Australia's Chief Scientist

Australian Science Policy Fellow: Helen

What were you researching before you started as a Science Policy Fellow?

I was researching Nature Based Solutions and how to translate ecological research into policy and practice at the local council level. Nature Based Solutions are creative approaches to providing social, economic and environmental benefits. They are about implementing management actions to simultaneously provide human wellbeing and biodiversity benefits within in a rapidly urbanising world. A great example of how we were able to use data to influence policy decisions was when we used GPS tracked flight path data of powerful owls to identify habitat preferences across Sydney and present a compelling argument to local councils around the importance of retaining old growth trees.

What policy area are you working on through the Science Policy Fellowship Program?

I am based in the Science Partnerships Section of the Department of the Environment and Energy (the department). We manage a large research program called the National Environmental Science Program (NESP), which funds research projects that help inform policy decisions in the department and decisions by environmental managers at other levels of government and in other sectors. I am also contributing to big-picture policy work to identify future science program and policy directions in the department by mapping science engagement, and identifying science knowledge gaps, research priorities, policy issues and opportunities across the department.

How has your research background helped you contribute to policy development?

The biggest asset that I bring to the role from my research background is my ability to think critically. Policy development is complex and dynamic, particularly in the context of a changing political landscape. Being able to think critically about data inputs, decision pathways and outcomes, and bringing a different perspective to the table has formed a core part of my contribution to my team and role in the department.

How has the program changed your career aspirations?

Before I started the program, I wasn’t convinced that the Australian Public Service was for me. I wasn’t entirely sure what the role of a policy officer was, or how my background could contribute positively to this space. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoy the challenge of working in the complex space of policy development, and adapting to new opportunities and challenges thrown my way. I’m keen to pursue a career in the public service and continue to use my science background to contribute to meaningful policy outcomes for the environment.

What is your favourite part about working in a policy role in the Australian Public Service?

I’ve really enjoyed the ‘behind-the-scenes’ big-picture thinking that I’ve been exposed to in my division. The Knowledge and Technology Division is an enabling division that provides scientific research and data to underpin the core activities and policy decisions of the department. I’ve really enjoyed participating in meetings where we identify connections across the department and link up projects and ideas to get better outcomes. Being placed in the Department of the Environment and Energy, I am surrounded by likeminded colleagues who love the outdoors like me – and I enjoy relaxing over a few beers with my colleagues at the end of the week.