Podcasts – Science in Government

Presented by Victoria’s Lead Scientist, Dr Amanda Caples and EPA Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, Dr Andrea Hinwood, this National Science Week (NSW) podcast series profiles six professionals working within the Victorian Government. With roles ranging from marine water science to terrestrial vertebrates, these scientists describe their backgrounds, their current roles, and what scientific developments they look forward to in the future.

Dr Louise Goldie-Divko - Geological Survey of Victoria

Louise and her team are pivotal to understanding state mineral resources from gold through to metals, minerals and hydrocarbons. Her work can range from 3D mapping and remote sensing data, to taking and analysing core samples at her cob lab in Werribee.

NSW podcast with Dr Louise Goldie-Divko

Narrator: National Science Week is Australia’s annual celebration of the role that science, technology, engineering, and maths play in our lives.

Have you ever considered a career in environmental science, or wondered what it would be like to work for state government?

Presented by Victoria’s Lead Scientist, Dr Amanda Caples and EPA Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, Dr Andrea Hinwood, this podcast series will profile a variety of science professionals working within the Victorian Government; what they studied along the way, what roles they have now and what scientific developments they look forward to in the future.

Join Dr Caples and Dr Hinwood to discuss ‘Science in government: then, now and what next?’

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Hello everyone, I’m Dr Andrea Hinwood, EPA Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, and today I’m very pleased to be speaking with Dr Louise Goldie Divko, she’s the Manager of Energy Geoscience at the Geological Survey of Victoria.

Thank you Louise for joining us.

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: Oh thanks Andrea, good to be with you.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So Louise, how did you come to study science in the first place?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: When I was at primary school we never did any science at all, and when I got to secondary school there was science, and I really enjoyed it.

And I did science subjects, you know, when I got to sort of that, you know, upper secondary level.

And then I got to university and, you know, I actually sort of branched out a bit, I think I did earth sciences, psychology, maths and chemistry so I got to sort of choose sciences that were sort of more specific.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Right, and so then why geological sciences down the track?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: When I, you know, as I sort of continued through my degree I got to my final year, and I just really enjoyed and was really good at earth sciences, so that’s, you know, the study of rocks.

And I changed my degree to science because I’d originally started a teaching degree, and when I changed to science I could do an honours year in earth sciences and that’s what I did.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: And so you did that, did you then go into teaching or then you went into science, how did that work out?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: Yeah, so because my honours was in earth sciences I actually got a job working in industry for a few years.

But then the funny thing is that while I was doing that sort of thought maybe I want to head back to my original career path.

So, I completed a Dip Ed, I was really lucky because my workplace allowed me, you know, work and study, and when I completed my Dip Ed I actually went and got a job as a secondary school teacher which I did for four years.

And then I got to the point where I thought well this is enough for me, and I actually went back to uni and I did my PhD in geology.

And towards the end of that time there was a job going at the Geological Survey of Victoria, I applied and I got it, so that was just luck.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So you now work for the Victorian government at the Geological Survey of Victoria, what is it and how does it fit into the Victorian government?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: Yeah right, so the role of the Geological Survey of Victoria they actually understand Victoria’s geology and its earth resource potential.

So, you know, we do a lot of studies where we can inform questions that government has for us, we can share that information with communities and industry, but we also mainly sort of do is to support economic development in Victoria, so, you know, like jobs for people in rural and regional Victoria.

The Geological Survey actually has been around for a really long time, it’s like over 160 years, and mostly it started off with a survey, like mapping the rocks of the surface, and that was driven by people looking for gold in the mid-1800s and so on.

And look, people still do that, like people still, like prospectors still get out there and look for gold at the surface.

But nowadays companies are looking more at resources that are underground, and so that’s a lot of what we do now, we do like a lot of 3D mapping, you know, in specialist software.

You know, we use remote sensing data and we interpret the rocks underground, so that’s the sort of work that we do that actually, you know, informs that understanding of the geology and the potential for earth resources.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So you use some pretty amazing technology now, can you tell our listeners anything about the sort of technology that we use to look subsurface?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: Yeah, so we have some really great software products that we use, and they’re sort of a little bit like, if anyone’s ever seen CAD drawings that architects do, or I don’t know, like, anyone that’s kind of making a thing like furniture or, you know, industrial design, items like that use a similar sort of software product, and so that’s what we actually use.

We take the data that we’ve got from previous exploration, so when companies drill a well or a bore hole to intersect the rocks underground, we have scientific data, and we take all of this into the specialist software programs and we interpret the rocks underground, and that becomes a 3D model underground.

And we actually have a mobile projector and a 3D room and we can show people these 3D models, and it really gives them some insight into what is actually underground.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing technology.

So if you’re the Manager of Energy Geoscience, can you tell us about what your role entails and what does a typical day look like for you?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: Yeah, so it kind of depends on the focus at the time.

So, at the moment we’re finishing up a project that has lots of report writing, you know I manage a decent sort of team of people, so there’s a lot of advising them, keeping them on track.

But sometimes, you know, there’s more meetings, providing advice to colleagues from other areas in Resources like our regulator.

In the past also I’ve spent a lot of time in our core library in Werribee, so we’ve got this big shed in Werribee that houses all of the core, that’s you know, pieces of rock from drilling in Victoria from, you know, decades, and we can actually go and inspect those rocks or sample them to understand more about them, so particular characteristics, so that’s always a nice way to spend your time, and sometimes very much what you need to be doing.

But I think one of the best things is that I really get to use my science training, so sometimes we do work that involves some really serious equations especially in geophysics, you know, chemistry, and of course everything that I’ve learned to date about geology and the geology of Victoria.

And I keep learning because we continue to do new work that increases our understanding, so that’s a really sort of great part of my role.

But I get to work with heaps of people from different backgrounds as well and that is a really nice thing about working government, because there are a lot of other people outside of the Geological Survey of Victoria that are also focused on the resources sector that we need to work with, so people who do policy, economists, GIS specialist designers, procurement quotes, and stakeholder engagement specialists, and the work that we do with them is really important because that’s how we get the share the science with the community and stakeholders, so that’s really satisfying that part of it.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So, as a leader what are some of the things that, I guess, make you a leader and how does that work again in your role in geoscience?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: I guess that, you know, especially when you have a team of people, it’s about helping them sort of facilitating their achievement, getting them to sort of publish their technical reports and papers, you know, speaking at events, or when we deliver something as a team, like, I think that’s really sort of satisfying.

And for me, you know, that’s what leadership is about, it’s not sort of me doing everything and sort of dragging them along, it’s about really making sure that we can all work together to achieve a common goal.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So Louise, what do you think the value of studying geology is?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: First of all, like, there are a lot of jobs in Australia in the earth resources sector, but I also think it’s important for students who are interested in managing the natural environment or even like in producing from the land like agriculture, you know, to understand the rocks that shape our landscape and the soil that develops on these rocks it provides a really important linkage.

So I think that if you’re managing the environment in some way and you don’t understand the rocks you’ve got a real gap in your knowledge, you know, that some study in earth sciences can fill.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So in terms, you know, for Victorians on a day-to-day basis, what are the benefits of minerals exploration, and you talked about your big shed in Werribee, how do those things actually contribute to our day-to-day lives as Victorians?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: I guess the thing is that, you know, in the built environment everything that we interact with is either grown or mined, you know, it’s got to come out of the ground somehow, and so everything that we interact with, you know, wherever you’re sitting right now you look around at everything in front of you, like, you know, your computer, your desk, a lot of those things actually have to come from the earth, and that’s why earth resources are important to us.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So in terms of geosciences generally what does the future hold for geosciences, and what does success in this field look like to you?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: Yeah, so I think, I mean in my role I just want to make sure that we publish all of our work so that it’s accessible to everyone.

And I think in GSV, so the Geological Survey or Victoria, we just want to continue to provide science-led evidence-based work to inform government, the community and industry.

And I think for the sector, for the earth resources sector, success is communities thriving because of and alongside a really well-managed and well-regulated sector.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: And so if people wanted to get involved in the work that you do, where is a good place to start, how do they do it?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: Yeah sure, so to find out more about what we do earthresources.vic.gov.au, so earth resources all one word, or you could just search for the Geological Survey of Victoria.

Also too, we have a really great mapping tool called GeoVic which you can find at that site, and it has lots of data layers that we’ve produced over the years, it’s all in one spot, you can make maps and export them, or you can export the data and it’s a really great resource.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: And from a career point of view, if someone is sitting listening to this discussion and they’re thinking I’d really like to have a job like that, is there a particular science they should do, is there a particular pathway they should take?

I mean you’ve had a multi career really, what would you recommend to anyone who is sitting there going I’d like to do that?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: I think the thing is with any career in science you’ll always be challenged by your work in one way or another, you know, and I’m sure if you were to think about it as well you could think about all the challenges that you face in your role too, but I think you’ve got to look for opportunities that suit you.

Don’t be afraid to move around different sectors to find work that you really value and where you’re making a contribution, and I think where that contribution is also valued because you might not find it the first time around, but think about what you can do to change that.

I’ve found that when I first started out the role that I was in it didn’t suit me a great deal, but it doesn’t mean you just have to flee the scene and run away, you can always sort of just make a little bit of a tweak and move somewhere else and it might work.

So, I feel like where I am now, you know, the work that I’m doing, that my team’s doing, you know, it’s really valued, and although it’s really hard work it’s really satisfying and it’s really nice to land in that place.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: That’s fantastic.

And so most scientists have a reputation depending on what they do, and yours would be out in the field, you know, with your little pick chipping off rocks and things like that.

What do you actually do outside work?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: Yeah, so I actually do like to get outside a lot, certainly not during COVID, you know, I can’t get out and do lots of walks in nature which is what I really like doing, so you know, there’s just a lot of walking the dog around the block at the moment.

