Sunday, December 20, 2009

New Fellows Find their Match

In November, two new Knauss fellows from Michigan successfully navigated "placement week". Each year the Knuass Fellowship program matches 45 graduate students with a wide range of backgrounds (biology, physical science, policy, law etc.) with an equally diverse set of “hosts” in Washington DC. Finding the right placement for each fellow requires a whole week of interviews, allowing fellows to get to know the available positions and the host offices to identify the students with the skills they need. The match-making process during placement week seems intimidating, but it’s a great way to learn about the federal government and perfect your interview skills.

Maggie Rabb, a sociology PhD student from Michigan State University reports, “I really enjoyed the whole interview process. I got to speak with people in so many different departments and I was surprised at how many were receptive to my sociology background.”  She was thrilled to learn that she will be placed with the Department of State's Marine Conservation International Affairs Office, her first choice position! As part of her new job, Maggie will be supporting international negotiations and developing guidance for managing high seas bottom fisheries, work that requires secret-level security clearance!

Joe Nohner, an aquatics student from the University of Michigan describes placement week as pretty intense. “It reminded me a bit of when I went to Disneyland as a kid, a lot of excitement and expectations, pretty much never stopping all day, riding every 'rollercoaster' there, and I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. I interviewed with 17 positions and in the end my #1 choice was with the Office of Science and Technology. I clicked well with the people there and everything worked out!” Joe’s new position will involve working on several high profile projects including the national fish habitat action plan, a program to evaluate and address declines in fish habitat, and a new marine spatial planning initiative that hopes to allocate specific activities (e.g., fishing, drilling, marine sanctuaries) to appropriate ocean areas.

Congratulations to Maggie and Joe!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fast and Furious in DC

These last 9 months went by extremely fast. While healthcare and tea parties eat up a good chunk of the DC oriented news cycle, there have been quite a few interesting aquatic/atmospheric developments, including the newly appointed President's Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the ever evolving Climate Bill (drafted in part by Knauss Fellows in Legislative offices). My office has enjoyed a cash infusion for our Endangered Species Act Section 6 program, which is a grant program that passes money to the states for research and recovery of Endangered Species. The last month or so I’ve been living leatherback sea turtle proposed critical habitat designation (our proposed rule will be out shortly), so all you federal register junkies get ready! Our office just contributed to a special Endangered Species Bulletin so hopefully we'll see it reprinted as part of the Endangered Species Update published at U of M. As the fellowship winds down (the new crop of Fellows are getting placed in their host offices next week), many of the current fellows are beginning the job search, applying for more graduate or post graduate education, or securing jobs in their respective host offices. It’s been quite an experience that I’d highly recommend for those interested in the science/policy interface and getting a job in the federal goverment. Please feel free to contact me with questions.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Apply Now!

Michigan Sea Grant is currently recruiting applicants for several fellowship programs.  We welcome applications from graduate students with a wide range of backgrounds (science, policy, law) and a strong interest in Great Lake, coastal or marine issues. Each program includes a decent salary, moving expenses, benefits, and enormous career building opportunities!

Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship.  This one-year program matches graduate students with hosts in the legislative or executive branches or other institutions in Washington, DC. Fellows focus on policy projects related to ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources. LINK
Application deadline: February 19, 2010  Start date: February 2010

NOAA Coastal Management Fellowship.  Fellows work for two years with agency hosts around the U.S. in state coastal zone management programs. Projects will address coastal resource management issues such as climate change, coastal hazards, or land use planning.  LINK
Application deadline: January 29, 2010   Start date: August 2010

Great Lakes Commission–Sea Grant Fellowship. This one-year fellowship is based at the Great Lakes Commission, a non-profit, binational organization in Ann Arbor. The Commission works to advance the environmental quality and sustainable economic development of the Great Lakes region. Fellows contribute to research coordination and policy analysis activities.  LINK
Application deadline: February 1, 2010  Start date: June 2010

For more information, visit the Michigan Sea Grant website or contact Lynn Vaccaro.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

