SKA-Mid Head of Science Operations (10218)

At the SKAO we are coordinating a global effort to deliver one of the largest science facilities on the planet. The SKAO telescopes will be next-generation instruments that will help to answer key questions in astrophysics, drive technological innovation and support human capital development. 

More than a dozen partner countries and over a thousand scientists and engineers around the world are already on board, making the SKA project an international collaboration like no other, and one of the most ambitious science and engineering endeavours of the 21st century.

Headquartered in the UK, with telescope sites in Australia and South Africa, the SKAO will be one observatory operating two telescopes, an endeavour spanning three continents. Multinational by design, in early 2021 the SKAO became an intergovernmental organisation, one of only a select handful of science infrastructures to do so worldwide.

Construction activities for the SKAO's telescopes in Australia and South Africa started in 2021, along with a ramping up of SKAO staff in both countries. It is expected that the transition from the Construction Phase to the Operations Phase will happen around 2028.

SKAO Operations in South Africa will be conducted in partnership with the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO). SKAO Operations in Australia will be conducted in partnership with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The Observatory will also partner closely with a global network of SKA Regional Centres through which astronomers will access science data products and a suite of tools and resources to further analyse the SKA telescopes' data.

For more information on the SKA project visit

The SKA Observatory offers a competitive salary and a generous pension and benefits package. As an employee of an intergovernmental organisation, an appointee who is not a national of the country in which the role is based may be subject to personal Privileges and Immunities.

SKA-Mid Head of Science Operations

A unique opportunity for an experienced radio astronomer with significant Observatory experience to guide the operational planning and commissioning of the SKA-Mid Telescope and shape the strategic direction of the SKA-Mid Science Operations as we head towards full operations.

Job Location
Cape Town, South Africa
Area / Department
Telescope Operations
Contract Type
ZAR 945,000 - 1,100,000 (basic salary) depending on experience, plus excellent benefits
Closing Date
Ref No

The Role

The SKA-Mid Head of Science Operations will be based at the Science Operations Centre in Cape Town and will be a core part of the SKA-Mid management team in South Africa, led by the SKA-Mid Telescope Director. They will work collaboratively with the Heads of Science Operations based in the UK and Australia to ensure that the SKAO delivers a coherent, efficient and effective science program. 

With the SKAO now in its construction phase, planning for operations has entered an exciting period. Leading the SKA-Mid Science Operations Group, the SKA-Mid Head of Science Operations will make a significant contribution to refining the strategic direction of the group's activities, consistent with the SKA Observatory Establishment and Delivery Plan and the associated planning and policy development. The SKA-Mid Head of Science Operations will also work closely with the SKAO Commissioning team in the UK to deliver scientific commissioning and verification of SKA-Mid Telescope. Over time they will be responsible for the day to day science operations as the array is progressively handed over from construction.

SKAO is working in partnership with SARAO for the construction and operation of the SKA-Mid Telescope, and the SKA-Mid Head of Science Operations will be managing a team of both SKAO and SARAO employees.

Up to 25% of time in this role will be available for personal scientific research.

The successful candidate will have the inclusive and collaborative leadership skills needed to successfully build, manage and develop a team of operations scientists, telescope operators and data analysts in conjunction with the Science Operations teams in the UK and Australia. They will also have significant operational and scientific experience within the full range of activities required to run a successful radio observatory. This includes knowledge of the telescope systems, data processing and analysis as well as experience serving a diverse and distributed user community.

The successful candidate will draw on their standing in the international astronomy community and their established networks to be an effective point of contact for the user community, keeping them abreast of developments, gathering feedback and influencing where appropriate.

Due to the locations involved in the SKA project, in particular the UK and Australia, this role will require an ability and willingness to work outside normal hours from time to time. It will also require some domestic travel to the Karoo Site and occasional international travel.

In line with the SKAO commitment to become an employer of choice for women in STEM we strongly encourage applications from women for this role. We offer family friendly policies and the ability to work flexibly to support this aim. Those applicants wishing to explore flexible working are openly encouraged to discuss their individual need for flexibility or specific working patterns during the recruitment process.

