Hear From Our Graduates
What does a Defence Graduate actually do? What does a typical day look like? Have a look through some of the stories below to discover what your time in the Defence Graduate Program might look like.
The Defence Graduate Program is designed to build on the skills and knowledge you developed at university. Throughout the program you will undertake an extensive learning and development package, including training relevant to your chosen job stream. You will also be given unique opportunities to visit key Defence sites as part of familiarisation activities during the program.
You will enjoy experiences that, as a civilian, you wouldn’t find with any other organisation.
I usually wake up around 6:30am and take my dog for a walk around the local park with my husband. I then get ready for the day (which always includes breakfast while watching Fox Sport News!) and drive to work. I live in a small town about 60 km from Adelaide city, and the drive to Edinburgh is about 30 km, but there are no traffic lights and there is rarely any traffic on the way, so the drive is quite relaxing.
I generally arrive at work around 8:30am, although I do not have a firm start or finish time most days since my team has quite flexible work hours (as do most at DST). I usually start my day by making myself a coffee and checking my emails. Triaging and responding to emails usually takes around half an hour, and doing it first thing in the morning helps me to get on top of things for the rest of the day. I then might complete some small packages of work that I can get through in an hour or so, before our 10 am team meeting. These tasks can include things like administration, reading relevant research papers, reviewing documents, and so on.
Our team of seven people comes together every Monday to discuss the events of the previous week, plan for the upcoming week, and raise any issues. When we are operating a satellite, this meeting is typically focused on the outcome of operations – such as, what data has been collected, what activities have the satellite performed, what is the current satellite health and performance, what is the focus for the next week of operations. We also review an on-going team ‘to do’ list for longer-term tasks, which ranges from analysis to administrative tasks. This meeting usually goes for about an hour, and afterwards we all generally have a good feel for what we need to do over the upcoming week.
I usually have a bit more time now to delve into a more involved tasks. I have a mechanical engineering background, so my responsibilities often involve tasks such as analysing on-orbit satellite data, creating models or simulations to test or reproduce particular activities, and engineering analysis and design jobs for a space system under development. I often use software such as Matlab, Satellite Took Kit and CAD to assist me to do these tasks.
At lunch time, I either go for a run around the DST site, and then eat my lunch, or just take a short break in the office kitchen to eat lunch. We have showers in our building, so it’s easy to fit in some lunch time exercise.
If we’re operating a satellite, there are usually a couple of passes over our ground station in the afternoon, and we have an operations roster for the team. Operations involves preparing a set of commands to be sent to the satellite (which are converted to byte sequences) and scheduling our ground station to track and communicate with the satellite as it passes over.
After the operations window, I will usually conduct some analysis of the data if it is required, or I will continue with an engineering or research task. This is often the best time of the day to get work done as the office quietens down after operations have finished for the day.
I typically finish work around 4:30pm and on Monday evenings I head to football training. Footy training really helps to clear my head, and it provides me with work-life balance.
I arrive home at the end of the day and have dinner with my husband and my dog, and we usually watch AFL360 or the latest Netflix show that we’re into! I’m usually pretty tired at the end of a Monday, so I’ll usually be in bed before 11 pm, but always keen for the next day!
My first rotation saw me working in the project acquisition phase, where my team and I were responsible on acquiring two Landing Helicopter Docs – Australia’s largest ships in the Royal Australian Navy’s fleet at present.
During my second rotation, I was fortunate enough to organise an out-of-stream rotation with the Special Operations Engineering Regiment, within the Royal Australian Army. I was based at Holsworthy Barracks, NSW and work exposed me to the rapid acquisition process of specialist equipment used in the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive environments. I was also lucky enough to conduct some test trials with the Explosive Detection working dogs.
Following my second rotation, I ventured into the project sustainment environment and completed my third rotation at the Mine Clearance and Diving System Program Office (MCDSPO) based within HMAS Waterhen, North Sydney. During my time at MCDSPO, I was exposed to various work activities predominately based around the sustainment aspect of a project life-cycle which included; conducting routine inspections and activities on the Mine Hunter Class ships, working closely with the prime contractor – Thales and raising Engineering Change proposals relating to the ships platform, combat and electrical systems.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?
