Monday, December 8, 2014

#isurvivedplacementweek (Executive Branch)

Hi everyone!

I made it back alive from that crazy adventure in DC known as Knauss Placement Week. We had all been warned about what a whirlwind it is, but you really don’t feel the sorority rush/hunger games (kidding, it’s not that brutal) nature of it all until you are surviving placement week. Placement week brings out a bag of emotions. It’s exciting, stressful, fun, exhausting, educational, challenging, and very rewarding. Each day flies by, but this one week feels more like two. At the end of the ride, you walk away with quite an eventful week, quite a unique experience to look back on and, not to mention, great contacts and a fantastic new job! You also become very familiar with the DC metro system (you might have to learn how to get from one side of the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area to the other in a very short amount of time) and get a little sample of some bars in the area through the happy hour/dinner socials.    

Placement week eased us into the madness, starting off with dinner on Sunday night with only the other Knauss finalists and the Sea Grant staff. We got a chance to meet and briefly talk to everyone, and also got the run-down of the schedule for the week. Monday was jam-packed with 50+ ten minute presentations from all of the host offices on the available positions. After trying to digest that onslaught of information, on Tuesday morning we scheduled our minimum of 12 interviews over the next few days. Despite being pretty much a free-for-all sign up process, the scheduling went fairly smoothly. As soon as the scheduling was complete, the interviews began! For the rest of the day Tuesday through mid-day Thursday, I interviewed for 14 different positions in various NOAA offices, at the EPA, at NSF, and at the US Army Corps of Engineers. If the interview gauntlet wasn't mentally exhausting enough, as soon as we finished the marathon on Thursday we had to choose three offices to call back that afternoon to say that they were in our top three. Placement ended Friday morning with the matching process when we got to see how the host offices ranked all of their interviewees. Finalists who were ranked #1 had the first shot at the position. If the finalist took it, the finalist crossed his/her name off of the other lists and the process moved forward from there. Chances are you will be near the top (if not #1) of a few lists. It seemed very intimidating at first, but the Sea Grant staff and all of the other finalists were so supportive. At the end of the morning, we officially became fellows!

We hardly got a chance to relax during the week. At the end of every day was a happy hour/dinner social that the hosts attended so we could talk to them more about whatever we didn't get a chance to during the short 30 minute interviews. If you aren't the best networker, push yourself to talk to your favorite offices. It's important to take advantage of these opportunities to talk to the hosts in a social setting. These “dinner” socials were kind of crazy (I ended up eating dinner after the socials around 9/9:30 every night at a different restaurant), so I recommend eating dinner beforehand if you can. The social on Thursday night after making your call-backs is a bit of a shark tank, so prepare to be hounded by the hosts. It’s a wild week, but just remember: they want you (there are more positions than fellows!), you get the opportunity to learn about and network with so many different federal offices (when else could you say you had interviews with NOAA, NSF, USGS, EPA, USACE and Dept. of State?), and you get an awesome job at the end!
Dinner social at Vapiano in Chinatown!

Lunch at Union Station after the last of my 14 interviews!

I ended up accepting a position as the Modeling Analysis Prediction and Projections (MAPP) Program Fellow in the NOAA Climate Program Office! It was definitely a tough decision. I could see my year going in so many different directions with the wide range of incredible opportunities in various offices, but I had to “feel the force”. The Sea Grant placement week staff will advise you all week to trust the system, stay open and feel the force (all of which you should follow!). Past fellows have ended up with positions they did not expect, but no one seems to have been disappointed. As for making that decision on the last day or when you're picking your three call-backs (these calls carry a lot of weight in the hosts' rankings of their interviewees), think about flipping a coin over two of your options; which one would you be more disappointed to lose? Feel the force.

My recent background is in aquatic conservation ecology (mostly freshwater) and environmental informatics (GIS, remote sensing, statistics, modeling). My master’s project at U of M-SNRE focused on developing a land conservation plan to protect the water quality of the Kalamazoo River Watershed based on the results of an ArcGIS model. However, I grew up a weather nerd (and a math nerd) and almost specialized in atmospheric sciences in undergrad, but other opportunities took me in a different direction. So, I am very excited to work in the Climate Program Office on the MAPP team for my fellowship year! 

View of the Capitol at night from Union Station
#knaussmafia #VIP
After Knauss fellow initiation (aka Placement Week), we got the official welcome into the Knauss Mafia or "The Family". I already got an idea of the significant presence and extent of the Knauss Mafia in NOAA and throughout DC during placement week, and I am sure that was just the beginning. Knauss fellows are everywhere! It was really exciting to see where some of these former fellows have ended up. I could truly sense the strength of this support network. Seeing "the mafia" definitely got me hopeful for the future, post-fellowship. 

After that wild ride, I am now back in Ann Arbor, Michigan working at Michigan Sea Grant for a few more weeks until I make the move to DC! I am a Northern Virginia native, so I am excited to move back to where I grew up. I can't wait to hang out with the 2015 class of Knauss fellows and for this new adventure to begin! 
Celebrating the end of placement week with the 2015 Knauss Fellows!

Shout out at our last dinner social on U Street in DC!

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