Picture: Looking across Sydney. Credit: Max Ravier.

by Julia Potgieter
Figuring out what to do after a straight maths degree can be a little daunting, with everyone saying, ‘oh you’ll get a job ANYWHERE’, while Seek presents nothing but high school maths teaching positions.

I was looking for a better way to explore potential careers when an e-mail came through about working on a climate-related research project for undergraduate students. I jumped at the opportunity and was fortunate enough to be accepted into the program to work on a project using crowdsourced data for climate monitoring across Sydney.

The summer project was six weeks long and was more about exploring a topic and learning about the field of research, rather than producing any report or publication. So, with lots of help from my supervisors Melissa, Negin and Mat, I was able to guide the project in ways I saw fit, taking it in a direction that most interested me. This gave me a great amount of freedom and it definitely taught me a lot.

On starting, I was given air temperature data collected by citizen weather stations in households around Sydney. We played around with this data for some time, before deciding it would be interesting to compare it with land-use data, for example comparing the air temperature in areas of vegetation versus that in built environments. We also found that the distance from the coast had a huge impact on air temperature, so we looked at the effects of land use at varying distances from the coast (i.e., in east Sydney vs west Sydney). Sydney’s unique location and topography made for some intriguing findings.

When my six weeks were up, my supervisors decided this project was worth continuing through to publication, and I was asked to complete it. Again, I jumped at the opportunity.

This was truly a great experience, as I was able to see the project through from start to finish. All the steps taken in producing the research offered me valuable lessons, from the messy, over-complicated code I wrote at the start figuring out the data, to seeing a story emerge, then writing and re-writing (and re-writing some more) and finally submitting (and then re-writing some more).

Suffice to say it’s been a fulfilling experience and has brought me a few steps closer to figuring out where my interests lie. For anyone interested in climate science or curious about research, these summer projects are an opportunity that should not be missed.