Alumni Career Spotlight: Tiffany Atkinson

Tiffany Atkinson '16

Tiffany Atkinson
Environmental Science ‘16
Master of Science in Environment and Natural Resources ‘19
John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Tiffany graduated from SENR in 2016 after majoring in Environmental Science. During her undergraduate years, she was an Honors Research Student and assisted on multiple research projects. She then went on to earn a master’s degree in Environment and Natural Resources from SENR and is now a John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Read the full interview with Tiffany:

A Glance at Tiffany’s Current Work

I am currently a John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow through Ohio Sea Grant. It is a 12-month fellowship that places fellows in positions in the federal government in the Executive or Legislative Branch. My placement is in the Executive Branch with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

What does a typical day look like? 

As a Knauss Marine Policy Fellow, I work as a Special Assistant to a senior executive in NOAA Research where we work to improve the capability of the federal government to research and understand our oceans, weather, and climate. I provide daily briefings for the Director of NOAA Research to keep him aware of Congressional requests, important inquiries from NOAA leadership or the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and upcoming deadlines that need to be met. I also help manage daily operations at NOAA Research headquarters by providing project management, communication, and collaboration support. This requires me to balance numerous tasks and sensitive deadlines in a very fast-paced environment. People come to me when problems in headquarters arise, and I adapt to the new situation and help find a solution. I also assist the NOAA Research Chief of Staff team to coordinate meetings for senior executives in NOAA Research and across NOAA.

The most rewarding part of my job is the feeling that what I’m doing is important in contributing to the protection of our planet’s natural resources and helping to save lives.

The Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship has been monumental in my professional development. I have learned so much about other types of jobs that exist besides positions in academia. The program has also been very supportive of professional development and I have been able to participate in trainings about Congressional operations and meeting facilitation. It has also helped put a stronger emphasis on the power of networking!

Professional Development

Both my undergrad and graduate degrees are from SENR. As an undergraduate, I was an Honors Research Student and worked on a project, “The Effects of Turbidity on Carotenoid Coloration of Centrachid Fishes in Urban Environments,” focused on fisheries research in Ohio streams. I also completed research experiences at Stone Laboratory and abroad in Uganda. The Stone Lab projects included a 10-year analysis of the oxygen dynamics in the Sandusky Subbasin of Lake Erie and an examination of the length-weight relationship of Emerald Shiners (Notropis atherinoides) in the Sandusky Subbasin, which was published in The Ohio Journal of Science. Stone Lab was my first experience with field research and helped me develop a passion for performing environmental field research. The Ugandan project focused on the visual ecology of fishes.

In graduate school I was a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow on an international research project. The project, ‘“Living in a haze: Impacts of turbidity on survival and reproductive traits of an African Cichlid Fish,” focused on the effects of turbidity on mating coloration and swimming performance of an African cichlid fish; for this project I traveled to Uganda for research three times. Additionally, I was involved in the OSU Student Subunit of the American Fisheries Society. Through this group I helped organize a community-based event for urban families to learn how to fish recreationally on OSU’s campus.

What did you do post-graduation?

I continued directly into graduate school after my undergraduate ended. After my M.S. I went into the workforce where I managed an environmental education program prior to starting the Knauss Fellowship.

Which experience do you feel was most valuable in your professional development?

The Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship has been monumental in my professional development. I have learned so much about other types of jobs that exist besides positions in academia. The program has also been very supportive of professional development and I have been able to participate in trainings about Congressional operations and meeting facilitation. It has also helped put a stronger emphasis on the power of networking!

Advice for Current Students

Apply for internships with the government. State and Federal agencies offer numerous internships that are a great way to start getting exposure to government processes and to start making networking connections. Some of these internships through NOAA and the US Fish and Wildlife Service even make you eligible for direct hire into the federal government to help retain excellent workers and diversify the workforce. It can be extremely hard to get hired into the federal government, so these internships are an excellent opportunity.

The Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship that I’m currently participating in requires the applicants to be enrolled in a graduate program, but there are plenty of opportunities for undergraduates in NOAA too, such as the Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship.

Another option for entering the federal workforce is to apply for Pathways positions as students or recent graduates. These positions can lead to permanent federal positions and are offered through many agencies including NOAA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Environmental Protection Agency, and US Geological Survey.