Podcasts – Science in Government

Science in Government is a podcast series from Victoria’s Lead Scientist Dr Amanda Caples and EPA Victoria’s Chief Environmental Scientist Prof. Mark Taylor, launched to coincide with National Science Week

Showcasing the wide range of options open to scientists working in the Victorian Government, this podcast profiles ten professionals in different fields.

From a remote sensing scientist using geospatial data to inform land use and animal production to people at the centre of Victoria’s recent emergency response efforts.

These scientists discuss their backgrounds, current roles and what led them to pursue a career in government

Amelia Dwyer and Magdalini Zonnios discuss their experience with the Victorian Public Service Graduate Program

Amelia Dwyer and Magdalini Zonnios, two early-career public servants, discuss the different paths they took to join the Victorian Public Service graduate program, what they’ve learned about the role of science in government and their future careers. Amelia is a policy officer working to boost capabilities in the translation and commercialisation of research. Magdalini recently started work at the Office of the Lead Scientist, where she applies her understanding of the quantum physics landscape to identify opportunities for economic growth.

Amelia Dwyer and Magdalini Zonnios

Dr Amanda Caples

Hi everyone. Welcome to our science in government podcast. I'm Dr Amanda Caples, Victoria's lead scientist, and this podcast series has been developed by my office in partnership with the office for the chief environmental scientist. In today's podcast, we will hear from Amelia Dwyer and Magda Leni's own IUs, too early-career public servants from very different disciplines chat about the paths they took towards joining the Victorian public service graduate programme. What they are learning about the role of science in government and where they see themselves going in the future.

Magdalini Zonnios

Hi, I'm Magdalini and I'm a graduate officer. I'm currently working in the office of Victoria's lead scientist. And with me, I have Amelia.

Amelia Dwyer

Yes. Hi. Magdlini. I'm Amelia Dwyer. I am a policy officer in the innovation and medical research branch at the Department of Jobs Precincts and Regions. Great. So, I know that you have a developmental biology background. Can you tell me a little bit about what that is? And I'm like, what made you interested in that? Yeah. Yeah. So, developmental biology, these are interesting. And niche field. It's really about how I guess the growth trajectory from an embryo to a human. Really? So, it's all about, um, cell signalling and how proteins are made and all of those processes that just happen to become a human. I became interested in it back in year 12. I remember studying topics. Um, like my osmosis and mitosis. You know, those basic ones back in year 12. But finding them just so, so interesting compared to all of my other subjects. So that is definitely why I decided to study it at uni. But yeah, it's a super interesting field. You should look into it. What about you? You're a quantum physicist. Is that right?

Magdalini Zonnios

Yeah. So, for me, I got interested in physics. Probably near the end of year 12. I decided I really wanted to do physics, but I was quite terrible at maths, but eventually, my sort of obsession with physics sort of translate into an obsession for maths as well. So, um, that ultimately kind of became fine. But I found that for me. What kind of made me really decided that I wanted to do more? Physics was That was when I, uh, started doing quantum. And that was in third year. So I did a unit, and then I actually did a research project. And during that time, I had to do a lot of mats, and it was like one kind of particular field that I found really interesting. And, um, I had to kind of use that to do a bit of coding and things. And I realised that was sort of what I wanted to do. And before that, I was convinced that I wanted to do experimental physics. And then after that, I was after this unit, and after learning this map that I found really, really interesting and inspiring, I decided that I was a bit more interested in theoretical physics and coding and making simulations and things. And what was that research project in? So that was a quantum physics research project. So, I was looking at, um I was looking at quantum chaos. Actually, yeah, it's a really, really interesting field, really beautiful stuff. It relates to a lot of areas of physics. So, I was mainly looking at it from a quantum information theory perspective, which is kind of like the quantum version of it. So, they were kind of particular quantities that can translate from classical domain into a quantum domain. But yeah, that was That was kind of what I was doing. It sounds like a really nation-specific field. I'm curious to know how you got into this role and what that journey was like. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I guess it was. It was just one of the programmes that I had applied for was, um, the graduate programme. And I was I think I was expecting that the value that I would be able to add here would have been more related to the work that I had done in outreach. But in fact, even having done just, you know, the coding that I've done during my project that ended up being quite useful Um, I also felt like I had kind of, uh, skills in analysis, just more generally and in kind of looking at things from a scientific perspective and being able to write concisely and explain complex things in simple language. And I think that that actually, um also translated really strongly into, uh, DJPR. As Well, which, which was really, really cool. Um, and how about for you So developmental biology? How did do you feel like there are things that have kind of translated from yeah, what you were doing at, you need to like what you ended up doing and what you're doing now at work, especially working in medical research and innovation area.

Amelia Dwyer

Yeah, yeah, for sure. So when I was studying developmental biology, I was doing a really niche field. I was looking particularly at fatal health, which is really different to what I do now at the J. P. R. But I guess how I got from there to here is that I am sort of about three-quarters of the way through my degree. I had a bit of a moment where I realised that lab work wasn't really for me. And, um, you know, I didn't actually want to be in a research career, but that was the trajectory. I was heading down, and I was really lucky to do one of those internships that is a subject at Uni, and I was placed at the Bio Melbourne Network. So, they like an industry association, and they serve life science organisations in Melbourne and it was so valuable for me because, for my whole degree, I thought research was the only option that I could do. But then doing this placement, I learned all about the industry side of science and the government policy side of science. So it was that that really inspired me to apply for this role. And, um, yes. So the role I do now is completely different, obviously to fatal health research. But it's been really valuable having that scientific background and that knowledge even just of scientific jargon. Um, so if we get a medical research proposal here, for example, or a new med-tech product, it's really helpful that I know that lingo and I really understand the science behind it. Um, yeah, definitely. I don't regret the degree I did it all. It's been super helpful in this role, even though it's such a different job. Yeah. Did you ever kind of think that instead, you would have gone into industry? I mean, going into by Melbourne Network, you would have had sort of interaction with, I guess other sectors, apart from discovering them, was there something that drew you to government. Yeah, so definitely when I was at by a Melbourne network, there are sort of two other sides. There's the policy side and then the commercial industry side. I was definitely equally as interested in that commercial side, but it was amazing. I'm in the science graduate programme and they had just opened this position for policy and medical research and innovation. And it was one of the first roles for a grad they've had in a while. And I just felt like, you know, that was for me. That was my calling. It was the perfect timing. It was the perfect job. So, um yeah, and I've always actually studied global studies at uni as well, so I've always done a bit of policy writing and a bit of government work. So, um, yeah, I feel like the policy side you get, you get a combination of both commercial and policy and it's Yeah, it's such a great such a great role.

Amelia Dwyer

So now you are actually working in the medical research area? What does a normal day look like for you? So, I'm in the innovation of Medical Research branch. I'm actually in the Innovation Unit So our medical research colleagues they, I guess, work to build our medical research and clinical trials sector by doing grants and programmes to support that sector. But what the innovation side does, which is where I am is we really work with start ups and companies. Um, we are aiming to boost our startup sector, but we're also aiming to work on the commercialisation side of science. So we try to boost capabilities in, um, translation and commercialisation of research. Um, in terms of what a day to day is, we do a lot of meetings with stakeholders and companies. Try and figure out what's missing in our sector. Um, and what we could do to improve it. We do a lot of programming activities. So, um, you know, setting up new programmes, new guidelines, and we also do a lot of policy work. So, looking at things like, for example, what is Melbourne's life science ecosystem missing? What can we do to improve that? And, um, yeah, there's a lot of research that goes behind that. That's amazing. Yeah, that's great. What about you? What's your role, like in the office of the lead scientist?

Magdalini Zonnios

So, I guess broadly the opposite. The lead scientist is looking to align and connect universities, industry partners and, um, government. To identify emerging technologies is like one of the really big things and to, uh, find areas where we might be able to commercialise and create positive economic outcomes for Victorians. And that sort of, uh, yeah, I guess part of the larger vision of the department to create positive economic outcomes. Um, so in terms of things that I'm working on, I'm actually got really lucky in my time here. I'm working on a woman in stem initiative and also identifying opportunities for growth in the emerging quantum technologies sector. So really within kind of two areas that I'm really passionate about. Um, for the women in stem project, what we're really doing is taking this bird's eye view of what's going on in Victoria and seeing, um, where the gaps are and where the opportunities are. So, there is a lot of incredible work that's already been done by, um, a lot of organisations and outreach programmes and things like that. So what? What we're doing was kind of mapping out all of those things and saying like, okay, we have some really amazing policy documents which we know identify what our opportunities are, How many of those already being addressed and how many aren't. Where should the further worker where should the government intervention be? So that's yeah, that's kind of the main project that we're working on for women in stem and in the emerging quantum technologies. What we're doing is working with, um, primarily the research and development sector of the quantum ecosystem, because that is the part that what currently exists does not heats and the rest of the supply chain. But what we want to do is sort of facilitate that, um, yeah, the growth of that industry and try and see if we can. We can do this in a way that benefits Victorians.  So, you're in the grad programme? Yeah. What are your other rotations? Are they all science based as well? So that my previous rotation was in, um, information services, um, which is more like part of the corporate services group, So kind of, um, they do internal consultations for technology kind of solutions. So, a little bit different to what I'm doing here, which is a lot more kind of stakeholder management. And then for my next rotation, um, I might actually be going into the medical research area. Great. Looking forward to it. Did you find anything surprising about working as working in government as a science graduate? Yeah. I mean, when I was back at Uni, I really didn't consider a role in science and government. I didn't actually know what the opportunities were. And I think since starting, the thing that I find most surprising is just how many opportunities there are in here for science grads, Um, and science in general. I think it's amazing that, you know, I could be working on innovation today, but tomorrow I could do energy policy or, you know, work in marine biology. And I've got a fellow grad friends who work in telecommunications and, like, such a diverse range of science roles that I really never knew existed in government. And yeah, that's definitely the most surprising. And one of the best things I think about it. What about you? Did you find that as well?

