Tag Archives: computer science

Google CwC STEM cropped

Careers with STEM: Code celebrates fifth birthday

Image credit: Google professionals Tina, Fontaine, Deepa and Joël (Lauren Trompp, 2018).

The upcoming magazine is set to be one of the most diverse representations of STEM careers yet.

It showcases real-life pathways to technology careers, promotes diversity and celebrates people in STEM doing exciting things, all to encourage Australian students to get into STEM.

From October 15, a box of the glossy Careers with STEM magazines will be sent out to every Australian high school –  a collaboration between two of Australia’s biggest STEM employers (Google and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia), the Government and agile STEM startup, publisher Refraction Media.

75% of the fastest growing jobs will require skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and yet only 16% of university students graduate with a STEM degree, according to a PwC report. “We can’t say what the careers of the future will be, but we know that technology and STEM skills will underpin all careers,” says Heather Catchpole, co-founder and Head of Content at Refraction.

Careers with STEM: Code  is one of a quarterly series of print magazines and accompanies the online hub CareerswithSTEM.com, which features the most in-demand STEM careers, inspirational profiles and study resources for students and teachers. Refraction co-founder and CEO Karen Taylor-Brown explains that the magazines and e-portal were created to close the gap between students’ perception of STEM careers and the reality. “Careers with STEM is about smashing stereotypes around careers, driving diversity and celebrating Australia’s STEM-stars.”

This year, Careers with STEM: Code focuses on the most in-demand Computer Science (CS) jobs and the versatility of digital literacy for any career. With tips on how to design a CS career, diversity in tech and a Cybersecurity special, students will be well-equipped to map out their own unique pathway to a tech career that suits them.

Students can check out the profiles of several Australian STEM professionals from Google, CBA and more to find out  how they got to where they are now. “Technology and CS are at the heart of innovation in every industry,” says Sally-Ann Williams, Google’s Engineering Outreach Manager.  “New jobs and industries will continue to emerge as technology evolves…My hope is that in the pages of Careers with STEM: Code [students] will be inspired and challenged by the people who are working in these fields.”

Cybersecurity has been named one of the top 5 in-demand jobs right now (LinkedIn Emerging Jobs Report 2017) and another 11,000 cybersecurity specialists are needed over the next decade in Australia alone (CSCGN 2017 Report). The latest issue of Careers with STEM: Code includes a special Cybersecurity addition including  tips from CBA cyber-experts on how to break into the industry.

“Every day, we are faced with new cyber threats, challenges and opportunities, which is why we are constantly seeking talented, passionate and creative people to join the cybersecurity sector,” says Kate Ingwersen, General Manager of CISTO (Chief Information Security & Trust Officer) at CBA. “There is a world of opportunity for young people to become our cyber superstars of tomorrow.”

“We’re thrilled to work with so many industry, government and education leaders to bring together Careers with STEM, four times a year, for the last five years”, says Taylor-Brown. “This is a product that can address, at scale, some of the key barriers to careers in STEM, including narrow career vision, real-life relevance and pervasive stereotypes around who works in STEM and what the jobs are.”

“It’s a fantastic magazine…students really enjoy reading about their potential future pathways”, says Matthew Purcell, Head of Digital Innovation at Canberra Grammar School.

Students and teachers are able to pre-order copies of the print magazine now and the e-zine will be available from October 15.

Careers with Code 2016

New Zealand welcomes Careers with Code

Featured image above: Google software engineers Edwina Mead and Sara Schaare, who graduated from the University of Canterbury and the University of Waikato. Credit: Lauren Trompp, Careers with Code 2016

The Minister for Innovation, the Hon Steven Joyce, launched the inaugural New Zealand edition of Careers with Code in front of an audience of students and educators at Kapiti College, Paraparaumu.

Dedicated to improving diversity in careers with computer science, Careers with Code 2016 smashes stereotypes about the ‘nerdy programmer’ and what computer scientists really do.

Supported by Google, half a million copies of the magazine have been distributed to students in Australia, the United States and now New Zealand since the magazine’s inception in 2014.

