Life in the Boundary: A Sea Grant Fellow’s Perspective to Science Integration

Hayley Carter

Scuba diving, underwater landscapes, kelp forests and beautiful sunsets. You’ll find those awe-inspiring images when you visit the website of my Sea Grant Fellowship host office, the Ocean Science Trust. Amazing! Sign me up for a job there.

Actually, most of my work takes place in our high-rise office in gritty downtown Oakland. Chasing those aquatic adventures will have to be done on my day off.

So what exactly do I do?

I hung up my lab coat as a graduate student working on research cruises, surveying intertidal organisms, and collecting samples to experimentally study impacts of our changing oceans. But with this sacrifice came a great opportunity to interface directly with the decision makers that manage and implement policies to address complex environmental challenges. My role has transitioned from data collector, to a user and integrator of data. This is my position as a California Sea Grant Fellow.

I’ve spent the past year at the Ocean Science Trust, a non-profit “boundary organization” working to advance a role for science in decision making to promote healthy and productive oceans. My supervisor once told me, “you know you’re successfully integrating science into management and policy when it feels slightly awkward and uncomfortable.” Science integration is bringing together two worlds that don’t often speak the same languages or work at the same pace. Kind of like mixing oil and (sea)water.

With my time here, I’ve interfaced with fishery managers, leading scientists, and policy-makers (yes, Gavin Newsom’s hair does look that perfect in person!). I’ve also been part of an effort to address ocean acidification and hypoxia along the West Coast that culminated in a letter sent to President Obama from the three West Coast governors, informing him of the threats these phenomena pose to ocean resources. These issues, once merely text and numbers in scientific publications, are now on the radar of the president of the United States. I’ve played a role in this process, and that is pretty epic if you ask me.

So my advice to prospective Sea Grant fellows: you may have to get your ocean field adventures satiated in your free time, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot have a direct impact on the health and productivity of this incredible resource. I have found much satisfaction in the management and policy world, and should you choose to take the step out of academia and into the boundary, I’m sure you’ll be equally challenged and gratified by your work.

Written by Hayley Carter