As a graduate within the Department of the Environment and Energy, Sarah uses her chemistry and biology background to advise on public policy – everything which directly affects government, industry and the community as a whole. We asked her how her science studies led to her role in government.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
When I was growing up, the only thing I wanted to be was an inventor. I used anything I could get my hands on to make strange machines, including pizza and cereal boxes.
What did you study at uni?
I undertook a Bachelor of Science (Advanced) (Honours), with a major in Chemistry, a minor in Biology and a specialisation in Advanced Chemistry. I completed my Honours in Organic Chemistry and drug design while working for a pharmaceutical company.
Can you tell me about your career path?
Throughout my life, I’ve wanted to be an inventor, a musician and a scientist. I decided to pursue science at university due to my curiosity of biology, in particular genetics. This then introduced me to chemistry. I fell in love with the problem solving and analytics aspects of chemistry. During my Honours year, I was lucky enough to work for a commercial drug company, designing and developing drugs to treat autoimmune diseases. After graduating, I wanted to challenge myself and apply my technical skills to pressing environmental issues. This inspired my decision to apply for government graduate programs. I was lucky enough to be offered a position at the Department of the Environment and Energy and I have truly enjoyed every second of it.
Can you describe some career twists along your path?
My career has taken several twists to lead me to where I am today. Entering university, I thought I wanted to study genetics. To allow me to take biology courses, I had to study chemistry – a subject I had not even considered in high school. I was required to complete a bridging course, two weeks before university started, to prepare me for first-year chemistry. Little did I know that I would develop a passion for the subject and change my whole degree to graduate with a degree in chemistry.
However, just as most people were expecting me to apply for a PhD, I decided to apply for graduate programs. While I loved my degree, the collaborative nature and work-life balance attracted me to the Australian Public Service. It has been one of my best decisions, as I am now leveraging my unique skill set to provide advice on public policy.
What’s the most rewarding part of your current role?
One of the most rewarding parts of my role is the collaborative environment. While everyone is working towards a common purpose, we all challenge each other to think critically and thoroughly test advice before providing recommendations to government.
I also really enjoy the diversity of my role, and how every day is different. On any day I may receive a request from the Minster; provide public policy advice; or engage with industrial, academic and community stakeholders.
How would you define STEM skills?
I could define STEM skills as strong analytical and problem solving skills, critical thinking and creativity. STEM provides students with a unique skill set, which can be applied to a range of careers and circumstances.
What STEM skills do you use on a daily basis?
My typical day will involve responding to Ministerial requests; providing policy advice; talking with industrial, community and academic stakeholders; and writing reports on governmental public policy.
My STEM degree provided me with strong research skills, which allows me to rapidly collect and distill information to provide to government; the ability to analyse problems critically; and the ability to communicate complex ideas in a way that is easily understood by the general public, which is essential when working for the Government.
What advice would you give to high school students thinking about getting into STEM?
I would strongly encourage anybody to study STEM. It provides strong foundational skills, including analytical and critical thinking, and problem solving. I also believe STEM inspires creativity, as discovery is the heart of science. It has also challenged how I look at the world, and has made me a lot more curious and aware of what is happening around me.
Sarah’s Career Path:
>>> Bachelor of Science (Advanced; Advanced Chemistry & Biology) (Honours), The Australian National University
>>> Research Assistant, Beta Therapeutics
>>> Graduate, Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra
“One of the most rewarding parts of my role is the collaborative environment…we all challenge each other to think critically and thoroughly test advice before providing recommendations to government.”
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.