“The Graduate Development Program (GDP) has provided a range of opportunities I never thought possible. As a Human Resources graduate working in such a large government department, Defence has offered a breadth of experience, valuable professional development and helped build an excellent foundation for my future career. Defence has enabled me to develop an array of skills in Human Resource Management whilst also being exposed to the unique opportunities Defence has to offer. During the program, I travelled to Defence facilities throughout Australia, attended briefings from senior military and civilian leaders, worked with passionate colleagues and received invaluable mentoring advice and support.”
I commenced my first rotation in the Diversity Directorate which provided an understanding of Defence-wide operations due to the extensive reach of diversity initiatives across the department. Working in the diversity space instilled in me the importance of a diverse workforce for Defence capabilities and promoting Defence as an employer of choice.
My other rotations in the Directorate of Indigenous Affairs and the Organisational Development Unit built on this experience and provided exposure to recruitment processes, change management coordination and policy implementation reflecting Defence’s organisational strategy.
Moving to Canberra from interstate was a smooth transition due to the assistance provided by the GDP management team and the network of graduates I met during the first few weeks on-the-job. Canberra is a beautiful city with amazing restaurants, cafes, shopping outlets and outdoor recreational facilities which offer a lovely environment to live and catch up with friends.
I’ve built friendships which will last a lifetime and worked with talented colleagues who inspire me to continually extend and challenge myself professionally. I would recommend this program to anyone seeking a challenge and an opportunity to gain incredible experience whilst contributing to Australia’s national security capability.
“As a political science graduate in the Generalist Stream, I was given many opportunities to contribute to diverse, challenging and meaningful work. Throughout the graduate year, I was supported within my teams to develop skills in areas that I had not had much exposure to before. This included planning a visit by Timorese Defence officials to Australia, reviewing the effectiveness of an Army training exercise and coordinating the Department’s responses to media enquiries. I learned useful lessons in crafting policy advice for senior executives, conducting training assessments and developing communication strategies.”
One of the many highlights from my graduate year was my regional placement at an Army training academy in southern Queensland. Living on a Defence base allowed me to become closely acquainted with the dedicated and inspiring people who serve in the Australian Defence Force. I was grateful to participate in the unit’s arduous physical training sessions, discover the hallowed traditions of a regimental dinner and accompany Australian soldiers as a designated ‘UN observer’ on a patrol march in Townsville.
Another memorable experience was attending two weeks of policy seminars at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. This was just one of the many exciting learning and development opportunities afforded to me during the graduate year, which provided me with invaluable insight and candid advice from Defence leaders, national security thinkers and qualifications in project management and ministerial writing.
Moving to Canberra could have been daunting, but the entire transition was almost seamless. I had an instant social network in the graduate cohort, and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city’s great café culture, arts scene and civic attractions with lovely and talented people. The enduring friendships I’ve made both professionally and personally have placed me in good stead for a rewarding career in Defence.
“I studied a Double Bachelors Degree in Asia-Pacific Security Studies and Finance, with a view to work within the Australian National Security Community. The Finance and Business stream served as the perfect avenue through which to combine both these disciplines, and to understand how the finance function underpins the Department’s operations in achieving strategic objectives.”
As a graduate you are exposed to a variety of operational and functional areas across Defence in both civilian and military environments. It has been a great introduction to the Department - you get a real understanding of the scale on which the Organisation operates and the diversity of the career opportunities available to you as a young graduate. My current rotation in Audit & Fraud Control Division has been instrumental in cementing my knowledge of the business of Defence, and has provided many opportunities to engage one on one with Senior Executive level and Star-ranked officials within the Organisation. I have also worked in Investment and Resource Analysis for Royal Australian Air Force platforms, working with uniformed personnel on sustainment costs of current Air capabilities. My experience in Balance Sheet Management for Chief Finance Officer Group was great in that it was a critical, central area informing the Defence Financial Statements.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Program has been the training and development opportunities available to participants. As a graduate you are provided a plethora of highly valuable training opportunities, ranging from Strategic Policy and Ministerial Writing to Project Management Fundamentals. In addition to this graduates have received briefings by Senior Executives and Service Chiefs within the Organisation, which have provided a valuable insight into the operations, objectives and strategy of the Department. Graduates also participate in a week-long Study Tour of Army, Navy and Air Force bases across Australia - an incredible educational experience.
