By: Grace Roskar,
Habitat Science Specialist,
NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology
When I first heard about the Knauss Fellowship as a Hollings Scholar in 2015, I thought to myself, “This sounds like a great opportunity to apply for whenever I finish graduate school…” and put the idea in my back pocket. Little did I know, five years later I’d join the Knauss family as a fellow in the Office of Science and Technology at NOAA Fisheries. From a summer internship in North Carolina to policy work in D.C., graduate school in Florida, and a research cruise in the Southeast, the variety of experiences I had and the people I met over the years are what influenced my journey to the fellowship.
My first experience with NOAA came when I was awarded the Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship in 2014, which supported me in my last two years of college and allowed me to embark on a summer internship at the Beaufort, North Carolina NOAA Fisheries’ lab. In the summer of 2015, I went to work on hundreds of hours of video footage from a group of reef fish surveys, collectively called the Southeast Reef Fish Survey. I had the opportunity to analyze the species composition and distribution of sharks that appeared in the video survey, which are usually less abundant and more mobile than many of the reef fish species. This was my first foray into this type of research and it piqued my interest in understanding the distribution of marine fish species in different areas, and how different types of sampling methods can be effective for capturing this information. I also participated in a research cruise for long-term monitoring of reef fauna populations off the Dry Tortugas in Florida – what better way to end an internship than with a week of diving? At the end of the summer, the Hollings scholars convened at NOAA Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland to present our summer research at a large symposium. While there, we heard presentations about future opportunities, one of which was the Knauss Fellowship.
Fast forward to a year and a half later, I found myself back in the Washington, D.C. area. I recently graduated with my bachelor’s of science degree in marine science and biology and I wanted to gain more work experience before pursuing graduate school the following year. I spent the fall semester interning for the Consortium for Ocean Leadership (COL), a non-profit organization that works to advance ocean research, policy and education.
As a policy and communications intern, I attended any congressional hearings, briefings or other events that were related to ocean science or technology, and I wrote about them for COL’s weekly newsletter. Spending time on Capitol Hill meant I was often around Knauss fellows, who were representing their host offices or assisting with the organization of the events themselves. Sometime in the fall, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) held a Sharing Science communications workshop for Knauss fellows and used COL conference rooms to host the event. My internship supervisor encouraged me to attend the workshop as well, so I spent the day learning about effective science communication with what felt like the entire Knauss class!
I spoke to several fellows about what they studied in graduate school, what they were doing for their fellowship and how they were enjoying it. The fellows were about three-fourths of the way through their fellowship year and every single one of them spoke about how much they were learning, the great opportunities they were given for work assignments, the networking events and professional development activities, such as the very workshop we were sitting in. Some fellows even told me how the role they held in their fellowship was vastly different from the subject they studied in graduate school, which appealed to me as a way to pursue a variety of interests (because let’s face it, many of us have a lot of interests but have a difficult time choosing just one to pursue!) and broaden my expertise. I saw the value of the fellowship, figuring it’s not often that you can try something completely new for a year and still gain valuable knowledge and skills to carry with you for the rest of your career.
Speaking to the current fellows that day gave me a glimpse into the once-in-a-career opportunities they were able to take advantage of during this formative year. Hearing their first-hand thoughts and perspectives of how the fellowship was helping to jumpstart their careers made me all the more eager to pursue the fellowship whenever I finished my graduate degree. However, as I had only just begun the process of searching for the right graduate school opportunity and studying for the required but dreaded GRE exam, it still seemed so far into the future.
Only towards the end of my internship with COL did I learn that my internship supervisor was a former Knauss legislative fellow herself! She extolled how her fellowship guided her ocean policy career path in D.C., and knowing that I was starting to consider graduate schools, she encouraged me to consider applying to the fellowship whenever I finished my degree. When I left D.C. to pursue another internship opportunity for the spring semester, I hoped it wouldn’t be my last time working in the vibrant ocean science and policy community in the heart of the nation.
Another fast forward to the end of 2018: I entered my last semester of graduate school at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, where I was studying how patterns in the community of sharks and rays in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon estuary changed over space and time and how different types of fishing gears used in the survey were more or less effective at sampling the community of these animals. I had my Hollings internship to thank as a catalyst for my interest in these ecological topics. Thinking about my next steps after graduation, I knew that I wanted to pursue the Knauss Fellowship and gain a better understanding of the science and management of fisheries and ecosystems occurring at the federal level. I remembered the Knauss fellows I met a few years prior and the diverse array of positions they held in different agencies and offices. Remembering their enthusiasm for the work they were doing made me even more excited to start gathering my application materials.
A few months later, I was aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces, volunteering on the Southeast Fishery Independent Survey (SEFIS) research cruise, which is one of the surveys that supplied the data for the summer project I worked on during my Hollings internship. In between rounds of measuring and weighing hundreds of live fish in the ship’s wet lab, I got the email: I was chosen as a Knauss finalist. From there, everything seemed to come full circle. In a few months time, I would be placed with NOAA Fisheries as a habitat science specialist for the Office of Science and Technology.
While my path to the Knauss fellowship really started many years ago, when I interned at NOAA, it was circuitous, culminating in a position at the same agency for my fellowship year. My journey was bookmarked with many mentions of the fellowship and moments where I pondered its awesome possibilities. The Knauss network is vast and widespread. Seeing it in action and then becoming a part of it is quite the special experience. The people I’ve met and connections I’ve made will stay with me as I navigate the many forthcoming chapters in my career. At the end of the day, there’s no better feeling than hearing someone say, “I was a Knauss fellow too!”, knowing there is a certain level of shared camaraderie and understanding of how this year helped them get to where they are now.