Quarks 2 Quasars

Quarks 2 Quasars

Quarks to Quasars: Physics and Astronomy Professional Skills Program

Quarks to Quasars (Q2Q) is the professional skills program in the Department of Physics & Astronomy. This program aims to collect a variety of broad-interest learning and training opportunities offered within the department under one umbrella.

Q2Q aims to

  • provide training in broad range of skill for all members of the department
  • satisfy degree requirements in professional training for MRes Year 2 and PhD students
  • provide a framework for ad hoc training events (e.g. opportunities with new piece of equipment, etc)
  • provide opportunities for early-career researchers to develop teaching skills within a formal program.

The program takes the form of a number of independent modules.

Typically modules will be single sessions of 2-3 hours duration. In some cases, they may be spread over several shorter sessions, or a longer format may be appropriate for in-depth training.

The majority of the modules will be vocational in nature: presentation skills, ethics, career planning, proposal writing, 3D animation etc.  However, there is also scope for more technical physics workshops.

Modules are open to all members of the Department of Physics & Astronomy, from MRes and PhD students to permanent academic staff. Undergraduate students and members of other departments are welcome to express interest in particular events.

The program is convened by A/Prof. David Spence.

Degree requirements

MRes Year 2

As part of the degree requirements, second-year MRes students are required to complete a series of Research Methods activities. Some of these activities are of a technical nature specific to your project. The others are of a general, professional training style and will be delivered through the Q2Q program.

To this end, second-year MRes students are required to complete 3 modules, in addition to “Developing self-sufficiency through LaTeX”.
Note that “The PhD thesis” module is not appropriate for MRes students.


PhD students enrolling in or after 2015 are required to complete 3 modules in addition to ‘Ethics’ and ‘The PhD thesis’. These should be completed within 18 months of enrolment and will meet the requirements of your enrolment in the PHYS802 unit.

Can you contribute?

Q2Q works best with broad engagement from people at all career stages. If you would like to offer a module yourself, or if you would like to request something specific, please talk to Dave Spence. For ECRs, these are activities which can be reported against your Professional Development Review (PDR) plan, and help build your case in any promotion application.

As a guide, modules should be of interest to and appropriate for members of more than just one sub-discipline from the department.

Modules for 2016

The following modules are expected to run in 2016. Descriptions and registration details are below.

  • “Coffee and Code” – 23rd March onwards
  • Developing self-sufficiency through LaTeX – 4th April
  • Academic writing and communication – 5th April
  • Literature reviews, papers management and referencing – 11th April
  • “Clusterous” workshop – 18th April
  • The PhD thesis: requirements, preparation and examination – 9th May
  • Bayesian inference
  • Writing research proposals – 1 August
  • Intellectual property and commercialisation
  • Ethics
  • Careers night
  • Conference and poster presentation skills
  • 42 shades of leadership – 4 October
  • Career development, CVs, and interviews

You may also like to attend modules from the “Genes to Geoscience Research Enrichment Programme”. Selected GGREP modules are included in the list here, and can be counted against requirements for PhD/MRes students.

Module descriptions


“Coffee and Code” – Statistics, data mining and machine learning

Coordinator Colin Navin and James Tocknell
Open to Everyone
Description Science is witnessing dramatic increases in data volume and complexity. Traditionally we have not been trained to handle such data sets and standard research methods are not always suitable to analyse them. This module aims to introduce participants to statistical and data-mining methods such as dimensionality reduction, regression and model fitting, classification and time-series analysis that are useful in this area.The topics will be chosen from the book “Statistics, Data Mining and Machine Learning in Astronomy” by Ivezic, Connolly, VanderPlas and Gray. Several copies of the book will be available for participants to share.Although the book is an “astronomy” text and example datasets will (at least initially) be astronomical, the methods are applicable to data science in general and participants are encouraged to bring their own data to work on.The format will be a peer-led workshop, and you will be expected to research a topic and facilitate one of the sessions. You are not expected to be an expert, the idea is for everyone to contribute and learn from each other.
Delivery Mode 10 one-hour sessions
Things to Bring Laptops with python+numpy+scipy+matplotlib+astropy+scikit-learn installed.
Date Commencing 3:00 pm, 23 March 2016, then each fortnight until 27 July 2016
To register email colin.navin@mq.edu.au, and talk to Colin and James!

