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National Young Leaders Day


National Young Leaders Day

Alan Duffy

Speaking to 4000 inspiring primary students from across the State was an incredible honour. I tried to tell them what makes a good leader (listening!), how to succeed in their career (passion!) and what’s the coolest job (astronomer!) I was alongside YGAP co-founder Elliot Costello as well as Cat Cafe star Anita Loughran and Dr Paul McIntosh from one of my favourite supercomputers MASSIVE. All people who have succeeded against incredible odds. The event was organised by Halogen and the scale blew me away, it was a long day and yet the questions at the end were still so impressive and insightful. I wish this event had been around when I was young but then again I probably wouldn’t have been good enough to get in then!

My rough answers to the Q&A might be of interest so I’ve put them below:

People say all the time that the world of work is changing.  Tell us about how this is true for you… 

Astronomers are now computer programmers. We use computers for everything.

Telescopes are now so powerful, finding so many galaxies that we have to use
computers to find them. When we look into the night sky there’s 10000 stars,
just about as many as you can count, we have a new telescope called Gaia that
will see a billion. Basically that’s finding all the stars you can see into the bit of
sky the moon covers… about as much as your thumb at arm’s length. Imagine all
those stars crowded into that little space and then see that everywhere. That’s
what the new telescope sees and we can’t imagine that, we need computers.

But in one of those tiny points of light are special stars that date back to just
after the big bang, that tell us about how the milky way itself started. Amidst the biggest
survey ever we are trying to find those little objects that tell us everything.

What does good leadership look like in your day-to-day work? 

Someone who makes sure that when things are decided, everyone is heard, that
even the quietest person in class or the university gets their opinion or thoughts out
as sometimes they will have the best idea.
As a leader you don’t have to have the best ideas, you have to make sure the best
ideas get out.

What little things did you have to master to succeed in your career so far? 

To think like the other person, to imagine myself as someone totally different listening
to a talk I want to give, or reading a paper I’m trying to write. It became clear that I
wasn’t explaining it right to that other person, I was explaining it to me and that wasn’t
going to work.

What advice can you offer to people who might feel like they don’t have what it takes to be a leader in the future? 

To lead you have to learn, so don’t be afraid to take your time and learn your
situation. Learn how you can help, because then you’ll know why you want
to lead, to do it different or make it better. Then you’ll have the confidence to
be a leader. That takes time but you’ll be a better leader for it. 

What are you trying to master right now in your career?  What’s your area of development? 

I’m trying to figure out what the invisible new ghost-like stuff is that holds the galaxies
together, this dark matter. I try and find it here on Earth, use galaxies in space to map
it out and try and create it in supercomputers. So far I don’t know. 

What advice do you wish you had been given when you were in primary school? 

It gets better. Everytime you get to a new place, a bigger school or uni you meet
more people like you, who care about things and what’s going on. People that
you learn from but also who learn from you and together you will do and see incredible
things. Just not yet. So don’t worry, it gets better.