International Girls in ICT Day is a global movement encouraging girls and young women to pursue science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) education and careers.
Cisco hosts events through our Women Rock-IT program, which began in 2014 and has seen more than two million participants, with over half enrolling in one of our Cisco Networking Academy courses as a result.
Join us on April 27 to hear from women who are working on critical environmental issues like climate change and learn how developing digital skills now can help protect our planet!
This is a guest blog from Dr Kate Brand, a space weather scientist from the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia. Kate is also president of the Australian Society of Exploration Geophysicists and an affiliate associate lecturer at the University of Adelaide. Kate will present as one of six guest speakers on Girls in ICT Day about her own journey of discovery from Earth to the Sun, to reveal the diversity of a career in STEM.
Have you heard of geophysics? What about space weather? Neither had I when I started university, but 14 years on, I’ve now worked in both areas.
Some people are lucky to know exactly what they want to be when they grow up — it was never quite the case for me. My goals changed as I grew older; from a 5-year-old wanting to be a cleaner (despite the fact I’m still a little bit messy!), to a teacher and then to a doctor in high school.
I’m naturally inclined to find efficient ways to solve problems. Well, at least to try to solve them. Fortunately by the end of high school I’d figured out enough about myself that I knew that I wanted to study science, and through that, face a diversity of problems that I’d be equipped, and trusted to, solve. This is the beauty of a career in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
After taking every possible science subject in completing my Bachelor of Science degree, I went on to complete my honours and then a Ph.D. in geophysics, which is when I became a geophysicist. Geophysics attempts to understand the rocks deep beneath us without directly looking at them; think of it as taking an x-ray of Earth. So the problems to solve in geophysics can range from searching for minerals, petroleum and groundwater, to detecting and monitoring earthquakes and tsunamis, and even to archaeological investigations like uncovering ancient villages or dinosaur fossils. It’s a broad area, that’s for sure!
What on earth is a geophysicist?
So what was my geophysics job like? Most of my time was at my desk, analysing and processing data, writing codes for data analysis and visualisation, and remotely accessing major super computers to try and produce the most realistic and accurate model of Earth and its electrical conductivity. The geophysical modelling intends to increase our chances of finding mineral deposits. This is more important than ever as we try to reduce our carbon footprint and move to technologies such as electric vehicles, wind energy and solar farms, all of which rely heavily on the discovery of new mineral deposits. Other parts of my job included attending conferences and going on fieldwork, which involved a bit of hard work but lots of fun driving around outback Australia in four-wheel-drive vehicles or taking helicopter or boat rides to reach remote places. Often, we’d travel with the Traditional Owners of the land we were traversing, encountering wildlife along the way, like camels, kangaroos, dingoes, horses, emus and occasionally even snakes!
At the beginning of 2022, I went from exploring the rocks beneath us to the far reaches of outer space. I now work for the Bureau of Meteorology as the manager of the Australian Space Weather Forecasting Centre. Space weather is not the weather on Mars, nor forecasting whether a meteorite will strike Earth or not. Space weather is huge bursts of radiation or big eruptions from the Sun that travel through Space, and if the eruptions are facing the right direction, can reach us on Earth 150 million kilometres away. These so-called solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME’s) can impact our technology on Earth and in space, with the potential to cause power blackouts, satellite and radio communication failures, and much more.
Our team of space weather forecasters watch the Sun, using huge amounts of data and images from satellites in space along with ground-based telescopes from across the globe, to spot when these flares or storms first start. Computer models of the data and images help us to understand whether they’ll arrive here, on Earth. In 1859 the biggest space weather storm on record occurred. Known as the Carrington Event, it caused telegraph poles to catch on fire and for telegraph operators to receive electric shocks. Today, we rely on technology a lot more heavily, especially as we continue to put more satellites and spacecraft into space. Our space weather forecasting centre, along with many others around the globe, will continue to monitor and send out alerts and warnings to ensure that the sectors that will be most impacted from space weather events, such as the energy, defence, space and aviation sectors, are prepared and can take preventative actions.
Shining a light on STEM
The thing that shines out most to me about a career in STEM is the diversity and variety it offers everyone. When I was in high school, I would never have imagined that my career would take me on this journey. I’ve explored hundreds of kilometres deep into the earth to help safeguard our future that is reliant on batteries, electric vehicles and solar panels to using satellites and telescopes to protect our technology by predicting storms that come from the Sun 150 million kilometres away. A career in STEM is always an exciting one and the job that you end up working in might not have even been created, yet. So, my advice is to keep aiming for the stars!