From Biomed Engineering to Software Development; Maia Sauren Joins Real Scientists!

This week  we have the privilege of introducing Dr Maia Sauren to RealScientists. Maia comes from a background in biomedical engineering and is now a software consultant for ThoughtWorks. Maia normally tweets @sauramaia and introduces herself through our normal incoming curator questions, below.

Why/How did you end up in science?

I always knew I would end up in and around science, one way or another, even when I was five and wanted to be a vet. When I was in primary school, I heard about how horrible bees were so I decided to find out for myself. I tracked down a bee and tortured the poor thing until it stung me.

I actually ended up studying electrical engineering. After my first abysmal semester I asked the course coordinator about transferring to biomedical science. He walked me around the corner to someone who ran a biomedical engineering research group. I stayed. I learned about electrical systems within the body, protein interaction at high frequencies, how to build instruments for detecting and influencing electrical signals within living things. It was glorious.


Why did you choose your current field/what keeps you there?

What I do these days is manage and enable technical communities, especially at the intersection of open source and science. I don’t know that ‘choose’ is exactly how I got here.

I left research after my PhD, I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. My research was looking at safety standards compliance of radiofrequency of mobile phone signals. I work for an international software consultancy, and I’m enormously lucky to have freedom and support to pursue my extracurricular activities.

I got involved with the Open Knowledge Foundation when it was starting up in Australia a couple of years ago. I found myself among a group of people who poured energy into collaborative open source work – creating maps for cyclists that use open data, holding evening workshops about data management tools. It was easy to get swept up in something so worthwhile. I’m a longtime expert at suddenly finding myself elbow-deep in a different world, shrugging and carrying on.


 Tell us about your work?

These days I organise people. If I sound a bit surprised, that’s because I am.

I found myself, more and more, spending my time making sure people doing work I consider important had resources and capacity to do what they wanted to do. In my day job, that means I work within small teams delivering software, helping the team focus, drive strategic decisions, remove blockers.

In the rest of my life, I organise events that bring together science, software, government and general hobbyists.

I started running HealthHack last year – a weekend event for rapid prototyping of software solutions for problems medical scientists face. It takes knowing enough about what scientists do, what tools are needed to create different kinds of software, what people from different backgrounds need to communicate effectively about their needs, how to get collaboration happening, and how to make an event.

Definitely not what I thought I’d be doing when I started an engineering degree.


Motivation: why should the lay public care about your research/work?

There are worlds of tools and techniques that open source software has been using forever, which are only just starting to penetrate science and research. Science, like everything else, often relies on software – combining better software techniques with good research methodologies is a natural fit.

Aside from general software techniques, there’s the ‘open’ aspect. Not only is open research better for scientists for a host of reasons, it’s also a brilliant way to make science more accessible.


Do you have any interesting external/extracurricular obligations?

Most of my life is extracurricular activities, my day job often feels like something I do in my spare time.

I’m co-chair of the Open Knowledge Foundation Australia board. I run a lot of OKFN events, not least of which is HealthHack. I do a fair bit of public speaking about what I do. Until recently I was helping run a weekly hacknight in Melbourne working on open source medical records software for the developing world.


Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?

I used to cook. I used to grow vegetables. I used to do classes at the Women’s Circus. Nowadays I mostly knit on aeroplanes. No regrets.


How would you describe your ideal day off?

I roam the dogpark as a werewolf. More a weresheepdog, really. I chase other dogs and roll in dirt.

Realistically, I’d spend the day sleeping in, doing the cryptic crossword in the sun, have gallons of tea, eat some really good cheese, then go off to some random event with friends – a weekend with geeky feminists, the wool show in Bendigo, an underground film festival in another city, a circus performance…

A huge welcome for Maia, to RealScientists!

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