AAL has a mission to facilitate access for Australian-based astronomers to the best research infrastructure, encourage the sharing of astronomical technical capabilities to maximise their value to the nation, and inspire Australians with these astronomical achievements.

To this end, AAL routinely authors reports to government and other stakeholders. Some of these form the backbone of a new major project (e.g. ADACS) and some are  written to serve the wider astronomy community and the public. This page highlights some of the more significant AAL reports – see below for the executive summaries of each one. Click on the link at the bottom of each section to access the full report.

A report that lead to the creation of ADACS

Working group on data and computing

Astronomers are increasingly challenged by the size, dimension and complexity of their data, the need to develop and run sophisticated data processing and analysis pipelines, and the need for compute-intensive theoretical simulations in order to compare with and interpret the observations.

Over the next five years, it will become essential for astronomers to have skills and resources across a wide range of areas including:

  • Storage – data storage is no longer a matter of using a single hard drive, nor in-house parallel disk arrays. Rather storage will have to be housed in federated buffers and wide bandwidth Internet connections will be needed to transfer part of those data for processing.
  • Curation – databases and storage media need to be properly designed with appropriate hardware and software and security. It is all too easy for data to get lost, erased or for retrieval time to be too long.
  • Interoperability – To the maximum extent possible, astronomical data sets should work together seamlessly and this requires a common architecture framework. Wherever possible, databases and data access services should be Virtual Observatory compliant.
  • Processing – single-threaded codes on conventional processors and consumer hard drives are inadequate to complete data reduction or run advanced simulations. Astronomers will increasingly require high data input/output rates and custom disk solutions on supercomputers with massively parallel processors to process data on reasonable timescales.
  • Analysis – human inspection/classification techniques developed when data was restricted in dimension, no longer scale. Advanced analysis, statistics, machine learning and artificial intelligence are now vital tools in a scientist’s armoury.
  • Presentation – science increasingly demands the opportunity to reprocess and reproduce results derived from sub-sections or, at times, entire datasets. If no appropriate portal exists, this opportunity is denied, raising questions about the authenticity of published results.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and its pathfinders, gravitational wave data processing, and next generation spectrometers will only magnify these issues in coming years and finding ways to address these issues with limited funding will be an ongoing challenge. The amount AAL has invested in eResearch hardware and software historically has been a very small fraction of the overall astronomy infrastructure budget. Therefore, our recommendations seek to grow the level of targeted AAL investment to support the community’s eResearch requirements, and to maximise the impact from any investment, by augmenting and complementing existing infrastructure to leverage the greatest benefit.

To fully exploit Australian investment in Big Data-generating telescopes, it is necessary to plan, cost and adequately resource the data and computing infrastructure well in advance of the commissioning of the telescopes. It is also clear that existing computing, data and software infrastructure could be better exploited by the astronomy community if there was a dedicated team of experts to help coordinate and facilitate access to required computing infrastructure and provide specialist training and expertise.

AAL recognised these challenges and established the Computing Infrastructure Planning Working Group in late 2015 to advise AAL on investments over the next 5-years in computing infrastructure to augment and better exploit existing eResearch facilities and services. This document presents the working group’s recommendations regarding the eResearch infrastructure, services, and skills that the Australian astronomy community needs if it is to address the science priorities in the Decadal Plan 2016-2025. This document also presents rough estimated costings to give AAL an indication of the scale of the associated investment. However, the working group recommends ongoing user consultation in order to provide more detailed recommendations around the requirements and specifications for future hardware, as well as further investigation and engagement with service providers to refine the costings.

Please see this link for the full report.

Career paths of Australian astronomy PhD graduates 

This report presents a summary of information gathered and analysed by AAL in relation to post-PhD career pathways for Australian astronomy postgraduates. Together, the data suggests that: 

  • Approximately half of Australian astronomy PhD graduates moved into non-astronomy fields 5-20 years after completing their PhD. 
  • Most astronomy PhD graduates that have moved out of astronomy research are employed within academic, government or other not-for-profit sectors.   

The following data sources were used to prepare this document: 

  • Results from demographic surveys carried out by the Australian Academy of Sciences’ National Committee for Astronomy (NCA) in 2005 and 2014 as part of their Decadal Planning process. These surveys gave Australian universities an opportunity to provide information on post-PhD employment for recent astronomy graduates.  
  • A small but detailed analysis by AAL of the current employment of astronomy PhD students who graduated in 2000-2009 from the Australian National University, University of Melbourne and University of Sydney.  
  • Data from the Australian 2011 Census regarding industry of employment for those who listed an astrophysics PhD as their highest qualification.  
  • Case studies describing examples of post-astronomy-PhD careers were prepared by AAL in consultation with the individuals, who gave permission for their stories to be included in this document.  

In gathering relevant information for this document, it was clear that there is a lack of data on this topic and more detailed studies are needed to understand the career pathways of astronomy PhD graduates. If requested by the Australian Government, AAL would be willing to work with our stakeholders to undertake a more detailed study into post-PhD careers for astronomy graduates. 

See the full report here.