Yeah. Well, one thing that I found positive and surprising was just the amount of mentorship that there's been I feel like every single place that I found myself in, there's been somebody who's just been so willing to help and to sort of give opportunities and, um, support me and things that are meaningful to me. There's not. I don't feel like they have just, you know, just this best interest of, um, what the department needs. It's more like how can I reach my personal potential in a way that benefits me and the department? So, I found that has been really, really amazing for sure. Everyone here is so supportive. Really, they really want to see you go. And it's just a really amazing place for a grad to take on their first job. I would really recommend it. Yeah, me too. Me too. Yeah. So, did you know you wanted to go into a grad programme when you were at uni or, uh, not really? Um I sort of considered going into a PhD after straight after, um, uni, and that's still something that I kind of think that I would like to do. But, it wasn't It wasn't at all like a given that I wanted to just go into a graduate programme. But it was one of the options. And, um and when it sort of became a reality, it was actually more closely aligned to what I wanted than I realised. Yeah? How about for you? Yeah. I mean, I was always a bit of a generalist, um, at uni and at high school, and I never really knew what role I wanted to do. So, I always thought of grad programme would be perfect for me because you obviously get all those different rotations, and you get the support. So, for me, it's been great. Um, I did. I've done three. I finished the grad programme now, but I did three rotations, um, all in science fields, but spanning different areas like MedTech pharmaceuticals, Digital and I also did a bit in energy and environment, which was super interesting to see all those different fields. So, I would really recommend a grad programme to any any student that doesn't know exactly what they want to do. And they just want to try all these different things. It's such an amazing way to see what's out there. Yeah, completely. So, Magda Linney, what advice would you give to someone who is currently studying right now, I think it for a person studying science. I guess I would firstly remind them that, uh, the uni grades probably not the most important thing in their life and that there are always multiple pathways to get into things that you're interested in. And I would also, I guess, tell them that the skills that you gain from a science degree are really, really valued outside of just research, I think it's not made completely clear. Like how, How, just how valuable so many of those skills are that that you're acquiring during your science degree? Yeah. Um, and that people value it in government especially. I mean, they're useful for everything, right? Yeah. Yeah, yeah, totally. How about you? What advice would you give? Um, yeah, I would. I mean, we've heard it 1000 times over and over, but I really think it's so important that when you're in when you're in your uni degree, that you need to get out there. Um, whether it's an internship, whether it's a coffee catch up, whether it's attending a conference. Um, not so much for getting that experience on your CV, but really just to learn about what else is out there. I mean, I was in my third year of a four-year degree, and I thought my only option was research, and that is just not true at all. Um, and I didn't know that until I spoke to people, so, yeah, just do whatever you can. I guess finding out things you don't like is just as beneficial. So that would definitely be my number one tip and also just, you know, staying open and fluid to other options. Um, I feel people who have this one set goal of exactly what they want to be need to have a little bit of wiggle room there. You know, there might be something better out there, so just staying fluid as well. And the reality is like science. It's always evolving, and it's a very complicated field. There are so many jobs that we didn't even know existed and that I still don't even know exist until I go out there and talk to people who were in them. So, it's super important. So where do you see yourself in the next five years? What's next for you? So, I think for the next year, I plan to still stay in government. But after that I think I want to go back into research. Um, I think I want to do a PhD overseas and understand different parts of the innovation landscape from a kind of research and development perspective, but kind of threw to the intersection between that and industry impact. Um, so I think, yeah, I want to sort of explore other areas and then eventually come back to government in a more kind of, like leadership role. So that's sort of my big trajectory at the moment. How about you? Yeah. So, I mean, I really am keen to stay where I am for a bit longer.

Um, in the innovation of medical research field at the moment, particularly with covid, um, everyone's seen the importance of innovation and medical research, and it's a really, really exciting field to be in at the moment. Um, so, honestly, I can see myself in the same team in the next two years just because the projects we're working on a lot of new projects that are just incredible and I really want to be a part of them, particularly from start to end if I can, so yeah, yeah, Thanks very much for your time, Amelia. It was so lovely chatting with you and finding out a bit about your journey and your role in government. You too. It was lovely to meet you in great chunks.

Dr Amanda Caples

Thanks for joining us today on our Science in Government podcast series, released in collaboration between the office of the chief environmental Scientists and my office, the office of the lead scientist. If you would like to find out more about the events held across this year's National Science Week, head to NationalScienceWeek.com.au.

Rachel Poon and Dr Elizabeth (Liz) Morse-McNabb discuss remote sensing and wastewater surveillance

Rachael Poon and Dr Liz Morse-McNabb take us on a journey through technological developments that are having tangible benefits for Victorian communities. Rachael Poon has a background in microbiology and is the Principal Scientist at the Department of Health’s Wastewater Surveillance program for SARS-CoV-2 . Liz is a remote sensing scientist working with Agriculture Victoria’s Animal Productions Sciences Group in Bendigo. She leads a team that monitors pasture grass through data collected from satellites and drones.

Rachel Poon and Dr Elizabeth (Liz) Morse

Dr Amanda Caples

Hi everyone, and thanks again for joining me Dr Amanda Caples in today's Science in Government: National Science Week podcast.
Today two passionate scientists, Rachel Poon and Liz Morse McNab take us through their roles and the technological developments in their fields that are having very tangible impacts for Victoria. Although they come from very different scientific disciplines, Rachel and Liz discuss their shared love of science and the synergies in the work they do in government.

Rachael Poon

Hello, my name is Rachel Poon. I'm the principal scientist from the wastewater surveillance program for SARS-Cov-2, working at the Department of Health.

Liz Morse-McNab

Hi there. My name is Liz Morse-McNab, and I'm a senior research scientist in Agriculture Victoria, working in the animal production sciences group and based in Bendigo,

Rachael Poon

So, Liz, you’re a remote sensing and spatial scientist. What exactly do you do at Agriculture Victoria?

Liz Morse-McNab

So, I actually lead a team of people at the moment, looking into how we measure and monitor pasture grass from space, basically remote sensing or spatial science. It's all about the landscape and where things are in the landscape. The remote sensing component means that you do it away from the source that you're measuring, so you can look at the pasture from satellites, that's my particular expertise. We have quite a fleet of drones with various sensors on them that we fly over the pasture as well. And then we also have sensors onboard little farm buggies and things that we drive around with. And additionally, sensors that stand in the paddock and can just monitor constantly. So that's remote sensing throughout its, all of its scales. And then being a spatial scientist is being able to knit all of that together. In its location and time. Time and space.

Rachael Poon

What do you do with that information around, you know, the pastures and the amount of grass that's being measured, etc? Like, how do you apply that knowledge?

Liz Morse-McNab

Yes, so we're trying to make sure that basically, we can make the most efficient and sustainable way of producing food in Victoria and nationally, actually, we're working with dairy Australia, into the future. So, by creating a mechanism to accurately measure their pasture growth, and accumulation and usage by the animals, we can sort of better utilize what's there so we don't waste so much pasture. And it's generally known that it's it is underutilized because it's, it's actually quite difficult to know when the best time to put your animals into a particular paddock, and the kind of quality that that paddock has in the biomass and what that will then enable the animal to produce in terms of milk. So, what we're trying to do is actually measure all of that remotely, and provide that to farmers on a daily basis. So that then they can make really clear tactical decisions about which paddock to put which herd in to enable them to get the best productivity out of their herd, and essentially be more sustainable over time, reduce risk, improve profits. Everyone wins, basically,

Rachael Poon

There seems to be quite broad application potentially for the work that you're doing. Because yeah, I guess I'm thinking that even looking at you know, antimicrobial resistance, and, different settings, like, that pasture or water or whatever that like that the remote sensing aspect of what you're doing could potentially help with that as well.

