Candace - 2011 Graduate Program


  • Sydney University
  • Macquarie University


  • Doctor of Philosophy (Marine Biology/Ecology)
  • Bachelor of Marine Science (Hons)


Like many kids growing up, I wanted to be a marine biologist. So I worked towards my goal and was accepted to do a Marine Science degree at Sydney University. It became apparent throughout my undergraduate degree that marine biology and later marine ecology was definitely where my interests were.

After my honours year I decided it was time to get out there and experience the world so I spent a year travelling around Europe, the UK, the USA and Canada. I came back with little money knowing that if I am going to do a PhD it should be then, before I started earning any decent money. I started my PhD at Macquarie University investigating the potential for social behaviour in an endemic cuttlefish species. My thesis was a very pure-science, field-based project that I chose specifically because of the strong interest I had in behavioural ecology.

Throughout my thesis I worked as both a demonstrator for a third-year unit at Macquarie University and for an environmental consultancy as a scientific diver. Whilst I really enjoyed the research component of doing a PhD, working for the consultancy created a desire for me to understand further the role that science plays in the management of the environment at the national level and the interface between science and policy. I wanted to harness my scientific knowledge and skills for use in a more applied sense and compliment them with increased knowledge of government policy around environmental management.

I saw the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities grad program as a perfect opportunity to gain these experiences and to help me to round-out my existing skills.  The chance to meet a whole bunch of new people from a diversity of backgrounds was also particularly enticing and has certainly enhanced my learning experiences within the department.


First Placement: Sustainable Fisheries, Marine Division

The primary responsibility of the Sustainable Fisheries section is to assess the environmental performance of Commonwealth fisheries and state export fisheries to ensure the ecological sustainability of the industry. These fisheries are assessed in accordance with the EPBC Act. The assessments are conducted against the Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries. The section also has carriage of international fisheries issues for the department.

Coming from a marine background, I was excited to be placed in the Sustainable Fisheries section for my first rotation. Whilst I had a strong marine background I had very little direct experience working on fisheries issues and saw this as a new challenge. My primary responsibility during this rotation was to develop an engagement strategy for the division's engagement in international fisheries issues and particularly Regional Fisheries Management Organisations. This work involved the drafting of a work plan and discussion paper on the issue, internal stakeholder consultation and attendance at interdepartmental meetings. Additionally, I was able to assist with existing work on domestic fisheries reform that was occurring in the section whilst I was there.

As a first rotation, this section was particularly beneficial for understanding the relevance and importance of the EPBC Act to the business of this department. It also provided me with a greater understanding of government policy relating to international issues and the opportunity to engage with other government agencies and non-government organisations.

Second Placement: Scientific Research and Information Section, Information Management Division

The Scientific Research and Information Section is responsible for administering the National Environmental Research Program. The NERP has been recently approved by the minister to provide approximately $20 million a year, over four years, for environmental research to better understand Australia's unique environment and to assist environmental decision-makers in the management of the environment. The program consists of five research hubs - two terrestrial, one marine, one tropical ecosystems and a northern Australia hub.

This section previously administered the Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities (CERF) Program which was just being finalised when I started in this section. I was fortunate enough that the beginning of my placement coincided with the assessment of the multi-year research plan and annual work plans. I assisted in the assessment of these plans against the program guidelines for the two terrestrial hubs. My main role in the section however, was communications and knowledge brokering. As part of my placement I developed a program overview (glossy brochure) to promote the NERP, highlighting the five research hubs and their main areas of research. Additionally, I contributed to the development of a draft communications plan for the section for the life of the program and to the NERP newsletters.

Working in this section provided several key benefits because of the scope of this program. I gained a much greater awareness and understanding of the types of involvement of different branches and divisions in the department's business. This rotation certainly exposed the gaps between science and policy to me and how this program aims to decrease those gaps and encourage greater collaboration between scientists and decision-makers. I think it also highlighted the importance of adequate science communication and information management, skills that are vital in any area of the department.

Third Placement: Christmas Island Section, Parks and Biodiversity Science Team, Parks Australia

The Parks and Biodiversity Science Branch has responsibility for the management of Christmas Island and Pulu Keeling National Parks, the Australian National Botanic Gardens, the Australian Biological Resources Study and the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research. The team coordinates and develops cross-divisional policy, projects and strategies related to science research and monitoring across the parks.

Christmas Island, whilst 63% national park has an array of environmental, social and economic issues currently affecting the island as a whole. As part of this branch I worked on Christmas Island issues, primarily through the development of a draft scoping for a New Policy Proposal for the Island. I was tasked with the duty of researching, analysing and collating information about the current and potential future issues on the island to develop a raft of options to support integrated approaches to address conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity on Christmas Island. This task required me to think about the triple bottom line on the island, the social, economic and environmental issues. I was fortunate enough to take a trip up to the island to see the issues first-hand and to participate in a Christmas Island Regional Recovery Plan meeting, an invaluable experience. It's one thing to work on the issues in Canberra and another to see how the community on the island is affected by these issues on-the-ground.

Throughout this rotation I gained an overview of the function of the Director of National Park's and the links to the department. The rotation enabled me to gain a greater understanding of the process for policy development whilst helping me to improve my strategic thinking and stakeholder engagement skills.

Final Placement – Scientific Research and Information Section, Sustainability and Policy Analysis Division

For my final placement I was fortunate enough to be able to go back to the Scientific Research and Information Section where I am still currently working. I am once again working on the National Environmental Research Program however, this time I am working on the Tropical Ecosystems Hub, a hub that I did not work on the first time I was in this section. My main role in the section is to assist with the management of this hub and to develop departmental linkages between the hub researchers and relevant departmental staff. The research being undertaken in the Tropical Ecosystems hub covers the Great Barrier Reef, the Wet Tropics region in North Queensland and the Torres Strait.

Working on the Tropical Ecosystems hub is an ideal opportunity for me given my marine science background, but it will also expose me to a variety of other areas of research given the extent of the region that the hub covers including rainforest research, socio-economic research and indigenous land management.

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