Arna Karick TC'94

Dr Arna Karick loved Science and Technology from a very young age and has certainly explored many parts of this vast industry. Having held roles such as an astrophysicist, data research strategist and technologist and designer and freelance data scientist, Arna now has her sights set on her next career challenge - using artificial intelligence to create tech products and services that make everyday life better.

Question and Answer with Dr Arna Karick TC'94

What has your professional journey been since completing school? 

So far my career has been a whirlwind journey of living and working around the globe; first studying and working as an astrophysicist in Australia, the US, and UK; then moving back to Australia to work in a research data and computing strategy role at Swinburne University; while also working as a technologist and designer to help non-profits and social entrepreneurs develop tech for social good. Now I’m in the midst of my third career change, working  freelance data scientist and designer in Melbourne, with the longer term goal of using data and machine learning (i.e. artificial intelligence”) to create tech products and services that make everyday life better.  

What do you most like about your job? Why this industry? 

I absolutely love science and technology. The chance to work on cutting edge projects with incredibly talented, clever people is so much fun, and I love the feeling of being part of something bigger than myself. There is nothing better than working on really interesting, groundbreaking  projects that change how we view the world.

As a research scientist you can work pretty much anywhere in the world. I’ve been fortunate to have landed research positions in San Francisco in the US,   and Liverpool and Oxford in the UK. The only downside of an international career is that it spoils you for life. Working at the University of Oxford was a dream come true, and Liverpool and San Francisco will always be my “second homes”.

What has in the past surprised you about your industry?

I never really fully understood what it meant to have a career as a research astronomer until a few years into my position in the US. Despite all my schooling, my University degrees, and even my PhD, you don’t really get a good sense until you are in the thick of it. You’re constantly learning as you go along.  Learning how to be a better researcher, a better speaker (talking in public used to terrify me), a better writer, and navigating the politics of research, and the politics of being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Imposter syndrome is rife, and for a long time I thought I had to have it all figured out. Letting go of all that, and realising I could just forge my own career path was a revelation.

I’ve learned the hard way, that – depending on the field, it can be hard to secure a long-term research career in Australia. As a country, we don’t always value research, development and commercialisation as much as others which is shame, but it’s also the reason why I try and encourage more people – especially women to enter the field and become scientists. The world changes rapidly and you need to create the change you want to see. On the bright side, this means that Australian researchers are perhaps more open to, and welcomed and able,  to pursue overseas opportunities. A privilege not every one has.

I’ve also been really surprised at how adaptable STEM careers are. Having a solid science background has definitely helped me to move into different roles, whether they be more design focussed or technology focussed. Science teaches you the art of how to learn, to think critically, and to be more resilient when things don’t turn out the way you hope. I’m constantly suprised by how I’ve been able to reinvent myself. These days it’s not uncommon to see astronomers transitioning into science communication or journalism; bioinformatics, genetics, and other life sciences; finance and business; and design, data science, and other technology careers.

Do you still keep in touch with any of your old TC friends/teachers?

I had a close group of girlfriends at Toorak College which I still keep in touch with. Many of us had been friends since our first year at primary school – whether at Toorak or Mount Eliza North.  While we’ve all been to different universities, chosen completely different career paths,  lived and worked around the world at various times, and started families a different times, we’ve still managed to all kept in touch. We used to try and have annual weekends away or try and meet for dinner every few months. Recently, we’ve been catchuping over Zoom, lamenting lockdown, the effect of Covid-19 on our careers, and the challenges of home schooling. 

Did your time at TC inspire you to be the person you are today? 

I often wonder how I would have turned out if I hadn’t gone to Toorak. These days there is a real push to encourage girls to do science, but in my case I don’t think I really needed much encouragement. I always knew I wanted to be a scientist. I always wanted to know how stuff worked and why things were the way they were. I remember very early on seeing Gorilla’s in the Mist, and learning about Diane Fossey, and thinking I want to be just like her. Perhaps I was lucky in that my parents always gave me “sciency” books and toys,  although they never pushed me into science. Even up until University, it never occured to me that I couldn’t be a scientist. The notion that “girls can’t (or shouldn’t) do physics or science” was compeletely lost on me. It just never occured to me that people would think like that. I’m pretty sure I have Toorak College and science and maths classrooms full of girls to thank for that. 

What are your aspirations/plans for the future?

I’m currently trying to break in to the tech industry, again in a more science-like research and development role. At some point I would also love to have a job in the space industry, whether that be a company like Space X in the US, or in Australia. I would also love to have my own side business and be founder of some sort of start-up, where I can live and work anywhere in the world. Living and working overseas ruined me in terms of staying put in the one spot. I’m constantly planning my next travels abroad, whether that be hiking in Nepal, exploring the jungles of Borneo, or heading back over to Africa to explore the Serengeti.