Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A month after Placement Week and a month before the big move: Thoughts from Lisa Peterson

My name is Lisa Peterson and I am one of the two Michigan recipients of the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. I am currently a PhD candidate at Michigan State University in the Quantitative Fisheries Center of the Fisheries and Wildlife Department. My advisor is Dr. Mike Jones and my dissertation research is focused on using acoustic telemetry data to estimate mortality of Great Lakes walleye.

Throughout my graduate degrees, I have had the opportunity to work with both stakeholders and managers of the Great Lakes region and found that I really enjoyed working at the intersection of research, policy, and management. That enjoyment is what led me to the Knauss fellowship. I wanted the chance to dive into the policy world and get a first-hand account of how the federal government facilitates fisheries management. I also wanted to expand my toolbox of skills to include marine fisheries management, in addition to my Great Lakes work. The Knauss Fellowship was a way to fulfill both those goals. Plus, being a Michigan girl born and raised in a suburb of Detroit, the opportunity to travel to D.C. and meet people from all over the country was a big draw as well!

In November, Janet (the other Knauss fellow, who also blogged about her D.C. experiences) and I flew to Silver Spring, Maryland, for what is called “Placement Week.” I assume some of you reading this may be potential Knauss fellows and are, like I did as well, spending a fair amount of time scouring the Knauss blogs trying to figure out just what this week is really like. This section is for you.
While most of Lisa's interviews happened at NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, she did get to explore Washington, D.C., and visit the Department of Commerce. Photo: Lisa Peterson
First off, everyone is correct. It is, indeed, very exhausting. I would say in the week following Placement Week whenever anyone asked me what it was like, I would use words like “exhausting,” “stressful,” and “manic” to describe it. Now that I am a few weeks removed and I haven’t worn a suit since that final Friday of Placement Week, I have had a little more time to process the experience. Because yes, it is terribly stressful and busy, and they do make you wear suits all week, but it is also unlike anything I have ever done before — in quite a few positive ways.

Because while you are stressed out about the ridiculous number of interviews (eighteen for me), what you are really trying to do is find someone you WANT to work with, and the offices are trying to find a fellow that they also WANT to work with. It’s like a match-date game that ends with a job. So yes, you need to present your best possible self to these potential employers, but you are also interviewing them to see if they are offering a placement that matches what you want for your placement year. For me, once I realized that, it made the whole week a lot less scary. No less busy and stressful, but more manageable.

Also, the absolute best part of Placement Week is getting to meet and spend a lot of time with your cohort of fellows! I met so many awesome, intelligent, motivated people who were going through the same stressful time as me. By the end of the week, you have a whole big group of supportive friends. I have never said — and been told —“good luck” so many times in my life. That became both a greeting if you were rushing past each other heading to interviews, as well as the parting words after you spent 10 minutes with a group of fellows waiting for your interviewers to come down to security to let you into the building. And now moving to D.C. next month is a lot less scary, because I will already know 44 other people who will have just moved there! It really was a crazy week, but it was a good week as well.

At the end of that week of madness, I chose and was placed in the Office of Science and Technology, part of the National Marine Fisheries Service. I am going to be the Electronic Technologies Coordinator working with Brett Alger (a former MSU Spartan!). To me, this position was a great merging of my strengths (quantitative background) with what I wanted to get out of my fellowship year (do something new and get to interact with a wide variety of people and groups). The main goal of this position is to help with modernizing the fisheries-dependent observer programs, specifically the data-collection technology they have implemented or are implementing. There is going to be some flexibility with the specific projects I take on (another of my wants for the fellowship year), but they will likely involve policy development, working with the NOAA regional offices, and potentially working with some data.

I am excited to work with an MSU alum and learn how policy gets developed, and I am also excited to take on other collaborative projects as well. Of course, I am nervous to start a new job in a new city, but to be honest, mostly I am eager to start this new chapter of my life.

I will keep you updated!

- Lisa Peterson

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