But I’m just a constant gardener, I really love gardening which is really nice for me at the moment because I don’t have to go outside my fence line to enjoy that, so yeah, I’m quite lucky in that way at the moment I feel.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: That’s great.

And so any advice to anyone who is thinking of picking this career up, things that they should be doing at this point?

Dr Louise Goldie Divko: I got to a point in my degree where I was doing something that I found I really enjoyed it and I was good at it, and I think that’s the key really.

I think that when you’re studying at secondary school often you’re choosing subjects because, you know, you sort of think I’ve got to choose and do those subjects because that’ll help me to get into whatever degree or that kind of thing.

And I really think you’ve got to ask yourself, you know, do you enjoy it, are you good at it.

But I say that and I wasn’t so great at it when I was at secondary school and I’ve improved a lot, I mean goodness, you know, now I’ve got a PhD.

So, I think also too, like, don’t let things get in your way, you know, that you can always sort of find a way through later on as well.

When I did my VCE I didn’t get a really great score, but I still sort of kept pushing along and found my way through to a place that I’m really happy with where my career’s gone.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: That’s fantastic Louise.

Look, thank you very much for sharing your time and your insights with us today, and I look forward to hearing about how the geosciences goes in Victoria in the future, so thanks very much for your time.

Narrator: That was Dr Louise Goldie Divko, Manager, Energy Geoscience with the Geological Survey Victoria, speaking with Dr Andrea Hinwood, Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, as part of the National Science Week podcast series: ‘Science in government: then, now and what next?’

If you’ve missed one of these podcasts or would like to listen to them again, visit tiny.cc/vicgovscience.

Here, you’ll also be able to access resources mentioned during this series.

The Victorian public sector is a 300,000 strong workforce employed by the Victorian Government to provide services and support for Victorians.

Explore the many ways that you can join the Victorian public sector and be part of the bigger picture.

You can help shape Victoria's future, serve the community, and follow your ambition.

To learn more, visit careers.vic.gov.au.

Barry Byrne - Fire Rescue Victoria

As a Science Adviser, Barry supports fires involving hazardous materials by providing advice to the operational group, as well as considering community impacts from exposure.

NSW podcast with Barry Byrne

Narrator: National Science Week is Australia’s annual celebration of the role that science, technology, engineering, and maths play in our lives.

Have you ever considered a career in environmental science, or wondered what it would be like to work for state government?

Presented by Victoria’s Lead Scientist, Dr Amanda Caples and EPA Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, Dr Andrea Hinwood, this podcast series will profile a variety of science professionals working within the Victorian Government; what they studied along the way, what roles they have now and what scientific developments they look forward to in the future.

Join Dr Caples and Dr Hinwood to discuss ‘Science in government: then, now and what next?’

Dr Amanda Caples: Hello everyone, I’m Dr Amanda Caples, Lead Scientist of Victoria, and today I am pleased to be speaking with Barry Byrne, Scientific Adviser at Fire Rescue Victoria.

Thank you Barry for joining with us today for National Science Week.

I was wondering whether we could start off by asking the question what is Fire Rescue Victoria?

Barry Byrne: Fire Rescue Victoria has only just come about, it was formed on July 1 this year, 2020, and basically it’s a combination of CFA career firefighters and MFB career firefighters.

So now you have, like, a career or professional fire service organisation.

So MFB now ceases to exist because it’s morphed into FRV, and all the career firefighting staff from CFA have come across to FRV.

CFA still exists however that is purely volunteers, and mainly focused around bush or rural fire fighting in remote areas.

Dr Amanda Caples: So Barry, I understand that Fire Rescue Victoria does a lot more than firefighting.

Can you tell me about the range of work that your organisation does?

Barry Byrne: Not only do we do firefighting we also have other specialty departments that come under technical operations such as Hazmat, and that’s the group I’m involved with, and we’re primarily focused on incidents involving, I should say chemicals, so chemical releases, chemical fires, large fires where the fuel load can be considered quite toxic.

There’s also other specialty groups such as Urban Search and Rescue, Rope Rescue or high angled rescue.

I think just recently there was some civilians rescued from one of the high towers in town, that would be a rope specialist that would have come in and abseiled down to retrieve them.

We also have a marine firefighting capability, so we have several boats in which we can go out and assist other water crafts.

We have heavy rescues, so they’re involved with potentially car accidents or incidents involving trams or trains, and can be involved anywhere from cut-outs to securing the scene to make it safe for people to work in that area.

We’ve just recently been involved with food drops within the community especially around those towers in and around north Melbourne and those areas that have been affected by COVID-19.

We do attend schools, mainly primary schools, and educate the little kids about, you know, stop, drop and roll and what to do if the smoke alarm goes off.

And yeah, I suppose that’s just to name a few but, yeah, it’s quite a diverse job, so when you join up as a firefighter, I’m not a corporate person, but the operational personnel have quite a wide variety to choose from once they’ve joined the service.

Dr Amanda Caples: That’s an incredible range of activity that Fire Rescue Victoria is involved in.

So getting to your role, you’re a science adviser with Fire Rescue Victoria, so what does that involve?

Barry Byrne: All right, well firstly there are four of us, and our primary role is to support operations at hazardous material events or chemical releases and large fires.

We perform and on-call roster, so one in every four weeks we will be the on-call scientists, and are available to the fire services, or FRV including CFA 24/7, so we’ll go to work, do our 9:00 to 5:00 and we’ll take a vehicle home, a response vehicle home, that has scientific equipment on it such as a portable GCMS, wet chemistry kits, so basic, you know, like spot tests to help identify unknown substances, and just wait for that call to come through if one does.

And if it does we have, you know, like we’ll either give advice over the phone depending on what sort of intel they’ve got, it’s a fairly straight job, or we may need to attend the incident where it’s probably a little bit more complex in nature.

So what we do is, we advise operations on the best ways or safe ways to mitigate the incident, so we focus on a fire ground, we make sure all personnel that are on the fire ground are safe and do not get injured, because if they do we potentially haven’t done our job correctly.

But we also not only focus on the event on hand, we also have to look outside the box and consider off-site or community impacts, so just like the smoke protocols that have come about over the last probably three or four years, or probably even longer now, from the Hazelwood mine fires, we now have to consider up, you know, for the first 24 hours give or take community impacts, so exposures.

So if we take smoke for example, we look at the PM2.5 levels as well as carbon monoxide levels throughout the community and we’ll take readings, feed those readings or the results back up through the command chain, and then it’ll be a discussion between fire services and EPA in the early stages as to what we should do with the community, whether it’s relocate them or shelter in place.

Or if the levels are getting quite high it will then get passed onto the HHS and they will then advise on what we need to do with the community.

Yeah, I think I’ve covered most things.

Oh, yeah, I suppose look, when we’re not responding to incidents, on a day-to-day basis we do perform project work, so you know, we’ll make sure the equipment we carry as well as what is carried on our Hazmat appliances are calibrated and working correctly.

We also look at when our equipment is getting old and needs to be replaced, look at replacement detectors.

We get involved with foam, so firefighters when they attend certain fires sometimes have to use foam to extinguish the fire itself, so we look at more environmentally-friendly foam.

We also sit on lots of meetings, national-based as well as state-based and mainly focused around the Hazmat or CBR sort of chemical biological radiological area.

Dr Amanda Caples: So Barry, many of our listeners are interested in understanding what area of science they should pursue and to understand how one gets to a position like yours with Fire Rescue Victoria,

So can you tell us a little bit about your background, what did you study, and what pathway did you follow to take you to your current role?

Barry Byrne: I suppose going back to high school I was, sort of, very more to the maths/science field, so Year 11 and 12 was HSC back in my day, I did maths/science, and of those subjects chemistry sort of really agreed with me, I really enjoyed it.

And from there I went to Uni and studied applied chemistry at RMIT, graduated in 1995, then from there I went out and worked in ­ well I started off in the petrochem industry and then moved into vitamins and then finally into pharmaceuticals.

And while I was working in pharmaceuticals, I was a project chemist there, so I looked at batch failures and where it went wrong, so a bit of an investigative role there.

It was quite good because I was not only in production but I was also in the labs as well as desk-bound, so I had the best of both worlds.

But while I was in that field I went back and did a post-graduate diploma in forensic science because it would add more if I live out near the forensic lab, Victoria Police forensic lab, and I thought about trying to get into forensics.

But after graduation, or once I graduated with a forensic diploma this role at MFB was advertised and I applied for it, and after several interviews I was offered the job, and yeah, 13 years later I haven’t looked back.

So basically it is fairly heavily focused around chemistry because our role is hazardous materials, and unlike laboratory situations where it’s fairly controlled we tend to get responded to when chemicals are out of control or leaking outside, you know, they’re outside the containers.

So yeah, both my focus over my, or educational focus was chemistry predominantly and has help me find employment in this role which has been great, because it’s a role that everyone can relate to.

It’s simple chemistry, whereas when I was in pharmaceuticals it was fairly high level chemistry, and yeah, I’m enjoying it.

Like I was getting a little bit stale in the pharmaceutical sector and then this came along and, like I said, 13 years later I haven’t looked back it’s fantastic.

Dr Amanda Caples: Let me explore that a little bit more because you clearly do enjoy your job and you can really tell when people do just by the way that they talk about it, the passion that underlies the commentary.

So can you tell us a little bit more about what you most enjoy about the job, how would you describe it to someone?

Barry Byrne: For me, I like variety, and I suppose this position offers that.

It’s very dynamic in nature.

It’s like one minute I can be sitting at my desk and then if that’s your week that you’re on call the phone may go off and then you maybe, and it has happened to me, you may be responded to different parts of Victoria.