Liz Morse-McNab

I think that sensors and the technology that we now have, I mean, you know, for instance, three, four years ago, there would be no way that we could do what we're doing now and deliver the information that we do daily to farmers, it's just the technology was not available to us. So, the rate of change that we have now with sensors and how our ability to quickly understand what's on that, what we've recorded and to analyse it and to model it is just a huge paradigm shift, like change. It's just incredible what's happened over the last few years. It can now enable us to really think broadly and exactly go down paths, like all of these strange, different connections that you can make now that you never would have before. Yeah, I think it's really interesting.

So, you're a microbiologist by training. So, what was it the first got you interested in that field?

Rachael Poon

So, I guess I've, I've always been a bit of a nerd, to be honest. I've always had an interest in science. And I loved the hands-on kind of practical aspects of science. And I had some fantastic role models in school where I had a fantastic teacher in high school who really fostered my love for science. And then, you know, a bit of a cliche, but I did also love the movie Outbreak, that was a movie about a virus about Ebola, that caused an outbreak. So that kind of got me interested in pathogenesis and pathogens in general. And that's where it led me, I did my undergrad and an honors and followed on with doing some research, as well, on bacterial pathogens.

So that's, yeah, that's, I guess, some of the background as to how I got involved in science.

Liz Morse-McNab

Yeah, wow, that's great. It's funny how it's, just little things, isn't it? And literally, in your case things that pique your interest in and where you go with it. So tell us about your journey to your current position?

Rachael Poon

Yeah, so I did my undergraduate science degree at the University of Melbourne. And then I went on and did my honors at Monash University. And then I did about five years of research work at Monash University, studying clostridia, which is an anaerobic bacteria, and looking at some of the toxin genes that are produced by this type of bacteria and the role in virulence. And, you know, the bigger picture was vaccine targets to help prevent some of these illnesses happening in animals. But the science is very small picture, like, the work that I did was a tiny part of the process. And I guess what drew me to, to working in government was to apply my science more broadly. And that's what I guess got me to working at the Department of Health as a scientist there. I started off as a scientist in the pest control program, and that was really around, number one, being a regulator of pest control in Victoria and implementing their regulations to make sure that what they were doing was safe. For you know, Victorians how they applied pesticides, but also in how they kept themselves safe as well, in terms of the following the MSDS, or the SDS requirements. And, and that's really how I got into government. But I've had a few opportunities with moving to other areas, and I've been in the water unit at the Department of Health for about 13 years, which has been fantastic, in a number of different roles. And that's really looking at what a policy application of, you know, making sure that we do risk assessments in understanding the risks associated with different types of water supplies, outbreak and incident management, as well as I guess the application of our regulations and updating and amending our regulations as well, to make sure the water supplies that we manage, mainly aquatic facilities in towns, are safe.

Liz Morse-McNab

So, you said that you stepped over into government because you wanted to apply your science. So have you found that that's working in government is what you expected or what you hoped? Okay.

Rachael Poon

Yeah, absolutely. I guess I didn't really know what to expect before I moved into governor, but it's been it's actually been really nice. I'm continually blown away by the passion and the dedication and the work that's done in in the department and, and also, you know, all the other government departments that I've worked with, but there is surprisingly, a lot of scientists working in government in a lot of different roles, which I think helps inform that evidence-based decision making that we need to apply. And I think that, that puts us in good stead to be able to, to, you know, apply our learnings in some of you know, those principles of the lit reviews to inform our decision making, etc. So, I think, I think government, it's hard to describe what it's like to work in government, but it really does vary depending on the project that you work in. And I've been very lucky to work with very passionate people and very supportive people so far.

Liz Morse-McNab

Yeah, a great point. That's right. I'm often blown away with the dedication that people have to the job. That pride times that we have in our work and the lengths that people go to, to really no matter what the weather, still collect perfect samples and write down, you know, the exact nature of the work that we're doing at the time. It's just fantastic and really, it's impressive. So, you're currently working as the principal scientist in wastewater surveillance for SARS-Cov-2? That's quite a topical position at the moment. So, what does that involve?

Rachael Poon

I guess this is probably the project of the lifetime in terms of a microbiologist, bringing my background into a role so I guess I'll probably give you a little bit of background around the program. So the program is looking at wastewater samples from different catchments in Victoria and seeing if we can detect the presence of the virus that causes SARS-Cov-2. So it sounds complicated. And then, if we get the results for that, but we have to marry up that information with the intelligence within the Department of Health, so understanding within that catchment, whether there's any confirmed cases of SARS-Cov-2 in that catchment, so whether there's anyone that has had Covid, and can be contributing to that detection, so they're shedding the virus through either their faecal deposits into the catchment. So, we call that an expected detection. So we expect to get a detection if there's an unknown case within a certain time period. But what is I guess the value of this surveillance program is that we can, we can detect early cases, or it can be an early case warning. So if we detect the virus, when there's no known cases in that catchment, then we do the media call outs. And we do have that information readily available to members of the public to say, if you've been in this area, between you know, these dates, or this particular time to go and get tested if you're symptomatic. And we've had, you know, a number of instances now where we have detected SARS-Cov-2 fragments in wastewater. And that's before people have been identified in that catchment as being confirmed cases. So, some couple of instances before the symptoms have, you know, before people have been symptomatic, and a number of cases, you know, where there have been symptomatic cases, but they haven't been, you know, confirmed or identified in that catchment yet. So that's the work that we're doing at the moment.

Liz Morse-McNab

Sounds fantastic. I imagined it's quite intense, through the level of scrutiny in that kind of position. It's like the work of a lifetime for microbiologist, but still, as a scientist, you having that constant public scrutiny must be difficult as well.

Rachael Poon

It's really thinking about the value of the work that and I guess, I've got some fabulous colleagues that I've been working with. Monica Nolan in particular, she's epidemiologists that the other half of the team, I guess, we've been running on adrenaline for better part because it has been, you know, as you can imagine, incredibly long hours and a lot of work. And, and, you know, we're working across operations and project management and interpretation of results and stakeholder communication so we're working across all areas of the program. And we are a small team. Thankfully, we've just had some new members join our team. So, we're very much looking forward to some downtime after things calmed down a bit. But yeah, it has been incredibly rewarding as well, because, you know, to see the work that we're doing, applied and actually contributing to the department's SARS-Cov-2 response, and actually help inform, you know, some of the decisions that are being made and, and just working across different areas. I think it's, it's, it can happen quite easily that, you know, teams are siloed. But I think one of the great things about another work that we're doing is we're working across different areas within the department, but also with, you know, water utilities and researchers. And, you know, nationally, as well as internationally, you're sharing this information as well and learning from others.

Liz Morse-McNab

That's great. Sounds like you've got someone doing some good mapping, spatial work in your team? There has to be surely.

Rachael Poon

Yeah. It's great that you bring that up because we've just had in the last couple of weeks, especially extra, team members come on board, we have been relying heavily on, you know, others to help us. Some fantastic colleagues from Melbourne water have been helping us a lot with mapping. But to bring some of that capacity within the team has been fantastic. And we've had, you know, some, some consultants have this as well. But yeah, really having that capacity within the team is something that we're really looking forward to, to using more.

Liz Morse-McNab

It's why I love science, actually, because well, I've never actually found that in my, my area of expertise, there's really no egos, it's just everyone's just interested and excited about what they do, and how to do it and better ways of doing it. And, you know, it's rare that there's a no or I'm not going to show you that that's mine. It's all very sort of free and open and collegial. It's lovely. And I always feel that just always, all it does is you just learn more, you can improve your own science, and I think that cross-collaboration between people and groups and teams is what's the most fun often you often get some really interesting outcomes. So yeah, I love that part.

Rachael Poon

Thanks, Liz, I think that's a really good point. And that's one of the that's probably one of the key differences between working in research and government, I think is that open, you know, collaboration, like, in science, when you're doing research for a particular field, or a particular lab, I guess you are competing, hold it in. That's right. You kind of hold your cards, close your chest, and you share some information that not necessarily all but I guess working in government, and you know, within a department and even between departments and with other jurisdictions as well, it is very open the sharing of information, and then really the striving to improve, and then striving to I guess, learn more and optimize systems, etc. So I think that's, that's the key difference in working in government versus working in research

Liz Morse-McNab

Yeah, and I suppose so. You know, I said, agriculture Victoria research, there's, there's always a public good kind of lens, on what we do, you know, when the market fails, and, and systems are not there, or, or research is not there, or products are not there, then who gets to do the work? Well, government gets to do the work. So, you do have this onus on you to just do the work. It's for the public good. So, who owns the information? The public. You know, we work for them? So, I'm fine with that lens that we often helps with the sharing? And yeah, it's just far more enjoyable kind of place to work.

Rachael Poon

So, Liz, what advice would you give to a person who is currently studying or working and is considering a career in your discipline?

