Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An Interview with Former NOAA Coastal Management Fellow and University of Michigan-SNRE Graduate, Zach Hecht-Leavitt

Why did you pursue the NOAA Coastal Management Fellowship? 

Zach was interested in applying data management/analysis skills to public, coastal issues. He was particularly excited by the project itself (marine spatial planning), as well as the opportunity to work with former NOAA colleagues to some extent.

What was your position and what did you work on as a fellow?

Zach helped NY state create statistical models of marine species distributions in its offshore planning area to "fill in the gaps" they had in fish, marine mammal, and seabird datasets. He then helped put the results in a broader policy context.

How did you benefit from the fellowship and what was most rewarding? 

Zach enjoyed learning new skills (spatial statistics, computer programming, GIS) and communicating the results to managers and the public.

What during your graduate education best prepared you for your fellowship? 

Specific coursework at the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) at U of M, including: Analysis and Modeling of Ecological Data (Ines Ibanez), GIS and Landscape Models (Dan Brown), and many of the Aquatic Sciences classes (Biology and Ecology of Fishes, etc.) for general background knowledge helped prepare Zach for success in his fellowship.

What do you wish you had done during your graduate education that would have assisted you with your position? 

Zach believes that he probably should have learned Python, or taken learning R more seriously. He says that even if you don't think of yourself as a technical/computer person, having at least a basic knowledge of computer programming will make your life much easier. Zach says the reality is that we spend most of our time in front of a computer, so, having it do more work for you frees you to use your brain more creatively, and spend less time pointing and clicking.

Where are you now? 

Today, Zach is working for a private oceanography consulting firm, doing mostly oil spill impact modeling.

What do you enjoy most about your career? 

Zach likes helping clients understand their modeling process and the results. He also enjoys coding, to some degree.

Advice for new fellows?

Zach says to try to remain optimistic and proactive. He says the fellowship is what you make of it, and, despite the impression you may get, your project may be very nebulous and your role undefined. He suggests viewing this as an opportunity to create your own position, rather than feeling frustrated that there is no place for you.

Recommendations for prospective candidates' applications?

Zach definitely recommends becoming very familiar with the state projects when they are posted online. He suggests tailoring your application to address specific state needs. For your selection week presentation, Zach says don't be afraid to come out swinging and make it clear how you fit with your favorite project(s).


Zach Hecht-Leavitt
NOAA Coastal Management Fellow
(8/2011 – 8/2013)



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