B.S. in Marine Science, Coastal Carolina University
M.S. in Environmental Science, American University
NSF Experience/History: I’ve been at NSF in DEB for 5 years. For the first two I was under a Presidential Management Fellow appointment and then converted to the full time career civil service. Prior to joining NSF, I was a student who benefited from several educational experiences supported by NSF grants.
Research Experience/History: My first research experience, in high school, was monitoring stream health in upstate New York with the school’s environmental studies club. I veered toward the physical environmental sciences in undergrad, adding chemistry and ecotoxicology while working as a laboratory assistant and interning at the Pacific Northwest National Lab Marine Sciences Lab. These experiences together lead me to seek out the science-policy nexus in graduate school.
Competitions I currently work on: These days I mainly work with the core programs (preliminary and full proposals) but I also enjoy working on the special programs in DEB and have worked with Program Officers on Dimensions of Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases, Coastal SEES, and DDIGs.
Q & A
How did you come to be working in DEB? Between my first and second year at American, I was made aware of a program called the Presidential Management Fellows -a competitive program for bringing people with graduate degrees into the Federal workforce. With a nomination from my Dean (the application process has since become more open) and suitable performance through an individual evaluation process, I was recognized as a program finalist and given the opportunity to apply and interview for jobs from within a similarly competitive cohort. The job hunt phase can take place any time over the several months after the finalists are announced but a lot of the effort is packed into a two-day finalist-only job fair in DC. I got lucky in that there was a relatively larger ratio of demand to supply for people with STEM backgrounds than other degrees and had about a dozen interviews over those two days. Unfortunately, NSF wasn’t interviewing and didn’t have any science-related opening advertised (I think they were looking for Human Resources people). I handed them my resume anyway and got a call to interview for an opening a few weeks later. When I came to NSF for the interview, things just clicked.
Biggest surprise you’ve encountered coming to DEB from the academic world: My parents and several other members of my family have spent large portions of their careers in Federal agencies, so I had some definite expectations for what it would be like working at a government agency. The biggest surprise to me upon coming here was actually how similar the atmosphere in NSF and DEB is to the university setting. The disciplinary cultures you see walking between departments or buildings on a campus show up here too. We frequently have great guest speakers; there’s something like a “board of trustees” in the National Science Board; there’s a relatively huge amount of freedom to try doing things differently; and, the list goes on. It’s very much a unique environment among the numerous scientific agencies.
Tell your awesome fieldwork adventure story: In May 2004 I went to Ecuador on a study-abroad natural history course taught by one of my favorite professors. On an excursion in the coastal forest, the trail we were following alongside a stream narrowed and disappeared where it had eroded away just below a small waterfall. I happened to be near the front of the group when the guide stopped us and suggested we climb down the stream bank and wade for a ways until we could pick up the trail again. As she looked for a spot to climb down, the weakened (apparently undercut) bank gave way sending first me then her tumbling into the water below. I landed face first and didn’t see much of anything. When I got up and turned around, everyone was staring at me wide-eyed. I said something along the lines of, “I’m fine, it’s shallow, my pack (with notes, guidebook, and camera) is still dry… am I bleeding?” One of the other guys in the group said “No, dude” as he pointed to where the guide was starting to search for her machete that everyone had just watched fly past my head. At that point, the others thought better of climbing the bank and rode the waterfall instead.
Just because this is the internet: Cue the cute animal photo.