Meet a Geographer — Working indoors

Jo McCoy

Project Director, Land and Biodiversity White Paper
Department of Sustainability and Environment

Jo McCoy

Work Description

I currently manage a team within DSE which is developing a White Paper – a high level, strategic policy document which will outline the Government’s priorities for investment in land health and biodiversity for the next 20 – 50 years.  This involves working and liaising with a number of divisions across the department which have functional responsibilities for developing policy for public land, biodiversity and ecosystem services, natural resources, fire management, river health and climate change.  It also requires liaison with a number of other government departments and agencies such as the Department of Primary Industries, Parks Victoria, Catchment Management Authorities and local government.

The best aspects of my job

… the best thing about the job is the challenge of developing policy that has the capacity to make a real difference to our environment … The best thing about the job is the challenge of developing policy that has the capacity to make a real difference to our environment and being exposed to the ideas of people who are passionate about the future use and management of Victoria’s natural resources – both within government agencies and also the general public.  This project receives input from a stakeholder reference group and a scientific reference group and has recently completed a community engagement period which received more than 1200 submissions.  As part of the consultation process, the team was also able to get out into regional Victoria for a series of workshops that attracted more than 600 participants.

Prior studies

While I didn’t include Geography in my year 11/12 studies, I picked it up again at tertiary level and completed a third year major in physical geography as part of a Science degree at Monash University.  Many years later I returned to the Monash Geography faculty to do a Masters degree in Environmental Science in 1999.  Going back to study as a mature age student was very exciting in itself but was actually designed to enable me to reshape my future career.  Following my undergraduate degree, I had done a Dip Ed and then taught senior Geography and Biology in secondary schools for 16 years – a job which I loved.  I was also active in the GTAV for a number of years.

However, I decided that I wanted to be in a position to learn more about how government operates and to understand how decisions were made.  Working at DSE has provided that opportunity.  When this project is complete, there will be an opportunity to be involved in the implementation of the new policy and making sure that the community understands the new directions.  This may occur within a more senior executive management role or by taking up a position within another government agency.  An alternative may be to utilise the skills and understanding of government operations within a consultancy role.

Advice to people considering this type of career

Students who have demonstrated initiative and have some ‘on ground’ experience working with volunteer or community organisations will be well regarded.Students with a broad based environmental degree which includes subjects focusing on planning and natural resource management as well as policy development and technical skills such as GIS are highly sort after in government departments and consultancies.  Students who have demonstrated initiative and have some ‘on ground’ experience working with volunteer or community organisations will also be well regarded.  While most employers agree that travel broadens people’s horizons, it helps Gen Yers if they can also convince potential employers that they intend sticking around in one job for at least three or four years!  If you’re really keen on working in an environmental related field, a willingness to take up a position in regional areas might also be beneficial.  There are some great opportunities for varied hands on experience in big urban centres out in the country.