Key Responsibilities, Accountabilities and Duties

  • Continually refine and provide input to the strategic direction of the SKA-Mid Science Operations team to support the SKAO in the delivery of an efficient and effective science program.
  • Recruit and manage a high performing and inclusive team of operations scientists, telescope operators and data analysts, and ensure the development of the Science Operations Group, motivating and mentoring staff to meet the current and future requirements of the Observatory.
  • Collaborate closely with SARAO in the management and development of SARAO-employed staff in the Science Operations Group.
  • Work as one of the senior staff of the SKAO in South Africa, as part of the SKA-Mid Management Team, contributing to the overall operations of SKA Mid.
  • Work collaboratively with the Heads of Science Operations in the UK and Australia through a Science Operations functional group to deliver a cohesive Science Operations vision. This is likely to require some travel to both GHQ in the UK and the SKA-Low Science Operations Center in Australia.
  • In collaboration with the Science Operations team in the UK, make a leading contribution to the development and continual refinement of the Mid operations, commissioning and science verification plans, and in defining the requirements for early array releases and test procedures.
  • Lead the SKA-Mid Science Operations Group in their contribution to SKA commissioning, working with the commissioning team in the UK.
  • Implement and effectively deliver SKA-Mid science verification and operations, as the arrays are handed over from construction to operations.
  • Effectively interface with the SKA user community, promote SKAO activities, gather community feedback, influence where appropriate, and facilitate appropriate support through the SKAO Helpdesk and other activities.
  • Take a leading role directing the development of software required for Science Operations (controls, data acquisition, observation management),  and make requests for new features, some of which may be telescope specific.
  • Work closely with engineering teams to monitor and evaluate telescope performance to ensure agreed SKA data quality standards are met.
  • Support SKAO-specific SKA Regional Centre operations and serve as point of contact for the local SKA Regional Centre.
  • Optionally undertake a programme of personal scientific research up to 25% of employed hours and appropriately enable other science-focussed staff to do the same.
  • Communicate openly, effectively and respectfully with internal and external stakeholders in the interest of good business practice, collaboration and enhancement of SKAO’s reputation.
  • Undertake other reasonable duties as directed by the SKA-Mid Telescope Director.

Mandatory Knowledge, Skills and Experience

  • A PhD in astronomy, physics, engineering or another closely related and relevant field.
  • Internationally recognised expertise in radio astronomy techniques including in the acquisition, reduction and analysis of interferometric data.
  • Significant professional experience in the operations of large-scale astronomical facilities.
  • Leadership skills with experience in all aspects of people management (e.g. recruitment, capability development, performance management), promoting diversity and developing an inclusive, high-performing culture. Experience in a telescope operations leadership position would be an advantage.
  • Experience working with and influencing a diverse and globally distributed telescope user community and providing appropriate user support.
  • Ability to work effectively with engineers and scientists from a variety of cultures, and to lead and influence people in widely differing parts of a complex and rapidly changing organisation.
  • Effective oral and written communication skills in English.

Please be sure to address how you meet each of these requirements in your cover letter. 

Desirable Knowledge, Skills and Experience

  • Experience commissioning radio astronomy (or similar) instrumentation and capabilities.
  • A demonstrated commitment to equitable practices, including accessibility, to facilitate the broadest possible access to the Observatory from the scientific user community.
  • Experience managing or working as part of a geographically distributed team.
  • Willingness and ability to travel nationally and internationally as required.

Equality Diversity and Inclusion Statement

SKA Observatory recognises that our diversity is a strength. We aim to create a welcoming and inclusive environment where everyone feels they belong, and diverse perspectives and ideas thrive. As such, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion are at the core of SKA Observatory’s agenda.

Our aim is to recruit and retain the most talented individuals, regardless of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, nationality or background.

Women have traditionally been under-represented in the fields of science and engineering; SKA Observatory welcomes and encourages female applicants. 

Where applicants with a disability need facilities or adjustments to enable them to participate in the recruitment process, these will be provided.

SKA Observatory welcome all candidates, especially those from member countries.

The “How to Apply” information contained within the SKA Observatory recruitment portal provides more detail regarding our application and selection approach.