Tag Archives: Royal Australian Navy

Balancing career and family

People imagine all kinds of life experiences when they ponder what a career in the Royal Australian Navy might offer. Only a small portion of them could ever imagine the range of opportunities available to STEM qualified professionals. The chance to work with cutting edge technologies is not limited to life in the field. Critical work in support of missions occurs everyday in many different environments. The Navy is facilitated by technical and logistics businesses behind the scenes that are amongst the most proficient operations in the world. Careers in the Navy are attracting more and more women each year.

My early career as a woman in the Navy

My 27-year career has not been without challenges. As one of the first female naval officers ever to serve on an Australian warship, the challenges were many and varied.

In the early days, I was a novelty; something foreign in a traditionally male-only environment. There was a need to change peoples’ paradigms of thought about an employee’s suitability, competence and worthiness to lead others.

Through circumstance and rapidly changing policies, I unwittingly become a trailblazer; part of a change that, it would be fair to say, could not be fully understood and meticulously planned before execution.

From those early days when I first took up residence in a cramped three-berth cabin, I learnt as I went – and so did the Navy. In challenging circumstances, away from home for long periods, isolated from my support networks, I made things work. I learned many lessons the hard way, but in the process helped design a better Navy for those who would follow.

Married with children

One of the greatest emotional challenges I faced while serving at sea came after I was married and had children. It was a huge personal struggle even contemplating the idea of leaving my family. There were many times I thought I should leave. I was torn.

When I had first joined the Navy, females were able to choose whether or not they went to sea. But with changing policy it soon became apparent that sea service would be mandatory if I had any chance of progressing through the ranks and receiving the technically challenging and professionally rewarding roles I aspired to. I also really enjoyed my work and was driven to progress.

In the end it was a compromise. I slowed my career during my children’s formative years, and the love and support of my fantastic husband and extended family made balancing career and family manageable, despite remaining difficult on an emotional level.

Balancing career and family

I know many women – and men for that matter – struggle with choices involving balancing career and family and I think the best way to support people is to be honest and truly acknowledge how difficult it often is.

For me, it meant compartmentalising the challenging periods of separation and recognising the sacrifices as short-term compared with a much longer career of professional satisfaction.

These decisions come with varying degrees of difficulty depending on what support networks people have, their level of personal resilience and their own assessment of the opportunity cost. It will never be the same for everyone.

Can women have it all?

One thing I know for sure is that almost anything is possible and for those wondering whether a woman can have it all; I would say yes. But I would also counsel that the pursuit of one desire is almost always at the expense of another. The idea is to be reflective, understand what the risks are, assess what value you place on all aspects of your life and make decisions that work for your circumstances. Always remember that success can take many forms.

With flexible work arrangements, community support programs and different career paths that better cater for the needs of families, many options have been developed during my career. I am glad to have been one of the women who informed these enhancements through experience.

Reflecting on my own career, I feel incredibly privileged to have had so many diverse opportunities for learning and growth. From leading technical teams in operational roles, my career journey has evolved and morphed across a wide range of disciplines. STEM professionals today can expect challenge, growth, diversification and adventure at every stage of what can only be described as an amazingly rewarding career.

Captain Mona Shindy

Directing Staff, Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies, Australian Defence College

Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year, 2015 

Read next: CEO of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Professor Aidan Byrne discusses women in physics and the ARC’s commitment to women in research careers.

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.

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Data sharing out of the blue

In Greek mythology, the Argo was a ship sailed by Jason and his Argonauts in their quest for the legendary Golden Fleece. Today, marine industries and modern-day sailors on a different kind of quest also make use of an Argo. For almost 15 years, the Argo international ocean-monitoring project has been collecting and data sharing climate and oceanography research through sensor-equipped floats.

Australian researchers play a key role in this latter-day Argo, jointly led by the national science agency CSIRO and the University of California and involving 31 countries. Dr Peter Oke, a CSIRO Ocean Modelling and Data Assimilation Research Scientist for Australia’s own ocean forecasting system BLUElink, says Argo has changed the way researchers do business, encouraging data sharing and reuse, and spawning new systems like BLUElink.

“The Argo community has really led the way in creating a data sharing culture. By making data access free and open, it’s breaking down the silos once set up to collect and protect observations.”

“The Argo community has really led the way in creating a data sharing culture. By making data access free and open, it’s breaking down the silos once set up to collect and protect observations,” he says. BLUElink is an ocean forecasting system built on Argo data and the Ocean Forecasting Australia Model. CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Royal Australian Navy collectively run the project, established in 2001. Forecasts are based on data including temperature, salinity, sea levels and currents, all measured in real-time at different locations and depths by the autonomous Argo floats.

In 2014, Oke and his colleagues used BLUElink to provide intelligence in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished with 239 passengers on board.

“We dropped all tools in our support for the search. We made educated guesses about the splash points and used BLUElink to look at where the debris was most likely to go,” says Oke.

Then, in July this year, a wing part washed up on Réunion Island east of Madagascar. “We did historical runs to backtrack with BLUElink to see if the debris could be from the plane. Argo data was a key component.”

Argo float being deployed. Image source: ARGO.
Argo float being deployed. Image source: ARGO.

The current locations of over 3800 Argo floats appear on a map like confetti across the oceans. Each float’s sensors collect temperature and salinity data profiles at depths of up to 2000 m. Every 10 days the floats come to the surface to relay data to satellites. More than 10,000 profiles per month provide oceanographers, climate scientists and others with comprehensive subsurface ocean data, accessible via the IMOS (Integrated Marine Observing System) web portal. Since 1998, Argo data sharing has generated dynamic maps of ocean currents and resulted in over 2000 scientific research papers.

As for BLUElink, its users range from marine industries such as shipping companies to individuals like surfers and sailors. Each year, using forecasts from BLUElink, sailors in the famous Sydney to Hobart yacht race are briefed on the conditions they’ll encounter on some of the world’s roughest seas.

Argo data improve safety for oil and gas workers and help analyse risks of oil spills on sensitive coastlines. Data sharing also inform decisions about fishing area boundaries and catch limits.

Oke is particularly excited that the field of operational oceanography, which aims to make ocean monitoring and prediction routine. He sees improved ocean forecasts resulting from the Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (GODAE), which is exploring how BLUElink can be used more efficiently. Data from sensors on marine gliders closer to shore will also be integrated with Argo data sharing to create new coastal models.

“One day, thanks to Argo, we’ll see ocean forecasts as reliable as the weather forecasts that we check-in on every day,” Oke says.

Story provided by Refraction Media.

Originally published in Share, the newsletter magazine of the Australian National Data Service (ANDS).


Featured image source (above): ARGO.

Argo is a major contributor to the WCRP ‘s Climate Variability and Predictability Experiment (CLIVAR) project and to the Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (GODAE). The Argo array is part of the Global Climate Observing System/Global Ocean Observing System GCOS/GOOS). Discover more about data sharing and Argo here.