“The internet, automation, smart sensors – all of today’s digital technologies contribute about 8% of economic output in New Zealand, while in Australia that contribution is set to grow from 5% to 7% by 2020. Most of this growth will happen outside the areas traditionally associated with tech – like agriculture, health, finance, education,” says Sally-Ann Williams, Google’s Engineering Community and Outreach Manager.

“Careers are no longer as straightforward as they used to be. It used to be that if you studied medicine you’d go on to become a doctor, or if you studied accounting you’d join the professional services. Today, those traditional outcomes aren’t always the norm. Digital disruption is creating a workforce with a greater intersection of disciplinary skills. Areas like finance, advertising, law and agriculture, for example, are increasingly overlapping with core skills in computer science.”

Sara Schaare, who features on this issue’s cover, moved to Sydney from Hamilton, New Zealand and began working on Google Maps in her Honours year while completing a Bachelor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences at the University of Waikato.

“Even though I was interested in computing and video games from an early age, I never really considered computer science as a career.”

“Now I’m working on developing products for emerging markets. One of the most awesome challenges that computer science will overcome is making the interaction between humans and technology seamless and making technology easy for everyone to use.

“That’s why combining computer science with something else you love will ensure the greatest success in your career.”

The magazine features profiles of 40 young people working in computer science, with 60% women. It also features data on the top ten jobs in computer science, and top ten employers in technology in New Zealand and Australia.

By combining computer science with sports, arts, business and law, students equip themselves to be agile workers across career areas that haven’t been invented yet, says Heather Catchpole, head of content at STEM-specialist publishers Refraction Media.

“Careers with Code is about combining computer science skills and computational thinking with goals of global change, new fields or students’ own interests to help them prepare for a future in which digital disruption is constantly shifting their career focus,” says Ms Catchpole.

“Careers with Code is about creating visible role model and job paths for everyone that shows that computer science skills can take you into vastly different career areas, and are essentially creative jobs where females can be part of a collaborative or lead the pack.”

– Heather Catchpole

Click here to read Careers with Code 2016.

Click here to order copies of Careers with Code 2016 in print.

combining skills

Women in STEM: the revolution ahead

On September 8, 70 days after the end of the financial year, Australia marked equal pay day. The time gap is significant as it marks the average additional time it takes for women to work to get the same wages as men.

Optimistically, we’d think this day should slowly move back towards June 30. And there are many reasons for optimism, as our panel of thought leaders point out in our online roundtable of industry, research and government leaders.

Yet celebrating a lessening in inequity is a feel-good exercise we cannot afford to over-indulge in.

While we mark achievements towards improving pipelines to leadership roles, work to increase enrolments of girls in STEM subjects at schools and reverse discrimination at many levels of decision making and representation, the reality is that many of these issues are only just being recognised. Many more are in dire need of being addressed more aggressively.

Direct discrimination against women and girls is something I hear about from mentors, friends and colleagues. It is prevalent and wide-reaching. There is much more we can do to address issues of diversity across STEM areas.

Enrolments of women in STEM degrees vary from 16% in computer science and engineering to 45% in science and 56% in medicine. These figures reinforce that we are teaching the next generation with the vestiges of an education system developed largely by men and for boys. There is a unique opportunity to change this.

Interdisciplinary skills are key to innovation. Millennials today will change career paths more frequently; digital technologies will disrupt traditional career areas. By communicating that STEM skills are an essential foundation that can be combined with your interest, goals or another field, we can directly tap into the next generation. We can prepare them to be agile workers across careers, and bring to the table their skills in STEM along with experiences in business, corporates, art, law and other areas. In this utopian future, career breaks are opportunities to learn and to demonstrate skills in new areas. Part-time work isn’t seen as ‘leaning out’.

We have an opportunity to redefine education in STEM subjects, to improve employability for our graduates, to create stronger, clearer paths to leadership roles, and to redefine why and how we study STEM subjects right from early primary through to tertiary levels.

By combining STEM with X, we are opening up the field to the careers that haven’t been invented yet. As career areas shift, we have the opportunity to unleash a vast trained workforce skilled to adapt, to transition across fields, to work flexibly and remotely.

We need to push this STEM + X agenda right to early education, promoting the study of different fields together, and creating an early understanding of the different needs that different areas require.

