about her future studies. Joanna decided to major in maths and physical geography, but says they didn’t really go together at the time. However, advances in computing meant the two areas soon merged into a fascinating career path.
After completing Honours in coastal geomorphology – and then spending a year working as a research statistician – Joanna started her PhD using maths to study coastal flooding risk in New South Wales. This landed her a job analysing the risk of storms throughout eastern Australia, building complex risk models using historical weather charts from the Bureau of Meteorology as well as wind, wave and rainfall data.
“Historical climate data might not represent all outcomes, so we have to understand its underlying processes to capture the true range of worst-case scenarios,” she says. “For the risk analysis, I model extreme events from the 1-in-10-year up to a one-in-10,000-year events.”
Joanna now works with Sydney Informatics Hub (SIH) at the University of Sydney. Her SIH data science team uses advanced computing and analytics along with software engineering to help researchers throughout the university tackle their own data challenges.
Her advice for anyone interested in pursuing a career with maths? “You should keep an eye on job ads to get to know the range of options available, and commit to always learning – you’ll need to to stay up-to-date with the exciting and fast-paced field,” she says.
– Jo Khan
Joanna’s career path
>> Bachelor of Advanced Science (Mathematics and Physical geography), University of Wollongong
>> Research Statistician PhD, Coastal Geomorphology, University of Sydney
>> Environmental consultant
>> Research Informatics Manager, University of Sydney
Author: STEM Contributor
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