I’ve been responded to Portland, Warrnambool, Shepparton, so on any given day when you’re on-call, yeah, you could end up anywhere, so it is very dynamic and I suppose that is the nature of emergency response, we’re always responding to events.

For me it makes it exciting, it still gets the adrenalin pumping when that phone call goes off and you have to attend an event or an incident.

But like I eluded to before, the chemistry in this job is, it’s almost back to basics, and for me when I came across to this role I forgot how much of the basics I had sort of lost or forgotten, and it’s something that I can come home to and speak to my family about.

The job I had today was a – I had, you know, a chlorine fire, you know, like basically you have a client started a fire due to its chemical natures with organic materials, and people can look at me and say, oh okay, then I kind of understand it.

Whereas when I was in the pharmaceutical sector it was fairly high level and, you know, we made anti-cancer drugs, a lot of DNA intercalators so, you know, that stops the cells from reproducing, and when you start talking about that sort of stuff people look at you and think okay.

They continue to, you know, like I suppose they humour you by pretending they know, but really it’s a field of science that is fairly intimate, unless you’re in that it’s hard for people to relate to.

So at least here I can talk to my kids about it and, yeah, they enjoy me telling them some stories about some of the jobs I’ve had, you know, like acid-base reaction.

Acid spills are a big one for us and, yeah, we do get to play in I suppose a terrorism space sometimes such as suspicious unidentified substances, or sus packages as we call it, so white powders as the media sort of reports it as being, so we do support and assist the police in those events.

So it’s very diverse and it keeps me on my toes, you know, the more I think I know something, when you start digging then you start to realise well I don’t know a lot so it’s – you’re forever learning and the job is forever evolving because equipment is changing and becoming more smaller, so all those laboratory instruments that I used to work with we can now have packed up in the back of a car.

So we’ve got a GCMS in the back of our car which if we want to we can put in a backpack and carry it around with us.

So it’s becoming quite a technical role too I suppose in that sort of sense, when you start using those high end bits of gear to identify unknown substances or unknown atmospheres.

Dr Amanda Caples: So Barry, when people think of science and think of a laboratory and people in white coats, and the way that you describe your role is completely different from that.

And of course not a lot of people think about science in government, but you know, you’ve also identified the many different applications where science is used in your role.

Just to close up this podcast, what would you like people to know about your work in science in government?

Barry Byrne: I think overall science can be fun.

Well for me the last seven years have been really enjoyable, in fact probably the last – I’ve done quite a lot of jobs which have been fun, but this one more so than all the others.

You know, like, I know science has a bit of a nerdy slant to it, but I think it goes a bit beyond that and it’s interesting, well for me I find it interesting.

It’s very rewarding especially when you can actually solve a problem.

And I find science rewarding, especially chemistry, and I suppose that’s why I chose chemistry, chemistry can be fun.

There’s such a broad range of areas you can move into with chemistry behind you, you know, there’s explosives, or there’s surfactant chemistry, medicines, yeah, I find it personally very rewarding to say the least.

Narrator: That was Mr Barry Byrne, Scientific Adviser with Fire Rescue Victoria, speaking with Dr Amanda Caples, Lead Scientist for Victoria, as part of the National Science Week podcast series: ‘Science in government: then, now and what next?’

If you’ve missed one of these podcasts or would like to listen to them again, visit tiny.cc/vicgovscience.

Here, you’ll also be able to access resources mentioned during this series.

The Victorian public sector is a 300,000 strong workforce employed by the Victorian Government to provide services and support for Victorians.

Explore the many ways that you can join the Victorian public sector and be part of the bigger picture.

You can help shape Victoria's future, serve the community, and follow your ambition.

To learn more, visit careers.vic.gov.au.

Dr Jane Melville - Museums Victoria

Through her role with Museums Victoria, Jane and her team share their knowledge with the wider community to help inform everyone about the diversity of species and nature and how we can best look after them.

NSW podcast with Jane Melville

Narrator: National Science Week is Australia’s annual celebration of the role that science, technology, engineering, and maths play in our lives.

Have you ever considered a career in environmental science, or wondered what it would be like to work for state government?

Presented by Victoria’s Lead Scientist, Dr Amanda Caples and EPA Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, Dr Andrea Hinwood, this podcast series will profile a variety of science professionals working within the Victorian Government; what they studied along the way, what roles they have now and what scientific developments they look forward to in the future.

Join Dr Caples and Dr Hinwood to discuss ‘Science in government: then, now and what next?’

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Hi everyone, I’m Dr Andrea Hinwood, EPA Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, and today I’m very pleased to be speaking with Dr Jane Melville, Senior Curator of Terrestrial Vertebrates with Museums Victoria.

Thank you Jane for joining us.

Dr Jane Melville: Hi Andrea, pleasure to be here.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So Jane, you’re the Senior Curator of Terrestrial Vertebrates, can you tell us a bit more about what your role entails, what’s a typical day look like for you?

Dr Jane Melville: Well, I’m actually a herpetologist which is the study of reptiles and amphibians, so my job at the museum is primarily a research position.

I’m in charge of research undertaken at the museum on the reptiles and amphibians, and I also oversee the collections held at the Museum Victoria of reptiles and amphibians.

So my research centres around conservation genetics, also looking at the evolution and diversity of reptiles and amphibians in Australia, but with particular focus on south eastern Australia.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So how many species do we have in the collection?

Dr Jane Melville: There’d be thousands of species in the collection, so it’s a huge collection, but what is really amazing about Australia is the actual number of species in Australia.

So Australia has more lizard species than any other country in the world, with over a thousand reptiles, it’s an amazing diversity, so studying this group of animals is just fantastic.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So have you always wanted to work in a museum?

Dr Jane Melville:I don’t know that I always wanted to work in a museum, but when I was a kid I grew up really interested in nature.

I’d always imagined that to work on animals you had to work at a zoo, but once I had my degree in zoology at university and I went off and did post-doctoral research after I got my PhD, I realised that museums were the area I wanted to work in.

I was really interested at understanding the evolution and the diversity of reptiles.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So, I mean you’ve talked about some of the science that you’ve studied, what’s the journey that you had, you know, say from high school is this something that you said yeah, I like doing this, and how did you end up getting to where you are now?

Dr Jane Melville: Well, I grew up in Tasmania and I grew up in a family where we went out bushwalking, we went out snorkelling all the time, I really grew up in the outdoors, and I knew that I wanted to study animals.

I had kind of thought that you needed to work at a zoo for that, but then I started a zoology degree at university, at the University of Tasmania, and I realised that you could actually be a research biologist without working at a zoo.

And from there I did my undergraduate degree in zoology and then went on to do a PhD at University of Tasmania on lizards, on actually snow skinks

And then from there I travelled across to the US once I’d finished my PhD, and undertook a post-doctoral research program.

I went from snow skinks in Tasmania to desert lizards, so I looked at desert lizards in the United States and desert lizards in Australia to see whether lizard communities in deserts on independent continents evolved similarly, whether you see similar patterns in separately evolved systems.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: And do we?

Dr Jane Melville: Yes.

I know this seems like a no-brainer because there’s examples of conversion evolutional over the place, you can think of ones like the Tasmania tiger and the northern hemisphere wolves, they’re independently evolved but they’ve got very similar features and ecologies.

But what I wanted to look at was whole community evolution, do you see the same patterns of diversity over time in similar environments, so the answer is yes I did find it.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Wow!

And so your specialty is dragon lizards, what’s so important about those species?

Dr Jane Melville: Well, I think dragon lizards are amazing.

They’re pretty well-known lizards, there’d be a family of lizards and the largest diversity occurs in Australia, there are over 100 species in Australia, and they’re lizards like frilled neck lizards or bearded dragons which are a popular pet, or another one is thorny devils.

And there are also water dragons that you find in parks in some cities in Australia like Sydney, Canberra, even in Melbourne you can see water dragons.

And there’s over 100 species in Australia and there’s a huge range in ecologies, what they look like, all kinds of things, and that’s the group that I particularly specialise in in understanding how they’ve evolved.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: I can understand that, I mean they’re particularly beautiful looking animals aren’t they?

Dr Jane Melville: They’re amazing, they’re amazing.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Yeah.

So your work at Museums Victoria, how does that work fit in to the Victorian government and, you know, how do they help with some of the work that you’ve been talking about?

Dr Jane Melville: So, the museum has a role in Victoria, it holds the state collections that’s across natural sciences, and also cultural collections as well, and collections to do with history and technology, so it holds the collections.

And part of what the museum does is doing research to understand and document that diversity with particular focus on Victoria.

And so we seek to do research to better understand the natural world, so in my case reptiles and amphibians, the evolution and diversity across space and time.

So that means across the geography of Australia and particularly Victoria, how has that variation and diversity we see, how has that evolved through time?

And then we also use that information, that understanding, to look at how we can conserve and protect our diversity and how we can conserve and protect it into the future.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So that’s such an important area, so what does success look like in this field to you?

Dr Jane Melville

So there are two main aspects to my research, first of all the very important part of conservation is actually understanding how many species we have.

Without understanding how many species we actually have it’s very hard to conserve them.

So my work as a taxonomist working at the museum is to actually document and describe species, so over the last few years I’ve described and revised just over 30 new species of Australian lizards, mostly dragon lizards.

And then from that we can use this information, plus I also do conservation genetics research to look at things like genetic diversity, genetic health, inbreeding in the species of particular conservation interests, so that information can then be used in conservation planning for the future of these species.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So Jane, one of the things that I’m interested in is when you go out into the bush or in a particular area how do you actually find lizards, what methods do you use to catch them or to observe them?