Liz Morse-McNab

So yeah, I did, actually, an undergrad, graduate degree in agricultural science. And then I also went into a PhD in satellite remote sensing. So, to me, it was about applying that knowledge of agricultural science too, you know, what could I do with my understanding of those agricultural systems, and just because I naturally think in that sort of, like, three-dimensional space. So, there's, for people in either agriculture or spatial sciences, that I think the opportunities in government now are really quite varied, we can cross over into different areas quite easily, these multidisciplinary groups that we have enable a lot of different expertise to come in. So you know, environmental science and agricultural science can contribute in similar ways this spatial science, pure spatial science is actually very useful in all of our work that we do, sort of just this contextualizing the information that we develop the analysis that we need to do the, you know, that this putting everything in its place in space is now becoming really quite critical to the research and I think that gives that extra dimension. So, there's a lot of opportunities. There's so many, there's lots of opportunities everywhere I've been in government. A range of it's not just sort of my area where we do that sort of landscape scientists want science work. Even. So, interestingly, so you think that you know, I'm a landscape scientist, and it's all about place in space. But in terms of remote sensing, like I sort of mentioned earlier, there's so many different sensors. And they sense at different levels, we actually have groups in Horsham that are imaging individual grains as they go across a conveyor belt. And that's still the same science that I do when I'm trying to image pasture from a satellite 800 kilometres up. So, there's, there's so much opportunity to actually use the science in so many different applications, sort of like what you said, Rachael, you actually get to really apply your knowledge. When you work for a government site there. Because we ebb and flow with what's required, basically. But I think there are many still, and it's, I've found, just, you know, working overtime, from fresh out of a PhD through to - I think I've been here for something like 14 years now. You know, through having a family, it's actually a very rewarding place and flexible place to work throughout all of those moments in your career as well.

Rachael Poon

That's fantastic. And it's certainly sounds like is lots of opportunity to work across different areas of government, and not necessarily just specifically a scientist role as well.

Liz Morse-McNab

Yeah, yeah, exactly. colleagues of mine have gone into the education department to do you know, similar kind of science, but it's all about education. There are many scientists in DJPR that don't necessarily do science roles. I mean, science, it's proof that you can think and that you can follow apart, you know, process through from the start to the finish. I mean, we both work in government, but it's, you know, there are differences, aren't there? So, what kind of opportunities do you think there are for mid-career scientists in government, not those just necessarily coming in, but sort of those already in a career path, who are considering government?

Rachael Poon

Yeah, I think there's more opportunities now than there ever has been, is busy. As mentioned before, there's lots of different roles that a scientist can take on. And it's really thinking through those transferable skills that you can bring to a particular role, whether it's project management, or whether it's, you know, providing specialist advice or specialist expertise. But I think, given the current situation at the moment, in the department, there's certainly a lot of scientists being brought on board around, for the outbreak response, and, and management. And also, you know, not only epidemiologist but a range of other scientists as well around data and being able to manage data and interpret data. And then there's, you know, I work substantively in the health protection branch in the Department of Health, and there's, you know, work around climate change, which is going to be ongoing and becoming more and more important to understand the science of climate change, and also, the impacts in and not just, you know, the direct impacts, but the flow-on effects around climate change, as well. So, there's a lot of work that needs to be done around there. You know, we're work substantively like outside of the outbreak response, I'm working as a scientist in the water unit. And that's looking at, you know, public health risks associated with different water bodies. So that's recreational water supplies. We’ve seen, increasing impacts of harmful algal blooms, that's an area that have been noticing that we're getting longer and more prolonged, so more prolonged blooms throughout the year, not just during bloom season. So, things like that, where we do need to bring in specialist expertise with knowledge around some of these risks in areas. So, I think there's certainly lots of opportunities for scientists, and not necessarily just, project or research base but more broadly as well, and, being able to gather some of that intelligence will inform policy and guidance in evidence-based decision making.

Liz Morse-McNab

Yeah, agree. You mentioned data, data scientists, and just that ability to analyse large data sets. And I'm assumed that the data sort of what you're collecting in your current role in, it must be really quite massive, and, and just constant. And so that's those skills are universal. Now we need them everywhere, the volumes of data that we deal with, in just in science and in notes, regular monitoring situations to actually get the real information out of that. And to be able to provide a consistency, that's a real skill. So, I think that's absolutely transferable everywhere now. I've noticed that we're all sort of we're not talking about big data quite so much anymore. I wonder if you're onto massive data or something like that?

Rachael Poon

Absolutely. And I think what you were just saying was kind of made me think of, even now, I guess, new. I guess who would be working within communications, science communication is also you know, another big aspect of the work as well. So having people that are able to, I guess, interpret and communicate science and sometimes complex messages in a in, I guess, an easily accessible format, that's also, you know, a big area where, you know, and our communications teams have a focus on that as well. So being able to communicate more broadly to the public about some of the work that we do.

Liz Morse-McNab

Yeah, agreed. They're fantastic sort of the middleman in a way, they asked the questions of us to clarify, so that they can then say it in a more scientists aren't necessarily the best at describing it. Clearly, we want to provide every little piece of detail that's very important and don't want to lose anything. The description that may be misinterpreted, but yeah, that the communications team are excellent at finding what it is that is the message and providing just enough information to make it understandable by the public. Yeah, I'm learning a lot more about that as time goes on. I'm sure in your role now would be just again, another daily event for you. To make sure that those communications are consistent and clear. So that would be yeah, very interesting.

Rachael Poon

Yeah, we've, we've been very lucky to work with some fantastic communications. People like within the department. And I think even our new head of media has a science communications background. So that certainly helps with your messaging as well.

Liz Morse-McNab

Yeah, perfect. Yeah. So, Rachel, thanks for your time today, it's been great to talk to you and to get to know what you do. But for those who are listening, and want more information, do you have a website or a resource that you can point them to?

Rachael Poon

Yeah, absolutely. We do have a wastewater testing website. If you put wastewater testing Victoria in the search engine, that should pop up. Otherwise, it's www.dhs.vic.gov.au/wastewater testing. So that's the website.  Thank you so much, Liz, for the chat today. It's been great to learn about your experiences and your background. Before we finish up, do you have anything else that you wanted to add?

Liz Morse-McNab

Thanks, Rachael, it's been really enjoyable. I think a great demonstration of Science in Government and the application of how many sciences are embedded in government and how as soon as you can start, you just start talking to your colleagues in any department. And you'll start finding linkages and new and innovative ways to do your research. I think it was a great demonstration of two quite different sciences coming together and instantly finding that, that middle ground, so thank you for your time.

Dr Amanda Caples

Thanks for joining us today on our science in government podcast series, released in collaboration between the Office of the Chief environmental scientists and my office, the Office of the lead scientist. If you would like to find out more about the events held across this year's National Science Week, head to nationalscienceweek.com.au.au

Dr Thomas Montague and Dr Stephanie Hannon discuss diverse career pathways

Dr Thomas Montague and Dr Stephanie Hannon talk about their government journeys and future goals. Thomas is a Project Officer in the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions Telecommunications and Digital Economy team, who is passionate about using data and analytics to enhance Victoria’s future digital capabilities. Stephanie is the Director of Policy and Projects for the Melbourne Arts Precinct Transformation project, where she is responsible for the delivery of Australia’s largest cultural infrastructure project. Her career has been diverse to date, with roles ranging from science policy to infrastructure, and urban place-making.

Dr Thomas Montague and Dr Stephanie Hannon

Dr Amanda Caples

Hi everyone and thanks again for joining me, Dr Amanda Caples in today's Science in Government. National Science week podcast. In today's National Science week podcast. We take a broad view of the application of science in government with Dr Thomas Montague and Dr Stephanie Hannon. Both Thomas and Stephanie have non-traditional science roles but they use their background in science and science policy to advise the work they do in government today. They share their journey into their current roles and tell us what's on the horizon for them next.

Dr Thomas Montague

My name is Tom Montague and I work in the department of jobs precincts and regions in the telecommunications and digital economy branch. So, Stephanie, what's your background and how did you get to where you were?

Dr Stephanie Hannon

Uh, good question. So my current role, I'm also in D. J. P. R. I'm a director in the Melbourne Arts precinct transformation project. So for background that's governments $1.4 billion investment in the Melbourne Arts precinct which involves a new contemporary gallery 18,000 m2 of new public space. Um And also some maintenance works to Arts centre Melbourne and setting the foundations for future phases. But my background is as an art student. So I think if we're talking about the sciences it's probably the science in the broadest sense. Um, I did a politics and cinema studies degree which for a variety of reasons led me into working in the department of Industry Innovation Science and research in Canberra. So my first exposure to Science and government was actually working in that department. I got to work on a great project called um The 200 Science and Policy Project and it sought to examine how exactly um public servants were currently using scientific evidence and scientific research within their policy making. And some of the obstacles and challenges that they were facing

Dr Thomas Montague

Is that in relation to climate change?