Developing self-sufficiency through LaTeX

Coordinator A/Prof. Mike Steel
Open to Everyone
Required for MRes Year 2 students
Description There are thousands of Introduction to LaTeX and referencing courses and tutorials that will teach you line by line through the process of writing and debugging documents. This is not one of those courses. This course will start with a one-hour face-to-face session, in which we pose a series of tasks for you to solve in your own time. Using LaTeX , BibTeX and referencing software as a convenient example, we aim to build our skills in self-sufficiency at all kinds of tasks outside our core research area. Some of the tasks are quite sophisticated, and participants will use collaboration software to share their solutions and discoveries. Total workload should be around 4 – 5 hours.
Delivery Mode A one-hour session and online participation
Things to Bring Self
Register here.

Academic writing and communication (a Genes to Geoscience module – online registration required)

Coordinator Michael Gillings and Culum Brown
Open to Everyone
Description One-day masterclass, supported by the Macquarie University ECR Network, running on Tuesday 5th April (9:30am – 4pm). Organised by Michael Gillings and Culum Brown. In addition to Postgraduate students, academics and postdocs are most welcome to attend. This workshop is an introduction to scientific authorship and communication. For practice, you will draft a small research proposal during the day. The best draft proposal to undertake research that bridges disciplines will be awarded the 2016 Writing and communicating for science ‘Research Proposal Award’. Please note that tea breaks will be catered, but not lunch. Participants will need to make their own arrangements for lunch.
Delivery Mode A one-day session
Date 9:30am – 4pm, Tuesday 5th April.
Register here.

Literature reviews, papers management and referencing

Coordinator A/Prof. Danny Terno
Open to Everyone
Description Literature reviews are invariably required for theses, but writing review papers is also an important skill that can help build your profile in a field. How do we go about setting the scale, level and breadth of a literature review? How should we discuss contributions by different groups fairly and appropriately? How can we track literature effectively and efficiently? How can we use software tools to manage large collections of papers and format citations correctly and consistently. These and other questions will fill this session.
Delivery Mode One two-hour session
Things to Bring Some ideas about the scope and angle of a literature view you need to write.
Date 2pm, 11 April 2016. Physics boardroom.
Register here.

Workshop on “Clusterous: Easy Cluster Computing with Docker and AWS”

Coordinator Prof. Deb Kane
Open to Everyone
Description The partnerships in the “BDKD” project were formed so that research scientists would interact with data scientists and computer/database specialists for the purpose of researching new tools and approaches to knowledge discovery harnessing machine learning and accessing increased computing power. One of the outcomes and outputs from the project is “Clusterous”, developed by Sirca. This is a cluster computing environment using Amazon Web Services (AWS). In this presentation members of the PDS Group at MQ will briefly introduce their science as an example of an area where the experimental capability to generate bigger data from computer controlled experiments has opened up significant new opportunities which require a larger compute across bigger data to answer research questions. Sirca has also worked with scientists in forest ecology and geoscience in developing Clusterous. Then, the Sirca team will introduce Clusterous and both teams will illustrate its use in the PDS context. The presentations will be given in a way to communicate the potential benefit that Clusterous brings to a broad range of research areas. All the software is in the public domain via GitHub. There will be plenty of opportunity for researchers to ask questions to gain a real sense of what time investment and learning tasks will be involved for them to build the knowledge to start using these tools. For those who already undertake high power computing it is an opportunity to learn how they might use the AWS environment to augment or meet their computing needs.
Delivery Mode One 3-hour session
Date 10 am, 18th April. E6A 102. 
Register Email deb.kane@mq.edu.au. More info here.

The PhD thesis: requirements, preparation and examination

Coordinator A/Prof. David Spence
Open to Everyone
Required for PhD students enrolled in PHYS802
Description The PhD thesis writing, submission and examination process is non-trivial. This session will explain the various stages, your responsibilities and rights, discuss time management and effective writing strategies, how to deal with serious delays or personal interruptions to your studies and end with a question-and-answer session.
Delivery Mode One 90 minute session
Things to Bring Intense enthusiasm for the writing task ahead of you!
Date 2pm, 9th May. Multipurpoise room. 
Register here.

Bayesian inference

Coordinator A/Prof. Alexei Gilchrist
Open to Everyone
Description Probabilities will be introduced as a measure of plausibility, allowing modelling of systems with incomplete information.
Delivery Mode 3 hour practical session
Things to Bring Laptop
Date May/June, TBA
Register Registration not yet open.

