Government, Defence & Legal
"The interface between public policy law and science is something I encourage all students to think about." PETER LEIHN, 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 the real changes are only made when Governments, advised by scientists, legislate to enable the adoption of new technologies.
Peter Leihn is the Director of the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer. "Science can only do so much," he explains. "You need the policy environment to enforce change. You need programs. You need policy." Mr Leihn’s undergraduate studies were motivated by the desire to conserve the beach environment he loved so much. His first job within Government was running the national GreenPower renewable energy program. "It was fantastic to take a program and raise the participation rates from about 180,000 to 750,000."
The program whetted his appetite for working in policy development and he undertook a Masters Degree in Environmental Science and Law at the University of Sydney. "The interface between public policy law and science is something I encourage all students to think about," he says.
Science graduates also work with legal firms in the areas of patents, intellectual property and in some specialised areas like forensics.
Mr Leihn says the role of his office is "to be independent advisors to the government. We can be called upon to review the science of others. We are facilitators of research collaborations, we are funders of research and research infrastructure, so it is a fascinating role that changes every day. It has a high impact into the policy environment."
Mr Leihn says the State Government employs scientists from every faculty. The Department of Primary Industries (which covers agriculture, fisheries and forests); the Offices of Environment and Heritage, of Water and of Food Safety; the Ministry of Health; Innovation, Industry and Investment; the Institute of Sport; and Sydney Water Corporation all employ practising scientists.
Many scientists work as policy advisors. "We have trained scientists who are interpreting the science for policy purposes," Mr Leihn explains. "The basic skills that you get from a science degree are valuable, and they are applicable across a number of different roles within government."
On the Commonwealth level, the biggest employer of natural science graduates is the 6500 strong CSIRO, 1900 of whom are scientists. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry employs graduates from virtually every area of natural sciences, with an emphasis on candidates with good communication and team working skills. The Department of Industry, Innovation, Science Research and Tertiary Education and the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities are also major employers of natural science graduates.
The Defence Science and Technology Organisation has a staff of 2500. Chief Operating Officer, Dr Len Sciacca, explains "we tackle difficult defence problems. We bring together people from different backgrounds; material sciences, mathematicians, computer scientists, electrical engineers, psychologists and more recently biomedical people as well."
Dr Sciacca says scientists often work together in multidisciplinary teams. He says although many problems they must solve are mathematical, there other aspects to cover.
"DSTO seeks out talented people with a variety of science backgrounds who can exercise innovative thinking and who possess analytical and problem- solving skills," Dr Sciacca says. Other Government agencies that employ of 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.
Mr Leihn points out there are more options for science graduates than wearing a lab coat. He says working in Government as a policy advisor is one way science graduates can help make a difference. "Science is so broad now there is virtually no policy that won’t benefit from science or at least scientific process in a presentation of evidence to decision makers," he says.
- 18 per cent national workforce in public sector
- 29,000 employed in 2009 (administration and safety roles)
Based on area of study
- Agricultural Sciences: $48,300
- Biological/microbial sciences: $50,000
- Economics: $50,000
- Environment: $50,000
- Geology or Geophysics: $50,400
- IT: $52,000
- Medical sciences: $55,000
- Physics: $50,000
Source: Graduate Careers Australia
- Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology
- The Economic Society of Australia
- The Society of Biology
- Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI)
- Australian Computer Society
- Geographical Society of NSW
- Australian Institute of Marine Science
- Australian Mathematical Society
- Australian Psychological Society
- Australian Institute of Medical Scientists
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.