STEMM PROFILE: Dr Sue Barrell, FTSE | Deputy Director, Observations and Infrastructure | Bureau of Meteorology | Australian Government | Melbourne | VIC
“…a PhD is more about how you do research than what research you do. The skills I learnt – asking questions, understanding principles, gathering and analysing evidence, developing and testing theories, writing well and persuasively, thinking outside the box, have proved invaluable throughout my career…”
Sue Barrell enjoys a full and rewarding career in the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, with varied roles from forecasting to research to Executive leadership. As Deputy Director (Observations and Infrastructure) since 2014, after nine years’ leading the Bureau’s Observations Program, she is responsible for ensuring the sustained operation and strategic development of meteorological infrastructure across Australia, its territories and surrounding oceans, delivering a comprehensive suite of atmosphere, oceans, land and water observations, in support of the Bureau’s weather, climate, water and environmental services. Sue leads international efforts through the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to develop an integrated approach to global observing systems, aimed at sharing observations across national and international boundaries.
Sue spent a year as acting Chief Information Officer, charged with establishing a new Division. This was a challenging but rewarding role, integrating diverse information systems and services teams into a coherent whole. While delivering key projects, including a successful supercomputer budget proposal, Sue led a 24/7 Information and Communications Technology (ICT) operational and service environment and built a strong culture of service, innovation and trusted advice.
Previous extended roles include climate policy, including participation in UNFCCC and IPCC, research, system design and operational weather forecasting. An ‘executive development’ year in strategic management consulting was very valuable.
Sue is Australia’s Principal Representative to the WMO, a member of its Executive Council, and holds several technical leadership roles. She was Australia’s Principal Delegate to the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations, served on the Australian Space Industry Innovation Council and chairs the Australian Telescope Steering Committee.
Sue gained a PhD in Astronomy from ANU, a BSc (Hons) in Physics from the University of Canterbury (NZ), a Graduate Diploma in Meteorology and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Sue is a Fellow of the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (elected 2013). Sue has published over 25 papers.
What is one thing you would change to improve the gender balance in senior ranks of scientists?
Start earlier! We have to set the scene for future science leaders while still at school, with role models demonstrating the possibilities of science as a career choice, encouraging girls’ passion for science and, most importantly, building their confidence, resilience and belief in what they can achieve.
What support structures did/do you have in place that have facilitated your success?
I am lucky to have a really supportive partner, but even so, I could not have maintained a strong commitment to my career without a seriously trustworthy and reliable child carer for our two children. It was a private, commercial arrangement and so there was no guilt about relying on family!
Do you have a mentor? What is the most important advice they have given you?
The mentor who influenced me most didn’t so much advise me, but instilled in me total trust and confidence that I could achieve whatever I set my mind on. He encouraged me to seek challenging opportunities and left no doubt that I would do anything else but succeed.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to women just starting their careers in science?
We are not all motivated by a research career and for many of us, publishing papers just isn’t enough. Many talented scientists feel achievement from applying their scientific skills in more practical ways, in industry and government, from weather forecasting to science communication to science policy to executive leadership.
If you have done multiple types of roles (e.g. in industry, academia, education, business, government), what skills from your PhD could be applied to all?
My PhD supervisor insisted (rightly) that a PhD is more about how you do research than what research you do. The skills I learnt – asking questions, understanding principles, gathering and analysing evidence, developing and testing theories, writing well and persuasively, thinking outside the box, have proved invaluable throughout my career.
LinkedIn: Sue Barrell