Meet a Geographer — Working indoors

Sarah SullivanSarah Sullivan

Social Data Analyst
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

 

Work Description

My work at the ABS tends to move in cycles, from data collection, processing, quality assurance and analysis to mapping and publishing. My work at the ABS tends to move in cycles, from data collection, processing, quality assurance and analysis to mapping and publishing. Personally, the most  interesting tasks I’ve been involved in include developing new methods of validating collected data, especially in regards to geographical data. Some of the challenges I have faced in my work are incorporating new technologies (e.g. GPS units), new geographic classifications (e.g. Meshblocks) and of course ensuring accuracy in data for the most remote parts of our huge continent. My work is largely computer based, and while it can be technical (accessing databases and interrogating data), it often involves a lot of research and reporting. I also spend time liaising and negotiating with other parts of the ABS relevant to my work and key external stakeholders.

The best aspects of my job

I enjoy finding trends and stories amongst the data, whether that occurs over time, spatially, across demographics or other characteristics.As a Social Data Analyst, I get to collate, analyse and publish a variety of data provided by the Australian community. I enjoy finding trends and stories amongst the data, whether that occurs over time, spatially, across demographics or other characteristics.  I value the unbiased nature of my work— that the ABS strives to inform, but not influence, public opinion and government decision making. It makes me proud to work for an organisation with a high regard for quality, accuracy and confidentiality.

Prior studies

I studied Geography at High School and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I didn’t really know how to make a career out of it, apart from teaching. At university, I began a Bachelor of Science degree with subjects covering Physics, Maths and Computer Science. Purely to fill in a space, I also chose a Geography subject. By the end of that first year I realised that of all the subjects I was studying, Geography was the only one I truly enjoyed. I decided that with another two years of study to go, I really needed to do something I loved, regardless of the perceived career outcomes.

So, I switched to a Bachelor of Arts, and filled my academic timetable with as many Geography subjects as I could manage, and added a few other interesting subjects like Indonesian, Sociology and Psychology. In 2000, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, double major in Geography. Within Geography, the fields I focused on were demography and human settlement patterns.

My career pathway

… I got the travel bug and took leave without pay for a year.During the final year of my studies I worked as a research assistant at the Applied Population Research Unit. After uni, I applied for a graduate position with the ABS and was successful. After a few years working in Canberra I got the travel bug and took leave without pay for a year. I worked at the Office for National Statistics in the UK (their equivalent of the ABS) and then travelled through Europe before returning to Australia and the ABS. When the opportunity arose to work on the Census of Population and Housing program, I jumped at the chance, and due to my academic background, was placed in the Address Coding and Quality team.

Future career opportunities

While there are opportunities to move into senior management roles in the ABS, I currently enjoy my hands-on role. There are also other areas in the ABS in which I am very interested, but am yet to work in, such as the Demography and Geography sections. Surprisingly, while these are the two fields I focused on in my studies I am yet to actually work in either one!

There  is also potential to move laterally into analytical or planning branches of other federal, state or local government departments.

Advice to people considering this type of career

I think the most important piece of advice I could give is, do something you love regardless of whether you think it will lead to a specific career. You’ll enjoy your studies more and probably achieve better marks as a result! There is such a huge variety of careers that there is bound to be something that ‘fits’.