Jessica - 2011 Graduate Program


  • The University of New South Wales


  • Bachelor of Science with Honours (Ecology)


I grew up in the suburbs of Sydney, watching David Attenborough documentaries and fostering injured currawong chicks that fell out of gum trees in my backyard. My father, who is originally from the country, enjoys the outdoors, and sparked my appreciation, then love, for nature. As a result, I've developed a keen interest in environmental science, and a need to work to improve sustainable environmental outcomes.

After finishing my undergrad degree I felt like I had just started to scratch the surface of the environmental science realm. I decided to start an honours project with Prof Richard Kingsford at UNSW. My thesis examined the effect of river regulation and water extraction on the Booligal wetlands red gum swamp communities, which are located at the end of the Lachlan River, within the Murray-Darling Basin.

Between finishing honours and joining the Department, I decided to indulge in my other passion, travel. I spent an extended amount of time exploring the USA, Central America, Europe, SE Asia and Africa. During this time I also worked and volunteered for a number of environmental and humanitarian NGOs, and non-environmental private companies.

When I returned home from my travels I worked as a research assistant at the Australian Wetlands and Rivers Centre. I really enjoyed being surrounded by scientific research again, but I felt that I needed to further my understanding of environmental protection and biodiversity conservation in Australia.

The Department's core business is delivering sustainable environmental outcomes in Australia, and I joined to work more directly in this area. The graduate program offers a number of fantastic learning and development opportunities, especially project management, and opens up an invaluable network of people to build upon.


First Placement: Wetland Policy and Legislation Section, Aquatic System Health Branch, Water Reform Division

The Wetlands Policy and Legislation Section and Wetlands Projects and Programs Section work closely together to manage issues relating to Ramsar sites, including providing advice on EPBC Act referrals to the Environmental Assessments and Compliance Division (EACD), providing policy and general advice to the Ministers, and administration and/or involvement in the funding and delivery of several programs.

During my placement, my main task was to help draft the National Report on the implementation of the Ramsar convention on wetlands, which was to be submitted to the 11th meeting of the conference of contracting parties (COP11) in Romania, June 2012. This involved gathering information from federal and state government agencies that demonstrated what Australia had done to enhanced wetland conservation since the last meeting in 2008.

My other responsibilities included revamping the Wetlands Australia annual hardcopy magazine to a quarterly online document to help raise awareness of wetland values and functions in Australia; processing a freedom of information (FOI) request regarding the Coorong Nurrung bund removal; and providing advice to EACD in regards to development applications that would have a negative impact on Ramsar wetlands.

This placement was a great introduction to the Department, as it allowed me to develop my project management and public service writing skills, while working on issues that I was very familiar with.

Second Placement: Booderee National Park Section, Parks and Protected Areas Programs Branch, Parks Australia Division

Booderee National Park (BNP) is jointly managed by the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council and the Department. The park management plan aims to promote the interests of the traditional owners, while conserving the biodiversity and cultural heritage of Booderee. This makes it a very interesting and dynamic place to work.

Working as a park ranger was a phenomenal experience. My primary role within the natural resource management (NRM) section covered data collection and interpretation. I designed a research project that aimed to determine if Sooty Oystercatcher (Haematopus fuliginosus) abundance and distribution was correlated with marine invertebrate food abundance around Jervis Bay.

Apart from running a research project, I also gained first hand experience assisting in a number of feral flora and fauna control programs, education programs, and administrative services of the park. I got to engage with a number of stakeholders, such as the Jervis Bay Marine Authority and NSW national park, as well as the public.

Doing an external rotation always appealed to me. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to experience Booderee National Park as a ranger.

Third Placement: Scientific Research and Information Section, Environmental Research and Information Branch, Information Management Division

The Scientific Research and Information Section commission and administer biodiversity research worth around $20 million per year via the National Environmental Research Program (NERP). They also play a key knowledge-broking role, liaising with various areas of the Department to find out what biodiversity research questions need to be investigated to inform policy. This is increasingly important, as the demand for evidence-based policy is growing.

My role in this section covered both information management and communications, with some exposure to budgeting and financial management of research funding. A key information management responsibility was developing a NERP data and information management protocol for the five research hubs to follow. This included following a project management template to identify what digital repositories were being used by each partner university, and to assess how the NERP team will ensure that all research outputs are free and publicly available within 12 months of being published.

Additionally, I also contributed to the NERP eNewsletter, which is circulated within the Department on a monthly basis, as well as updating the intranet page.

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