2021 Knauss Marine Policy Finalist: Max Showalter

max fieldwork

Graduate student from the School of Oceanography, Max Showalter, has been awarded the Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship. He will be going to Washington D.C. for a year long program. The fellowship places graduate students into a national policy position to help with decisions about resources in their expertise.

--Interview Fall 2020 by Lauren Bayne, UW Oceanography class of 2022


What has been your path through oceanography? Where did you get your undergraduate degree and what did you major in?

I did my undergrad at Purdue University, where I studied Biological Engineering and Russian. I worked with a team that did a biological engineering competition called iGEM, where I got interested in the idea of microbial life in extreme environments on Earth and outer space. From my experience in Russian I was interested in the Arctic and so decided to apply to work with Jody Deming, as her work with sea ice microbes and position in the astrobiology department encompasses both of those interests.

How many years did you spend at the University of Washington? What did you work on during your graduate school time here?

 I’ve been here about 6 years, having started in June 2014. My dissertation work has been focused on understanding elements of the organic carbon cycle within sea ice brines facilitated by bacteria and their viruses, and as part of that work I showed that viruses play an important role in recycling nutrients in sea ice. We were also able to set a new low-temperature record for observation of directed bacterial swimming while working with folks at NASA JPL and Caltech on a project aimed to demonstrate movement as a means of life detection in our solar system. 

When you heard about this fellowship what inspired you to apply? What led you to pursue oceanography through policy?

 I heard about the Knauss fellowship early in my time at UW and realized it was a great opportunity to break into science policy. I had become interested in science policy having been exposed to the interplay of these fields in the Arctic, where environmental science is especially relevant to a number of policy topics. This grew when I started working more closely with the human element of Arctic science, taking Inuktitut classes and jumping into Arctic science policy with the Canadian Studies Center. 

What branch will you be working under and what will you be doing in that office? What do you hope to change or improve while you are there?

 I’ll be working in the Executive Branch, but we don’t have office placements yet.

How will this fellowship affect your future plans and what do you want to do after the year is done?

I’m hoping I can use this Fellowship to get a better understanding of the opportunities in Science Policy as well as learn some of the tools and skills of the trade. It’s my hope that I’ll be able to continue working in Arctic policy following a Knauss Fellowship.

What are you most excited for moving to Washington DC not related to the Fellowship?

The energy of DC sounds exciting to me, but I know I’ll miss the weather and outdoors of Seattle.

What advice would you give to other oceanography students that want to pursue the policy side of science and are looking to apply to this fellowship?

By far the best bit of advice I received when first moving toward science policy was to build up bona fides in science communication. Effective communication is the most important skill one can have in most fields, so developing practices and experience now will be useful for any path in the future.