I would highly recommend this program to graduates seeking a fulfilling career within a highly dynamic organisation within Australia’s National Security apparatus. The opportunities available in Defence are endless!
"I completed a Bachelor of Commerce/Arts (International Relations) at the Australian National University. I have discovered that a graduate placement within the Department of Defence has allowed me to incorporate my interests and skills in both of these areas, experiencing three diverse rotations around Australia."
As a Procurement and Contracting Graduate, I remained in Canberra for my first rotation within the Commercial Division of the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG) where I gained a valuable insight into the unique complexities surrounding military capability procurement and worked on contracts ranging from acquiring ammunition to multi-million dollar aircraft.
My second rotation took me to Melbourne where I worked with the Financial Investigation Service. Here I was exposed to engaging with Defence Industry and ensuring that pricing was fair and reasonable which is a key part of acquisition within Defence. I met wonderful people and was able to experience business from a regional perspective.
For my third rotation, I worked in a project supporting a critical military capability in Sydney. Here I was kept challenged and gained valuable experience in meeting the operational demands of a large Navy capability. The team is an innovative blend of military personnel, public service civilians and industry personnel and this allowed me to engage with the core essence of how the Department of Defence does business. Being able to directly see the ships I was supporting cemented the value of being a graduate in this Department.
My overall experience has been exceptional allowing me not only to travel and live in three different cities over 18 months, but also to experience three very different areas of a huge, nationwide organisation. As a graduate, I have been welcomed into an engaging atmosphere and have received opportunities to engage with all parts of the organisation from briefings with senior leadership to hands on tours to the regional bases. I also gained access to a national network of other graduates and have made amazing new friends.
I try to get some physical activity in before work most mornings with a friend, so I’m usually awake and down at Lake Burley Griffin by this time. A morning walk will get us awake and energised for the day ahead, especially if it’s on a frosty Canberra winter morning.
I aim to be in the office by 8:00am most days of the week. Working within the Public Service, I am lucky enough to have fairly flexible working hours, including self managed Flex Time. Usually once I get into the office I will sit down and check my emails, making sure there are no urgent tasks that require completing, and catching up on any new project wide news. I need to look ahead on my calendar so that I can plan my day and my week. Throughout the Graduate Program, and in my current position, there are plenty of opportunities for training and travel, so it’s not unusual to have something on the horizon. In the past year as part of my job role I’ve travelled to various Defence bases, to Woomera for missile testing, and even spent a week at sea aboard HMAS Parramatta.
I work in the Platform Systems team of the Hunter Class Frigate Program. In the morning we will gather together to talk about what work will be going on in the office this week. Working on such a large scale project means communication is key, and understanding what the wider project is undertaking ensures a more fluid decision making process.
After our meeting, the team gathers together for the daily coffee run. This gives us a chance to get some fresh air and gives a relaxed and casual setting for discussion.
The Hunter Class Frigate Program is forging the way for the Continuous Naval Shipbuilding Program, and will deliver a fleet of anti-submarine warfare ships to the Royal Australian Navy. Being in its early stages, my colleagues and I spend a lot of our day trying to familiarise ourselves with the complex design, ensuring that any international engineering standards used by the Ship Manufacturer are sufficient to be used in an Australian end-product. Reading and reviewing any documentation or technical drawings received from our Industry partner on strict deadlines plays a role in our daily work.
At lunch I try to catch up with friends working in other projects within Defence. It’s good to get an appreciation of other programmes within the acquisition and sustainment field. The work we do directly impacts members of the Australian Defence Force in a bid to make their jobs easier, and to help keep them safe.
After a break, the afternoon is filled with either meetings with relevant stakeholders to discuss current platform design components, liaising with different work areas in the project to ensure smooth integration between on board equipment and the platform, or organising any travel to Shipyards or to Garden Island East to visit ships in our current fleet. Visiting the current Fleet is a great way to understand what we wish to change or keep the same in Future Platforms, and listening to the very valuable experiences of those serving on board is a great way to do so.