An update from a Knauss Fellow - Life with the NOAA Fisheries Service

Life in DC has been exciting and busy. Lots of meetings, trainings, congressional briefings, happy hours, Obama sightings (mostly imagined), congressional receptions (free food and drinks) and outdoor excursions. After 4 months on the job I am still far from NOAA acronym fluent but can comprehend exponentially more than when I started. Maybe I’m currently at the 8th grade acronym level? My Knauss brethren have been up to many interesting things and have graciously proffered their slices of DC privilege (parties with Senators, naval observatory tours, congressional tours, state dept tours, receptions (including one with a Saudi Prince), science briefings, free food and drink anything) for us all to share in. My office cohorts and “fellow fellows” have really made this an enjoyable experience that I’d highly recommend. Coming to DC and NOAA with other fellows as “insta-friends” is really a great way to be connected with other offices and stay sane in the cubical labyrinth. My office has been doing great work and I’ve been involved with bits and pieces of it. My major projects at the moment include: working on the draft eastern dps Steller Sea Lion 5 year review; assisting on the development of a 90 day finding for a petition to list Largetooth sawfish; and writing boilerplate language for federal registry notices. I’d love to write more about the Steller Sea Lion and Largetooth projects (both have been extremely interesting), but due to legal sensitivities discussion needs to stay in-house for now. Recently I hosted a “webinar” with folks from The Nature Conservancy about the use of their Conservation Action Planning Program (CAP) and applications for recovery planning in our office; participated in strategic planning sessions with our Assistant Regional Administrators and Science Centers; and participated in a large whale recovery criteria workshop. Upcoming projects include meeting about data management with a Berkeley/Microsoft program; helping with some of the pre-planning work for the Beluga Whale Recovery Plan; taking a 5 day recovery training course at the National Conservation Training Center; and helping put an agenda together for our joint USFWS/NOAA Endangered Species Act workshop. To get outdoors this summer I plan on participating in snorkel surveys of endangered salmon in Northern California in July. We’ll start at high altitude streams in the Sierra Nevada Range, dive into freezing pools of water with a wetsuit, count fish while snorkeling, then move to the next pool. I’ll hopefully get up to Alaska this summer as well. Next week is the NOAA Fish Fry which I’ve heard is quite a party. Please feel free to ask me questions about the fellowship and/or about any of the aforementioned projects. I promise no lists next post.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A new Knauss Fellow arrives in D.C.

This month, Sean Ledwin and 40 other graduate students became part of the 2009 class of Knauss Fellows in Washington, D.C..

I talked to Sean this week to learn about his fellowship placement and his first impressions. Sean says it has been a busy but exciting month, transitioning from life as a grad student in aquatic sciences at the University of Michigan to his placement within NOAA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C..

As a Knauss Fellow, Sean will be working in the Endangered Species
Division of the Office of Protected Resources, which is part of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. His new office oversees the management of 67 endangered marine species, including species of salmon, whales, and sea grass. They are currently preparing their biennial report to Congress about the status of each species. Although he’s only been on the job for two weeks, Sean already has a diverse list of projects, including assessing critical habitat for leatherback sea turtles and updating the web content about Hawaiian Monk, Northern Fur, and Gray seals. Within the next few weeks he plans to travel to Seattle to discuss his most controversial project, the status review of Stellar Sea Lions.

The other Knauss fellows have been adopted by a wide range of hosts in Washington, DC. Their new jobs include being a staffer with the House Natural Resources Committee on Capital Hill, negotiating fisheries treaties for the State Dept, and working on climate policy, fisheries or managing Marine Sanctuaries at NOAA.

Before becoming a Knauss Fellow, Sean had experience researching aquatic ecosystems, working with tribal groups on marine resource issues, and advocating for greater marine protection through an NGO. Although federal policies influenced his work in each of his past positions, he’d never fully understood how the government developed their official opinions. He’s fascinated to now be on the other side, deciding the type of protection required for threatened marine species. For example, his review of the Stellar Sea Lion recovery will influence whether they are removed from the endangered species list!

