Education officer

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Lai, early-30s and Jess, 26

Lai and Jess are Education Officers at the Melbourne Aquarium. "I have three-metre sharks swimming around my office!" laughs Lai energetically, an enthusiastic and passionate promoter of environmental education. "And stingrays," adds Jess with gusto.

What does an Education Officer do?

Jess and Lai develop and deliver marine and freshwater educational programs to groups visiting the aquarium. "We get around 600 kids through a day," says Lai, "Anyone from primary to secondary students, groups of teachers and special needs classes." Lai and Jess also manage a casual staff of around 30 educators and interpretative officers (Jess started out as a casual).

What's a typical working day involve?

The morning begins by "responding to daily 'spot fires' such as people calling in sick or covering shifts," Lai says, then briefing the casual staff. "In our leadership roles, we explain what's going on for the day. We'll talk about the classes that are coming through and where they're at in their learning development."

Jess and Lai then teach classes from 8am to 2.30pm. "We'll meet the school and confirm the day's program," Jess says. After teaching, time might be spent organising activities for upcoming events - like Marine Science Careers Day or the Artist in Residence program. "Then we'll probably do some program development. It's our job to make sure that our staff deliver learning outcomes creatively to the students," she says.

The types of people an Education Officer works with are aquarists, animal behaviourists, students, teachers and government departments of marine educators (such as park rangers and seal curators), and the Aquarium's many departments.

What are some of the pros and cons of the job?

Lai and Jess emphatically stress that being an Education Officer is a lifestyle job. Typically, they'll work 40 to 50 hours a week but after-hours' tasks might be judging competitions, having weekly meetings, and reading marine-based literature to keep their knowledge current. Jess is a mad-keen diver and will often don a wetsuit at the weekend. "It's a huge high to be able to incorporate weekend recreation into Monday's class!" she enthuses.

For Lai, the highs involve the fantastic working environment and like-minded colleagues ("No whale killers or kid-whackers!"), and teaching culturally diverse groups. "It's a bit of an ego stroke," he laughs, "but being influential in teaching people about the environment is a real high." Jess adds that it's also the creativity and variety: "There's not a moment in a day that I look at a clock," she says. Lows are that the job can be draining emotionally and physically: "No more late nights on a school night!" says Jess with a shudder.

What sort of skills and qualities do you need?

"You need to be enthusiastic, and committed and passionate about conservation and the environment, and to have a positive attitude and an outgoing personality," Lai remarks, "You also need to be a good communicator and listener, and to be able to think on your feet".

Are there any tips for getting a job as an education officer?

Lai suggests doing some hands-on volunteer work during and after studying. "I did emu parades, chasing penguins around and squeezing them to see what they eat, and sitting on a beach watching how turtles lay eggs. Volunteer work doesn't need to be dull. There's things like Tranceplant, where you go and plant some trees, and then have a rave." Jess says: "Don't specialise too soon. It's such a big field that it's important to keep your options open. Take the gap year and learn what you're interested in."

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).