This is what drives me to communicate science and STEM through publications such as Careers with Science, Engineering and Code. We want to convey that there are exciting career pathways through studying STEM. But we don’t know what those pathways are – that’s up to them.

Just think how many app developers there were ten year ago – how many UX designers. In 10 or even five years, we can’t predict what the rapidly growing career areas will be. But we can create a STEM aware section of the population and by doing so now, we can ensure that the next generation has an edge in creating and redefining the careers of the future.

Heather Catchpole

Founder and Managing Director, Refraction Media

Read next: CEO of Science and Technology Australia, Kylie Walker, smashes all of the stereotypes in her campaign to celebrate Women in STEM.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on women combining skills in STEM using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.

STEM talent

What can STEM learn from sport?

Australia is a passionate nation.

The recent Olympics triggered my thinking on how passionate we are about winning. I remember a time when Australia was unable to compete against the world class American, Russian and German teams.  Our nation reacted by establishing the government funded Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra (AIS). The AIS acknowledges they are responsible and accountable for Australia’s international sporting success. Australia’s top sporting talent is selected, nurtured, and trained for the purpose of competing against the world’s best. Their success is celebrated, and the cycle continues.

Growing the number of STEM experts in our workforce is no different. If Australia wants to be recognised as a world-class STEM nation, commitment to developing our talent through established strategic programs funded by sustainable investment is essential.

When measuring STEM talent, our focus is on numbers that come out of university. However, consider our athletes for a moment. They have already been training for the better part of a decade.  They don’t arrive at the institute ready to be trained. Junior athletics, swimming squads and after-school sport training are part of most schools and parents’ agenda to develop their children’s skills from a very young age.  If the success of sport is to be replicated for STEM disciplines, then school years should not be overlooked.

Creating a foundation for young women

Traditional education should always be respected and never replaced, however there is always room for flexibility and balance. My own career in IT was shaped by the foundations provided to me by my high school environment. The all-girls school I attended offered Computing Studies as a subject for the Higher School Certificate.  It was only the second year it was offered and approximately 20 students signed up.  It was here, along with my home environment of a tech-savvy family, where I developed foundations in IT.

I pursued a tertiary education in commerce as I initially had no interest in computer science. Nevertheless, my first significant role was working as a computer engineer in IT – a job I landed based on the foundational skills I had acquired through my high school studies. I had found a position where I was able to solve problems while continuing to learn and gain additional certifications. I was the only female in a team of 12, but I didn’t focus on the gender inequality at the time.

Developing Australia’s STEM talent

Innovation requires novel thinking and raising Australia’s STEM IQ to world-class requires a considered and committed long term strategy, including initiatives for supporting women in STEM.

I work for Deloitte in the technology industry alongside women who have studied econometrics, law, accounting, engineering and arts. Deloitte recognises the importance of driving Australia’s STEM agenda and (amongst other initiatives) have selected two female directors from cybersecurity and technology consulting to share their expertise and experiences with young Australian women through an online mentoring platform, Day of STEM.

Our aim is to inspire Australia’s future STEM generation and highlight the real-life opportunities available in professional services firms like Deloitte.

Elissa Hilliard

Partner, Risk Advisory, Deloitte Australia

Read next: Chair of ATSE’s Gender Equity Working Group, Dr Mark Toner, compares the national need for women in STEM with the barriers faced by women on a personal level.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on STEM talent using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.


On the cusp of mass cultural change

The Australian Computer Society has estimated that an additional 100,000 new information and communications technology (ICT) professionals will be needed in Australia over the next five years alone. While this industry continues to grow and impact upon the Australian economy, only 2.8% of females choose ICT as their field.

In my role as head of the School of Computer Science at the University of Adelaide, I hear every year from young women who have been told by someone important in their lives – perhaps a teacher, a family member or a careers counsellor – that computer science is not a job that women do. However, we know that companies with strong gender diversity are more likely to be successful and have higher financial returns. We need to broaden participation in creating and driving technology innovation in our country so that it is reflective of the diverse perspectives and voices that represent our community.

How can we address this gender imbalance within ICT? I believe that the answer lies in our new Australian curriculum and in increasing support for our education system.

