Raise the Curtin - Tony Xu

JCSMR MPhil student Tony Xu wins the first prize of ATA Scientific Encouragement Award. Photo: Tony Xu Tony Xu JCSMR

Tony Xu is currently a MPhil student in the Bruestle lab. He studied for an undergraduate Bachelor of Medical Science and Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at ANU before undertaking further studies at JCSMR. Originally, from Melbourne, Tony finds Canberra to be the better city and will vehemently advocate for Canberra wherever he goes. Recently Tony won the first prize of the ATA Scientific Encouragement Award


What is your role at JCSMR?

My role at JCSMR is currently as a data scientist employed by Associate Professor Anne Bruestle, alongside my studies. I find myself most at home analysing Flow Cytometry data, or tabular datasets and using a variety of modelling and machine learning techniques to generate deeper understandings about the data than pure statistical methods.

What do you like most about your role?

I really like that I can afford to be exceptionally creative in my approaches to analysing data, and have only the constraints of sound statistics. Within that space, I can afford to experiment with novel statistical methods to fully extract all the understandings present within whatever data is being examined. I also really enjoy being a part of the experimental design process and working with researchers to best realise how they wish to analyse their data. The collaboration component I find exceptionally fulfilling and engaging, and I really look forward to seeing how new datasets can be integrated together or viewed differently.

What inspired you to pursue a career in this path?

I am currently pursuing a career in medicine, but accidentally stumbled into the mould of a data scientist. I am often saddened when researchers spend so much time planning and conducting an experiment, and so little time on analysing it – I feel in such instances, their hard work have not been properly repaid, and to some extent wasted when they don’t spend the time to extract all the knowledge they have generated.

What is your definition of a scientist?

I would define a scientist as anyone who wishes to better understand our reality by applying the scientific method. I feel that this definition does the most justice to the wide variety of people outside of academia, yet have a legitimate claim to science, and is agnostic to the end uses of the knowledge gained.

What is your favourite thing to do when not working?

I thoroughly enjoy doing a variety of extracurricular activities. There is a joke that you will always know if someone is a volunteer firefighter because they will tell you straight away. It is unfortunately true for me much to my chagrin, as my favourite activity outside of work is being a firefighter. The uniquely tight community, which extends all around the world, is incredible, alongside the fulfilling volunteering that allows you to make a direct, tangible benefit to the community at large – not to speak of the wickedly cool stuff you get to do. I also make and maintain a small collection of Australian Native Plant Peng-Jing that I adore – especially my Adenanthos.

What are your greatest achievements so far and any future goals?

My greatest achievement so far would be the advocating and later introduction of breathing protection with the ACT RFS.

What is the thing I look forward to most when I am at JCSMR?

Eating lunch with the lab – it’s always good fun, and given my experimental nature in cooking, a game to be had in guessing the components of the meal.

What’s a book you’d recommend?

Unfortunately, the law degree has killed my enjoyment of books. So I have scarcely any to offer – in place, I would highly recommend the music album ‘A/B’ by Kaleo. I have not yet met someone who hasn’t loved it.

Do I have a motto by which you live?

I’ve not a motto to live by, but Tony Abbott’s words of wisdom that ‘No one is the suppository of all wisdom’ often materialize for me in crisis or inadequacy.

If you could instantly become an expert in another field, what field would you choose?

If I could instantly become an expert in another field outside of the medical sciences, I would probably continue to work in the Pacific bee biosecurity and agricultural development field. Alternatively, it would also be wonderful to continue working on the artificial intelligence – emergency management area. Particularly looking into predictive modelling of natural disasters and how communications and emergency asset allocation can be better optimised and aided through computational techniques.

Where do you hope to be five years from now?

I hope to have finished my studies at the JCSMR and be nearly (finally…) complete at medical school. Similarly, I hope to have passed my Crew Leader qualification and obtained my medium rigid truck license.

What brings you the most joy in life?

Outside of the joy of passing time with the constants of family, friends, and those other people we meet in life, I enjoy experimental cooking, and keeping up to date with constitutional administrative and federal judicial law.

As a volunteer firefighter. Photo: Tony Xu