Dr Jane Melville: Well, it really depends on the lizards that we’re interested in looking for, often with Museums Victoria we’ll go out and do surveys of an area, say a national park, to look at the diversity of reptile species there, and for that we’ll do things like put in what’s called pit bull traps which is basically a bucket dug into the ground with a little soft fly mesh fence running across the top of it, and the lizards will hit that and fall in the bucket and we pick them out of that.

And that’s very good for skinks, little things that you’d see dashing around on the sand or the dirt.

My area, which is dragon lizards, we normally catch them in a bit of a different way, which is we use noose, a dental floss noose, so we have a long extendable fishing pole with a little slip noose tied on the end, and we just slip that around their heads and it pulls tight and we pick them up.

It doesn’t hurt them, we just take the little dental floss noose off and we’ve caught our lizards.

And out in the deserts one of the way is we drive up and down the dirt roads in a four-wheel drive looking for dragon lizards sitting on the side of the road.

When we see one we stop and we extend the fishing pole out the window and catch it with a dental floss noose.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So you have to be pretty good at doing that I would assume?

Dr Jane Melville: It takes practice and wind is not the friend of a dental floss noose, so - - -

Dr Andrea Hinwood: I’m just thinking about it, I’m not sure I’d have the skills to be able to actually get it anywhere near the lizard.

Dr Jane Melville: It takes a bit of practice, but it’s a fun way of catching lizards.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Wow, I think you’d probably have to get lots of practice.

That’s interesting.

And, do many of your studies involve using cameras or those sorts of technique?

Dr Jane Melville: With what we do with lizards we have not, we don’t use cameras, but a number of the researchers at the museum do, particularly researchers working on mammals.

So they will put out what’s call a camera trap, so they’re basically cameras that will get triggered with movement.

And then another technique that we can use for the frog research that I do, and also some of the bird researchers use is remote recording devices, because you can set recorders out that will record over time and then you can listen to that.

And because birds and frogs make sound you can determine what species are there by the recordings.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: That’s a fascinating field.

So, how is your research communicated to a broader audience, and why is it beneficial?

Dr Jane Melville: Well, unlike researchers that are based at universities and other non-government researchers, the museum plays a really important role within the community both for Victoria and Australia in communicating our research to the wider community.

Some of the programs that I talk to as a researcher are things like school groups when we go out and do surveys, or community groups like Probus or land care groups, and these are really important to informing everyone about the diversity of our species in nature and how we can look after them, so people understand what’s in their backyard, in their local park, how they can find out more about that through resources like Museums Victoria’s website.

And then also what they can do to help them, and I think that’s a really important role the museum plays in our community.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: That’s just fabulous, so for people like me who perhaps is listening to you and thinks the career change could be a really good thing, because I also, I love lizards, or for someone who’s maybe in high school or just starting out, to get involved with this type of work where’s a good place to start?

Dr Jane Melville: Well, one thing of course is if you really want to be a researcher working in zoology or biology is to go to university and do a degree in the relevant field, so probably zoology or biology.

And then often you’ll do post-graduate research like a PhD, and then onto post-doctoral research.

And another way is volunteering to do work at museums.

Museums often have a large number of volunteers that come in and work, and we have in our sciences department undergraduate researchers from the universities that come in and help us with what we do, and they do some really important things in working with the collections at the museums.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: And, so if people wanted to know more about the museum and this sort of work where would they go to get some more information?

Dr Jane Melville: Well, the museum has some really fantastic online resources, so Museums Victoria has collections online where you can go and look at photos, information, documents about what collections we hold across the natural sciences, history, technology, and also cultural collections.

But there’s also information on the website of Museums Victoria about volunteering, about what’s actually in the public galleries at the museum, there’s a fantastic website with all this information.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: And, I believe you also have a Dragon Lizards Australia book, how can people get access to that?

Dr Jane Melville: Oh yes, that came out last year.

Me and my co-author, Steve Wilson, we wrote – it was the only book available on Australian dragon lizards, it has a field guide and a lot in there about the biology of dragon lizards across Australia too.

And it’s available at the museum’s bookshop, Museums Victoria, and you can go to the website and you can order that book through the website.

It’s a fantastic book.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So what do you do outside your normal working hours, do you have any hobbies or other things that you do?

Dr Jane Melville: Hobbies, well me and my husband and kids we like going birding, so we’re birders, we like going out on bushwalks and looking for birds.

And we use an app available called eBird, and then we also listen for frogs too, and there’s a great app called Frog ID run out of Australian Museum and we can log the frogs that we see into that which is fun.

And perhaps other hobbies, I perhaps with a lot of other people at the moment, I’m a very big sour dough bread maker, so every day I make all our bread at home, and every day I make a loaf of sour dough bread.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Sounds lovely, but I’m really glad that I’m not doing that at home because I’d hate to think about the consequence.

What would you like people to know about science?

Dr Jane Melville: I would really like people to know that being a scientist is a fantastic job, I love it.

I think it’s really worthwhile.

And when I was in high school I didn’t actually realise that you could do that, it didn’t seem quite real, but I would like people to know that it’s real.

It can be done.

And the other thing is too, if you love it to just try it, you know, it’s work hard, work towards what you’re really interested in, and if it works out that’s fantastic but it’s worth trying.

Go for what you’re interested in.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Look, that sounds great Jane.

I’m really looking forward, I get the chance to talk to you more about these topics, but I’m sure everyone listening has got a lot out of this discussion and this type of work which often we don’t see, so thank you very much.

Dr Jane Melville: Thank you for talking with me it’s been fun.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Terrific, thanks Jane.

Narrator: That was Dr Jane Melville, Senior Curator of Terrestrial Vertebrates with Museums Victoria, speaking with Dr Andrea Hinwood, Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, as part of the National Science Week podcast series: ‘Science in government: then, now and what next?’

If you’ve missed one of these podcasts or would like to listen to them again, visit tiny.cc/vicgovscience.

Here, you’ll also be able to access resources mentioned during this series.

The Victorian public sector is a 300,000 strong workforce employed by the Victorian Government to provide services and support for Victorians.

Explore the many ways that you can join the Victorian public sector and be part of the bigger picture.

You can help shape Victoria's future, serve the community, and follow your ambition.

To learn more, visit careers.vic.gov.au.

Dr Kim Lowe - Arthur Rylah Institute

As the Research Director at the Arthur Rylah Institute, Kim talks about the impact of the Victorian Bushfires on biodiversity and the role that technology can play in recovery.

NSW podcast with Kim Lowe

Narrator: National Science Week is Australia’s annual celebration of the role that science, technology, engineering, and maths play in our lives.

Have you ever considered a career in environmental science, or wondered what it would be like to work for state government?

Presented by Victoria’s Lead Scientist, Dr Amanda Caples and EPA Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, Dr Andrea Hinwood, this podcast series will profile a variety of science professionals working within the Victorian Government; what they studied along the way, what roles they have now and what scientific developments they look forward to in the future.

Join Dr Caples and Dr Hinwood to discuss ‘Science in government: then, now and what next?’

Dr Amanda Caples: Hi everybody, I’m Dr Amanda Caples, Lead Scientist for Victoria, and today I’m pleased to be speaking with Dr Kim Lowe, the Research Director at the Arthur Rylah Institute, thank you Kim for joining us.

Kim, you’re an ecologist by training, what was it that first got you into ecology?

Dr Kim Lowe: Yeah, thank you Amanda, I’m really pleased to be here today to talk about science which I find exciting too.

I came from a relatively poor family in the inner suburbs of Melbourne and we didn’t really have resources.

We didn’t have a car to get outside of Melbourne much, so I really only exposed to urban ecology for most of my life until I went to university.

And in the first year of university I went on a field trip with a chap called Dr David Morgan from the teacher’s college at Melbourne University in those days, and we went out onto a field trip and he showed me this bird that was sitting on a wall, and it turned out that it was a really common bird but it was a bird that I’ve never actually seen before.

And then he told me the story of the lifecycle of this bird, and when I reflect back Amanda, I think about this was my Eureka moment about wanting to become an ecologist, wanting to understand the natural world and hopefully do good science but also have an impact and benefit for conservation.

Dr Amanda Caples: What a great story Kim, thanks for sharing that.

So, tell us how you got to be an ecologist, so what degree did you do and what did you do between finishing your degree and the role that you’re now serving at the Arthur Rylah Institute?

Dr Kim Lowe: Absolutely.

So, I did my science degree, started my science degree in the last millennium which feels to me like about a thousand years ago, and it was a science degree at the University of Melbourne and I majored in zoology.

And then I went on and did an honours degree in zoology, I studied the feeding ecology of large wading birds, and interesting that bird that David showed me on that Eureka moment day was one of the birds that I studied for honours, and then I went on and did a PhD in ecology.

I also studied that same group of birds but I broadened my studies to not only include feeding ecology but also breeding ecology, and the social systems that the birds had.

They had very complicated mating systems with long-term monogamy through to polygamy, polyandry, a whole lot of other different setups.

So that was University at Melbourne, I was a tutor, a full-time tutor in ecology at Melbourne Uni during that period, partly supporting my scholarship which was incredibly modest amount in those days, and that led me to my first job working with the Federal Government and the Federal National Parks Service, and then that eventually led on to biodiversity policy and then back to research a bit later.

Dr Amanda Caples: So Kim, policy in an ecology sense, so what does that mean, what kind of policy do you do in environmental science?

Dr Kim Lowe: So most first-world countries around the world have biodiversity conservation strategies, and they come out of various legislation and policy bases that provide for that work to be done.

So in Victoria the most relevant driver for that is the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, which has a whole lot of requirements based on government and community about protection of biodiversity.

