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!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Nearing the end of my Knauss Fellowship

Placement week for the 2015 fellowship class was two weeks ago, a sure sign that the end of my fellowship year is near. It was interesting to see the new fellowship class from the other side of the fence, especially since my office was recruiting a "new" me and I sat in on the interviews. Time sure flies....

What's new?
A lot has happened since my last post. Here's a list of some of my activities from the last 10 months, both professional and fun:
  • Helped to organize the 2014 Ballast Water Collaborative meeting in Silver Spring, MD
  • Volunteered at the NOAA Heritage Days 
  • Organized a Knuass Fellow river cleanup and canoe trip on the Potomac River
Cleaning up the Potomac River with the 2014 Knauss Fellows

  • Attended a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) training for invasive species at the USFWS National Conservation Training Center
  • Attended the NSF Long Tern Ecological Research mini-symposium
  • Attended "Insights into the making of state and federal climate policy" symposium at Georgetown Law
  • Attended the 2014 Public Policy Forum-The Urban Ocean, hosted by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership
  • Attended the Capital Hill Ocean Week
  • Attended ~6 hearings and briefings on the Hill related to invasive species
  • Volunteered with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center's Marine Invasions Lab

White catfish from the Chesapeake Bay
  • Took Project Design and Evaluation training hosted by the NOAA Digital Coast
  • Gained a certificate in federal appropriations law
  • Attended the Environmental Law Institute's "Summer School" program
  • Reviewed GLRI grants
  • Gave a NOAA Science Seminar presentation on my graduate research
  • Designed invasive species fact sheets
  • Published 4 invasive species articles on the NOAA Fisheries homepage: 
  • Spent 17 days at sea aboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow performing the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank Autumn bottom trawl survey
  • Attended the Great Lakes Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species spring meeting at Notre Dame and took an invasive species risk assessment workshop alongside the meeting
  • Attended two Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force meetings in Washington, DC. Wrote both reports
  • Attended the Invasive Species Advisory Committee meeting in May 2014 
  • Assisted with an invasive species risk assessment of African longfin eels
  • Busy organizing a 2015 NOAA Aquatic Invasive Species Team Workshop in Santa Cruz, CA
It has been a very unique experience thus far. I've done everything from track legislation to drag up flounder and skate from the bottom of the ocean (look for a separate write up on this)!  I don't know how else I ever could have gained the variety of experiences that I have during my fellowship.

How I spent my free time

I've had a blast living in DC. I was a little apprehensive about it at first, but the city has grown on me a bit. I love fly fishing, hiking, canoeing, etc. These don't seem like things that you can do in DC. I was wrong. I met some great friends through the local Trout Unlimited chapter, the Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders group, and the Potomac River Smallmouth Bass Club. I've explored the region pretty extensively and have learned to love it. I currently own fishing licenses in DC, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, including trout stamps and coastal fishing licenses as needed. I've caught brook trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, striped bass, American shad, and a number of other species in the productive waters along the east coast. Here's a couple of my favorite shots:
 Striped bass in the Potomac River right off of Fletcher's Cove
 Catching carp on mulberry flies in Georgetown
Brook trout from the Blue Ridge mountains

There's also excellent birding along the coast, great camping/hiking at Assateague National Seashore, good crabbing at Sandy Point State Park in Maryland, and endless other opportunities in the tidal Potomac. Some of the most fun outdoor activity close to DC is the National Arboretum. I love bringing a blanket and book to the Arboretum and laying out in the grass on a sunny weekend afternoon. I highly suggest hiking the wildflower forest during the spring bloom! Also, you can't afford to miss Great Falls, especially during a big spring flood or during summer when the whitewater kayakers are plunging over the waterfalls.

What's next for me?

Next week I'm off to Florida to tour the Army Corps of Engineers invasive species efforts in the Everglades. The region suffers from invasive plants and animals, including large pythons! Will post a blog with pictures when I get back. Then I'll be wrapping things up in the office for the season before I travel back home for the holidays. January will be busy, as I'll be hard at work coordinating a workshop for all the NOAA invasive species professionals that will take place in the spring.

I'm now applying for lots of jobs. The best part about my fellowship is that I've been able to network with invasive species experts across federal, state, and non-profit organizations throughout the country and hopefully those connections will lead to a rewarding career. It is hard to say where I'll end up!