Dr Stephanie Hannon

It was broader than that, it was science across a range of different policy questions. So at the time climate change was quite a strong focus um for a variety of reasons, but also in terms of resources and extractive industries, um questions around biodiversity and those kind of things. It also looked interestingly at um the degree to which public servants have easy access to scientific knowledge as well. I've worked across a range of different departments in planning infrastructure and then place making, which linked up a little bit with what my PhD ended up being in, which was the impact of urban media infrastructure in public spaces. So I looked at large screens and projection festivals and how they influence the experience of a place and they act as a form of digital place. Making my background was somewhat different in the sense that I was a bit more of a pure-play science background.

Dr Thomas Montague

You know, I did an undergraduate science degree. and when I finished that, travelled overseas for a year, but even as an undergraduate, I was actually working at Arthur ISLA Institute, just a student during the summer holidays. Um, I should say Arthur Island is a Victoria’s centre for Environmental research out in Heidelberg. And that was fantastic, you know, at that time it was full of people that did all sorts of research on fish and other types of wildlife. Um So it was a very vibrant place to start my career and so I've had two summers as an undergraduate student working there anyway. And then, you know, went overseas and came back and worked at Monash um studying penguins of Phillip Island for a period of time. So that was a lot of fun and you know, it ended up being a research fellow at Monash by the time I finished there, which is 10 years later. And then um went into the private sector working with the forestry company because they had a problem with Wallabies eating all their trees and so we were looking at non-destructive ways of trying to prevent that and we went on to develop propellants and things like that. So that was a large line of our investigation, but it also involved actually just study what these Wallabies do, you know, do they hang around a particular place? So there's a lot of radio tracking and uh you know, weighing animals and checking how many babies they have and that sort of stuff, which is again really good fun and we had a terrific team of people. It was sort of I think the guys there uh this was uh in Gippsland at eight PM forests and the company at the time was actually it was really at the cutting edge of things, you know that they had fantastic GIS

Data information and this is this is going back 20, 30 years but so they were particularly enlightened at that time. I felt being an Ecologist which was what was the result at that time bought a different set of schools to a forestry company uh which I might say they were very receptive and very supportive of the work that we're doing so. But when that eventually came to an end I wrote that workup for a PhD. And well you know what writing a PhD is like so I took a year off pretty much mid-career and I actually think that was quite good in the sense that I've really enjoyed my time it was 10 or 15 years of science. So when I came back from Oxford I went and worked in New Zealand for a Crown Research Institute, which at that time was called Forest Research. And again that was looking at browsing animals but they have a problem with possums in New Zealand um introduced from Australia. There's some 40 millions of them eating trees and also birds because possums are actually carnivorous as well which most people don't know. Uh and but they also carry tuberculosis in New Zealand, and that's a problem if you're dairy farming and the possums come in contact with the cows that you're farming and dairy is a very big export for New Zealand. So we ended up working on tuberculosis or at least tuberculosis in possums. And that's where I got my first experiences that epidemiology and population.

Dr Stephanie Hannon

So it sounds like you've always been in applied sciences but you have a pivot from I suppose biology focus now to the digital economy.

Dr Thomas Montague

Yeah. Well interestingly um at least in my career when I was working on penguins of Phillip Island, they had banded 60,000 penguins and that was too much to keep on cards. And those days that it was before PCs, everything was on mainframes. And so we took the data, I had a boss who is English and he knew a lot about computing and programming. So he basically suggested we put all this data on these penguins um into a database on the mainframes at Monash and we analyse this up there. So I started out in computing, this is in the late 70s just let me have operating systems and using computers and you know after that extended the Antarctic division collecting data again and so we had a lot of data that we collected and analysed the distribution of birds in the southern ocean. And again, that meant a lot of time working with computers. So funnily enough throughout my science career, computers have been there and the analytics has been there and pretty much that's areas that we’re encouraging within our group as well, is people getting a career in it because you can work in any area, whether it's health informatics or for environmental stuff, it doesn't matter. It gives you great opportunities.

The role that you've got then you went off and did a PhD because you wanted to know more or did you need to have that PhD or was it just something a great desire to be called doctor?

Dr Stephanie Hannon

Oh, probably a combination of all three. I've probably when I finished uni I actually always wanted to go off and do a doctorate. I really enjoyed research and I enjoyed the academic challenge thinking conceptually and theoretically about things and uh-huh. However, between finishing uni and applying for the PhD, I went on a year's leave and did a trip over to Europe and I quite enjoyed Europe and travelling and the trade-off I suppose was between, you know, being able to travel more and go and I don't want to say go and get a financially sustainable lifestyle but …I've been doing PhD So a lot of people told me a particular time I got a graduate role in the commonwealth. My potential PhD supervisor at the time said to me, you can probably come back and apply for a PhD whenever you want, but getting a graduate role in the public service is a pretty good opportunity, so you should take that and come back to it. And I think it was a really good piece of advice because the PhD I would have done when I finished my undergraduate degree would have been, it would have been fascinating and so much fun, but it really would have been quite a theoretical look at cinema studies and things that I looked at as an undergraduate. Whereas when I came back to do it, later on, I was in, I went when I applied to do my PhD the second time I was working in the planning department of State Government and I did have this real interest in house screens, particularly public screens shape our perception of place. And my boss at the time said, if you're going to do that for your own career, I would be thinking about how that relates to urban renewal and urban place-making and looking at that kind of field. So that was kind of what shaped it. And it then meant that it was a much more applied PhD than what I would have originally done. I do really appreciate as well, having done it part-time, there were a lot of challenges and having to sustain the project over what was seven years, in the end, was quite hard, but I did find it quite useful to have the time to mull on particular things. I had a couple of people who I started my PhD with who were doing it full time and they were, they were also had finished their sort of undergrads. So they were really in the position of wanting to like push through the PhD, get it done and move into like a researcher, post-doc or lecturing position at the university. So they had quite a compulsion to get through it quickly and I suppose they didn't always have the time or the luxury to think through ideas, maybe in the way that I got that I was doing it for a longer period of time.

Dr Thomas Montague

Where do you see yourself going to from here?

Dr Stephanie Hannon

Honestly, I am not certain. The project I'm working on at the moment, we're setting up a new entity down in the Melbourne Arts precinct that will be responsible for delivering the $1.4 billion but I think in my heart, I am a public servant. Having done a bit of an academic stint or probably at some point move back into departmental policy-making land because that's what I love. It was a bit of a happy accident I suppose at the beginning of my career that I ended up in the public service and I'm very grateful for it. What about yourself?

Dr Thomas Montague

Uh Well, I'm I mean the digital economy will go on for some time. I suspect I'm particularly interested in you know, some of these more boutique type grant management things that we tend to do to support the development of the economy. And I'm also interested in the policy, but I think, you know, coming towards the end of my career, I'll probably look um to do some part-time work with commercial entities because I like business and hopefully business like me, but I actually enjoy that the sort, understanding the process of implementing what you've learned about um and developing the technologies and taking them to market. So I'll probably do that part-time because a lot of the stuff that I've been involved with has been with either providing grant funding to businesses that are developing the technology or indeed actually working I have in my own business um you know, manufacturing, you're developing tech. So I'll probably do that part-time rather than full time, as you know, you can have too much of a good thing working for the government to continually, but sometimes it's good to move over and let some fresh ideas come through. So, um that's what I'll be looking to do.

Dr Stephanie Hannon

Yeah. Fantastic. Well, this has been great. Thank you very much for your time.

Dr Thomas Montague

Well, thank you. And yeah, hopefully, we can speak again.

Dr Amanda Caples

Thanks for joining us today on our Science in Government podcast series, released in collaboration between the office of the chief environmental Scientists and my office, the office of the lead scientist. If you would like to find out more about the events held across this year's National Science Week, head to NationalScienceWeek.com.au.

Dr Ramona Dalla Pozza and Lisa Jackson talk climate change and emergency management

Dr Ramona Dalla Pozza and Ms Lisa Jackson discuss their studies, their current roles, and scientific trends. Ramona, an Acting Manager of  the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s Climate Change group, is leading work on climate change adaption to support the Victorian Government’s Climate Change Strategy . Lisa is the Manager of Information Management and Intelligence at Emergency Management Victoria, where she uses intelligence tools to monitor emergencies, hazards and risks across the state.

Dr Ramona Dalla Pozza and Lisa Jackson

Dr Amanda Caples

Hi everyone I'm Dr Amanda Caples and today we continue our exploration of science in government in today's episode, we'll hear from Dr Ramona Della Plaza and Lisa Jackson who started in much the same science discipline but have ended up in very different roles in government. Listen in as they discuss the studies that led them to their current roles. The importance of collaboration and the application of intelligence analysis tools to continuously improve government response and policy.

Dr Ramona Dalla Pozza

Hey Ramona, I'm Lisa Jackson. I'm in the role of manager, Information management and Intelligence at emergency management Victoria. So we sit within the Department of Justice and Community Safety, uh and I oversee a team of 14 intelligence analysts and they work around the clock at the State Control Centre monitoring emergencies and hazards and risks across the state. What about yourself?