Australia is on the verge of a significant change – all Australian students will soon be learning the fundamental concepts of computer science, and will move from being users of technology to creators of their own technology. This is an incredible opportunity for us as a nation to change our culture for women in technology, and more broadly, women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Changing stereotypes in STEM on screen

Children start forming their views on what careers are, and whether they are for a man or a woman, from an early age. These views are reinforced by messages from all directions. Very few family films show women in positions of power, or with active careers; only 45% of females in family films are shown to have careers, while STEM male roles outnumber STEM female roles by five to one.

These unconscious biases impact how we, and our children, develop our understanding of who we are, and who we can be. We urgently need to address this if we are to see the diverse technology community that we need.

Connecting STEM professionals with schools

Australian teachers need ongoing support from our industry and university sectors. We need to collectively engage with our schools to help teachers understand and guide technology creation.

Programs such as CSIRO’s Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools program, FIRST Australia and Code Club Australia, among others, provide valuable opportunities to volunteer and support your local communities in understanding STEM. These programs help explore the amazing ability of technology to solve community problems, and work to engage our students. All of our students.

Associate Professor Katrina Falkner

Head of School of Computer Science, University of Adelaide

Read next: The University of Newcastle’s Dr Nikola Bowden addresses misconceptions about the biggest issues for women in STEM.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on women in ICT using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.

google interns

The value of Google interns

When you think of internships at Google you might think of interns riding around the office on scooters, eating endless supplies of free food and playing video games.

But when we talk to interns, that’s not why they come to Google.

Google interns come to work on products that affect millions of people around the world. They want to build technology that help people live happier and easier lives – products that change the way people access information, do business, learn and connect with each another.

In fact, when we surveyed students the most important factor influencing a decision to apply to Google was the opportunity to make an impact on the world. The least important factor was the famous perks. Students tell us they want to do cool things that matter.

In our Sydney office, Google interns get to work on products like Google Maps, which are used by one billion people around the world. They get to build crisis maps that are used in times of natural disaster.

And they’re working on some of the world’s coolest technology challenges, like how to make cars smarter, and how to build products for the next billion people who will be online.

Each year we host interns in order to inspire and encourage the next generation of tech innovators. Google interns gain valuable hands on experience and mentorship on Google teams. Students with fresh ideas are introduced to Google’s culture of innovation and will initiate some of our newest and interesting projects.

Interns bring in their big questions and then use Google’s resources to help them build the answers, as part of a team. The strongest Google interns are people who thrive on collaboration. People who enjoy working with others to find creative solutions to problems. This is how great answers are built.

To build more answers, we need interns from diverse backgrounds who aren’t afraid to fail. They are curious, and they love to learn and learn from their mistakes.”

Combining a degree in computer science (CS) with another discipline means students are more prepared to work across teams to build products for the world. Computer science, combined with another discipline brings with it new insights and new ways of approaching things. Students can combine CS with other passions in areas like music, retail, finance and health. They learn how to think big and rethink what is possible across any industry.

Internships also provide an opportunity to work with people with different attributes, experiences and points of view. Those differences make us stronger, more productive and more innovative. Intern programs like the Google STEP program (Summer Trainee Engineering Program) provide university students from traditionally under-represented groups in computer science with practical experience working on a software project early in their degree. They create opportunities that get students excited about Google, and inspired by a future career in technology.

Our mission has always been to ask the big questions and build better answers. To build more answers, we need interns from diverse backgrounds who aren’t afraid to fail. They are curious, and they love to learn and learn from their mistakes.

Despite interns eating more food than the rest of us at Google, they come in because they are excited about their work. We look forward to every intern season when we have another group of students working on some of the biggest challenges in technology across the globe.

Stephanie Borgman

People Programs Specialist, Google Australia/NZ

Read next: Leeanne BondChief Software Architect at Cochlear, on how thinking like an engineer can make a world of difference in business.

People and careers: Meet graduates and postgraduates who’ve paved brilliant, cross-disciplinary careers here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s graduate knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on creating and propelling top Australian graduates. We’d love to hear from you!

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Australian Innovation Thought Leadership Series here.


Founders fuelled by STEM

As a full time angel investor and venture capital investor I spend a considerable amount of my time meeting with founders from all walks of life. Ten years back that group would have largely consisted of a few random, risk-taking entrepreneurs and a bunch of computer science grads punching out code. My, how times have changed.

