OAD/DARA Big Data Fellowship

OAD/DARA Big Data Fellowship (1 Year Contract)

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). The OAD is based at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town, South Africa, and aims to utilize the skills, techniques and broad appeal of astronomy to address development goals. The OAD 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 (www.astro4dev.org).

The Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy (DARA) Big Data Project (https://www.darabigdata.com/) 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 a number of African 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 OAD/DARA Big Data Fellow will be based at the OAD in Cape Town, and will be 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 evaluation on the effectiveness of both the hackathons and resources. This can be done in collaboration with a partner, and 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 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 a one year extension depending on performance and funding.


  • Masters or Ph.D. 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 list of publications), motivational statement, and contact information for three references, to OAD Astronomer Dr Vanessa McBride (vanessa@astro4dev.org). The selection process will begin 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.