It could also be manifest through other instruments and regulations such as protection of native vegetation, control of harvesting of native species and so forth.

So I worked in quite a variety of those policy roles fairly early in my career.

Dr Amanda Caples: So Kim, now you’re the Research Director at the Arthur Rylah Institute, can you tell us a little bit about the institute and how it fits in with the Victorian Government?

Dr Kim Lowe: Absolutely.

I have to say Amanda that I find it an absolute privilege to be the leader of that institute.

It was established in 1970 under the Henry Bolte government.

Arthur Rylah was the Deputy Premier at the time and was soon to retire, and they named the institute after him, so that’s why it’s called the Arthur Rylah Institute.

It was really a recognition of the time in the seventies that environmental concerns, nature conservation, were really important things for the community and therefore government established a variety of research institutes and Arthur Rylah Institute was one of those.

It’s part of the Department of Environment’s Land Water and Planning these days, because the department’s names have changed over this 50 year period, but I think the really key thing is that it’s a Victorian institution as you eluded to in your introduction, it’s not particularly well-known in the Victorian community and probably not that well-known across Victorian government, but it’s actually had a massive impact, and a very strong leadership role at a national level in terms of biodiversity research, and doing research that has an impacted benefit for conservation.

Dr Amanda Caples: So Kim, what would you classify as being one of the highlights in your tenure at the institute?

Dr Kim Lowe: I’m most proud of the role that I have in enabling an absolutely fabulous group of world-class scientists, to do the very best work they can and to have the greatest impact for conservation and for the community.

That plays out in various ways, it’s of course about supporting our scientists to do the best science they can and everything that goes with that.

It also – we operate pretty much on a fee-for-service basis, so we’re extremely client-focused, and we also really want to have impact because, not only are we great scientists, but we’re also very keen conservationists.

So my achievement, my biggest achievement I think Amanda so far, is supporting this team of 100 scientists to do the very best work and to have the greatest impact.

Dr Amanda Caples: And Kim, so your role is the Research Director, and many of our listeners will be interested to understand what a typical day for you looks like

So, can you tell us a bit about what a typical day might be for you?

Dr Kim Lowe: Absolutely.

So, I’m and Executive within the Department of Environment, so I have executive management responsibilities within our department, I’m part of an executive team that is directed towards that biodiversity conservation goal.

The team includes regulators, policy developers, we provide financial incentives through grants to community groups, and we collect the best knowledge and information we can through research.

So my role is as an interface back into the department as supporting the senior management team at the institute to achieve those goals that I talked about, best quality science, great business sense, really having impact.

But I also work across government, so I’ve had the pleasure to work with you from time-to-time Amanda, I work very closely with other agency heads like Dr Mark Norman, who’s the Chief Scientists at Parks Victoria, and Dr Andrea Hinwood who’s the Chief Scientist at EPA.

Dr Amanda Caples: So Kim, one of the aims of the ARI is to increase biodiversity in Victoria, obviously here in Victoria many of our listeners have had, unfortunately, direct experience of the recent bushfires or know someone who has had that experience, and so I was wondering whether you could tell us a little bit about what impact of bushfires in general, but I suppose particularly this year, have had on biodiversity here in Victoria.

Dr Kim Lowe: We’re all very well aware of the severity and the widespread nature of the fires, probably the most severe we’ve ever had in Victoria.

Our role, as we do within the department, is collect the evidence to understand what’s actually happened.

So, from the very early start of the fires we were using our latest technology, literally a development project that we hadn’t intended to us but we brought it forward, to understand the severity of the fires.

We’ve now got systems in place where we can estimate the severity of the fire impact using satellite imagery.

We’re able to bring that together very quickly and that helped us to understand that whilst the bushfires were quite widespread, the intensity was very uneven, and that’s really helpful to understand because it means that there’s likely to be refuges right across the landscape that appear to be completely destroyed but they’re not actually destroyed, and they’re distinct source populations that will allow biodiversity to come back into the landscape.

So the short of it is, massive amount of animals were killed, the extent of the deaths of those animals has probably pushed a lot of the populations closer to a higher risk of extinction, and we understand that and that’s then allowed the governments who invested $20 million earlier in the year to not only understand it but start to mitigate those effects.

And that included things like shooting feral animals that had become overabundant after the fires, this included foxes who were having an increased negative effect by praying upon mammals and birds, but we’re also part of an effort to rescue populations of fishes and birds from areas where they were not likely to survive without being brought into captivity and supported.

So we had a role in many ways and that’s just a couple of them.

Dr Amanda Caples: Turning to science and technology, so how is science and technology helping you with this rescue work today, and how is that different to perhaps even five to 10 years ago?

So, what’s the role of technology in all this?

Dr Kim Lowe: Technology is massive, you know, I’ve been around for normally as long as the institute, and I can remember my first analyses were done on a BBC computer with an audio tape as the hard drive would you believe.

Nowadays we’ve got this amazing technology, that the ability to process information even in a phone, handheld phone, is greater than anything I had for my PhD.

So that’s where it’s leading us, technology is also in the hands of the community, and of course a very large part of the community are very interested in biodiversity, often as amateur birdwatchers or as amateur botanist, or mammals or fish or frogs, and so the future we think is really driven by the community being more actively engaged in collecting meaningful information, meaningful data, using their phones and other technology to provide it through to central databases.

And that’s really replaced, you know, even 10 years ago we would have several of our field ecologists hopping in cars, driving long distances, spending weeks in the bush, a lot of that data that was collected can now be collected by the community.

So we’re looking at ways that we can best support the community to do that, and technology is a really key part of that.

Dr Amanda Caples: So I’m keen to touch on citizen science which I think you’ve introduced that topic which is terrific.

Dr Kim Lowe: Yes, exactly.

Dr Amanda Caples: So how do you think we can better equip the community to do, or to assist the work of the traditional scientist, and perhaps, you know, do you have an example of a project that you’re currently working on alongside the community?

Dr Kim Lowe: Absolutely. We’ve got lots of the citizen science projects running at the moment.

So, I think firstly Amanda, our role was to understand how can government support the community to collect these data in a way that’s got rigour of scientific approaches, how can we support the community to analyse those data, to present them, and make them available for the community to understand what information is collected.

So our role really is around that side of it.

There is a social science element to this which for many of us more traditional ecologists is new territory understanding how we can best support people to engage in these activities so we’re increasingly understanding how to do that.

So there’s a whole variety of things in place that we need to support, but the example I’d like use probably is Frog Watching Victoria that’s been around for 20-30 years, for a very long time it was restricted to a very small group of extremely passionate people, we’re able to work with the frog watching groups, if you like, to help them understand and how to identify species, because for us identification of species is really fundamental data, helping them to collect accurate data with GPS sightings and records which the average phone now does, that wasn’t possible when I started, pushing that data back through to our centralised databases and then supporting the analytics.

And through that process we’ve shown working with the community that many of our formerly quite abundant frog species are slowly disappearing, and it’s probably a direct impact of climate change.

Now we wouldn’t have detected that sort of directional change without the support of the community.

Dr Amanda Caples: And finally Kim, what would you like people to know about your work?

Dr Kim Lowe: That there continues to be within governments some absolutely world-standard scientists, we work closely with the rest of the scientific community in academia, and we support our scientists to do the best work using the standard scientific processes like peer review literature, to actually have a great impact.

And we’re now working on how we can most effectively work within government to collect the evidence, facilitate the collection of evidence, get evidence used in decision making, so evidence-based decision making is really core interest for us, and so we’re working on that.

So the community should have confidence that we’ve got absolutely world-class standard scientists trying to make a difference and they’re achieving that.

Dr Amanda Caples: Thanks Kim, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you for National Science Week 2020.

Dr Kim Lowe: Many thanks Amanda for the opportunity, I love to talk about science, thanks very much.

Narrator: That was Dr Kim Lowe, the Director of the Arthur Rylah Institute, speaking with Dr Amanda Caples, Victoria’s Lead Scientist, as part of the National Science Week podcast series: ‘Science in government: then, now and what next?’

If you’ve missed one of these podcasts or would like to listen to them again, visit tiny.cc/vicgovscience.

Here, you’ll also be able to access resources mentioned during this series.

The Victorian public sector is a 300,000 strong workforce employed by the Victorian Government to provide services and support for Victorians.

Explore the many ways that you can join the Victorian public sector and be part of the bigger picture.

You can help shape Victoria's future, serve the community, and follow your ambition.

To learn more, visit careers.vic.gov.au.

Ms Vanora Mulvenna - Department of Health and Human Services

Vanora is currently undertaking comprehensive climate change planning and strategy work, together with her team of environmental health officers, engineers, toxicologists, biologists and environmental scientists.

NSW podcast with Vanora Mulvenna

Narrator: National Science Week is Australia’s annual celebration of the role that science, technology, engineering, and maths play in our lives.

Have you ever considered a career in environmental science, or wondered what it would be like to work for state government?

Presented by Victoria’s Lead Scientist, Dr Amanda Caples and EPA Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, Dr Andrea Hinwood, this podcast series will profile a variety of science professionals working within the Victorian Government; what they studied along the way, what roles they have now and what scientific developments they look forward to in the future.

Join Dr Caples and Dr Hinwood to discuss ‘Science in government: then, now and what next?’

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Hello everyone, I’m Dr Andrea Hinwood, EPA Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, and today I’m very pleased to be speaking with Vanora Mulvenna, she’s the Manager of Climate and Health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Thanks Vanora for joining us today.

I guess we have a whole range of questions about your career and what got you to this point.

You studied science at university, what was that first got you into science?

Vanora Mulvenna: Thanks Andrew, really great to talk to you today.

I think I actually loved science from a really young age.

I can remember always that science and maths were my favourite subjects even in primary school.

