Bec - 2011 Graduate Program

Universities

  • Deakin University
  • University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada)
  • The University of Melbourne

Qualifications

  • Bachelor of Environmental Science (Conservation Ecology), Master of Science (in progress)

Background

I have been interested in natural science from a young age; however, my decision to pursue a degree/career in environmental science was somewhat by accident. Originally, my primary interest was human biology and my aim was to become a registered midwife. However, in my final year of high school I passed by an environmental science booth at Deakin University's Open Day and the rest is history!

The highlights of my undergraduate degree include a summer placement as a junior risk consultant at an environmental consultancy firm and an international exchange program at the University of Waterloo (Canada). These opportunities enabled me to (i) gain a working understanding of environmental risk management and (ii) travel and learn about environmental issues and legislation in Canada.

After graduating, I commenced an honors degree at the University of Melbourne and subsequently transferred into a Masters degree. My research investigates plant functional traits which enable plant species to survive in riparian zones. The study entailed surveying plants along parallel transects in riparian and adjacent woodland vegetation around rivers and streams in the vicinity of Melbourne. I also compiled trait information (specific leaf area, seed mass, height, growth form and striking ability) for the surveyed plant species and employed Bayesian hierarchical modelling to estimate (i) the association of the plant species with the riparian zone and (ii) the role of traits in explaining that association.

During my master's degree I worked as a research assistant, demonstrated practicals for a second-year ecology unit, undertook secretariat work and participated in Open Days. Nearing the end of my candidature I decided it was time to earn a decent income! The graduate program was my first preference because of the chance to work with a wide range of issues under the department's diverse portfolio, the opportunity to work with policy formulation and implementation and the chance apply my science degree.

Placements

First Placement: Tropical North West Marine Conservation, Marine Division

This section is responsible for marine bioregional planning and the identification of a representative system of marine reserves in the North-west Marine Region. This region stretches from the Western Australian – Northern Territory border to Kalbarri in Western Australia. In addition, the section manages the Marine Division's involvement in issues related to the MOU Box which is an area within the North-west marine region that is subject to a Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and Indonesia. The section is based in Hobart, Tasmania; however, I was placed in Canberra meaning that I worked closely with the Tropical North Marine Conservation team.

This rotation was exciting and challenging as I was often working towards immediate deadlines. My primary tasks included preparing information on stakeholder availability to inform the scheduling of stakeholder consultation, preparing briefing material for executive level staff and drafting presentations for stakeholder engagement. In addition, I provided information for referrals, drafted ministerials, undertook secretariat duties for a cross-section working group, participated in media monitoring and prepared a question time brief.

This rotation provided me with an understanding of the sensitivities associated with marine bioregional planning, experience with working on and safe guarding confidential materials and knowledge of efficient methods to meet immediate deadlines.

Second Placement: Ecological Communities, Heritage and Wildlife Division

The Ecological Communities section is responsible for coordinating the nomination, assessment and listing process for threatened ecological communities under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The listing of national ecological communities allows legislative protection for areas of vegetation which have been degraded.

I chose this placement because it was well suited to my skills and interests. My primary task was to compile information for a listing advice for a riverine ecological community within the Murray Darling Basin. This task involved researching the distribution of the ecological community, identifying the similarities between the listed community and state vegetation classification / state-listed ecological communities, documenting similar EPBC listed ecological communities and determining the percentage of the listed ecological community which is already protected in reserves. This work provided the opportunity to collate and analyze scientific material, liaise with state government representatives and gain a working understanding of the federal listing process.

In addition to the listing advice, I worked on a number of communication materials. I particularly enjoyed creating a farmer's factsheet which aimed to explain scientific material in plain English. Communicating scientific knowledge simply and visually was a new challenge for me. Therefore, I was keen to work with the department's webteam and Environmental Resources Information Network (ERIN) on the final stages of the revised Threatened Ecological Communities webpage. A principal component of this work was providing feedback on state maps which depicted ecological communities and discussing the placement of text and images within the webpage to maximize effective communication.

This rotation provided me with a better understanding of the EPBC Act 1999, the listing process of ecological communities, and methods utilized to ensure effective communication to stakeholders. It was particularly rewarding as I had the opportunity to directly apply the knowledge gained during my tertiary education.

Third Placement: Environmental Water Policy, Water Governance Division

The Environmental Water Policy section plays an integral role in supporting the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) in protecting and restoring the flora and fauna located within the Murray Darling Basin. The section is responsible for (i) developing policies to manage information regarding environmental assets, (ii) developing decision support tools to assist with prioritising and planning the use of Commonwealth water, and (iii) identifying the risks associated with environmental watering.
My decision to join this section was influenced by the work I undertook during my second rotation. While working within Ecological Communities, I became increasingly interested in the conservation issues of the Murray Darling Basin.

My primary task was compiling a paper outlining the risks and impacts of salt mobilisation resulting from environmental watering. In addition to the risk framework, I documented how the CEWH's current approach to managing environmental water aligns with the Environmental Watering Plan (part of the draft Basin Plan). Other tasks included drafting agendas, coordinating responses for water sharing plans from delivery teams and drafting replies for Questions on Notice.

This rotation provided me with a robust working knowledge of the draft Basin Plan and a greater understanding of the ecological benefits and risks associated with environmental watering.

'the best thing about working for us ... is the environment'