Fellows to Follow: Leslie Irwin – NOAA Research, Communications Office

What’s the first thing people ask you in DC? Where are you from, and what are you doing?

I grew up in King of Prussia, PA (yes, that is the actual town name, also home to the largest mall on the east coast, if you’re into that kind of thing) outside of Philadelphia.


I am currently placed as a Communications Specialist in NOAA’s office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.  This involves translating NOAA research from our various labs into non-scientific terms for web stories, presentations and reports that go to various NOAA and DOC leadership.  I also get to dabble in social media, graphic design, and webinar organization. Webinars have become my mortal enemy.

What were you doing before the Knauss?

I started out with a BS in Biology from Susquehanna University (small-town central PA) and was able to find field research experiences studying coral ecology and genetics first at the University of Miami and Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology during my summers.  I spent a little over a year in a Marine Biology PhD program studying coral photo-biology and physiology before I switched to a MS in Environmental Policy from the University of Pennsylvania.


I’ve had some very random jobs, including environmental kayak guide, coral counter, master pipetter, and even rattlesnake wrangler (forest management intern, but seriously)! Now I’m here!

What inspired you to get into your field?

After a pretty cliché snorkeling experience on a family vacation when I was 12, I became pretty obsessed with reefs and marine biology.  My interest in policy began after my B.S. when I decided that I wasn’t going to make as much of an impact on conservation and awareness of marine issues by just pipetting away in a lab (even if I did get to travel for field sampling first).  I switched things up.  Not many people in government have a decent grasp of the science needed for making marine policy decisions. Scientists are also often skeptical of policy makers, but the funding has to come from somewhere! This way, I figured I could start bridging the gap.

What do you wish you had known before the fellowship?

Apparently, nobody in government knows how to write their own emails.

Everything you’ve heard about the inability to communicate with IT is true.

Never underestimate the amount of things that can go wrong at once. Murphy’s Law is legit.

What was your best free reception crashing experience?

The AZA reception on the hill!!! What more could you want than a free open bar, yummy meatballs, a CROCODILE, a penguin, an armadillo, and a flamingo??? Did I mention there was a crocodile roaming around the courtyard?


What is your favorite DC hangout?

The closest thing to a consistent hangout for me is a toss-up between Union Pub, the Blaguard, and Penn Social.  So that was three. What of it?

What is your favorite DC restaurant?

Best food so far has been from Lavagna near Eastern Market. One of the fellows is friends with the chef, and it was fantastic.

What has your favorite experience been so far this year?

My favorite experience so far didn’t happen on the job, but during a weekend trip to another fellow’s farm for camping and a luau (complete with traditional pig roast!). Nothing beats campfires, sleeping under the stars, kayaking on a lake, and hanging out with some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met!

Close second was our tour of the Naval observatory. We all got to look through one of their telescopes and see Saturn!


Where do you see yourself going after the fellowship?

I never planned on taking my marine biology and policy knowledge in the direction of Communications, but here I am, and so far I love it! I’ve been able to tap back into my creative side while keeping my science nerdiness intact!  In a dream world, maybe I can land a gig with Discovery or NatGeo, but I will settle for science communications or science writing for any other agency or non-profit group that will have me. I wouldn’t mind staying in DC, but I will go wherever the job takes me!

If you could be any ocean creature, what would it be and why?

Cuttlefish are pretty awesome.



2 thoughts on “Fellows to Follow: Leslie Irwin – NOAA Research, Communications Office

  1. Pingback: Knauss Lecture Series Tomorrow at 12pm EDT | Knauss in the House

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