In this current “Innovation Era” it seems the whole world is seeking to get digital and disrupt something. The backgrounds, skills and mindsets in the startup scene are now far more diverse… and what a huge asset that is to the local ecosystem and future of innovation in Australia.

Most comforting to me over the past few years has been the increasing number of founders I’ve encountered from some formal STEM background that’s not just computer science, and how they are putting their ideas to the test. Diversity of thinking, ideas and actions seems to be the DNA of a healthy ecosystem. If we are to create a vibrant, sustainable innovation ecosystem in Australia then we must promote this sort of risk taking through academia and into commercialisation programs.

On a recent tour of Silicon Valley with the current cohort of the muru D accelerator program from Sydney, I had the pleasure of spending time with the founders of astro-educational startup Quberider and underwater inspections company Abyss Solutions.

“It was a pleasure to see these young STEM professionals stand up, pitch and impress some of the world’s most experienced startup investors with their passion and ideas that have true global application.”

Solange Cunin launched Quberider while still studying a Bachelor of Science and Engineering at UNSW, majoring in aerospace, aeronautical and astronautical engineering. Quberider’s director Sebastian Chaoui is undertaking a Bachelor of Engineering and Mechatronics at UTS, majoring in robotics and automation engineering. Abyss Solutions founder Masood Naqshbandi has a Masters in Materials Chemistry and Photonics from the University of Sydney. His highly qualified team hold a number of PhDs and masters degrees between them.

It was a pleasure to see these young STEM founders stand up, pitch and impress some of the world’s most experienced startup investors with their passion and ideas that have true global application. Their diverse skills, intimate knowledge of their subject matter and practical “can-do” attitudes put them in great stead to impress. So did the experiences they shared visiting one of the leading hubs of global startups and innovation.

If we are to create a truly innovative society in Australia that can help make the world a better place, then we need to foster entrepreneurialism among the excellent talent from our leading universities. Support from corporate incubators and accelerators to share business acumen will further accelerate their success. Supportive global capital will surely follow.

Andrew Coppin

Director, Bardama Startup Fund, Affirmative Investments and Timezone Group International

Read next: Attila BrungsVice-Chancellor and President of UTS, sheds light on how we can equip new generations of graduates with the right skills to compete in a changing global market.

People and careers: Meet graduates and postgraduates who’ve paved brilliant, cross-disciplinary careers here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s graduate knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on creating and propelling top Australian graduates. We’d love to hear from you!

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Australian Innovation Thought Leadership Series here.

Text mining gold

Text mining gold

Karin Verspoor, Associate Professor in the Department of Computing and Information Systems at the University of Melbourne and Deputy Director of the University of Melbourne Health and Bioinformatics Centre, describes her early fascination with computers and exposure to multiple languages as key drivers for her becoming a computational linguist.

“When I was nine years old my parents bought me a programmable games console, and I discovered that I really enjoyed getting computers to do things from my imagination – it appealed to my logic and creativity.”

Karin went on to study BASIC – a high-level computer programming language developed for non-scientists that was popularised in the 1980s when the home computer market exploded.

Born in Senegal on the west coast of Africa to Dutch parents, Karin’s formative experience with the games console drove her study for an undergraduate degree with double major in Computer Science and Cognitive Sciences at Rice University in Houston, Texas. “I was drawn to the question of how to get computers to think and understand language,” Karin says.

“It was the perfect course because it combined computing, psychology, philosophy and linguistics.”

On completing her undergraduate studies, Karin swapped the heat of Texas for the cooler climate of Scotland, where she undertook a Master’s degree and PhD in Cognitive Science and Natural Languages at the University of Edinburgh. After finishing the PhD and doing a short stint as a research fellow at Macquarie University in Sydney working on the Dynamic Document Delivery project, which looked at generating natural language texts on demand, Karin left academe for a very different world: the business of start-ups.

“It was arguably the most exciting period of my career – I was involved in two start-ups with amazing ideas,” Karin says. “One of them was trying to build a thinking machine that was going to predict the stock market. It was crazy and so much fun, but it died after the dotcom bubble crash.”