And then as I got into high school I really got quite interested in biology, which is what I went on to study as a major at university, and I think for me, I mean studying the science of all living things you know a pretty interesting area.

And I think I was really lucky to have some fantastic and really passionate science teachers at school as well that really cemented for me that I really wanted to have a career in science, so it really started I think at quite a young age.

As well as that both my parents work in kind of a healthcare sector or did, and yeah, I think again being surrounded by parents that were interested in science and health really got me inspired as well.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So, how did you take that science interest and end up in a health department today?

You know, I know that you’ve had a range of different roles, what was the trajectory that got you to where you are now?

Vanora Mulvenna: My first role at a university in Canada was actually with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, and that role involved doing things like issuing water permits and wading through streams and creeks doing stream floor monitoring, taking water samples, things like that.

And, then I made the move to Australia actually to do my master of environment at the University of Melbourne in integrated catchment management.

And after that I kind of moved into roles in private consulting, and then eventually got a job with the Department of Health and Human Services where I’ve worked for the last 16 years or so.

And really I think what got me into the department was an interest in working in government.

I’d worked in government in Canada and done some private consulting work, but really thought that government provided an opportunity to really make a difference.

And I was quite interested in working in a policy area and kind of influencing big change, and really I think that’s what my role at the department’s allowed me to do, and it’s been really kind of many and varied.

I’ve done everything from working on drinking water regulation to assessing recycle water schemes, looking at guidelines for bushfire smoke, and then also working in public health responding to major emergencies like the Black Saturday bushfires, the H1M1 pandemic, thunderstorm asthma that we had in 2016, so it’s been really quite an interesting transition really to get the opportunity to work in all those different areas.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Thanks Vanora.

I’m wondering, what does the Department of Health and Human Services actually do apart from COVID of course?

Vanora Mulvenna: Yeah, we’re actually one of the biggest Victorian government departments, and we really have quite a large portfolio.

So, really broadly we deliver a whole lot of policies, programs and services to support and also enhance the health and wellbeing of all Victorians, so a pretty big mandate.

And we cover areas like aging, alcohol and drugs, disability and community support services, ambulance services, mental health, housing and homelessness, health and wellbeing, and where I sit in particular is in public health which is quite a broad area as well, so really a really big portfolio which is all about protecting the community from harm but also improving health outcomes and improving wellbeing as well.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: And, so your role sits within the public health area, can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Vanora Mulvenna: Absolutely.

So, public health is really about both protecting people from hazards, and particularly where I work in in Health Protection, those include communicable disease hazards, and you know, obviously at the moment we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so some of those communicable disease is a big focus of a part of public health.

Where I work is in the environment section, and in our area we do things like regulate the safety of drinking water, food safety, radiation safety, legionella and cooling towers, those kinds of issues, and we work really closely with other agencies to do that as well.

And the other half of public health is really on the prevention side of things, so preventing chronic diseases, preventable diseases, so we do a whole lot of work around health promotion around things like healthy eating and active living, cancer screening programs, we also run immunisation programs so it’s really quite a big area that we look at.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: It’s huge.

So, in terms of the rest of government, you know, is there a way of capturing where DHHS sits in the rest of government?

Vanora Mulvenna: Yeah, I think we are one of quite a number of government departments, and particularly when you think about public health, you can imagine that as much as we, I guess, are the lead agency for public health, there’s lots of other government departments that we work really closely with as well around protecting public health.

So, obviously the Environment Protection Authority is a really big one.

We also work really closely with other agencies like the Department of Land, Environment Land, Water and Planning, so you can imagine the built environment and how we design our buildings and our communities has a really big impact, and can have an impact on health.

So, as much as we kind of take the lead on public health we do that really in partnership with a whole lot of other government departments as well.

And even if you look at issues like food safety, our department regulates food safety but we work really closely with Agriculture Victoria because that department looks at primary industry and you know, we need to look at the whole suite of issues around food.

So yeah, as much as we are a big government department we certainly work really closely with lots of others as part of that as well.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So, your current role as Manager of Climate and Health, can you tell us a bit about what you do in that role, and what does a typical day look like?

Vanora Mulvenna: So, I guess the climate change and health team where I work now, we do a whole range of work and that really varies from policy development, developing guidelines for local government to implement climate change and health initiatives within Victorian communities, and doing things like managing public health campaigns to raise awareness about the health risks associated with climate change and what the community and others can do to adapt to those changes, and also minimise their impacts.

So, it’s quite a varied role and touches on lots of different areas really.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So Vanora, as part of your role you’re a leader of a group, you manage climate and health for the Department of Health and Human Services, how did you actually get to that position and how are you a leader in that particular space, what are the things that you do?

Vanora Mulvenna: Thanks Andrea, I don’t picture yourself as a leader but I suppose you’re right in that way.

How did I get here?

I think I started getting involved in leadership with one of the roles I had in that department which was a team leader in our water unit where I spent most of my time in the department.

I guess I just had an interest in leading a team.

I really enjoy working as part of a team and that’s one of the things I really love about my job.

I guess the things I like about it is there’s just so much more you can do when you’re working as a part of a really effective team, and for me, I love the development side of things as well.

So with, you know, my current team I’ve kind of got a mix of people that have joined us from undergrads, you know fresh out of university, and real experienced public health professionals, and one of the things I really love is just helping to grow the team and expand their experiences just because I’ve had the opportunity to do so many different things, and I guess in a leadership role you can actually provide those opportunities to the people that you work with.

I’ve had some really great managers in my time that have encouraged me to move into that type of leadership role, so I guess it’s both leading a team but also leading in a sense of being a lead to actually deliver a program.

And I think for me being a leader is actually a big part of that is listening.

In my team in particular we spend a lot of time talking to different stakeholders, whether that’s researchers or our peers in other government departments, community members, what things are important to them, where do they see the greatest need, where should we be focusing our efforts, so for me that’s really what leadership is first and foremost.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: That’s great.

A lot of people don’t think that scientists can actually be leaders in that sense, so it’s nice to hear that you can achieve that.

And, I guess one of the other things is that often scientists are stereotyped into lab coats and glasses, what do you do in your spare time, what are your hobbies, what do you like to do outside work?

Vanora Mulvenna: Well, you’re quite right Andrea I don’t spend my time in goggles and lab coats.

I guess outside of work I love getting out into nature.

I love hiking and camping, probably those are two of the biggest things.

I like bike riding but really being outdoors.

In my job I do spend a lot of time in an office, so when I’m not at work I do like to get out and do those things.

I’ve had all kinds of interesting hobbies over the years.

Actually last year I decided to take up hula-hooping believe it or not, so that was something that was a bit of fun.

And, a few years back I also started studying Spanish so I love languages, so that’s also something I like to do in my spare time as well.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Wow!

Interesting.

So Vanora, you’ve had a really interesting career and you’ve worked for industry and government, are there any other things that you’ve done that have actually helped you get to the position that you’re in now?

Vanora Mulvenna: Yeah, I guess one of the main experiences outside of government and private consulting was a few years I actually decided to take a few months out of government and as part of that I thought while I’m off work I might just do some volunteering.

So I actually reached out the Climate and Health Alliance which is an NGO that does a whole lot of work in climate and health space, and I was lucky enough at the time that the team was actually in the middle of writing the framework for a national strategy for climate health and wellbeing for Australia that I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to co-author.

And for me that was just a really fascinating insight into the great work that can happen at a grass roots level through NGOs and the inputs you can actually have in a whole lot of different areas.

I certainly had that experience in government but also the great work that happens through NGOs that can be quite influential.

And really, when I came back to the department after that time that’s when I moved into overseeing the department’s Thunderstorm Asthma program, and then into my current role managing the Climate Change and Health program as well.

So I think, for me, a key lesson has been just to get a range of experience.

I think the value in my career has been not only working in government but also working in private industry and through that experience volunteering and working for an NGO, you just get a really interesting view across lots of different sectors.

And for people that might be a bit uncertain about where they want to head with their careers I think that could be quite helpful, because it can really help you determine which areas you do want to work in, and if you’re interested in having a role where you might be able to actually influence big change, just recognising you can do that in lots of different areas as well.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: That’s great advice Vanora, thank you.

I’m sure lots of people will value that insight.

And, so there’s lots of things that you do on a day-to-day basis, you know, when we’re talking about climate change and health, many people will understand about heat for example, but what are some of the other issues that you deal with from a health point of view and climate change?

Vanora Mulvenna: Yeah, they are really varied Andrea.

So, what we know about climate change and its impacts on health is that there is those direct impacts on health, like you mentioned heat is one of the major ones, but direct impacts that can result from other things like bushfires which we know are already increasing with frequency and intensity as the results of climate change, and that will be very front of mind for people in Victoria and the eastern seaboard in Australia, particularly given what we’ve just seen in this past summer.

So that can result in indirect impacts as well such as exposure to bushfire smoke, and we certainly saw that this summer with really prolonged smoke exposure in different parts of Victoria during that period.

Flooding is another one that we know we’re going to have overall less rainfall with climate change, but when it does rain we will see really heavy downpours, and there’s all kinds of public health risks that can result.

And so we tend to see impacts for example on our drinking water catchments where you might actually get ingress of bacteria and chemicals into our catchments.

There can be risks with people exposed to flood waters generally, things like that.

Drought as well, obviously a really critical issue for Australia that impacts our food growing areas, mental health impacts of course associated with prolonged periods of drought.

So lots and lots of different areas including risk to food safety which we often see.

You know, when you get increased temperatures we tend to see more food borne outbreaks for things like Salmonella which people might have heard of, so a really broad suite of potential impacts that we need to manage across the spectrum.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Vanora, you know, you’ve talked a lot about different program areas, can you give us an example of the different types of science that have been used in a climate change and health program that you’ve been involved in?

