9/2/10

Knauss fellow pitches in on Deepwater Horizon crisis

Mike Allen is a 2010 IISG Knauss fellow who is situated in the Office of Laboratories and Cooperative Institutes in the NOAA Research Office. He is the primary liaison between NOAA's administrative headquarters and the three "wet labs" - the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab (PMEL), the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab (AOML), and the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab. Here is his latest dispatch from the field:

In the seven months of my fellowship, I’ve been exposed to a variety of opportunities and assignments in the world of NOAA. Early in my fellowship, I spent my time learning about the agency and planning for major headquarters events at the laboratories. For example, I visited the Earth Systems Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colorado (twice!) and the Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) in Miami, Florida. In mid-March, the ESRL team hosted a science review, presenting talks and posters highlighting their work on climate and weather observations, modeling, education, and technology. For example, ESRL is an incubator for many weather and climate technologies of the present that we take for granted and for those of the future (weather observations and models used by the national weather service, climate models used for the IPCC reports). Additionally, the lab has developed innovative educational tools, including Science on a Sphere® and Virtual Worlds, which bring science to millions of people across the world. If you get a chance to visit one of the 47 sites (and growing) around the world, I highly recommend it.

Similarly, I organized a visit to Miami in April to develop better ties between headquarters staff and laboratory staff and researchers. We spent a day listening to and engaging AOML scientists on their ongoing work: hurricane observations and forecasts, physical oceanography, and ecosystem scale studies in South Florida and on coral reefs. On our second day, we spent time talking about pressing issues facing the laboratory and all of NOAA.

Currently, I am organizing trips to the National Severe Storms Laboratory and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

Life took a left turn in April when the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform “erupted” in the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA headquarters kicked into high gear organizing response activities, and I was brought onboard to help organize the NOAA Research Office’s collection of activities. For the better part of the last four months, I have worked with leadership to track our activities, and with our laboratories to develop and submit science proposals and to secure reimbursement and new funding for completed, ongoing and proposed activities. The crisis has given me a new perspective on the role and magnitude of governmental action in the face of a crisis, and exposed me to a variety of new and unexpected endeavors (e.g., finance and budget). As the crisis mode winds down, I find myself reflecting on how much has happened and what progress has been made to understand the influence of oil on the Gulf ecosystem. We will surely be evaluating the impacts of this tragedy for years to come.

So with less than half of my fellowship left to go, the time quickly approaches to start considering future prospects. Throughout the fellowship program, we have been offered opportunities to learn about different organizations, expand our knowledge of the Federal sector, and increase our skill set through trainings and seminars. In fact, we have a jobs seminar coming up at the end of September. While I am unsure where I may be in six months, I am confident that this fellowship has placed me in a much better position for the future. I am certainly more aware of the opportunities available to scientists outside academia. I strongly encourage others to consider applying for the Knauss Fellowship. Spend a year in DC… you won’t regret it!

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