I try to debrief with my superiors once a week. This includes taking part in a Naval Mentoring Program. It is important to regularly reflect on the where you want your career to take you in the future, and whether the work you are doing is going to take you in that direction. I have found that my supervisors and mentor are all very encouraging in trying to get me the exposure and experience in areas I hope to explore more. You might never know what you’re missing if you don’t get your feet wet wherever the opportunity arises.
By now it’s generally home time. I make sure I’ve tied as many loose ends as I can for the day, and write myself a list of tasks to continue tomorrow.
Once I get home, I take my dog for a walk or to the park before cooking dinner. After a high energy day it’s nice to relax and watch television, read a book, or perhaps do some baking.
I try to be in bed by now, so I can be up nice and early to start again.
"My favourite part about the graduate program was working in three diverse areas of Defence, each in a different city. I worked in both acquisition and sustainment with my three work rotations consisting of Guided Weapons acquisition in Canberra, Collins Submarine sustainment in Perth and Air Battlespace Management in Newcastle."
After completing a Commerce and an Arts degree at the ANU, Defence was my first choice of graduate program due to the exciting work and opportunities they offered. The highlight of my rotations was inspecting and assessing the equipment that Defence is acquiring or sustaining. This included touring guided missile test facilities, multiple ships and submarines and the Submarine Escape Training Facility. Viewing the Defence equipment that I was involved enabled me to understand the relevance of my work.
As a graduate cohort we were also given exciting opportunities such as touring various RAAF aircrafts, visiting a Special Forces Training Facility and attempting the Over Water Obstacle Course at ADFA.
I was lucky enough to work on both a Navy base and Air Force base. I enjoyed experiencing life on a base, including eating lunch at the mess and participating in sport and PT sessions with Air Force personnel. It also made for interesting lunchtime walks; watching the aircraft performing aerobatics overhead at the RAAF base, or walking to the wharf to see the submarines and ships at the Navy base. The opportunity to work with APS, contractor and uniformed personnel allows for an interesting workplace.
Throughout the course of the graduate program I have made connections, both professional and social, that I would not have otherwise. The professional network I have created will no doubt benefit me well into my career, not to mention the life long friends that I have made. I recommend the Capability Pathway to anyone looking to gain experience and exposure to Defence acquisition and sustainment and kick start their career in an exciting Department, all while playing an important role in supporting the war fighter.
"I started my Defence life as part of the Capability Pathway on the Defence Graduate Program after completing a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) at Charles Darwin University. I was shipped from the oppressive Darwin humidity to the crisp air of Canberra. Our intake was large and despite a plethora of engineers, all of the graduates were friendly, easy-going and most became good mates. The extensive network of graduates in Canberra and the work-life balance made my stint there really enjoyable. What’s not to love about road trips to the beach in summer and the snow in winter?"
With no previous exposure to Defence, I was unsure what to expect. I found everyone to be supportive, friendly and knowledgeable. Settling into Canberra was daunting but in the end was relatively smooth, the graduate team and work area providing me with good assistance and advice.
The 18 month program consisted of three 6 month rotations and flexibility with locations. I took the opportunity to see the country with my second rotation as part of the Air Warfare Destroyer program in Adelaide. This culminated in me going on sea trials to conduct noise and vibration testing. Standing on the back of a warship going full steam is an experience I won’t forget. Neither is trying to sleep while they do speed and manoeuvre trials in the middle of the night.
I also had the opportunity to do a rotation external to Defence, which opens up the possibility of working in Defence industry. I continued my nomadic habits and crossed the Nullarbor to Perth for an industry placement with Austal. This gave me an understanding of how industry ticks, exposure to engineering design and the obstacles involved in contracting to Defence. I was given valuable exposure to the operation of a shipyard.
Moving around the country has allowed me to experience so much. From conducting sea trials to shooting a pass score at the Weapon Training Simulation System at ADFA in Canberra, the graduate program has provided me with opportunities to which I would not normally have access.