Vanora Mulvenna: Yeah, absolutely.

One of the most interesting programs I’ve had the opportunity to work on is the department’s Thunderstorm Asthma program, and listeners might be aware of that huge event that we had back in November 2016.

It was really the first major event of that scale that we’ve had in Victoria, and has been described as really the biggest event in the entire world.

And for people that aren’t that familiar, essentially what happened and what we know about thunderstorm asthma is it’s a combination of high pollen levels, grass pollen levels, and a certain type of thunderstorm that actually breaks the pollen into very small particles that can then be inhaled deep into the lungs and actually results in asthma.

And it’s quite a sudden change that happens, and during that event we saw over 3,500 people present with asthma to hospitals in a very short timeframe.

Very sadly we saw 10 deaths that actually directly resulted from that event, and what that meant was, because it was not something that Victoria had seen before, we really needed to very quickly implement a really comprehensive program so that we could be sure that when that event, or if that event, or similar event were to recur again we’d actually have the appropriate things in place to protect the community.

And so we set up a program that involved lots of different areas.

So that was things like setting up a public health campaign and education program to make the community aware of what the risks were.

So what we knew about thunderstorm asthma, who actually might be at risk, so that turned out to be people with asthma and hay fever.

We worked with national asthma organisations to develop a health professional education program as part of that to make sure that general practitioners and nurses etcetera, understood who was at risk and how they could actually work with their patients that were at risk to make sure they knew what to do.

We developed updated information and warning systems to alert the community about potential days of higher risk.

We developed, with the Bureau of Meteorology a thunderstorm asthma forecasting system, so really a huge suite of different programs, and again all of those were very much based on science.

We did an awful lot of work with universities, the Bureau of Meteorology and others to really understand what were the particular contributors to the event, and could we understand more about them.

And there’s still a whole lot of active research across lots of different areas to better understand the mechanisms.

There’s still a lot that we don’t know, so that’s an example of a big picture program that really science was just a huge part of all the different things that we did post that event.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Yeah, I mean lots of different areas of science contributing from the sounds of it.

Vanora Mulvenna: Absolutely.

So, you know, we’re clearly working on this front and we’re looking at the relationship between climate change and health, what does success look like in this area for you?

Vanora Mulvenna: I think for me success would entail a much greater awareness of climate change risk to health, particularly for the community to understand that we really do need to rapidly reduce our emissions, and we all really have a role to play, that’s everyone from individuals to business, to local government, state government, federal government, getting a sense of the urgent need to act and to act quickly so that we can hopefully prevent the worst of the impacts that could arise with that rapid transition.

So I guess raising awareness around the need to mitigate emissions, but also recognising that there’s already a certain amount of climate change locked in, and therefore we do actually need to be aware of what those risks are and make sure that we know how to protect ourselves and stay safe in a changing climate.

And for me in particular, you talked about heat, recognising that we’ve got lots of community members that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and really making sure that we’re looking after those people and doing everything we can to protect them.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: So, in terms of the community and their interest in your role, how can they get engaged in climate change and health with DHHS?

And, I guess more generally, how do people start to look at their own careers and how they get into a role like yours?

Vanora Mulvenna: Yeah, I think we have a lot of really good resources on our website, so we’ve got a climate change and health page on what we call health.vic website.

The Better Health Channel is another great channel for the community that we manage in the Department of Health, and we’ve got some interesting climate change and health resources on that channel as well.

So those are some of the places that people can go to find information about the kind of work we do.

In terms of getting into government, and I guess into a role in public health, within my team in particular we just have a range of different people that work with us, so that’s everyone from environmental health officers, engineers, scientists, toxicologist, people like myself who might have degrees in biology or environmental science.

So there’s not one particular specialty, we employ a range of different science-based roles in the team, so depending on what role or what degree you’ve actually done, there’s certainly lots of opportunity to get involved.

And some of those different areas I mentioned before, particularly in climate change, it just touches on so many different fields of science and different topics that there’s certainly plenty of opportunities, I think, for people to actually get involved in public health work and join the department.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: And what role does science play in all of these issues?

I mean you’ve talked about different disciplines, and the fact that you can probably get into this area from a range of different areas, how do you think science helps in terms of climate change and health and therefore what should people know about science generally?

Vanora Mulvenna: I think really science forms the basis for everything that we do in our team and in public health more broadly.

So I’m just thinking about some of the examples I mentioned of activities we undertake, so one of those areas is education and capacity building for the community.

So there’s the science to what are the most effective ways to actually communicate public risk and motivate people to change their behaviour, so there’s a whole field of science around communicating risk and motivating change which is one of the areas that we work in.

So we certainly draw on the best-practice evidence, and some of that takes into account psychology and motivators for people in terms of change.

When we’re looking at how we actually surveil risks, so you’re probably aware that in public health we do all kinds of monitoring and surveillance of disease within the community, so certainly that’s very informed by science and evidence, so how do we do that in the best way to really understand what the risks are, and therefore to put in place the best interventions that we can.

So really science sits across everything that we do.

And also, I guess, looking ahead when you think about climate change and health, there’s a whole lot of work that’s gone into modelling future projections and changes in our climate in Victoria, and for us we really need to understand that science and what that might look like under different emission scenarios so that we can say okay, what’s the possible quantum of risk and how do we actually implement programs to address that.

So yeah, I think broadly it just sits across everything that we do.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: It’s really interesting because it really means that whatever branch of science you do, you can probably end up working in this space.

So what would you like people to know about science generally given that’s where you started out?

Vanora Mulvenna: I think I’d like them to recognise just how interesting science is.

I mean I’m biased, I worked in the science-based field my whole career, but I just think it’s fascinating.

There’s just so many different ways you can get involved, different degree programs that you can actually do that will allow you to work public health.

It’s such a fascinating and varied area, and for me particularly, I just think that science, particularly when you apply it in a government context and in public health, you can actually really make a difference.

You can contribute to really big change, and evidence-based science is how we do that, so that’s what I’d like to really say to people, get involved it is really interesting work, it really does make a difference.

And maybe for some people they might think it’s a bit intimidating, or I’m not sure I could do that kind of work, but just have confidence in your abilities and be curious about the opportunities, because I think, for me, when I was studying even my undergrad, I didn’t really understand the types of jobs that I could actually go into.

You might think I don’t really want to work in a laboratory is that all I can do, or to be a researcher, but for me and my experience in government there’s just a huge suite of potential opportunities that you could actually move into.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: Well I’ve certainly gained an insight in terms of the work you do with climate change and health, and I’m wondering whether I should actually consider a shift in that direction.

So are there any other observations that you’d make for people who are sitting back saying that might be the career for me, any last words you’d like to give anyone who’s listening?

Vanora Mulvenna: If you’re curious about it there is just so many different opportunities, and I think, particularly when you look at where the world is right now, we really need more people to get involved in science.

If you look at the current year that we’ve had, you know, we’re in the middle of a pandemic at the moment, the COVID response for example sits in my branch in the Department of Health, and it’s issues like pandemics and climate change, these are really the defining health issues of our time, and we really need skilled and experienced people to move into the field.

I think the growth in climate change work is only going to grow.

And, you know, the climate and the planet is changing and we do need to actually make sure that we’ve got the workforce to actually deal with the challenges we’re facing.

So I can only just, yeah, encourage more people to get involved.

Dr Andrea Hinwood: That’s great Vanora.

Thank you so much for your time today, and thanks for sharing your journey to where you are now, and I’m sure that’s been a benefit to people to hear, so thank you very much.

Vanora Mulvenna: Thanks so much Andrea, great to talk to you.

Narrator: That was Vanora Mulvenna, Manager, Climate and Health at DHHS, speaking with Dr Andrea Hinwood, Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, as part of the National Science Week podcast series: ‘Science in government: then, now and what next?’

If you’ve missed one of these podcasts or would like to listen to them again, visit tiny.cc/vicgovscience.

Here, you’ll also be able to access resources mentioned during this series.

The Victorian public sector is a 300,000 strong workforce employed by the Victorian Government to provide services and support for Victorians.

Explore the many ways that you can join the Victorian public sector and be part of the bigger picture.

You can help shape Victoria's future, serve the community, and follow your ambition.

To learn more, visit careers.vic.gov.au.

Alison Kemp - Environment Protection Authority Victoria

Alison works for the Environment Protection Authority which works to prevent and reduce harm from pollution and waste. Alison provides technical advice about aquatic systems and marine waters and is conducting research into microplastics.

NSW podcast with Alison Kemp

Narrator: National Science Week is Australia’s annual celebration of the role that science, technology, engineering, and maths play in our lives.

Have you ever considered a career in environmental science, or wondered what it would be like to work for state government?

Presented by Victoria’s Lead Scientist, Dr Amanda Caples and EPA Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist, Dr Andrea Hinwood, this podcast series will profile a variety of science professionals working within the Victorian Government; what they studied along the way, what roles they have now and what scientific developments they look forward to in the future.

Join Dr Caples and Dr Hinwood to discuss ‘Science in government: then, now and what next?’

Dr Amanda Caples: Hello everyone, I’m Dr Amanda Caples, Lead Scientist of Victoria, and today I am pleased to be speaking with Alison Kemp.

Alison is a Special Applied Scientist Marine at the Environmental Protection Authority.

Thank you Alison for joining with us today for National Science Week 2020.

Firstly Alison I’d like to ask a question, can you tell us a little bit about what is the EPA and what is its role?

Alison Kemp: Thanks Amanda, it’s great to talk to you.

So the EPA is the state’s environmental regulator, and our overall purpose is to prevent and reduce harm from pollution and waste.