Lisa Jackson

Nice to meet you, Lisa. My name is Ramona Dalla Pozza and I'm acting manager in the climate science team in the climate change division of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. And I've been trying to build the capacity, We're trying to work together to build the capacity and the capability of the Victorian government and stakeholders to embed the latest climate science in their decision making. So kind of the strategic end of what you do. I guess in terms of trying to look at what the climate projections are saying for um emergency management, climate-related hazards in the future and how we can better try to manage those in the future and adapt. So yes, it's kind of links there and what we do. So you tell me how you got to that position.

Dr Ramona Dalla Pozza

Yeah, of course. So, growing up I actually dreamed of being a primary school teacher. That was what I wanted to be from the moment I stepped foot in primary school. And so that was my goal through school was to become a primary school teacher. And so when I looked at, you know, going to uni after high school and what degree to take, I got some really great advice at the time around, do a bachelor and something else, that's something that interests you and then do a post-grad in teaching because it will give you more options, you might be able to do primary and secondary or you may go off and do something else. So um I took that advice on board and did a Bachelor of Science with a major and Geography and Geographic Information Systems and the University of Canterbury. Uh And then I did um my post-grad in primary school teaching. But what happened was during my Bachelor of Science, I fell in love with Science, I fell in love with geography, particularly physical geography, weather, climate science and that kind those physical elements of the earth. And so I looked them to what my next step might be that will bring in the skill sets of a teacher, but also uh that that love of science. And so I then made the move across to Australia. And after a few months of uh you know, looking for work, I eventually was successful in getting a role with the Country Fire Authority just after black Saturday in one of their project roles based in the northeast of Victoria. So I learned a lot about the impact of the black Saturday bushfires uh and worked really closely on the reform projects that the Country Fire Authority worked through after the Royal Commission there.

And from there I learned a lot about emergency management and the risks and hazards that you have in Australia and worked my way into a debriefing and continuous improvement role where I fell in love with, you know, giving people the opportunity to share their experiences and their learnings. Uh And I was lucky enough to be um I guess supported through Country Fire Authority to do a master of emergency management. So I completed that through Charles Stuart University and completed a thesis on applying the lessons management or continuous improvement approach to emergency management. And then from there, I was able to take up an opportunity with emergency management Victoria at the time, it was established in 2014 And apply that at a state level um for the entire emergency management sector and spent a number of years in that role and then moved across into this information management and intelligence role at the end of 2019 and it was a really great opportunity to gain a lot of learnings about managing a 24 7 shift work team. And I'm now also undertaking a master of intelligence analysis just to really build my academic understanding about the tradecraft of intel uh because it is still relatively new and evolving in the emergency management space, It's really come from that military policing perspective. So, uh yeah, that's my journey to date. What about yourself, Ramona? What did you want to be when you grow up?

Lisa Jackson

I did love geography. I in high school, I love geography, I love physical geography. I loved, you know, the idea of understanding more about science. I was always fascinated. So I just went to uni geography and when I started when I got into the physical geography area, I just started to be fascinated in the impact of the climate on the land. So the processes and how we get beaches and how we get mountains, ranges and why rivers act like they do and why they erode. And then I just was never planning on doing honours or a PhD, but just was inspired by the science scientists around me and did that. And then I thought, do I want to continue in academia or do I want to do something with this. It was about managing the coasts and rivers and managing the climate impacts on those systems for people to live in those systems. So that Yeah, led me to graduate program in Canberra actually started in the government 17 years ago um and didn't stay long in Canberra went back to my hometown home state in Queensland and work for the majority of my career, the Queensland Government and that gave me a broad range of experience and I was really lucky to work with some of Queensland's leading scientists, both climate and pasture scientists for a lot of my um role. We looked at you know, on the interface of climate science and policy. So looking at climate change, but also I've got to work directly with stakeholders on the ground and a bit a bit like you where you can see the impact of the decisions that get made related to the information.

I really got to understand the important of the importance of what we do, you know the signs that we provide and how people make decisions on that and that you know we really need to be giving them exactly what they need to make the best possible decisions because it affects their livelihoods for natural disasters, it's loss of life, loss of loss of infrastructure, businesses and also you know the environmental outcomes as well. Had a great success in Queensland leading the climate science program. I got to the point where I was leading the climate science program to support the adaptation um and climate change policies there and I was able to also work in the adaptation um and agriculture program that was really looking at the impact on drought on braziers and the environmental impacts from that as well and how to support that. So really um really great experiences there for a lot of my career. And then I came here to uh dealt in Victoria three years ago and I was able to join Del. But I was lucky enough to be able to go straight into trying to help the Victorian government to embed climate science in their decision making as well. And you really understand what stakeholders need, put stakeholders in the middle and give access to the best available science again to improve decision making. And so I'm really fascinated, I suppose about what you have, you sort of got to this information management area. And I guess what do you find inspiring? I suppose about working there.

Lisa Jackson

What I love about my job and what I love about emergency management Victoria is that even though we sit within state government where you would normally have quite a policy focus um state-level focus. Um and sometimes maybe feel a little removed from the ground. We also get to have a have a significant role in an emergency. So at the State Control centre, we have people position there around the clock every day where we escalate and escalate depending on the hazard or the risk. And so I love that I get to play a hand and contributing to uh safer Victorian communities through that role. And then also get to switch back into that strategic mind um you know, when those emergencies aren't unfolding. And so what we're doing is looking at how to improve our access to data and information from different agencies, stakeholders, different even social media news outlets. Like how do we bring all of those different things together and then turn that into something that means something to someone so that they can make a decision? And so we're one of the states that has this permanent workforce and other states are kind of following suit I guess in a COVID-19 response really highlighted the need for that real-time data, knowledge and understanding to inform decisions that really has rocketed us forward in the data and information space. We have a real opportunity to bring in a whole range of sophisticated technology uh to help our jobs be a lot easier, more efficient uh and drive better outcomes. I'm really excited to see where we land and how we start to use technology to its best ability. And what about yourself Ramona? It sounds like you really are so passionate about the area of climate change and climate science, finding something that you love and you're passionate about and so important.

So what you get you out of bed in the morning,

Dr Ramona Dalla Pozza

I feel like we need to give people like you're saying access to the best available information to help them make meaningful decisions, to reduce the risk in the future for those communities and individuals and we need to do that in a very holistic way. So it needs to be like seamless from what you're doing in the emergency, in the Control Centre on the ground and what we're doing with these far-out projections to the mid-century of what, how it's going to get worse in the future. We need to really, we really need to work together to figure out how to build the information base to validate what that science is telling us in the future in the context of those bushfire fighters going out on the ground. But how do we get that information to be meaningful on the ground and to make better decisions. Um and that's what I'm really passionate about because science is sometimes, you know, the value of science is so immense, but the scientists can be very removed from the on the ground, people that you're talking about and you know, and the decisions that have to be made in the control centre to help, you know, an emergency. And I'm trying to link those two and that's what I'm really passionate about getting the scientists to think about the user needs make that central to what science they're providing. And yeah, I'm passionate about doing that because I feel like for too long as there's been this big disconnect, especially in climate change science. We've got great scientists working but they're not in tune with what people need to make decisions.

And I think the information like building up the information base and understanding the trends and how we can interpret what the climate projections are saying on the ground by people like in the regions who are, who are they're so powerful to actually converting it into a decision that makes a difference to people's risk of um climate-related hazards in the future. And that's where we'll get good adaptation and that's where we're good management strategies that will help us in the future. So, I wonder just a question of what you think, you think we could work better to try to integrate long term view of climate into that emergency management space. I'd really be interested in that.

Dr Ramona Dalla Pozza

That's a really great question. Uh and I think the tension we have is the need for real-time understanding of our current situation. Then we have kind of looking ahead weeks slash months almost like a seasonal outlook. And then there's this more kind of longer-term climate research component, I think that we're really amazing at getting a hold of real-time information. I mean, there's, there's challenges. But understanding what's currently going on, I mean, we can all jump onto Twitter and see what people are talking about and what the most recent topic of interest is. Um, and looking on news channels and seeing what the media are talking about. But, and looking into the next season is pretty easy because you can normally predict what might happen based on what's happened in the past, but looking forward, we are likely to experience things we haven't experienced before, which is why we have scientists spending so much time looking and researching that for us. And I think the the biggest thing we need to be able to do is break that down into something that means something to someone who's standing on a fire ground with fire hose or someone who is responding to a storm that's gone through in the trees on a house or you know, things like that.

So how do you balance all the work and personal demands of in your current role?