"I had been searching for the opportunity to pursue a career in research after completing post-graduate study and the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST) provided the perfect platform. Since joining DST, I have experienced the diversity and excitement in my professional life that I have always sought."
Working in DST has involved me in the development of capstone concepts for the Australian Defence Force (ADF). It has given me the opportunity to apply my analytical skills in new ways as well as contribute a scientific perspective. Being at the forefront of moulding the role of science in emerging technologies has been an exciting challenge and far exceeds the influence I expected to have in my first six months in DST. My role has also taken me to Enoggera Barracks in support of major Army experimentation activities. Staying on base and exploring practical issues faced by the Joint Force has given me a new perspective and greater appreciation for the accomplishments of the ADF. On the lighter side, I was also fortunate to be invited to participate in Weapons Training Simulation which allowed a group of Australian Public Service to fire a simulated weapon.
One of the best aspects of my work has been my colleagues. I’ve felt incredibly welcome within the organisation and there is a collegiate and community spirit that makes work truly enjoyable. People are always willing to help out and their willingness to impart knowledge has been an invaluable part of orienting myself within Defence. Senior leaders have also taken a personal interest in my development and have identified and encouraged many learning and development opportunities for me. In my short time in DST I have attended several courses and seminars, including the advanced ‘Apollo Course in Future War Analysis’ at the Australian Defence College.
DST Group has become more than a platform for my career; it is the expression of my career and goals. Feeling as successful as I do now, I can only imagine how I’ll feel in years to come.
“I joined ASD as a Cyber and Information Security Analyst after studying Mechatronics and Computer Science. While I always knew I wanted to work with computers, of all the choices available to me at the completion of my degree, Intelligence and Security seemed to offer the most challenging and rewarding opportunities. Within ASD, I've had the opportunity to use broad engineering principles and practices, as well as specific knowledge from my Computer Science background to tackle problems.”
As a Cyber grad within ASD, I've had the opportunity to undertake a number of rotations, in particular a rotation within ASD's malware analysis team. I was a little worried about the challenge, but the team was very welcoming and ready to help me learn the ropes.
I’ve had the opportunity to directly analyse infectious malware, to develop tools to help more rapidly identify and understand cyber threats, and to work with a team in a very challenging area. My assessment on the capabilities and threats posed by a given virus have contributed to the security of the Australian Government networks.
Moving to Canberra, I was worried about not knowing anyone. However, within a week, I’d made more friends than I had in a year – all fellow incoming grads. Those friends were the best support I could have hoped for entering the world of ASD.
How did you get to your current job position?
I started my professional career with the Department of Defence in February 2016 as part of the CASG graduate program. During the graduate program, I did three different rotations. The first was with a Navy acquisition project procuring a maritime rapid environmental assessment capability. I then went on to do an industry secondment with Boeing Defence Australia working on the sustainment of the F/A-18 Classic Hornets. For my last rotation I worked with an Air Force project working on the sustainment of the E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft.
Upon completion of the graduate program, I applied for my current role within the Australian F-35A Project to pursue my passion for aerospace engineering. I am an avid aviation lover and I am also in the process of learning to fly!
What are your areas of responsibility?
As the Air Vehicle Systems Engineer in the F-35A Project, my main responsibility is to support the successful achievement towards acceptance of the F-35A aircraft and F135 propulsion system for service into the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). My role involves a significant level of stakeholder engagement and liaison both internally within my workplace and externally with diverse groups of people. I ensure that all stakeholders are kept informed on key issues and activities. I also conduct technical reviews to support the airworthiness certification of the aircraft.
Can you describe a typical work day?
No two days are really the same for me. Priorities change every day. My job typically includes meeting with stakeholders, briefing the executive team on any topics of interest, keeping track of the aircraft production schedule, assisting with media releases, conducting risk-management activities and reviewing technical documents. My working hours are very flexible and are based on my priorities and workload.
What would you advise a student that was considering your career?
I would strongly encourage an engineering background. Your specialisation doesn’t matter as much as the analytical skills that you bring as an engineer. Most of your technical learning will be on the job. I also recommend doing courses that will develop your project management skills. As an engineer, especially within the Department of Defence, you will find yourself leading and managing projects.