Although the second start-up was much more successful, Karin missed the world of research and so took up a position at the prestigious Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where she was able to leverage her business experience and pursue applied research in computational methods for the extraction and retrieval of knowledge from databases and information systems.

“Los Alamos was the home of the human genome project, and it was there I got into computational biology,” explains Karin, “I started working on text mining in the published molecular literature, which eventually led me to the University of Colorado and an opportunity to work exclusively in biomedical text mining.”

Text mining is the analysis of a natural language text – like English or French – by a computer. It’s used to discover and extract new information by linking together data from different written sources to generate new facts or hypotheses.

Karin’s current work at the University of Melbourne involves applying text mining to the field of biomedical research. “The rate of scientific publications is dramatically increasing in the biomedical space,” explains Karin, “The most important biomedical research repository called PubMed, hosted by the United States National Library of Medicine, has indexed over 25 million research publications.”

The multi-disciplinary nature of current biomedical research combined with the huge amounts of published material means that scientists today must stay abreast of a much broader range of literature to stay up-to-date.

“We’re looking to develop an automated computer system that analyses words to discover the relationships between them – to provide researchers with a tool that allows them to ask more structured questions and receive more targeted information,” Karin says.

– Carl Williams

Using Big Data to save tiny lives

Computer scientist Carolyn McGregor has developed a disruptive technology utilising big data, that is set to start a new era in personalised medicine. Her life-saving Artemis IT platform analyses patterns in data such as heartbeats and breathing in newborn babies and spots problems before they are apparent to medical staff. The approach has great potential to save lives and is now being applied beyond the neonatal intensive care ward to astronauts and tactical response units.

In 1999, computer scientist Carolyn McGregor found herself in a neonatal ward in Sydney’s Nepean Hospital, surrounded by newborn babies, each connected to a range of medical monitoring devices.

“I was watching all of these medical devices flash different numbers, alarms going off, and I was just looking at the sheer volume of the data and thinking there’s just such a rich source of data here and wondering what was happening with all the data that was on the screen,” she recalls.

McGregor, Canada Research Chair in Health Informatics based at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Oshawa, Canada discovered that measurements were being jotted down on paper charts every 30 or 60 minutes. “I thought, these numbers are changing every second or even faster. There’s so much we could potentially do with all of that,” she says.

That meeting was the spark for McGregor’s work in the use of big data in neonatal health and she is now a leading international researcher in critical-care health informatics. Before moving to Canada in 2007, McGregor established, grew and led Health Informatics Research at Western Sydney University, where her internationally recognised research was supported by over $1 million in grant funding from sources such as the Australian Research Council and the Telstra Broadband Fund. This was foundational research that led to her going on to establish her award winning Artemis Platform.

Typically a nurse in an intensive care ward watches a patient’s breathing and heartbeat, essentially to make sure they’re still alive and haven’t gone into cardiac arrest or another life threatening situation. But as McGregor suspected, the data can tell doctors and nurses so much more than that, when harnessed and analysed properly.

Subtle changes in the pattens of breathing, heart rate and other indicators can all show changes in the patient’s condition that might indicate something more serious, but are undetectable from traditional observation.

For instance, neonatal sepsis is the leading cause of death among new-born babies in both the developing and developed world.

“If you watch the behaviour of the heart, the heartbeat actually starts to become very regular or more regular if the body’s coming under stress, like it does when you have an infection. So because we watch every beat of the heart, we can tell if we’re starting to see a regular heart rate. Couple that with some other indicators and it gives doctors a better tool to help them to say this is probably infection,” says McGregor.

The Artemis platform which McGregor and her research team have developed records more than 1200 readings every second, helping doctors harness and manage all of the information that the medical devices produce, and providing a mechanism to analyse all that information in complex ways.  It allows them to choose which indicators and conditions they want to monitor, and track those important subtle changes.

It is a lifesaving technology  for the tiny patients where a few hours can make a major difference in recovery rates. “We can see these patterns sometimes 24 hours before the baby starts to really succumb and show signs of an aggressive infection,” McGregor says. Neonatal infections can cause lifelong health care issues for sufferers, such as with their lungs.

Along with improving outcomes for individual patients, the technology has the potential to help health care systems save money. For instance, if a baby acquires an infection in the neonatal unit then the length of their stay is typically doubled – a two-month stay becomes a four-month stay. Identifying and treating these infections earlier has the potential to slash these times.

