Kate Melanson: Customize your fellowship in four steps

Author: Kate Melanson
Fellow Type: California Sea Grant State Fellow
Year(s) of Fellowship: 2019
Host Agency: Delta Stewardship Council

Kate Melanson, Delta Science Program
(left) Kate Melanson performing research on black abalone (Haliotis cracherodii) during her PhD; (right) Kate in front of the Capitol building in Sacramento.

Step 1: Failure

I really tried. I did. After spending part of my PhD looking at over 200 endangered species acts from around the world, court cases and policy documents, I wanted a science-policy fellowship so bad. I applied for every single one that I qualified for and I was so excited when I applied to them, that I would start looking for housing in the area I would definitely be moving to. I may have jumped the gun as I didn’t get them, but at least I knew what I wanted.

Step 2: Success

At the same time, I also wanted to give up and just find a postdoc opportunity that let me stay in my lane. But there were a few others, and finally I got my chance to be a California Sea Grant State Fellow at the Delta Stewardship Council in the Delta Science Program. I was coming into the science communication unit, but I was still hung up on some of the experiences that I was missing in the other fellowships. I wanted more experiences smack-dab in the middle of the science-policy interface in the Capitol building; in other words, I needed to create those opportunities I wanted so I could get the most out of this already great experience.

Step 3: Be bold

After writing a full proposal for some of this within a month of starting work, I was able to coordinate with my mentors and soon had my own projects that I wanted to do and enjoyed doing—which after five years of grad school was a novelty.

During my fellowship, I have created opportunities for myself to be up to date on legislation, present to our council regarding the science that can inform decision-makers, work with legislative and policy experts, and be creative in presenting science to people that implement management actions.

Kate Melanson, California Sea Grant State Fellow
(left) Kate Melanson presenting on the science behind state legislation at a Delta Stewardship Council meeting; (right) Kate, Tracy Grimes, Cori Flannery and Madison Thomas, all fellows within the Delta Stewardship Council, at the Capitol building.

Step 4: Pay it forward

Here are some tip on things I did to make the most of my fellowship:

  • Share your thoughts, dreams and ideas with your mentors. They are there to help you and will likely have some good suggestions on how to get you going.
  • Ask. You should not be bored at your desk because you are just doing what is asked of you; you also need to ask to do projects that you are interested in. They will not magically appear on your computer screen.
  • Network. I know it’s the worst, but doing some interdisciplinary chatting has led me to be able to present scientific reasoning behind legislation to our Council (a project I thought of!).
  • Keep track. Had it not been for monthly reports, I don’t know if I would have known just how much I’ve done and learned throughout this process.
  • Apply your skills to projects and apply early and often to new job opportunities. You never know what will come along.

Written by Kate Melanson (@ladyecologist)