And I work in their Applied Sciences Division, so we provide technical and scientific advice to the organisation and to the community more broadly about various issues relating to pollution and waste in Victoria.

Dr Amanda Caples: And Alison, tell us a little bit now about your particular role.

Your title says Marine, can you talk to us about what that entails?

Alison Kemp: Yeah, sure.

So day-to-day it varies quite a lot depending on what requests we get from the rest of the organisation.

So, we generally provide technical advice to the organisation, and my role particularly is related to aquatic systems and marine waters.

EPA provide a range of different functions and Applied Sciences Division support those functions, so we provide scientific input into approvals.

So, EPA issue approvals and licences to industry to operate within our environmental legislation, so we provide scientific and technical information into those decision making processes.

We also provide technical advice for emergencies, so if there’s a pollution incident we provide advice to that incident, and an example of that would be some of the industrial fires that have happened in recent times.

And my role particularly would be looking at water-related advice.

So when we have a large industrial fire they use fire water, so looking at the potential impacts of that fire water on the aquatic systems nearby.

We also do a lot of monitoring across the state in aquatic systems, and a lot of the bays, so Port Phillip Bay, Western Port and the Gippsland Lakes, so we look at that data and interpret the data and compile reports on that information.

And we also do a bit of research as well, so looking into emerging issues or new topics that have come up.

And recently I’ve been involved in a research and development project into microplastics as an emerging concern in the environment, so doing some work looking at the scientific literature on that topic.

Dr Amanda Caples: Thanks Alison.

I’d like to pick out two areas that you just talked about, and firstly about the bays.

So I think I can speak for all Victorians to say that we’re very proud of Port Phillip and Western Port bays and really care a lot about our coastal waters.

You mentioned that, you know, you look at the data around the quality of those systems, I was wondering whether you could just expand on that a little bit to inform us on what exactly are you trying to measure, and how is that done?

Alison Kemp: So, EPA in particular look at water quality indicators such as nutrient levels, dissolved oxygen, water clarity, salinity of those bays, and they’re indicators of the overall health of those systems as indicators of ecological health.

So we’ve been monitoring in Port Phillip Bay and Western Port for a very long time, for decades actually, so we’ve got one of the longest datasets for water quality in those bays, and that’s a really great resource to look at changes in those bays over time.

We go out there typically once a month and take samples, so we’ve got a long-term dataset which is a really valuable asset to look at ecological health over time.

I also want to mention that we have one of our really high profile programs which is beach reports, so every summer we go out and monitor the bacteria levels in beaches in Port Phillip Bay particularly over summertime, to provide information to the community on whether it’s safe to swim.

Dr Amanda Caples: Thanks Alison.

And on the subject of microplastics, so that’s been a matter, an issue, that has had a lot of public attention over recent years, can you share with us what, from your perspective, what are the major sources of microplastics and where you think we’re going in terms of managing that as a substantial risk factor for the quality of our waters?

Alison Kemp: Yes, well we’re in fairly early stages of our project looking into microplastics, but there’s been some great work across the state on microplastics.

But our work in particular is looking into the scientific literature first off, to find out what the science is telling us on microplastics, what are the key risks, and then from that trying to apply that to the Victorian context.

So there’s a range of different sources, stormwater is one big one as a source of litter, but there’s other sources as well and that’s what we’re trying to tease out the information from the scientific literature to try and better understand what are the particular sources that relate to Victoria.

Port Phillip Bay is a very special place and it is surrounded by the urban areas of Melbourne, so a lot of the pollutants that we do find in the bay are from the urban areas of Melbourne washing off through stormwater, so we do want to understand that further particularly, not just microplastics but other contaminants that are washing off into the bay.

Dr Amanda Caples: So Alison, what do you like most about your job?

Alison Kemp: I would say definitely the diversity of tasks that we come across.

One week we could be responding to a pollution incident, say an industrial fire or a spill into a waterway, and the next week we’re doing research into microplastics, and the following week we could be dealing with a request relating to a particular proposal or an approval for a discharge to a waterway or to coastal waters.

So really what I love is the diversity of things that we do, and it’s just never boring.

I also really love working with some of the other scientists, they’re a great bunch of people to work with, very intelligent, and lots of different expertise in the organisation, so gain a lot from working with other experts in the scientists at EPA as well.

Dr Amanda Caples: Many people think about science and the STEM subjects as being people in white coats and in a laboratory somewhere, not many people know about the role of science that STEM in government, so what would you like people to know about how STEM is useful for government policy?

Alison Kemp: I don’t know that I’ve put a white coat on for a very long time I have to say, and it’s not necessarily, you know, working in a lab, it’s really, from my experience, is looking at what the science is telling us, what we know and understand from the scientific literature, and then trying to apply that to real world incidents and events that happen in Victoria.

So I think we do a lot of field work, we go out on the water, take samples like I said in summer, we go out to the beaches or we respond to incidents, so I think it’s such a diverse array of science work that we do.

We do a lot of science communication as well, and extension activities, so it’s – I think it’s just such a diverse array of things that we do.

Dr Amanda Caples: Now, getting a little bit more personal, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to this role, so your pathway to this career?

Alison Kemp: Yeah sure.

So I’ve actually spent over 15 years at EPA I think, so that has been a great place to work for me.

I must say that 15 years has gone pretty quickly.

I did a science degree with honours and I did contemplate doing more study such as a PhD, but I was really particularly keen use science in an applied way.

I wanted to use knowledge and expertise to apply to real world problems, so I started out actually at a regional water authority which was a great starting point, and from there have worked in government since then.

I think that the government career path is a great one.

I’ve actually have been lucky to have two periods of maternity leave as well, so I’ve been able to use those flexible arrangements to start a family and then come back part-time, which I still am part-time, and I think that’s a really great aspect of working government as well, the flexibility to keep working in your chosen career path but also have your family as well.

Dr Amanda Caples: So now going back even further, what was your inspiration to study science?

Alison Kemp: Well, we mentioned Port Phillip Bay early on, and I’ve actually spent a lot of time on the water with sailing in small dinghies and also swimming at the beach.

I spent a lot of time down on the coast and I’ve always loved doing that.

And, through high school I really found that I loved biology, really loved finding out how things worked, that just made a lot of sense to me.

So I wanted to study science, and initially I wanted to perhaps go on and do physiotherapy or something in that area, but my last year of high school I went on a hike to Tasmania, and this experience of hiking through the wilderness of Tasmania was really a turning point for me ‘cause there’s amazing wilderness and I really felt a passion to go on to protect, try and protect, those wilderness areas and this, you know, amazing environment.

So I went on to do science but I then specialised in the environmental sciences, so botany, zoology, environmental science and I went from there.

Dr Amanda Caples: For many of our listeners today, whether they’re aspiring science students or the parents of aspiring science students, what would you give them in terms of advice for students today, say from your experience?

Alison Kemp: I would say usually follow something that you’re really passionate about, find something that you really love to do and follow that.

But I’d also suggest trying where you can to find some volunteer work, or some ways to delve into that career path that you think you might take so that you can experience that and then you can make some decisions about whether that’s where you want to head.

I found early on in career doing that volunteer work was a really great way to experience that career path early on, and also great to get on your resume as well, to get that first foot in the door which can be really tricky.

Dr Amanda Caples: So going forward what do you see as being the major challenges, but of course also the major opportunity in environmental science?

Alison Kemp: So as I mentioned before we’ve been working on microplastics, and I’d really love to see more generally a move towards a circular economy, and that’s not necessarily just looking at improved recycling so much, but it’s actually looking at the whole cycle and looking at innovative design, so how we can design out those waste products if we can to try and embed that in everything that we do.

I think that’s something that it would be a really great leap forward in environmental protection.

Dr Amanda Caples: If one of our listeners had an interest in finding out more about some of the things that you’ve spoken about today Alison, what recommendations would you have?

Alison Kemp: I would suggest that the IMOS website is a great resource, that’s the Integrated Marine Observing System, in Australia and there’s some great resources on that website.

You can go in, look at some data, you can look at sea surface temperatures across Australia, also algal blooms as well.

There’s a lot of great articles and it’s very focused on Australia, so it does delve into the oceanography around Australia which I think is a really great resource.

And some people might have seen recently the ABC series on Australian Oceans Odyssey, that was the journey down the east Australian current, which was a really great three part documentary on Australia’s marine environments and how they integrate with land-based ecosystems as well, how it’s all integrated together, so that’s a really nice series to watch with the kids as well.

And on circular economy there’s a really great foundation based out of the UK which is the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, they’ve done a lot of great work on the circular economy and principles associated with the circular economy, getting industry in right at the front door to try and embed that in design and in industry practices, that’s a really great website as well.

Dr Amanda Caples: Thank you again Alison for joining us during National Science Week 2020.

I think you’ve demonstrated what a great career path is in government in environmental sciences, and also the challenges that you’ve overcome in being a young mum in science, so thank you again for your participation today.

Alison Kemp: Thanks Amanda.

Narrator: That was Ms Alison Kemp from the Environmental Protection Authority speaking with Dr Amanda Caples, Victoria’s Lead Scientist as part of the National Science Week podcast series: ‘Science in government: then, now and what next?’

If you’ve missed one of these podcasts or would like to listen to them again, visit tiny.cc/vicgovscience.

Here, you’ll also be able to access resources mentioned during this series.

The Victorian public sector is a 300,000 strong workforce employed by the Victorian Government to provide services and support for Victorians.

Explore the many ways you can join the Victorian public sector and be part of the bigger picture.

You can help shape Victoria's future, serve the community, and follow your ambition.

To learn more, visit careers.vic.gov.au.

Page last updated: 8 October 2020