Lisa Jackson

Yeah. Look, it can be hard. Work/ Life balance is always something that you have to be thinking about. And it's something that I promote with my teams as well as I think, particularly because we work in an emergency management environment. There are periods of time during the year where we're living and breathing emergency events um, and they might not be happening on our back doorstep. Covid is, it's impacting everyone and we're working through that. But often, you know, it could be happening in a different part of the state, but we're still immersed in that emergency for a period of time. So it's really important that you have periods of time to switch off personally. I love going to the gym. I love working out, that's my outlet. So I always prioritize that, that for me, I, a few years ago I switched from exercising at night to exercising in the morning because I found, you know, if there is a situation at work that goes late, I don't want to lose that hour of the day where I just work on me. Um so I now have managed to get myself to be a morning person, which has been a really a really big change and so I now get up at the crack of dawn and go and do my workout, but it sets me and good for the rest of the day. What about yourself, Ramona.

Dr Ramona Dalla Pozza

I struggle with the term work-life balance because I feel like I want to do both to the best all the time. So I want to be, you know, trying to meet the needs of my family and work equally when they need to. And I think that's the key for me is flexibility. So I'm really flexible and I, yeah, I do sort of try to be flex with my staff as well and um in my team, I'm grateful that dealt, you know, has a culture where we offer that flexible working arrangements as well. And I think the biggest thing for me is maintaining and building a strong professional network as well because I feel like in science you can never be across everything being a manager, you don't have the time to read all the things you'd like to do or attend all the conferences you'd like to, but having those people that you can draw on to get their opinion of, of, you know, a bit of research or a study that's come out and I've got, you know, I've got that through my interstate networks, um, that I've worked with over the years and, and built up and that to me is the most helped me do my job in the most efficient way. I guess. I'm really interested in all the things that you've spoken about and if I wanted to go and find more information about what you've talked about and you're, you know, the different areas you've worked or particularly what you're in now, where would I, where would I go?

Lisa Jackson

Yeah. So emergency management Victoria has a, has a public website. So, um, definitely jump on there and have a look around. We have a lot of information about the different programs that we do. The organization does post a lot about what happens at the state control centre. And I'm assuming a number of people will also have, you know, Vic emergency on their phones, um, to give them notifications during an emergency. So that's a key component of, of what kind of happens. And the state control centre is delivering those messages to the community. I think also if anyone's interested in intelligence, as, as a tradecraft or as an area that they might go into, there's so much information online. Um, there is, as I mentioned qualifications that you can do, like the master of intel analysis that I'm currently undertaking. But there is a lot because it stemmed from a military and policing background, there's a lot of research, there's a lot of literature out there as well. Um, but there's also podcasts, YouTube videos, there's lots of things that I even listen to him watch to keep myself up to speed. And like you were saying, Ramona a key component of, I guess, working in a science related role as you've got to try and keep across as much as you can, particularly when you're passionate about that as well. So I love listening to podcasts. I love listening to audiobooks. Um, I use LinkedIn to its full potential as well because it's a great way to connect with others that are passionate and doing similar things as you. So I reckon just hit up, Google is the, is the key component for anyone interested in that. But what about yourself in the, in the climate space? What are your most beneficial resources that you lean on and what do you read to keep you informed?

But also where can people go to find more about your role in the department?

Dr Ramona Dalla Pozza

Yes. So our website, yeah, climate change division of Delta has a website where, you know, we've got all the latest, um, information that we've produced, like the climate change strategy recently released. And also, um, there's the draft adaptation action plans that are also available for the seven sectors across Victoria. And they're available for you to look at and comment on and understand a bit more about adaptation.

But in terms of the real, like the science information that we have on there, we also have access to all our high-resolution projections in Victoria that we've produced. So that's available for use. But we understand, as I was mentioning before, there's a difference between providing the data and actually having the capability and the capacity to use it. So we've got some great examples where um, we've, we've developed Victoria’s future climate tool which is a special tool designed to be a bit easier to use. Um, and we've got examples where we've worked with stakeholders like ambulance Victoria to really apply an understanding of climate-related hazards, such as heatwaves would be in the organization in the future. So, um, there's examples on there that you can, you can go have a look at to see um, what we do a bit more and yeah, there's contact information on there. If you want to find out more. I've been fortunate to be able to really immerse Victoria as well as the other states and territories in the latest climate systems hub that is federally funded at the moment. So that's where all the best client scientists in Australia have come together to do research over the next six or seven years. So we've been able to really partner in that as part of a cross-jurisdictional community of practice for climate science, where we come together from the States and territories to really um promote this idea of translating the science into something usable for our for our stakeholders in all States and territories so that we're making a difference on the grounds, we all can recognize that in the future will need to be more strategic to manage climate and the risks of climate.

But how do we do that in a really practical way that he's got to make a difference now to the events that we see over the next decade?

Dr Amanda Caples

Thanks for joining us today on our Science in Government podcast series, released in collaboration between the office of the chief environmental Scientists and my office, the office of the lead scientist. If you would like to find out more about the events held across this year's National Science Week, head to NationalScienceWeek.com.au.

EPA’s new Chief Environmental Scientist meets Senior Epidemiologist Dr Martine Dennekamp

Professor Mark Taylor and Dr Martine Dennekamp talk about the practical differences their work is having in our community. Professor Taylor is Victoria’s new Chief Environmental Scientist at Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA). Mark serves a critical role in supporting EPA's proactive strategic protection of the environment and public health. Mark ensures that scientific expertise and advice underpins EPA's key functions as a regulator and meets a high standard of excellence. Martine is a Senior Epidemiologist in the Environmental Public Health Unit of EPA, where she ensures that public health interventions and policy decisions are informed by the latest evidence.

Professor Mark Taylor and Dr Martine Dennekamp

Dr Amanda Caples

Hi everyone. I'm Dr Amanda Caples and today we conclude our podcast series with scientists in government. In this final podcast, we will hear from Professor Mark Taylor and Dr Martina Dennekamp. Professor Taylor is Victoria's new chief environmental scientist at the Environment Protection Authority Victoria. The EPA is a partner in the development of this podcast series. And as the chief environmental scientist, Professor Taylor serves a critical role in bolstering EPA's proactive and strategic protection of the environment and public health. Also from the EPA is Dr Dennekamp, a senior epidemiologist in the environmental public health unit of the EPA Dr Dana camps work focuses on the complex relationship between human health and environmental factors. Together they discussed the interventions and policy decisions that are crucial to ensuring that public health improvements are informed by up to date evidence.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our podcast series and National Science Week.

Professor Taylor

Hi Martina, my name is Mark Patrick Taylor. I'm Victoria’s incoming chief environmental scientist.

Dr Martina Dennekamp

So my name is Martina Dennekamp and I'm the senior environmental epidemiologist with the environmental public health unit at EPA Victoria. So, Mark, we're here to talk about science in government. So my first question to you is can you tell us a bit about your journey to holding senior positions both in science and in government.

Professor Taylor

Well, it's a long journey and I came to Australia in 1999 and it was probably the best decision I ever made and my works focused really on understanding problems and trying to find solutions to problems in the environment and human health And that's assisted me in sort of building credibility in that space building knowledge, building understanding how science relates to policy and how important sciences to the community. And it's part of that journey. In 2008 I became acting commissioner for the New South Wales London Environment Court. And then the following year I became a commissioner of the London Environment Court and that was a terrific couple of years. I learned a lot about environment and planning and contested environments and then I went back to Macquarie University because I decided that I had a lot of unfinished work around science and I ended my position at Macquarie University on 30 June this year and I'm looking forward to. Starting On 26 July is the chief environmental scientists at the EPA And so that the journey really has been focused around looking at environmental problems, looking at what challenges they mean, what risks and finding solutions or finding the evidence that details the source of the solution then can be enacted. And I think that's that kind of captures my journey.

Dr Martina Dennekamp

So I was wondering if I could ask you one more question about audience might be interested in is whether your degree and what your degree was in and how you got to that.

Professor Taylor

Yeah, well that's a long story, but we'll give the short story here. Um, I studied for my degree at the University of Wales Aberystwyth, which is on the west coast of Wales, the perfect place to be a student. It's like an inland Island. It's actually quite hard to get anywhere. And I studied physical geography and geology for my undergraduate and then from a PhD I looked at what's called policy and sedimentation, that sedimentation on floodplains and river systems over the last 10,000 years and that included the effects of roman communities, Bronze age communities but also then related had worked that was related to climate change and more recently impacts of heavy metal mining in the upper parts of the catchment and how that impacted sedimentary systems. And after that then um that was a really, that was a really interesting time. It was a great place to be assumed, but if I'm really absolutely honest, I didn't really learn anything in that period of time that I'm using now, but it gave me a really good template for understanding the physical environment and how the physical environment operates. But most of the skills That I apply currently, I really learned that was actually having a sabbatical at the University of California in Santa Cruz in 2006, it completely changed my life. I met somebody there. Um, He's no names. Professor Russell Fleagle. He completely changed without him realizing and with the best of friends now. But he really sort of changed my understanding of what I need to do and how I need to do it moving forward with respect to polluted environments, does that help?

How long have you been with EPA Victoria?

Dr Martina Dennekamp

So I've been at EPA for 3.5 years now. And prior to this, my main career was in academia.