I have learned that one of the most important skills is verbal and written communication. It is crucial for growing your career and to complete projects faster and more efficiently. I recommend actively seeking opportunities while doing your undergraduate studies to develop your communication skills. I also recommend pursuing networking and work experience opportunities in the engineering field that interests you.
“This graduate year with DIO has been excellent. I have no military or public service background, but I have spent the past few months immersed in an organisational culture drawn from both worlds.”
I have a background in international studies and languages, which has set me in good stead for my home rotation on a relevant desk. DIO is training me in the disciplines of formal analysis that complement and deepen my understanding of my area of expertise, and the knowledge I have gained over years of study and travel.
But I have also had opportunities to stretch myself with time on a technical desk. There I started with no knowledge of the subject area, and finished by making contributions to analysis that went directly to Defence operational planners. It was a steep learning curve, but hugely satisfying.
In the course of these rotations, I have worked with people with all sorts of fascinating experiences and expertise - many with similar backgrounds to me, but many also with knowledge and skills I barely knew existed before this year. I have taken part in an ADF exercise, liaised with other Australian Government organisations in Canberra and overseas, and participated in training programs with officers from partner countries. I have also contributed to long-term, whole-of-Defence strategic planning; to Australian Government responses to breaking events; and to supporting Australian troops operating overseas.
The Graduate program has given me the freedom to enjoy in a few months a wide variety of experiences, to ask stupid questions, and to get started on what looks like a fascinating career.
“The opportunities to experience new and different fields of technical work in ASD continue to surprise me. I’ve done rotations working on capability development projects and cyber security forensic analysis, which has not only given me a feel for the organisation and exposed me to the breadth of work ASD does, but has also allowed me to work with all different types of people and teams, and create networks that are already proving valuable. ASD is such a diverse organisation; getting to do rotations anywhere in ASD is my number one favourite thing about the graduate program.”
I have been given the chance to continue developing my skills with a wide range of high quality technical courses available. I’ve really appreciated that the programming courses range from beginner to advanced and are spaced out well over the year. It’s pretty cool that you can do a course or bunch of courses on any of the most common programming languages.
One of the things I was concerned about was moving to a new city to a job I didn’t know much about. But when I arrived, it was easy to make friends with the other graduates as they are all in the e position, and the former graduates were there to help us when we needed it. Canberra is a pretty good place to live too – it has all the comforts of a big city but it only takes me 10 minutes to get to work every day, and it’s only 2 hours from the beach or the snow.
ASD has a really good attitude towards new starters and provides a great environment to learn from others. The flexible working hours are great, and the focus is on getting the job done properly and efficiently instead of the pressure faced in private industry to work long hours. Also, in my previous job there was this huge thing about employing minorities in technical fields. But in ASD, I’m valued for my abilities, not because I fill a quota for gender or ethnicity requirements.
The work I do at ASD is truly unique and it is great to know that I am making a real difference!
“After completing my studies in Geomatics Engineering, I joined the Intelligence and Security Development Program as an AGO Technologist in 2014. The AGO graduate program has provided a great opportunity for me to broaden my skill sets and knowledge beyond my academic studies.”
Although I was in the Technologist stream, I had the opportunity to complete the Geospatial Intelligence Analysis Course, which I felt allowed me to adapt my pre-existing knowledge to Defence applications while gaining an insight into the complete suite of work conducted by AGO.
Rotations in the Technologist stream have provided me with project management and software development skills which allowed me to engage with different aspects of my university studies. From my experience, the graduate program is designed to provide a working environment where on-the-job training and team assistance is core to daily operations.
As expected when starting any new job, I was initially nervous but this was quickly overcome by friendly military and civilian colleagues who adopt and live the AGO culture. This culture provides a safe environment to learn, to communicate and seek assistance whenever you are unsure.
AGO is an organisation which sources graduates from diverse academic backgrounds in order to provide different perspectives on a range of global issues. Due to the nature of the graduate program, I moved to Canberra at the e time as other graduates. As we were all new, we have had the opportunity to network, establish long-lasting friendships and enjoy Canberra’s offerings.