Paula - 2012 Graduate Program

Home state

  • Australian Capital Territory


  • The University of Manchester, UK


  • Bachelor of Zoology (Honours)


After graduating I shared my passion for wildlife with others by working in environmental education. During that period I also volunteered on conservation projects and took every opportunity to watch wildlife in its natural surrounds. Exploring further and further from my home in Wales, I visited places such as Madagascar and Galapagos before finally settling in Canberra. For six years I managed volunteers on conservation projects. In 2010 when I returned to work following maternity leave, I realised that the not-for-profit conservation sector, where I had always worked, did not provide the work-life balance that I now needed.

The graduate program seemed like the perfect way to translate my experience and skills for a new career in the public service. I couldn’t believe my luck when I discovered that I was eligible to apply, despite graduating 20 years earlier.


First Placement—Biotechnology Section, Environment Quality Division

The Biotechnology Section formulates policies on gene technology, nanotechnology and biologically-derived products. It also carries out environmental assessments in order to advise the Minister before they are released into the environment.

This placement gave me an opportunity to learn about an extremely complex subject that I previously knew very little about. Through Branch and Division meetings I also developed an understanding of a wide range of other environment quality issues.

Although my lack of technical knowledge meant that I had limited ability to assist with the core business of the section, I worked on stakeholder management and practised adapting my writing skills to the public service by drafting minutes, correspondence and a project plan.

Second Placement—Australian National Botanic Gardens, Parks Australia Division

I was thrilled to get this placement in the Communications and Visitor Services Unit. My interest in environmental education had led me to apply for a position in this Unit the previous year and I saw this as an opportunity to make contacts and find out more about working in this very unique part of the department.

I completed two projects on this placement. Firstly, I wrote the content for a Smartphone application that will help visitors to identify and learn about birds at the Gardens. As well as using bird books, I consulted with volunteers, staff and local researchers to gain local knowledge about the birds.

For my second project, I took part in a Visitor Experience Assessment workshop and used the workshop findings along with desktop research to draft the first tourism plan for the Gardens.

In addition to these two key projects I assisted other staff in the Unit at busy times, including special events and media launches. I also attended and contributed to planning and tourism meetings.

Third Placement—Recovery Planning & Implementation Section, Heritage & Wildlife Division

Threatened species conservation was another area that I had hoped to experience during the graduate program, so I was delighted with the location of my third placement. Recovery plans set out the research and management actions necessary to stop the decline, and support the recovery, of listed threatened species or communities.

During this placement I was immersed in the core business of the Section. I was given the opportunity to participate in various stages of recovery plan development—assessing whether a threatened species would benefit from a plan, engaging with stakeholders to develop a new plan and checking the quality of plans for adoption.

Other highlights of this rotation were gaining a better understanding of how the EPBC Act works and attending a meeting of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee.

Final Placement—Planning, Tourism & National Landscapes Section, Parks Australia Division

This Section is responsible for coordinating and leading planning and tourism in Parks Australia’s protected areas—from the Australian National Botanic Gardens to Kakadu and Christmas Island National Parks. The Section also manages Australia’s National Landscape Program in partnership with Tourism Australia.

I work four days a week and spend roughly half of my time providing admin support to the Section—this gives me exposure to a broad range of issues surrounding Commonwealth protected areas. The remainder of my time is spent on the National Landscapes team which also gives me chance to undertake my own projects.

Thanks to the graduate program, I have the work-life balance that I was seeking. My new position makes good use of my previous experience and allows me to promote and support the conservation of some of Australia’s most distinct and rich environments—the very places that drew me to visit this country in the first place.