Knauss Fellow Spotlight: Kelly Cates

January 24, 2017

Kelly Cates Kelly Cates

University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) graduate student Kelly Cates begins her Knauss Fellowship in Washington, DC, in February at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A master’s student in fisheries at UAF who expects to graduate in 2017, Cates will work at the NOAA Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs. Her fellowship is sponsored by Alaska Sea Grant as part of National Sea Grant’s longstanding Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program. She is one of two 2017 Knauss Fellows from Alaska. Cates’ research focuses on humpback whales. Her career goal is to foster better cooperation among scientists, lawmakers, government officials, and the public so that science informs important policy decisions. As she drove across the country to DC, Cates took time to answer a few questions.

Why did you decide to pursue a master's degree in fisheries? What is it about fisheries that fascinates you?

I pursued a master’s in fisheries because the ocean is the perfect intersection between mysterious adventure and science. My studies have allowed me to nerd out on ocean processes and how animals survive in a 3-D aquatic matrix, while enabling my barely contained need to explore wild places. My scientific interest in our oceans began with a quote from one of my undergraduate professors, “Studying the ocean is like flying above the rainforest, dropping a bucket into the canopy, pulling it up and seeing what is inside. Whatever is in that bucket represents the only clues we have into what is going on in the ocean depths.” Who can pass on a mystery that big!

Were you always interested in science as a kid?

I was always interested in science projects as a kid—science fair, science olympiads, and experiments in class. As for science classes, it wasn’t until college that I realized I wanted to pursue a career in science. This was the first time that I really engaged with the material and wanted to know as much as possible.

Why did you decide to apply for the Knauss Fellowship?

I applied for the Knauss Fellowship in an effort to better communicate science. I see policy implemented, that to me, doesn’t make a ton of sense based on the science of the day. It is my belief that with a better idea of how policy is created, I can help facilitate conversations that lead to more science-based political decisions.

What do you hope to get out of your Knauss Fellowship?

As I mentioned previously, I hope to gain a new set of tools that will enable me to bridge the communication gap between policy and science.

Where will you be working, and what will you be working on?

I will be working for the NOAA Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs in Washington, DC. Our office is charged with communicating the goals and directives of NOAA’s various line offices to the Hill and working cooperatively on various pieces of legislation.

Where do you hope the experience will ultimately take you?

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea where this experience will take me. I am incredibly thankful to have been given this opportunity and I am very curious to see what skills I have learned a year from now.

What's your relationship to Alaska?

I grew up in Washington State, but have spent the last two and a half years in Alaska pursuing my master’s.

What do you think about Alaska's marine resources?

I have never lived in a place where the people and land are so defined by their natural resources. Alaska is proud to be wild and the resources offered would take a lifetime to fully appreciate.

What do you think about Alaska Sea Grant's work in the state?

Alaska Sea Grant is essential to the longevity of Alaska’s natural resources. Alaska Sea Grant is supporting the science, marketing, and economic improvements that will allow Alaska to remain a place that can sustainably provide for all its resource users. I am very proud to be one of Alaska Sea Grant’s representatives at the national level and will do my best to represent the interests of our Alaska and national marine realms.

— By Paula Dobbyn

Alaska Sea Grant is a statewide marine research, education, and outreach program, and is a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agents provide assistance that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy marine and coastal resources.