My name is Mike Allen, and I am one of two Knauss Sea Grant fellows from Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant for the 2010 Fellowship class. I’ll be sharing DC experiences on the IISG blog occasionally over the course of my fellowship year to highlight the fellowship and what a “policy position” in the federal government is really like.

In this first post, I’ll share a little bit about my position. I am one of ~35 executive branch fellows in this year’s class. (There are also 10 fellows serving in members or committees in Congress.) We all met in DC in November for a week of interviews to decide where we would be placed in the federal government. Each of us had 12 – 15 half-hour interviews with various offices across NOAA, the Dept. of Energy, the Navy, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Dept. of State, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies with an ocean, coast, or Great Lakes focus. I had an idea of what sounded interesting going into the week, but sitting down and talking with a variety of offices led me to the conclusion that working at NOAA’s Silver Spring complex would be the right fit for me. I subsequently chose to work with Dr. Mike Uhart, executive director of the Office of Laboratories and Cooperative Institutes in NOAA’s research office.

In this position, I act as the primary liaison between NOAA’s administrative headquarters and our three “wet labs” – the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab (PMEL), the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab (AOML), and the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL). As an aquatic ecologist with a degree from the University of Illinois, this is a fantastic fit for me, as a primary responsibility of my position is to know all about the ongoing research activities and needs of these nationally-renowned research institutions.

What I have learned is incredibly fascinating. For example, PMEL is the world leader in tsunami research and developed the buoy systems that monitor potential tsunamis like the one that occurred after the recent Chile earthquake. AOML is a leader in hurricane research and forecasting, and flies research missions into hurricanes using NOAA’s fleet of P-3 research aircraft. GLERL is the major center of research on the Great Lakes, and is at the forefront of our understanding of invasive zebra and quagga mussel invasions into the largest freshwater system in the world.

Over the course of the next year, I will share some of my perceptions and experiences from my fellowship year. Look for my next post on the Laboratory Review at the Earth Sciences Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado in the near future.

(Mike Allen recently completed his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology, where he focused on population and community ecology of freshwater zooplankton. He can be reached at

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