Meet Associate Professor Tara Murphy, 1995 National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) Alumna and Astrophysicist

STEM, Science, NYSF, National Youth Science Forum, astronomy

Tara giving an astronomy talk at Monivong High School in Battambang, Cambodia

“My time at NYSF was transformational. I am the first person in my family to attend university and I didn’t have ready access to anyone who could give me career advice. NYSF opened up a window to a whole new world.”

I’m an astrophysicist at the University of Sydney, working on transient radio sources: astronomical objects that vary on rapid timescales. These include extreme events like supernovae and gamma-ray bursts, as well as flaring stars and pulsars. My research is data-driven, I conduct surveys on telescopes like the Murchison Widefield Array, processing terabytes of data to find extremely rare objects in our Galaxy and beyond. I’m also the founder of an edtech start-up company, Grok Learning, https://groklearning.com with the mission of teaching kids to code. I think I have the best job(s) in the world!

When I finished high school I wasn’t sure what path I would follow, but I loved science (and literature, and lots of other things). I ended up choosing a Bachelor of Science (Advanced) at the University of Sydney. My decision was based on two things: advice from the veterinarian I did work experience with in Year 10, who said “if you really love science you should do a science degree” and the advice I got when I attended NYSF in 1995, where the advantages of general science degrees was explained. I really enjoyed my university experience, and I ended up majoring in physics and mathematics, and then went on to do Honours in astrophysics.

Science, STEM, NYSF

With colleagues from AT20G Survey team, arriving at Ayers Rock Airport to be the first CAASTRO Astronormer in Residence at Uluru, with 4 of Tara’s radio astronomy student at graduation last year.

After I graduated most of my friends decided to go overseas for postgraduate study, and so we scattered around the world. I went to Edinburgh with my boyfriend (a computer scientist) and did a PhD in astrophysics. I learned a lot about science, but I also got absorbed by the Edinburgh Festival, travelled around Europe, and went on some fun cycling trips. After a postdoctoral position at CSIRO I got a fellowship and then an academic position at Sydney.

“My time at NYSF was transformational. I am the first person in my family to attend university and I didn’t have ready access to anyone who could give me career advice. NYSF opened up a window to a whole new world.

It (NYSF) had such an impact on me that for 10 years I was Director of the National Computer Science School, a similar program that focuses on IT. The highlight was when a student from the country walked into the Google Sydney offices and said: “Wow, I didn’t realise that jobs like this existed”. That’s how I felt as a student at NYSF, and now I’m lucky enough to have one of those cool jobs I didn’t even know about when I was at high school!

Tara has just released lots of video lectures in a (free) MOOC that may be of interest to NYSF alumni https://www.coursera.org/learn/data-driven-astronomy/lecture/fA0EF/thinking-about-data