So far, Sean reports that he has received royal treatment. The National Sea Grant office has organized several receptions for the Knauss fellows, including one for all the fellows from the past 30 years. Many of the past fellows are now leaders in resource management and policy, creating a valuable professional network. Sean’s office has been particularly warm and supportive, in part because nearly half of the staff were Knauss fellows! Sean says that his new colleagues all have fantastic stories about unusual research projects and exotic travel, so they can easily relate to his transition from graduate researcher in Belize to Knauss fellow. Despite the not-so-exotic office setting, Sean and the other fellows are thrilled to attend Congressional hearings, meet Jane Lubchenko, and bring sound science into the federal decision-making process.

As Sean explained in his application, he sees the fellowship as an “exciting venue to help realize his goal of becoming an innovative manager and leader in coastal policy formation and implementation”. For now, he says, he’s just trying to absorb as much as he can, stay open new opportunities, and build his network - but the from sounds of it, he’s right on track.

Sean is happy to answer questions over email, He suggests that prospective fellows visit the Knauss website and drag down either Executive or Legislative to view the jobs of current fellows.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Networking or Oh, The People You'll Meet

Over the course of my fellowship with the Great Lakes Commission, one of the more contentious topics I have worked on has been aquatic invasive species. Boaters, anglers, the maritime industry, the shipping industry, the bait and aquaculture industries, harbors, natural resource managers, drinking water facilities, and anyone else reliant on Great Lakes water (which is to say, everyone in the basin) all have a different opinion on what we should be doing to stem the tide (pun intended) of these invaders.

Two groups – the shipping industry and environmental groups – are particularly on-edge when it comes to finding a solution to this problem. The shipping industry is constantly under fire from environmental groups calling for stricter legislation to govern ballast water discharges, and the environmental advocates are frustrated at the lack of progress in this same area.

Last month I attended the biannual meeting of the Great Lakes Aquatic Nuisance Species Panel in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The Great Lakes Commission organizes the work of this panel and so we host the meetings, write up summaries, send out action items, review documents, etc.

Most of the meeting was about what you’d expect – presentations about ballast water treatments and regulations, updates on the the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal, discussions about VHS control efforts, and general comments on how the panel should be conducting its business over the course of a new year and under new leadership (Jim Grazio was recently elected chair of the panel).

The very last item on the agenda set aside 5 minutes for public comment. Expecting there to be none (as is usually the case) I had put away my laptop and was preparing myself for another AIS-related meeting the GLC had scheduled for later that same day (we like to overbook ourselves if we can).

Instead, Jim Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers' Association and recent panel member retiree, stepped up to the podium. This is what I wrote in my summary:

Once industry is gone from the panel, this forum will not be as effective. The ocean-going vessels (salties) should be treated differently from the vessels that stay within the basin (lakers). There are 63 lakers in the Great Lakes, down from 300 we had in the 30’s. Are the costs and the risk of massive chemotherapy really worth it?

These words hardly reflect the passion and conviction with which Jim spoke to us that Wednesday morning. What is missing is that he opened with the experience of watching his mother waste away from cancer and the subsequent chemotherapy that was required to treat her. Chemo is effective for certain kinds of cancer, he said, but it is not without cost and is not appropriate for all kinds of cancer.

He made this analogy to say that strict regulations are indeed effective for certain ships, but are not necessary for all. He then went on to describe the effects the current economic crisis was having on the shipping industry, and cautioned that further regulations will only cause a more protracted economic downturn for the people he represents and their families.

The point of this blog is not to promote Jim Weakley’s particular point of view as the right one. Indeed, while he certainly has one (that is, a point), so do all of the other groups I mentioned at the very beginning of this discussion. Passion, of course, does not mean his argument is without fault. There are certainly counterarguments, many of which I get to spend chunks of my day identifying and promoting (or not, depending on what's appropriate).

The point here is that these subtleties – the thickness of the room while he spoke, the stunned silence as he finished, and the sound of Jim Grazio clearing his throat before moving the discussion on to where the next meeting should be held – all of these will be lost when a watered-down version of my notes is posted on our website in the meeting minutes.

This is just one story I have from the many events I have attended since starting the fellowship (frequent travel, you’ll find, is also one of the perks of this particular gig). I am sure that I will have many more after I finish this job in five months.

