Matthew Coomer, IEP ’17

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Marine Debris Division
Seattle, WA

(2/1/2017 – 6/23/2017

Successful Interning at the NOAA MDD

My internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Division (MDD) came and went faster than I ever expected. In the end, I received very positive feedback on both my main project, assisting with a major research workshop, and my secondary work. MDD Director Nancy Wallace said that I really added value to my projects and helped to expand the program’s capacity; that is high praise from an admired figure in the marine debris community. How did I go from starting an internship in February to completing my work with a marine conservation job in June? Here are my tips for success:

Use the tools you are given.

Before I arrived, Nir laid out my main and secondary projects in a straightforward, concise spreadsheet with staff contacts for each. I followed and updated it throughout the whole internship. This guide, coupled with projects that Regional Coordinators pitched along the way, was enough to keep me busy and engaged with our team. In my presentation feedback, I was asked how they could help future interns achieve as much, and I suggested sticking with this model. If they keep using it, you should too.

Attend NOAA Mental Health Webinars and keep a burnout avoidance list.

NOAA offers many employee resources and webinars on mental health. I enjoyed their lessons on everything from beating procrastination and burnout to keeping my mind stimulated. You are encouraged to use these resources and they help to break up long days while improving your work: their advice to create an anti-burnout list of 10 free things for rest helped me stay focused. By turning unproductive moments at the computer into meditation sessions, for example, I broke out of blankly staring at screens to become re-energized in my work. These sessions can also be a good way to connect with your NOAA community. They really care about you being healthy and productive!

Dig deeper on projects when you can.

Sometimes your work will lull. Sometimes remote work partners will be unresponsive and suggested projects won’t be necessary. On those days, go back to other tasks and see what you can add. As my role in the Oregon workshop demanded less energy at times, I would expand my spreadsheet on solid waste sites in Alaska. It now offers much more information than originally planned and can really aid future research. If there’s more to contribute on an open-ended project, why not dig deeper? You can lay the groundwork for bigger and better things to come.

Take walks and appreciate the facility.

The NOAA Western Regional Center is on the shore of Lake Washington with blackberry bushes, fields of daisies, and sculptures. It is also closed to the public, so think of it as an exclusive nature walk and add exploring its paths to your anti-burnout list. Take a break from the fluorescent lights. You, and your work, will be glad you did.

These tips helped make my NOAA time as productive and enriching as possible. Please reach out if you are beginning a NOAA MDD internship and have any questions: Thank you and good luck!

Read his Deliverable