Writing research proposals

Coordinator Dr Richard McDermid
Open to Everyone
Description In almost any professional career, at some point you will want to seek funds for a project. Usually, there will be more ideas pitched than can be supported by the funds available, so telling a compelling story on paper and in person is a vital skill. We will look at what makes for a successful and compelling research proposal in different contexts, including MRes and PhD project proposals through to proposals for University and National funding. During the session, participants will be tasked to write a short research proposal (with a strict deadline and page limit). We will also conduct live 90 second elevator pitches to a potential funder. We will then review the proposals as a class, grading them, and allocating chocolate to the highest ranked proposal.
Delivery Mode One three-hour session
Things to Bring Laptop and ideas for a proposal. That means some arguments for your science case, not just a list of what you want.
Date Monday, 2pm, 1 August. Multipurpose room.
Register Registration not yet open.

IP and commercialisation

Coordinator A/Prof. Rich Mildren
Open to Everyone
Description One of the best indicators of high research impact is if it can be used to develop new things that actually help humanity. Patent or intellectual property (IP) protection is often a vital part of this process, providing the bedrock to link up with commercial partners, attract investment or develop a spin-off company. This workshop will discuss how one goes about the commercialization process, including your rights and obligations, the patenting process and strategies for commercialisation.  
Delivery Mode One two-hour session
Things to Bring Ideally, a great idea for a product!
Date TBA
Register Registration not yet open.

Research Ethics

Coordinator Prof. Deb Kane
Open to Everyone
Required for PhD students enrolled in PHYS802
Description Almost all aspects of research have an ethical dimension. Much of this is captured in  “Responsible conduct in research” policies and guidelines issued by institutions and professional societies. It is important to assimilate the principles of these into your research practice and to grow your consciousness of ethical behaviour – your own and other peoples. We will  discuss ethical aspects of data acquisition and use, mentor/mentee relationships, publication practices and responsible authorship, peer review, collaborative science, research misconduct and fraud, and conflict of interest. We will grow and condition our “ethics” neurons by wokshopping some ethical dilemmas.
Delivery Mode Two sessions: 1 hour to pose some ethical questions for homework.3 hours one week later to workshop your responses to these dilemmas.
Things to Bring Note-taking materials
Date August/September TBC
Register Registration not yet open.

Careers Night

Coordinator A department-wide event
Open to Everyone
Description The Department of Physics and Astronomy has held an annual Careers Night for many years. We invite five alumni to talk about where their degree(s) have taken them and canvas the range of employment opportunities available to physics and astronomy graduates, in industry, academic, public service and education.  There is opportunity to ask speakers and department staff about strategies for identifying employment opportunities and techniques for planning or redirecting your career path.
Delivery Mode One evening session, talks followed by question time
Things to Bring An open mind about your future career and lots of questions.  
Date Mid-September, TBC
Register Registration not yet open.

Research Ethics

Coordinator A/Prof. Dave Spence, A/Prof Danny Terno
Open to Everyone
Description In this three-hour session we will talk about academic and non-academic career paths. We will work on developing a comprehensive and impressive CV, including how to develop and document your skills over your career. By discussing the key questions that interviewers will ask in job interviews and with some role-playing, we will help you to develop a confidence to sell your skills to your prospective employers. 
Delivery Mode One three-hour session
Things to Bring A draft CV  
Date October, TBC
Register Registration not yet open.

42 shades of leadership (a Genes to Geoscience module – online registration required)

Coordinator Prof. Mariella Herberstein
Open to Everyone
Description Half-day workshop, supported by the Macquarie University ECR Network, running over the afternoon (2-5pm) of Tuesday the 4th October. Organised by Mariella Herberstein as an open-question forum with multiple contributors. Postdocs and academics welcome.Do I have leadership qualities, and if not, how do I get myself some? What on earth is ‘leadership’ anyway? These and other leadership related questions will be addressed in this half day module. As leadership and leadership style is very personal, we will draw on the experiences of a panel of guests consisting of Macquarie University staff and students as well as external alumni. We will cover leadership at all career levels, from post-graduate, post-doctoral right through to professorial and administrative levels and across a wide range of research disciplines.
Delivery Mode A three-hour session
Things to Bring  
Date 2 – 5 pm, Tuesday 4th October.
Register here

Conference and poster presentation skills

Coordinator A/Prof. Dave Spence, A/Prof Danny Terno
Open to Everyone
Description In this three-hour session we will explore how to effectively communicate your research in the special format of the conference poster session.  Our aim is to find the logical flow of concepts that explains your work, and articulating the key advances that you have made; all done at the correct technical level for your audience. We will look at good and bad examples of presentation styles, suggest strategies for opening conversations with attendees, and give you opportunity to practice your own skills.  The session is timed in advance of the late November/early December conference season, which this year includes events such as IONS KOALA, ANZCOP and APCWQIS. 
Delivery Mode One three-hour session
Things to Bring A fairly mature draft poster on your research topic.  
Date Early November, TBC
Register Registration not yet open.
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