As I write this, I am sitting aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ship, Fairweather, learning how NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey collects the data needed to create our nation’s nautical charts. On this particular cruise, we’re collecting data off the coast of Cape Newenham and Cape Peirce, Alaska. Ship and barge traffic delivering critical products to western Alaskan communities must transit around these capes. Yet, the chart data in this area is sparse and was acquired prior to the 1920s. Updating these charts is critical for the future safety of regional commerce, emergency response and the protection of local wildlife. Sitting here in the survey room (also known as Plot 1), I’m taking time to reflect on all that I’ve learned in the last six months as a John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow, and I can’t help but feel grateful for the opportunity.

This fellowship was designed to provide “a unique educational and professional experience to graduate students who have an interest in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources and in the national policy decisions affecting those resources.” I have a background in environmental and marine sciences, and have always been interested in the role of policy in shaping ecosystems. For this reason, I thought the Knauss Fellowship would be an incredible opportunity for me to step out my science-centered world and learn more about the policy world.

My experiences in the fields of marine science and environmental science have been very field work-heavy. When I started as a Knauss Fellow, I didn’t really know what to expect or how I would feel about trading in my muck boots for a blazer. My first six months have taught me that working in policy isn’t what I expected.

In my position with Coast Survey, I spend a lot of time coordinating with other NOAA offices, federal agencies and industry partners. All of this coordination has allowed me to travel to really cool places. These trips have ranged from one-day meetings with the local port authority to week-long public advisory meetings. Turns out, working in the policy world doesn’t necessarily mean that you sit and write policies at a desk all day.

As I head into my next six months as a Knauss Fellow, I look forward to representing my office at the Ocean Observations 2019 conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. I’ll be presenting a poster and giving a lightning talk on NOAA’s Precision Navigation program, which is an initiative to integrate NOAA marine navigation data streams into a single site to make marine navigation safer and more efficient. This conference only happens once a decade, so I feel pretty lucky that it’s happening during my fellowship.