Professor Taylor

Where did you do your studies?

Dr Martina Dennekamp

So I started my studies in the Netherlands environmental Science was my Master's degree. I then actually I moved to the UK um where I did a part-time PhD in environmental medicine. And my PhD was mainly focused on the health impacts from air pollution. And that included PM 2.5 particles small and in 2.5 μm. And we were also looking at ultrafine particles and nitrogen dioxide. Um and part of that also panel study that included people with chronic lung disease. So part clinical study as well. I did my PhD part time because I was also a research assistant at the same time. So it took me six years to finish it. And after that, I am travelling like most people do for a little while. Um and then I ended up in um In Ireland and then in Australia. So I arrived in Australia in 2005 And I also had a job as he reached his fellow at Monash University in the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine and I was there for 12 years um spent after that one year at a medical school in Ireland and then I took off the job and E. P. A. And the good thing about a career in science I think as well is that you have those opportunities to go abroad like you just mentioned as well and to get different insights into different topics specifically in relation to environment and health. And you know basically from the moment I started my masters in environmental science I knew I wanted to work on the health impacts from the environment. Hence I am now an environmental epidemiologist. We do some work with academia. Um, part of the work that I'm really enjoying it EPA is that you know you still keep those links with academics and you have a chance to really see where the gaps in knowledge that we need on the front line to become a better and protecting health. So some of the work that we're doing with the Australian Catholic University is understanding ultrafine particle and black carbon concentrations in Greater Melbourne. So we've developed high spatial resolution maps to try and really understand where the concentrations are highest. What I really enjoy about being at E. P. A. Is that uh science is very important and um you know evidence-based policy making and decision making is essential. So it's an interesting transition from academia to government but it is very rewarding. I think if you can do it you can actually have quite a significant impact and you know, and you know, you can put your science into practice.

Professor Taylor

Yes. I mean that's what we wanted. I mean, I would have thought that's what we all want to do. We all want to have an impact and we want to save the world.

Dr Martina Dennekamp

So if you could give advice to a person who is currently studying or working or is considering a career in science, what would you say to them?

Professor Taylor

Leave no stone unturned, pursue the answer. Be dedicated to be passionate. If you're not passionate about it, it's just not going to work. If, you know, if the area of study that you're working in doesn't really get you out of bed do something else and things change over time just because you've got training doing one particular field, it really doesn't prevent you from moving into another area or applying those knowledge. Scientific, good scientific training is transferrable. And at the end of the day, you should be able to take that training and apply it to a whole range of problems in the environment and allow your staff that flexibility, talk to people outside of your field, attend conferences and take opportunities. If you, if you're working with somebody whether it's for a company or community or government or an NGO and you get an opportunity to work in a different area, take it, you know, and if you're the manager in that space as you're moving up through uh you know, through your career and you see good people give them opportunities because not it's really hard to get opportunities. So yeah, they've got to offer them to people or you've got to take them and, you know, I think it's okay not to know all the answers. I think that's the thing, you know, one mustn't be afraid of not actually knowing the answers and taking yourself out of your comfort zone into a new space, a bit like what you did, you went from academic academia into a regulatory environment and like I'm doing, you take yourself out of your comfort zone, you stretch yourself, you learn more, you grow and that's what you have to do. You have to constantly challenge yourself not only the knowledge that you're acquiring but the environment and the skills that you're working in and be flexible.

So one bit of advice that this is kind of an internal trade secret, I might call it myself. But one thing I think is really important is for people to get their own board of directors. So these are sort senior people or other peers who you respect and can work with, where you can help develop your knowledge, you can have them as a co-author or you can go to them and say I've got this particular issue, I've got this problem, I've got this data that says the following, you know how to answer it and you might have people have got different in your board of directors, People with different expertise. You might have somebody who's technical, you might have somebody who works on a scanning electron microscope, you might have somebody who works on isotopic compositions, you might have somebody who's an epidemiology, the statistical expert, for example. But these are people trusted friends and senior colleagues. You can go and talk to about your data or your next career step or how to approach a problem and that really helps give you a guiding light in your life. So I think that's important also develop a peer network to help you navigate through all of the data challenges the career, challenges all of those sorts of things that will undoubtedly crop up in one's career. If I'm allowed to ask you because you've obviously had the interesting career, you've worked in multiple countries for multiple universities and organizations. What's the what lessons have you learned that you could share with people from your journey?

Dr Martina Dennekamp

It's not dissimilar from what you have just mentioned. Um, one thing is, um don't underestimate yourself self go for opportunities that present themselves or I seek those opportunities. I would reiterate what you said is that it's really important that you're passionate and that you really have an interest in the science area that you want to focus on. Um and it will be difficult, but it's you have to persist.

Professor Taylor

Yeah, that's great, can I add to that? Just listen to when you were talking? I also thought it would be good to share in this possible podcast. It's really along the similar lines. Um, don't expect to know everything. That's the whole point right of stepping out and learning some. That's the exciting bit. I mean science is there's no point doing undertaking a scientific study if you know the answer Now that you've moved to the EPA some 3.5 years ago. Um you know, you obviously know your job and you've been doing it and it's a really important area. It's a big commitment from the Victorian government and the EPA side to address air quality. Can you summarize what your role does and if somebody was to step into your role, as I ask you what it is you do from day to day, can you describe that?

Dr Martina Dennekamp

Sure. So part of the reason why I'm really enjoying my job is because it's very, very um basically no day is the same. Um, We take a little bit different from academia where you sometimes have the one project for a long amount of time. Um but first for the ultimate goal of my job, I ceased to improve health of the Victorian population and to prevent negative health impacts through evidence-based policies, decisions and interventions. So my work involves working with other organizations such as academia to address gaps in knowledge that we need to have that evidence-based. So for example, one of the things we're doing at the moment is we're partnering with the university to try and understand how effective indoor air cleaners are with HEPA filters and see if this is something that we can actually recommend in the future. Um, The other thing is that I provide advice on environmental public health issues, for example, um during emergencies and particularly if those emergencies affect large populations such as large smoke events, I would be involved to provide advice and evidence-based health advice. Other work that I'm doing is assisting with developing of new guidance and particularly now that the new act has become alive since the first of July this year. Um, So there's new guidance being developed, for example, in relation to minimizing the impact of air pollution in Victoria and what duty holders can do to make sure that they apply, that they that the Acts that they work within the act. And the other thing that I'm involved in is in relation to for example, developing national guidance on the health impact of long term smoke events.

Professor Taylor

So I'm chairing a working group that has representatives of the different jurisdictions to develop this guidance um and there's a lot of working with other organizations including other government departments within Victoria and specifically we worked very closely or I work very closely with the Department of Health. The last thing that I'm involved in is very exciting initiative. We're trying to develop an environmental health tracking network. It's still in its early stages, but ultimately, that will make available environmental public health information to the public, but also internal and EPA and to other government organizations. What do you look forward to in your role And and how do you see it working?

Dr Martina Dennekamp

I'm looking forward to working with passionate and knowledgeable colleagues like yourself and all those really interesting bits of advice and guidance, um investigations that you have to undertake in order to give evidence-based support for policymakers or for the community or in an emergency situation. I'm looking really, really looking forward to working with people who are in that very same space that I've spent years in my career working and I just think it's going to be an awesome opportunity. Not only is the Executive Director of Applied Sciences and that's helping run and oversee and support the work of the many great EPA scientists that support our regulatory and our guidance advice to government and also to the requirements that we need of industry, but to be the scientific voice for the EPA. And to help shift EPA into the position where it's already moving to being a world-class regulator, at least in the first case, to be the leading evidence-based regulator. And I really look forward to working with the government, my colleagues and external scientists to really affect that nexus between environment and human health so that we can make really good decisions about ourselves and the most vulnerable parts of our population which are typically young, developing Children and our older population. That's one of the things that I'm looking forward to doing in this role, supported by and working with excellent colleagues like yourself to really affect good outcomes for our community. So, Martine, you've talked about some really important and really interesting spans that you're involved with the EPA. If somebody wants to find out more information, where would they best go to find that out? And also to find out information about your scientific career.

So the best place to go would be EPA Victoria website We have EPA. Air watch on our website which is where all information in relation to air quality monitoring and air quality can be accessed. We also have a State of Knowledge report on our website which is specifically focused on air pollution and it contains the information about air quality in Victoria and health impact. And finally we are currently in the process of developing a research website at EPA and that will contain all the research that E. P. A. Is currently involved in and it will include publications.

Dr Amanda Caples

Thanks for joining us today on our Science in Government podcast series, released in collaboration between the office of the chief environmental Scientists and my office, the office of the lead scientist. If you would like to find out more about the events held across this year's National Science Week, head to NationalScienceWeek.com.au.

Podcasts 2020

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

Senior geologist Louise and her team are part of the State’s geoscience agency, which is pivotal to understanding Victoria’s 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 to build a picture of the deep subsurface

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: 1 September 2021