Many Suits:
2017 Knauss Fellow reports for Congress, meets Hurricane Hunters

2017 Virginia Sea Grant Executive Knauss Fellow Sasha Doss blogs for us about her experience in the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. Doss has a masters degree in fish and wildlife conservation from Virginia Tech where she studied muskellunge and their potential influence on smallmouth bass in the New River. The project was started to help address angler concerns about declining smallmouth catch rates, and to better understand the population dynamics and life history of the recently established muskellunge population.

Over the years, I’ve worn many suits. Swim suits, survival suits, wet suits—even hazmat suits—but this suit felt the most intimidating. It was a simple black blazer and slacks, and a white blouse. I thought I looked professional, but I also felt a little like Andy Dwyer from Parks and Rec (sans ketchup stains)—completely out of sorts for a marine and coastal scientist.

That was four months ago. I was getting ready for Placement Week, and trying to prepare for a slew of interviews and happy hours that would eventually end in my current position at NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources. At the time, a suit like that seemed unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and I genuinely thought I did not belong. I used phrases like “um” and “huh,” which were not nearly articulate enough for a suit-wearing person, right?

What I didn’t know was that learning how to wear a suit was just the beginning. Since Placement Week, I’ve worked on reports for Congress, attended hearings on the Hill, met Hurricane Hunters and toured their planes, and worked on a feature story for the National Marine Fisheries Service website. And a few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to meet Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

The Secretary addressed a handful of commerce interns, and afterwards took the time to answer questions. Our questions were drafted ahead of time, and fellow Fellow Melissa Karp asked Secretary Ross about the role NOAA might play in his plans for the aquaculture industry, especially given that many of the relevant partnerships are developed by Sea Grant (which is currently proposed to be cut from the President’s 2018 budget). While his answer may have left a little to be desired, it was an incredible opportunity to meet and speak with the Secretary.

The Knauss Fellowship, national Sea Grant, and Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) have helped me grow so much over the last few months. In addition to these activities, I have attended a variety of trainings, seminars, and workshops to make me a better scientist and communicator.

For instance, this past fall I attended a joint GMU/VASG Advanced Science Communications Seminar. Over several months, students learned about the art, the craft and the science of science communication, and put together unique projects (videos, infographics, songs, etc.) to communicate their findings to a specific new audience. This past April, I presented my project to museum-goers at the Mariner’s Museum in Richmond, Virginia. The seminar helped me identify my shortcomings as a communicator, and focus my efforts to improve in those areas. While there is always more progress to be made, I feel I am a much improved communicator following the seminar—something that many scientists don’t even consider.

I wouldn’t say I feel totally comfortable in this suit just yet, but I’m getting there. I’m starting to feel like I belong.

Above: 2017 Knauss Fellows. Sasha Doss is pictured in front of the flag on the right. Top: Virginia Sea Grant Knauss Fellow Melissa Karp poses a question to Secretary Ross.

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