Meet a Geographer — Working outdoors

Paul Leahy

Freshwater Scientist
Environment Protection Authority, Victoria

Paul Leahy

Work Description

I work with a group of scientists that monitor and assess the health of Victoria’s rivers and lakes. For the last few years I have been researching the effect of drought on Victoria’s lakes, especially on the effect of drought on fish. In our work, we are called to give advice on the impacts of pollution on waterways and to help improve the management and condition of Victoria's waterways. We often are asked to assess developments or proposals, and consider the effect they are likely to have on aquatic environment. Similarly, we sometimes attend cases where pollution has entered a waterway, and provide an assessment of the impact on the environment. This often gets used in court cases, so the judge can assess the impact.

The best aspects of my job

I get to travel a lot in my work and get to visit amazing places in Victoria, such as alpine streams and coastal lakes, to do sampling.My work changes a lot from day to day, so I enjoy the varied nature of the work. I get to travel a lot in my work and get to visit amazing places in Victoria, such as alpine streams and coastal lakes, to do sampling. We also do quiet a bit of work with the general public and its always nice to be able to speak to people about their local environment, and hopefully learn from each other. I’ve also been involved in some pretty interesting research projects, particularly to do with fish and their ability to withstand drought.

Paul LeahyPrior studies

At secondary school I did geography up until year 11. At uni I did a Bachelor of Science (Honours) at Monash University, majoring in geography and biology, followed by a Ph.D. in geography, also at Monash. My Ph.D. thesis looked at the ecology and past ecology of billabongs along the Yarra River, in Melbourne.

Career pathway

Prior to EPA I did a Ph.D. in geography and then worked for an environmental consulting company, working on algae. I also did some tutoring and lecturing while I was doing my Honours and Ph.D.

Future career opportunities

The career opportunities for people in my area, water science and management, seem to be on the increase, as water becomes a more prominent topic. Employers include state and federal governments, consulting companies, environment groups and universities.
Future career opportunities include jobs as a senior scientist, science program manager, policy manager and so on. People within my group have also moved to into applied research fields at Universities and research institutions. Many end up going to work for consultants, or starting up their own consultancy.

Advice to people considering this type of career

GIS is becoming an integral skill in lots of fields, whether its government, business or research. In the group I work in, we have over 15 people who use GIS on a regular basis.

I think travelling the world before the end of your final year of University is a great idea.I think travelling the world before the end of your final year of University is a great idea. At the end of your degree it’s a good time to get straight into the workforce. Taking time off after finishing uni can break your focus, or at least that’s my experience with friends. It all depends on your personality really.

I’d strongly recommend trying to get some work experience during your university degree. Many places will take people on a voluntary basis, if they are prepared to commit a reasonable block of time (e.g. 3-4 weeks over a summer break). A number of employers don’t advertise that they will take people for work experience, so it’s a matter of calling around.

… having an honours degree is a real plus for employers in my area.Another consideration is whether to do honours or not. I’d say that having an honours degree is a real plus for employers in my area. It demonstrates your ability to manage a project and see it through to completion. Honours can be a real challenge (I would say harder than a Ph.D.), but it’s also a really rewarding experience.