Government, Defence & Legal

"Disciplines taught by science faculties…provide the basis of more important policy decisions than people realise." DR CHRIS ARMSTRONG, DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF THE NSW CHIEF SCIENTIST AND ENGINEER

Science has never been so important to our society. Science provides solutions for food production and service; mobile and information technologies; medical science; transport; housing; education; energy and the environment. But real changes are only made when governments, advised by scientists, legislate to enable the adoption of new technologies.

Dr Chris Armstrong, Director of the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, is at the interface between government and science. He stresses the critical importance science plays in how our country is run. “Disciplines taught by science faculties inform a wide cross-section of government portfolios and provide the basis of more important policy decisions than people realise.”

In NSW, the disciplines of science, mathematics and statistics are key for hugely important areas like health, finance, ICT, emergency services, energy, water and food safety, primary industries, the environment and transport, to name a few. For this reason, Dr Armstrong says these departments all employ practising scientists to advise on and develop government policy.

“A degree in science equips you with technical capabilities that are valuable and sought after in government. You may choose a job that places you in a lab or out in the field undertaking research or analysing data, or in a regulatory role protecting the health and welfare of people or the environment, or you may use your science in a role involving communications and public outreach,” he says. Science graduates also leave university with valuable analytical and communications skills, which make them highly employable across all levels of government.

Scientists from every discipline are employed by the NSW state government, such as in the NSW Food Authority (which covers agriculture, fisheries and forests); the Offices of Environment and Heritage, of Water and of Food Safety; the Ministry of Health; the Institute of Sport; and Sydney Water Corporation.

At the federal level, the biggest employer of natural science graduates is the 6,500-strong CSIRO, 1,900 of whom are scientists. The Department of Industry employs graduates from virtually every area of natural sciences, with an emphasis on candidates with good communication and team work skills. The Department of Industry, Innovation, Science and Research and the Department of the Environment are also major employers of natural science graduates.

The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) has a staff of 2,500. Chief Operating Officer, Dr Len Sciacca, explains that a range of science-trained staff is needed to tackle their difficult defence problems. “We bring together material scientists, mathematicians, computer scientists, lectrical engineers, psychologists and more recently biomedical people as well. DSTO seeks out talented people with a variety of science backgrounds who can exercise innovative thinking and who possess analytical and problem-solving skills,” he says.

Other government agencies that employ science graduates include the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Geosciences Australia, The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

In addition to government positions, science graduates also work with legal firms in the areas of patents, intellectual property and in some specialised areas like forensics.

Dr Armstrong points out there are more options for science graduates than wearing a lab coat. “Working in government as a scientist, or in a role that draws on your science degree, is a great way of translating valuable science and research into sound policy or programs that result in economic, environmental and community benefits,” he says.

Statistics and salaries

  • 18% national workforce in public sector

Average salaries:

  • Agricultural Sciences: $79,000
  • Biological/microbial sciences: $79,000
  • Economics: $70,000
  • Environment: $70,000
  • Geology or Geophysics: $85,000
  • IT: $72,000
  • Medical sciences: $75,000
  • Physics: $70,000


Industry bodies

Courses to consider

Consider enrolling in a course from one of the following areas to prepare for a career in Government, Defence & Legal, with a natural sciences focus.

Options are also available in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Sydney Law School.

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