Science degree is the bees’ knees: how a beekeeper ended up a company director

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In the beginning, Jack Simpson didn’t have any particular interest in STEM subjects or coding. He was more interested in journalism – and beekeeping, which had been his hobby for many years.

When he combined these interests by starting a blog on his beekeeping experiments, a whole new career path opened up to him. Now, he’s a director of an energy economic company.

Jack talks us through the steps which got him here.

“I wanted to build my own website on beekeeping. Then I got really obsessed with how to write website code so I decided to do science in web development for my degree at ANU. Suddenly, I realised how useful the ability to write code was for scientific research, and I took that skill all the way through to a PhD.

My PhD project with the ANU Research School of Biology was a combination of those two things: coding and honeybees. I was filming the bees in the hive and writing image-processing software to track their movements over a two-week period.

It was a new kind of computational method developed to automate what had traditionally been a very manual process, where people would literally just watch the bees for days. Before my project there was a limit to what you could actually achieve – there are only so many bees you can watch at a time!

After that, I was looking around for opportunities in coding and data. I ended up at a consulting firm called Port Jackson partners, as a data scientist. It was a sampler of pretty much all the data sets out there. I helped to solve problems in property banking, mortgage brokering, education – even analysis of cheese sales for a company.

I found out that a lot of the economy doesn’t have the best data. Usually, the challenge you’re bumping into is finding, getting data, and cleaning the data. But in the energy sector, there were actually immense amounts of really well-structured data, going back decades.

This is why the energy sector pulled me in – because it was a place where you could do cutting-edge work. It’s the biggest data playground that I’ve ever experienced. One project would lead to another energy project, and it just snowballed from there. I joined a team at the Australian Energy Market Commission, asking complex hypothetical questions about the energy industry. The people there were absolute experts in the sector.

One of the people I’d worked with in the past had started up a company called Endgame Economics. I came on board and joined them as a director. And after 18 months the firm has just hired a thirteenth person. We’ve moved office three or four times because we always thought we were only going to get a couple more people. It just kept growing.

With the challenges the energy sector is facing, this data is incredibly important for making decisions. We’re writing software that optimises and simulates the electricity grid on the half-hourly basis up to the year 2050. We’re constantly asking questions like, if you shut down this power station at this date what does it actually mean? Or, how do you actually keep the grid running securely?

I’ve always fallen in love with problems and questions, not the technical solutions. I don’t like writing code for the sake of writing code. I like it because of what questions that lets me answer; the problems that code lets me solve.

All of the skills in coding and data that led me here were pretty much what I had acquired during my undergraduate degree and the four years of my PhD with the honeybees. That was how I could come into environments like this and jump right into it.”

Jump right into your own fulfilling career with a Bachelor of Science and PhD  from ANU.



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