Zoe - 2012 Graduate Program

Home state

  • Victoria


  • The University of Melbourne


  • Bachelor of Science (Honours)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (natural resource management)


Following my PhD I worked as an environmental consultant and completed postdoctoral research at the Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology (Melbourne) and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (Maryland, USA). During this time I developed a strong interest in integrating scientific knowledge into policy development. Shortly after taking up a lectureship at a university in the United States, I realised the lifestyle (demanding work hours, lack of job security) wasn’t for me.

I applied for the department’s graduate program to improve my work-life balance and enjoy a stimulating and challenging working environment with opportunities for further study and training.


First Placement—Bush Blitz Team, Parks Australia Division

Bush Blitz is Australia’s largest nature discovery project - a multimillion dollar partnership to document the plants and animals in hundreds of properties across Australia’s National Reserve System. More than 600 new species were discovered in the first three years of the program.

Since I have a background in botany, working at the Australian National Botanical Gardens was a great way to learn about government processes in a familiar environment. I was involved in a variety of tasks related to project management including contract management, procurement, data collation and report writing. All of these culminated in an incredible field trip to Fish River in the Northern Territory, where I rode around in helicopters and helped scientists discover new species (including a new Australian Tarantula).

Second Placement—Executive Support Section, Policy and Communications Division

The Executive Support Section is responsible for providing support to the Minister and departmental Executives and was a great opportunity to learn how the Department interacts with the Minister’s office. The role also provided an overview of department’s structure and the function of different areas.

My tasks involved preparation of meeting papers for the Portfolio Business Meeting between the Minister, Secretary and Deputy Secretaries and secretariat support for meetings of the Standing Council on Environment and Water.

Third Placement—Caring for our Country Program Design, Biodiversity Conservation Division

I chose to work in the Caring for our Country program design team in my third rotation to gain insight into policy development and implementation. Caring for our Country is the Australian Government’s primary natural resource management initiative, providing ongoing funding to support communities, farmers and other land managers to protect Australia's natural environment and sustainability.

During my rotation, the team was developing guidance documents for the second phase of the program, including grants guidelines, the national biodiversity conservation prospectus(One Land—Many Stories: Prospectus of Investment, which presents the Australian Government's vision for protecting Australia's valuable and most vulnerable environments), contracts and risk management documents. I was involved in developing and reviewing these documents, as well as coordinating the risk assessment process with different teams including the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. I also drafted ministerial briefings and correspondence, and responded to coordination tasks.

Final Placement—Strategic Policy Section, Policy and Communications Division

I really enjoyed the interactive nature of the Executive Support Section in my second rotation but wanted to use my final placement as a fourth rotation, so I moved to the Strategic Policy Section in the same branch.

The Strategic Policy Section provides high level strategic advice and support to Ministers, the Secretary, Executive and all Divisions on cross-portfolio policy matters and strategic priorities, organisational planning and reporting processes, and Cabinet liaison activities. 

Tasks I’ve been involved in so far include: developing and coordinating advice on cross-portfolio policy matters and strategic priorities; developing and managing the department’s strategic planning and reporting requirements, including the Strategic Plan and Annual Operational Plan; and Cabinet Liaison activities, including coordination of departmental input into Cabinet Submissions and management of the flow of Cabinet documents within the department.