So far the Artemis platform is being used in partnering hospitals in Canada, China and the USA. It has developed to the point where it is scalable and will be rolled out to more hospitals in the near future.

McGregor says neonatal babies are arguably the most complex patient population, so solving a problem for them first, means it will be easier to solve for other populations. Indeed, McGregor’s work has applications beyond neonatal critical care. Variations in the heartbeat, for instance, can indicate a viral or bacterial infection, the onset of depression, drowsiness, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

It also has application beyond the traditional healthcare sector. A conversation with former Canadian astronaut Dave Williams led to a joint project with the Canadian Space Agency and NASA on how the technology can be used to monitor the health of astronauts when they travel into space.

Astronauts share several similarities with neonatal babies, McGregor says. “Both have to do with adaption. There’s a physical body change when a baby is born, and when it’s born early the change happens before the body’s ready. The lungs have to start to functioning to provide oxygen to the body and the heart changes its function when you’re born. And when an astronaut goes into space, they have to deal with weightlessness, there is a risk from radiation and the impact of weightlessness on the body can cause problems. We need monitoring systems to help watch the body adapt,” she says.

There are plans to use the system on NASA’s planned journey to Mars in the next couple of decades, because there will be weeks at a time when the alignment of the moon and the planets cut the astronauts off from communication with Earth.

McGregor is also working with tactical response teams. When soldiers or police have to clear a building or rescue a hostage, their adrenalin can surge and their heart rate can accelerate to such an extent that they’re at risk of passing out. A platform called Athena gathers and monitors the soldiers’ physical indicators as they complete  virtual reality training and provides analytics of how their body is behaving during the training activity. In this way they can understand how they are behaving in those scenarios which  helps them learn how to control their physical reactions.

McGregor grew up in the Hills district of Sydney’s north-west and says she always had an affinity with maths and enjoyed logic puzzles, so her maths teacher suggested she study computing after finishing school.

She enrolled in computer science at the University of Technology Sydney and at the same time worked at St George bank as a computer science cadet. Following her studies, she joined and ultimately led a project at St George to set up what was then called an executive information system and would now be referred to as big data. “It was the first of the new type of computing systems to analyse the way the business ran as opposed to the computing systems that we originally had which were systems to help the company run,” she says.

After a stint at Woolworths using data to understand what customers were buying and how to group products in the store to induce them to spend more, McGregor enrolled at the University of Technology Sydney to do her PhD in computer science, and then began to teach part time at Western Sydney University.

It was then that Dr Mark Tracy, a neonatologist from the Nepean Hospital, approached Western Sydney University and said he’d like to work with the computing and maths departments because he had more data than he knew what to do with – a visit that set McGregor on her current path.

McGregor says the practical experience that many Australians gain during education by being required to spend time working in companies while they study, is invaluable and an opportunity that many other countries do not provide.

As McGregor completed her undergraduate degree, she was one of only five women in a class of around 100. Sometimes women in science and IT can have inferiority complexes she says.  But a well-functioning innovative environment needs different perspectives and people of different backgrounds, genders and cultures, she says.

“So for women I would say, acknowledge the skill set that you have and the abilities that you have. You have a fantastic potential to make a significant difference in the technology space.”

Australian workers are highly regarded overseas, she says. “I think the Australian culture is to just get in, contribute, make a difference, get it done. We have a very good reputation as a highly skilled workforce to come into companies, whether you’re bringing innovation or you’re just bringing commitment,” says McGregor.

While McGregor currently bases herself in Canada, she is is  an honorary professorial fellow at the University of Wollongong, south of Sydney which enables her to supervise students in Australia and also to bring her research to Australia.

McGregor says she is inspired by the possibilities for further innovations in the use of big data for medical research.

“I really think we’re just at that tip of the iceberg of a whole new wave of doing research in the medical space,” she says.

“This is the new face of health care. In partnership with genomics, for every individual using fitbits and other personalised devices, the way forward will be to manage your own health and wellness. We are building the platforms and tools to do this.”

– Christopher Niesche

This article was first published by Australia Unlimited on 29 October 2015. Read the original article here.

Read more about Carolyn McGregor here.