Edition 6 - Meet Jane Sexton

Jane works for Geoscience Australia in the Earth Monitoring and Hazards Group.

What's your job title?
Section Leader, Risk Analysis Methods Section. What that means is that I lead and manage a group of people who are doing a wide range of projects and activities. At the moment, this section develops open source software for modeling the impact of some natural hazards on the community, provides advice to government relating to natural hazard risk (particularly COAG committees) and is delivering the National Flood Risk Information Project (started on July 1, 2012 following the announcement by the government to develop a portal to make flood information accessible). We have also applied the modeling software in collaboration with Australian and State and Territory Governments to understand earthquake and tsunami impact for example.

Describe a typical day, week, month.
There is really no typical day or week or month - apart from the fact that the only constant is change, and that I connect with a lot of people both within and outside Geoscience Australia. A typical month will mean talking to a State Government representative about issues around a hazard analysis, talking with my Geoscience Australia colleagues to coordinate their input on a Geoscience Australia response to government relating to feedback on research proposals, talking with collaborators about enhancements to our software and planning for next year's work program, talking with our software engineers on progress on software enhancements and overcoming issues, talking with my Geoscience Australia colleagues on research ideas for the recently announced Cooperative Research Centre, reviewing reports on modeling outputs, putting together presentations for public talks, etc.

What sort of dress code do you have to follow in your profession?
It really depends on whether there are any major meetings that day. If there is someone visiting Geoscience Australia from another government department for example, I would typically try and wear suit pants or a suit or even a dress if I feel like it. If I was visiting another department or agency, I would definitely dress smartly. Any other day, I would probably wear jeans, and always wear an ironed shirt and maybe a decent T-shirt on Friday. If I was having a meeting with the Chief of Division or the CEO, I would probably make sure I was dressed more smartly than normal.

Who were your heroes when you were young?
I have to say that it probably wasn't a scientist - it was probably a tennis player like Pat Cash (I did grow up in the 1980s after all) and a rugby league player (or team, like the Queenslanders - go the mighty Maroons!).

When did you know you wanted to work in this profession?
All I ever loved at school was mathematics and so my journey has been one that has applied mathematics to real-world problems. I majored in Computational and Applied Mathematics. I have to admit that I didn't know about Geoscience Australia until I saw a job ad calling for a Computational Modeller. I didn't know anything about hazards (apart from knowing that Australia has floods, bushfires, earthquakes, cyclones etc) or risk analysis at that point. To understand a hazard, you have to understand the physical process behind it and to explain that physical process, you need mathematics!

Give us some advice for people who want to follow your path, and add three things never to do in this business.

Three things never to do in this business?

  1. Never work alone - collaboration is how we work
  2. Never assume you know everything - someone else will know something you don't
  3. Never think there is a simple answer - someone else would have thought of that already!

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, with whom would it be?
Terence Tao - he is Australia's only Fields Medalist. They don't give a Nobel Prizes in mathematics so this is the equivalent for mathematics. (There is a joke about why this isn't the case if you want to look it up). If I could be Terry Tao for a week, then I would be able to think like a really smart person and solve some problem that we're working on right now!

If you only had six months to live, what would you do with the time?
Take the holiday that my partner and I would love to do one day - ship our 4WD to Vladivostok and drive the Road of Bones and see the untouched environment in Mongolia and Russia.