Daniel Ellis: A Letter to Future Fellows

Author: Daniel Ellis
Fellow Type: California Sea Grant State Fellow
Year(s) of Fellowship: 2016
Host Agency: State Water Resources Control Board

Dear future Fellow,

Welcome to the Sea Grant family! It’s amazing here.

Below, I describe some the perks of being a State Fellow at the State Water Resources Control Board and provide a few tips that I would have liked to know at the start.

I should start by saying that the Water Board (State Water Resources Control Board is a really long name, so we often go by “water board” or “state board” — don’t worry, I was confused at first, too) was my last choice when I did the rankings. Wow, I could not have been more wrong. I am so happy that I ended up here.

You’re going to have to deal with living in Sacramento, but so will many other State Fellows. If they’re half as amazing as this year’s cohort, you’ll all become friends. On top of that, Sacramento is really fantastic (especially if your expectations aren’t sky high).  Go to Rind. It’s a restaurant. It’s literally the best. Also, unlike the Bay Area, you can actually afford to live here.

Now that you’re over your fear of Sacramento, let’s talk Water Boarding. The fellowship has a supervisor that I absolutely endorse. And this year, I fully expect the Water Board will be one of, if not the most, sought after fellowships. Here’s why:

1) They treat you like a real employee here. Many of the host agencies — whether they admit it or not — treat the fellows like interns. Not like experts. The Water Board will not only treat you like an employee, they will treat you like an expert. I received my M.S. in physical oceanography and became the in-house go-to-expert on oceanographic issues.

2) You’ll get your own projects. I’ll talk more about the projects going on here below, but at the Water Board you’ll be working on something impactful and important, and it will be your project. You won’t be on an island; you’ll be working closely with your supervisor and other staff here. Almost none of the other host offices allow for active, scientific research, but here you are actively reviewing research and providing technical commentary. Scientific studies submitted by applicants are reviewed for compliance with policy and scientific accuracy. Your reviews aren’t just filed away, either. They’re often times the final review that’s sent to the applicant — because they treat/trust you as if you’re staff.

3) The Water Board is a permitting agency which means we aren’t always the most popular people in the room. That’s called policy. You’re going to have to engage with stakeholders (actually, I’m not just throwing words at you) and hear what resource managers, farmers, tribal groups, and others want. And then, you’re going to have to find a compromise. It’s fascinating.

4) Just about every major project in California that has to do with water will have to obtain some sort of permit from us. As it stands right now, you’ll be in the surface water branch which includes the ocean unit, impaired water bodies unit, and inland surface waters enclosed bays and estuaries unit. But as I said, your expertise will likely allow you to work on other projects within the division.

5) Since you are basically staff, you often find yourself in meetings with “higher ups.” I have briefed the deputy director of the Water Board multiple times who is 6 bosses above of me. And I routinely am leading conference calls in which the upper managers of Stand Lands Commission and staff at the Coastal Commission are on the line. It’s the best.

6) I believe I’m the 5th fellow to be at the Water Board. So far 4/4 have been hired on full time (one of which is now my pseudo-supervisor). There are 3 different openings here that I have been told to apply to. So, yeah.

Last thing I’ll say, since I promised some tidbits of wisdom, is that no job is perfect. There are two things about the fellowship I wish I had known ahead of time:

1) The Fellowship travel stipend will pretty much be only half of that for actual work travel. Get to the matching workshop as cheaply as possible because that comes out of your travel stipend.

2) There’s also a mandatory meeting with the CA Sea Grant Extension Specialists. That comes out of your travel stipend too. As I found out the hard way, the Water Board (and legally neither can any state agency, but I can’t speak to other peoples’ experiences) can’t reimburse travel to meetings once your travel stipend is depleted. The aforementioned meetings use about half the travel stipend so plan wisely.

I truly believe the Water Board is the best position and it fantastically combines science and policy. If you’re matched here, take it. It’s a great one.

Good luck!
Daniel Ellis