Project Manager — Sarah Walters

Back to Careers in Geography

I was well into my working life before I discovered—or re-discovered—my interest in Geography.

My three years immediately after leaving school were spent travelling and working. First, I went on exchange to Thailand, and then worked in London for a recruitment agency and a publishing house. By the time I returned to Australia, I had quite a lot of work experience, including supervisory positions. This helped me gain good jobs in Sydney and Melbourne. Eventually I was earning excellent money and with great prospects—but it wasn't me. I was disillusioned.

With fond memories of Biology and Geography from school, I began a Bachelor of Science (Education) at Melbourne University. This allowed me to study basic sciences (chemistry and mathematics) that I needed to master Biology. I worked hard. Really hard. I knew what I wanted, and by the end of the year I had excellent results. My results in Geography were the best!

I was able to transfer into a Bachelor of Science/Law course at Monash University. The geographic, biological, legal and environmental areas interested me. Studying Law also helped keep my options open.

My studies continued successfully during the next two years. In third year, I worked on a geographical research topic on shipping, which was to have a big impact on my future.

I had decided to investigate the management and impact of ballast water from shipping, and its impact in port areas. At the time, there had been little research done on this subject. My report was finished just as the Victorian Government was becoming interested in this issue. I was about to continue my studies when I was offered the chance to do twelve months' research for the Environmental Pollution Authority to produce a report on ballast water in Victoria.

My report on ballast water was very well received. I was then asked to work for the Parliament's Environment and Natural Resources Committee doing research for an Inquiry into Ballast Water. I later became the Committee's Executive Officer and spent several years preparing parliamentary reports. Topics included weeds in Victoria, car emissions, and flora and fauna.

After several years of intensive researching and writing, it was time to move on and I resigned. Shortly afterwards, I was commissioned by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment to write an Action Statement on managing marine pests, and a Victorian protocol for managing existing marine species.

All along, in these experiences with government departments and Parliament, I had been using my multi-disciplinary skills. My generalist knowledge—typical of the geographer—had helped me see the big picture. At the same time, I had enough specialist knowledge (biological, legal, statistical and scientific) to analyse the details and to know the limits of what was possible or practical.

Right now, I am the project manager in a world-first study in the port of Hastings, Westernport Bay. The project will implement a risk-based ballast water management system and provide a model for all other Australian ports.

Looking back, I can see how Geography has helped me. It is always interesting and offers a wide range of specialties. I'm glad I have followed my interest, as the opportunities seem to have followed me.

As far as I'm concerned, do something you enjoy, and (you'll) do it well!