As someone who works in environmental management, I recognize the value of knowing these personal stories. “Outsiders” – which is to say non-GLC employees and non-panel members – don’t have access to the institutional memory that is built into a group like this, which remembers the interpersonal dynamics that led up to such a powerful and heated statement by one of its representatives. We must all recognize that environmental decisions are made by people, and their idiosyncrasies will necessarily have an impact on the outcome of our work. Knowing these people and understanding their stories is a necessary part of making progress in this (and probably any) field. Having the opportunity to network with these groups is just one of the things I have loved about working with the Great Lakes Commission.

Kristina Donnelly is the current Sea Grant Fellow at the Great Lakes Commission.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

An Interview with a former Great Lakes Commission Fellow

In 2003, Jon Dettling spent a year as a fellow at the Great Lakes Commission (GLC) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Now he is working as a consultant in Boston helping companies like Nestle assess the total environmental impact of their products.

Why did you pursue the GLC fellowship?
As a graduate student in the Department of Public Health at the University of Michigan, Jon focused on the health effects of emissions produced throughout a product’s life cycle. For his graduate project he used toxic emissions data from the Great Lakes Commission and through this connection he learned about the fellowship.

Jon was really interested in better understanding how science is used in policy development. “At the university you are almost too close to a topic and you never see it become anything more than publications. The idea of taking that work to the next step and really making a difference was really attractive.” The Great Lakes Commission, a bi-national NGO that specializes in policy research and advocacy, was an excellent place to learn about how science is actually used outside of academia.

What did you work on as a fellow?
Jon found that the GLC fellowship offered an ideal balance between structure and freedom. He was able to pursue ideas that were closely related to his graduate work on air pollution, but he also had the opportunity to participate in a variety of on-going projects. For example, Jon helped organize a series of regional planning workshops. “The goal was to bring together experts from around the Great Lakes to develop a vision for restoration and sustainability for the region.” This project lead to a larger regional collaborative, which allowed Jon to observe how governors and federal agency leaders come together to debate policy issues.

How did you benefit from the fellowship?
For Jon, the fellowship provided an excellent next step after graduate school. “Compared to the first year in a more typical job at an agency, fellows at the Commission have more potential to develop a broad range of contacts. This wide network can help you transition from school and really establish your own career.”

Jon’s year as a fellow at the Great Lakes Commission actually turned into a permanent job! Toward the end of the fellowship as he was asking for letters of reference, his supervisors suggested he consider staying at the GLC. “Over the course of the fellowship you get really involved with what you’re doing, so it was an easy decision to stay.” During the next four years Jon continued working at the Commission, expanding the Toxic Air Emissions Inventory program and developing the skills that would allow him to start his own environmental consulting business.

Where are you now?
After moving to Boston in 2007, Jon established a North American branch of a small Swiss Company, Ecointesys- Life Cycle Systems. Jon’s company conducts life cycle assessments to determine the total impact of a product throughout its life, “from cradle (extraction of raw materials) to grave (disposal).” This type of analysis can help companies better measure, improve, or communicate their environmental performance. Their approach is gaining momentum and government agencies, like the California Department of Conservation, and NGOs, like the World Wildlife Federation, have begun employing the services of Ecointesys.

What do you enjoy most about your career?
For Jon, the best aspect of developing his own company is that he has the freedom to pursue projects that he finds the most interesting and compelling. He also really enjoys the people he works with, although much of his interactions with his international colleagues is through the phone and internet!

I asked Jon about how working in the private sector differed from his previous work with the Commission. “It’s different. Government agencies and non-profits (like the Great Lakes Commission) have a clear goal of improving and protecting our natural resources. In consulting, the challenge is to ensure that the environmental goals line up with your client’s profit goals. However, once everyone agrees on the objectives, resources can be mobilized and things can move forward more quickly in the private sector.”

Advice for new fellows
Jon encourages new students to turn the fellowship into their own experience. He found that the Great Lakes Commission was really open to new projects- “and it isn’t hard to fit your ideas into the Commission because its mission is so broad!”

Jon is happy to answer questions about the fellowship over email,