IAU Office of Astronomy for Development Calls Proposal For OAD/DARA Big Data Fellowship


The Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), was established through a partnership between the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the South African National Research Foundation (NRF). Based at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town, South Africa, the OAD aims to utilize the skills, techniques and broad appeal of astronomy to address development goals. It coordinates 10 regional offices around the world and an annual call for proposals which has thus far allocated grants to 142 projects reaching over 90 countries.

Through a partnership with DARA Big Data, the OAD now seeks a motivated individual who will help contribute to the vision of “Astronomy for a better world”.

The Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy (DARA) Big Data Project is funded by the United Kingdom Newton Fund via the Science & Technologies Facilities Council and aims to develop big data skills using radio astronomy in several African countries.

The OAD/DARA Big Data Fellow will base at the OAD in Cape Town and expected to develop and write up resources for hackathons that bridge the gap between astronomy and development-related questions. These may include techniques in data science and(or) machine learning at the graduate student level; and will be made available on an open platform. The Fellow will be encouraged to incorporate an evaluation of the effectiveness of both the hackathons and resources and can be done with a partner.
Expertise in evaluation is not a required skill for the job. Funding is available for travel and computing equipment.


  • Development of about 3 hacks per year
  • Travel to relevant partner countries in Africa to implement and evaluate hackathons
  • Deliver hacks at DARA Big Data workshops/schools
  • Work with an evaluation partner to develop evaluation tools for hackathons
  • Develop guidelines on implementing hackathons including best practice and potential impact as a development resource
  • Ensure that all hacks are made open/accessible via data science toolkit and OAD git repo.

The initial funding for this position is for one year, with the possibility of one-year extension depending on performance and funding.


  • Masters or PhD in Physics, Astronomy or related field
  • Prior experience in Python programming
  • Experience in machine learning and(or) data science will be an advantage
  • Ability to travel alone internationally, to present hackathons in the AVN (African VLBI Network) countries (Botswana, Ghana, Kenya; Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia)
  • Fluent in English (fluency in other languages spoken in Africa will be an advantage)
  • Good communication (both written and verbal) and presentation skills
  • Highly organised and a quick learner.

All applications should be submitted electronically, via email. Interested persons who meet the requirements should email their detailed Curriculum Vitae (including the list of publications), motivational statement, and contact information for three references, to OAD Astronomer, Dr Vanessa McBride (vanessa@astro4dev.org).

The selection process begins after the initial deadline of 31 October 2019. Should the initial selection process be unsuccessful, applications may then be accepted on an ongoing basis until the position is filled.

Correspondence will be conducted with short-listed candidates only.
SAAO is committed to employment equity and redress. Women and minority candidates are especially encouraged to apply.

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