What did you study at undergraduate level and when did you graduate? What are you studying now? Are you studying and working at the same time?
My name is Alison Reeve, and I’m the Director of Clean Energy Technology Innovation at the Australian Government’s Department of the Environment and Energy. My undergraduate degree was in environmental engineering, which I finished in 1997. I’m currently in the last year of a Masters of Public Policy at the ANU’s Crawford School. I am working full-time as well as studying, which is a bit of a juggle, but totally doable.
What have been the most important stages of your life?
I knew before I finished my undergraduate degree that I didn’t want to be an engineer, so when I finished, I went to London for two years, where I did some travel and a lot of temp jobs. When I came back I started working for a small agency in the NSW Government that was concerned with climate change and sustainable energy. And I’ve been working in that field pretty much ever since – in government, the not-for-profit sector, the private sector and even self-employed for a while. I did take a couple of breaks for more travel, and for a stint in the Prime Minister’s department.
How did you get to your current (or most recent) job position and how long have you been working there?
I’ve been in my current job a little over twelve months. I was looking for a move within the Department, and this job was vacant – it appealed to me because it had scope for me to make it what I wanted it to be.
What made you decide to progress with further study?
I enrolled in my masters in 2015 – I was a bit disillusioned with the practice of public policy, and I’d always felt I had missed out on something essential because I didn’t enter the public service through the typical route (a graduate program). I wanted to know more about the theory of public policy and to see if that would help me be a better practitioner.
How did you choose your particular further study course (compared to others)? Were you weighing up any alternative degrees or career pathways before choosing this qualification?
I wanted something in public policy, and ANU/Crawford seemed the obvious answer – it had a good reputation and it was local. I did toy with the idea of doing an MBA, but then realised I’d probably be really bored (finance and accounting have never been my thing). I also thought about working in a think tank, but everyone in them seemed way more qualified than me, so a masters was a good step to making that more of a reality.
What was the process to get accepted into your course? What were the prerequisites?
At the time I applied there was a requirement to have some experience in the public sector already – I had more than 10 years of that, so that was easy. I also had to supply my undergraduate academic transcript, and I think there were forms to fill out.
What does your study involve? Can you describe a typical day? (if it’s difficult to describe a typical day, tell us about the last thing you worked on?)
A typical day for me involves going to work! Study fits in in the evenings, early mornings, and/or part of my weekend. My employer has a generous studies assistance policy, which means I can apply for time off to go to lectures and seminars or for those times when I need a few hours to finish off an essay.
What characteristics or skills do you hope to gain by completing your course?
For me it’s about having the theory to put behind the practice. I’ve also learnt a lot about how to research and make an argument (amazingly in my four years of undergraduate I only ever wrote one essay!). And I’ve gained an appreciation for how other systems of government works – it’s very easy to think your own system is all there is.
Will this course be beneficial in your career? Where could you or others in your position go from here? Please explain your answer.
I certainly think I’ll be a better public servant as a result – but it’s a craft, so it’s never enough to just understand the theory. Putting it into practice and learning from that is key.
What do you love the most about your course?
The teachers are great – Crawford has some of the top people in the field and they are generous with their time and knowledge. I also love that most of the people in my courses are international students who work for governments in their home countries. It’s great to be able to swap experiences, and get exposure to different viewpoints.
What are the limitations of your course?
It sometimes feels like we’re just skimming the surface– there have been so many topics where there seem to be depths and nuances that we haven’t got time to cover.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current undergraduate student? They don’t necessarily have to be related to your studies, or even to one’s professional life.
Your undergraduate degree doesn’t define you – it’s a springboard to other things. You’re going to have two or three careers across your lifetime, so there’s plenty of time to figure out what you want to be.
Post-graduate study combined with work takes a lot of commitment. Knowing why you want to do it will help get you through. And make sure the important people in your life understand that too.
I’ve never had a career plan beyond doing interesting things that make a difference, with smart people who I respect. That’s taken me some amazing places – sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe it’s real.
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