Working at the White House with Brendan Philip

Brendan Philip at the rose garden at the White House

Recent UW Oceanography alum Brendan Philip is now working at the White House! He is an Ocean Policy Fellow at the White House Council on Environmental Quality in Washington, D.C.

Brendan graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Science in Oceanography in 2014. Afterward, he attended Graduate School at UW and graduated in 2019 with a Master of Science in Oceanography. After finishing his studies, he moved from Washington State to Washington, D.C., where he is now working at the White House.

Learn more about his experiences and current position from a recent email interview.

--Interview September 2022 by Lauren Bayne, UW Oceanography class of 2022


What is your current position at the White House?

I am an Ocean Policy Fellow at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). I work on the Water Team, which has a broad portfolio that includes the open ocean, coastal ocean, and inland rivers and waterways. Our focus is mainly on water quality and quantity, resource management, and impacts on communities, but we also cover toxics and their impacts on human health. I also work closely with the Office of Science and Technology Policy to run the Ocean Policy Committee, which is the federal government’s primary interagency body for coordinating ocean research and technology, and marine resource management.


How do you like your new position and living in Washington DC?

I love the job! This is exactly the kind of work I wanted to be doing – convening groups to solve difficult public policy issues and using science to inform decisions that help people and the environment. It’s fast paced and varied, which is exciting, but the nature of the issues makes it challenging work, especially when we are working with communities that are suffering from disproportionate impacts of toxic pollution and climate change. But at the end of the day, we’re working to help the people who need it most, and that keeps me going. And DC is a fun place to live, with so much history to explore and such a vibrant arts scene. Come visit!


What do you hope to change or accomplish with your time in policy?

I’m passionate about government and ensuring that it does the most good for the greatest number of people. I want to ensure that it does a better job of being responsive to the unprecedented challenges we face, from correcting historical injustices to tackling the climate crisis. I’m excited about how much focus this administration is giving to environmental justice and the climate crisis, and I’m glad I get to work on these issues from a water perspective.  


What drives your passion for ocean policy?

I lived on a sailboat with my parents and two brothers in Seattle and spent most of my childhood sailing around the Salish Sea. I still think back to those summer sailing trips and how inspired I was by all of the inland passage ways, isolated anchorages, and wildlife. But I also saw how fragile the Salish Sea was and experienced first-hand the impacts of pollution on water quality. This continues to motivate me today; the desire to protect our waters in a way that benefits human health and everything else that depends on it.

What other work have you done since graduating?

After I graduated from the School of Oceanography, I moved to D.C. and interned with the American Geophysical Union, which has a public affairs team that connects scientists to policymakers and advocates for the earth sciences on Capitol Hill. I also interned with the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, where I got to work on legislation for the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Before starting my current job at the White House, I spent a year as an ORISE fellow in EPA’s Ocean and Coastal Management Branch, where I got to work on climate adaptation within estuaries and on minimizing the impact of vessel operations on coastal water quality through EPA’s regulatory programs. I would highly recommend an ORISE fellowship to any School of Oceanography student who wants experience doing science within a federal agency; there are ORISE positions all over government! 


What was your undergraduate senior thesis on?

I sailed on the Visions cruises several times as an undergrad and was able to collect data at Southern Hydrate Ridge to study methane seep dynamics. I pulled together multibeam data, water column methane concentration data, and seafloor ROV observations to infer sub-seafloor methane transport pathways and the fate of methane gas released from the seafloor, and it got published! It was fun work and involved a lot of different people in the School of Oceanography, and really makes me glad that the undergraduate thesis is a part of the program. What a great way to ask questions that interest you and find a way to answer them! 


What did you research during oceanography graduate school?

During grad school, I spent most of my time studying a new seafloor seep site off the coast of Oregon that we found during a Visions cruise in 2015. Unlike most methane seeps that emit mainly gas from the seafloor, this site discharges gas AND warm, fresh water at pretty surprising rates. We named the site Pythia’s Oasis and so far it has taught us a lot about subduction zone hydrogeology and how water and gas is circulating within a portion of the Cascadia Subduction Zone. If you want to know the current state of the science on this, go find Rita, Evan or Deb, and I’m sure they can fill you in!


What is your favorite memory from the University of Washington?

It’s hard to pick just one! I met so many great people in the School of Oceanography and I miss hearing about all the exciting science that everyone is doing there. But my favorite memory is from when we organized an open house in 2019 that brought several hundred kids and their parents to SAFS and Oceanography to explore labs, tour the Carson, and do some demonstrations. I’m always going to remember how excited those kids were and how much fun all the grad students, staff and faculty had that day! The School of Oceanography is doing so much cool work and it was empowering to be able to share it with our community. Keep it up!