Marc Mayes, a doctoral candidate in Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, is a PMF-STEM Finalist. With this honor, he has up to 12 months from selection to accept and start an appointment as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) in a federal agency. The PMF Program is a leadership development program for advanced degree candidates, including those in master’s, PhD and law programs, and is intended to develop a cadre of potential government leaders. Mayes has already accepted a Nature Conservancy-NatureNet Science Fellowship, to study the impacts of agriculture and forest use for landscape-scale water and nutrient budgets in sub-Saharan Africa, and will consider a PMF-eligible position following the postdoctoral appointment.
Why did you pursue this U.S. fellowship?
Serving needs of other people motivates most things I do in my life. I pursued a PMF-STEM Fellowship because it can provide so many ways for scientists to work in the federal government, doing applied work and serving needs of people in the U.S. or abroad in some cases. My PhD will be in Earth sciences, and my research addresses how land use and climate variability affect forest growth, soils, water and other natural resources people depend on at landscape spatial scales. Much of my PhD work has involved field work in East Africa, specifically western Tanzania. The PMF program attracted me because it provides a way to work in federal positions that draw on "hard" Earth science skills and knowledge, and "soft" skills like project management, facilitation and communication skills that I've learned throughout my graduate education at Brown and the Certificate in Humans and the Global Environment-IGERT program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
What are the potential appointments in federal agencies?
PMF or PMF-STEM positions can involve jobs where one's role centers on the specific skills and knowledge they've developed in graduate education, or instead, more general application of what they've studied plus a mix of management and project administration. For me, potential jobs could involve technical or a mix of technical or management work at the Departments of State, Interior, Homeland Security, USAID, or others. I will look for jobs where I can use skills and knowledge I've enjoyed developing in graduate school, such as satellite and airborne remote sensing, understanding of water, carbon and nutrient cycles in semi-arid and arid ecosystems, and region-specific experience I've gained working in East Africa and Central Asia.
Please describe the PMF application process.
The PMF application involved a (1) a series of online tests and assessments, (2) written essays, and (3) a five-hour in-person interview consisting of group and individual exercises in a double-blind process. The application was not topically specific – for example, I was not quizzed on Earth's climate history over the last four million years, or asked to name the 12 major soil orders – but it did address quantitative, organizational, time-management, communication and interpersonal skills.
What does this opportunity mean to you?
I'm honored to receive the PMF-STEM Finalist position for myself and for the Brown-Marine Biological Lab Joint PhD program in Environmental Sciences. For myself, PMF-STEM is combined recognition of both scientific achievement and performance as a communicator, and I think strengths in communication skills are in general undervalued for many early-career scientists. As for the Brown-MBL PhD program, it has been a remarkable opportunity to work with Brown (Dr. Jack Mustard, DEEPS) and MBL faculty (Dr. Jerry Melillo and Dr. Chris Neill, The Ecosystems Center).