Brenna Mahoney: Professional Development Group Nurtures A Love for Science Communication

Author: Brenna Mahoney Rudd
Fellow Type: California Sea Grant State Fellow
Year(s) of Fellowship: 2015
Host Agency: California State Coastal Conservancy

Meetings at Moss Landing Marine Laboratory were always a treat, especially on beautiful days when sunlight poured into the conference room which overlooked a glistening ocean. On such a gorgeous day in 2009, I found myself around the conference table with faculty and graduate student representatives of seven different Monterey Bay area institutions. We had convened to discuss the start of a brand new program that would bring together the amazing work done at each institution, while fostering collaboration, communication, and friendship. The Monterey Bay Area Research Institution Network for Education (MARINE) was born that day, and although we wouldn’t come up with that name for another few months, it was clear that this was the start of something big.

We grew a lot in those first few years and slowly developed programming including seminars, workshops, panels, and reading groups. As liaisons from our institutions, we met often and discussed feedback about what worked, what the community wanted more of, and how to expand our network. MARINE is on its sixth year of programming and I am proud to have been a part MARINE since its inception, watching it grow to a thriving community of dedicated students and researchers. I took a lot of lessons from this process. Foremost, I learned to collaboratively set realistic objectives and understand how to measure success in meeting those objectives. We strove to incorporate ideas from a diverse community including first year graduate students, advanced post-docs, and faculty from our institutions, and we were able to build to programming that was relevant and exciting to all. One of my favorite courses was the now yearly Science Communication course where we talked with professional writers and journalists about science journalism and communication and practiced speaking about our research topic in ways that could be understood by a range of audiences. In the dredges of completing one’s thesis, the topic is often no longer exciting and often the explanation is full of seemingly random scientific words strung together. I took this communication course twice because it allowed me to think and talk about my work in new and exciting ways.

I finished my PhD in the summer of 2015 with no job lined up. I wasn’t convinced I wanted to stay in academia and did not pursue post-doc opportunities. Luckily, my MARINE networking came in handy and I remembered that a fellow liaison had done an awesome fellowship with California Sea Grant. I applied for the program and was accepted to start in January 2015. The California Sea Grant State Fellowship takes Masters and PhD-level scientists and places them at California state agencies that focus on natural resource protection. The process is competitive and we met in Sacramento to interview with all 16 host agencies. A comparison to speed dating would not be incorrect. After the grueling matching process, I was placed at the State Coastal Conservancy in Oakland as their Climate Ready Fellow.

At the Coastal Conservancy, I work on all things related climate change along the California coast and in the San Francisco Bay. We help fund projects from restoration of wetlands, land acquisitions, to working with cities, counties, airports, and ports on plans to adapt to a changing world. Much of the work that I do relates to the impacts of sea level rise on our natural resources and infrastructure. I enjoy the work immensely because I get to use my scientific training and thinking on applied projects, a process that is a focus for much of the MARINE programming. I am also getting tremendous exposure to how natural resource management in California works. Learning how to navigate these processes has expanded my view of the intersection of science, policy, and management, and I can’t wait to take lessons learned from this year to the next step in my career.

A version of this article first appeared on the MARINE Blog in May 2015.