Just over a year ago I made the rather short-notice decision to apply for the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. In my final year or so of a PhD program in the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology, I was looking for post-grad opportunities and realized I knew nothing about marine policy.

At that point, I wasn’t exactly sure about what I wanted to do after graduating, so jumping into something completely foreign sounded like a great way to gain valuable experience in a discipline other than oyster parasites, which I had been studying for almost a decade. After conferring with my advisor, I decided to give it a shot and started working on an application.

The most important components needed for the application are the two letters of recommendation and the personal statement. If you are like me, you know how difficult it is to write these statements. You have to sell yourself as a valuable asset but not be too over confident. The first thing that helped me put together my personal statement was meeting with my letter writers (choose these wisely) and the Georgia Sea Grant director. They helped me identify parts of my resume as well as other experiences that could be used to strengthen my personal statement in order to make me a serious competitor for the fellowship.

Second, I contacted several former fellows and asked if they would be willing to share their application materials. Being able to see the qualities of a successful application really gave me a clear picture of how to shape my personal statement and how to format other components of the application, such as my resume (i.e., what should and should not be included).

Lastly, I had a lot of people read through the personal statement and provide critical feedback, including a former Knauss Fellow. I was incredibly lucky to be part of an amazing lab group full of strong writers and editors at the time. Thanks to the efforts of this awesome group, I was genuinely proud of and felt confident about the personal statement that I submitted.

After passing the ‘in-state’ selection process and moving on to the national pool, I waited (rather impatiently) until the first weekend in June, when an email from our Georgia Sea Grant associate director arrived stating I had been selected as a finalist! In all honesty, that email changed my life quite a bit, and the last seven months have been a whirlwind of writing and successfully defending my dissertation before graduating.pagebodyhalf_JennaferMalekblogpost2

To top that off, the fellowship placed me with the Marine Mammal Commission, which is an agency I have always admired and respected. It’s a place I’ve only ever dreamed of working. Though I’ve studied oyster parasites for the last nine years, the Knauss Fellowship has provided me an opportunity to finally be involved with something I have been passionate about since childhood, and I am very excited to embark on my journey with the Commission on February 1!

So, for anyone toying with the idea of applying for the Knauss Fellowship, do it! If selected as a finalist, you will be presented with the opportunity to try something totally new and outside your comfort zone. Not only will this position help you to build your personal skill set, but it will also provide a huge network of new colleagues, including other fellows and folks involved with the fellowship program. When preparing your application, be sure to talk to your letter writers and the director of your Sea Grant program, get in touch with former fellows (even if you don’t know them) and bug your friends and colleagues for editing help! It’ll be worth it!