STEM CAREERS: How Kris went from environmental scientist to COO of a gas company

An industry career as an environmental scientist can combine a love for the outdoors as well as meaningful community engagement work. Read more about Dr Kris Waddington's surprising career in the Oil and Gas sector.

This article would be great for opening up a discussion with students about unexpected careers in STEM and could be suited to Years 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.

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Before finding a path to a surprising career in the Oil and Gas sector, Dr Kris Waddington was a beach-loving country kid who studied marine biology. These days you’ll find him coordinating environmental issues and community engagement as Chief Operating Officer for the successful Australian oil and gas exploration and production company Buru Energy.

Kris Waddington (right) works around Australia coordinating environmental assessments. Credit: supplied

How did you get to where you are now?

I grew up on the south coast of Western Australia and spent a lot of time diving and fishing, so I was drawn to marine biology. I completed an undergraduate degree at University of Western Australia, then a PhD and post-doctoral work focusing on environmental impact assessments. I worked as a consultant for a year, then joined Buru Energy as a senior environmental officer and adviser.

From there my role expanded, first as Regulatory and Community Manager then in my current position, but hands-on environmental work remains an important part of what I do, along with community engagement work, particularly with Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley region.

A team of cadets onsite engages those in the local Aboriginal community. Credit: supplied

What does an average day look like doing environmental and community work?

Organising environmental surveys, talking to environmental consultants, reviewing data and writing approvals. Also, at various times I’ve worked with universities on more strategic research that informs our decisions in the day to day as well as one to five years down the track. There are meetings, of course, and working behind the computer, plus a bit of field work.

I probably would have done field work once a month – water sampling, flora and fauna surveys, working with consultants on rehabilitation analysis and assessment.

Water sampling is vital for assessing environmental impacts. Credit: supplied

What do you like about the work?

I enjoy the quantitative aspect of it: the analysis. I think I’m a reasonably analytical person and I like working with numbers. I also enjoyed working in the West Kimberley region, being outdoors in a really beautiful place. There’s an opportunity to travel.

I enjoy talking to Traditional Owners about the environment, understanding their perspectives, and incorporating some of these into our work. Aboriginal people have a different way of looking at the environment. If we can include some of that cultural knowledge into our environmental assessments that adds a lot of value, but you have to bring that information into a scientific framework.

What do you think careers in this field might look like in the future?

Not dissimilar to now. With the global population heading towards eight billion and more people aspiring to improve their circumstances, the pressures on the planet continue to increase. It is important that well-informed people with broad and deep knowledge are involved in decision-making at a range of scales.

Understanding our planet is vital for the future. Credit: supplied

What is your advice to others interested in this field?

I work in a different field to what I initially studied, but I found my path to my current role by doing something I really enjoyed at university. I’d encourage people to do what they’re interested in. You’ve got to put in a lot of hard work during your study and if you’re not interested in it, you’re not going to stick with it.

This article is sponsored by Bright-r.

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Biological Sciences – Ecosystems, Lifecycles

Chemical Sciences – Chemical Reactions, Atoms, Solids/Liquids/Gases

Earth and Space Sciences – Renewable/Non-Renewable Resources, Rocks, The Changing Earth

Physical Sciences – Energy

Additional: Careers, Maths, Technology, Engineering.

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