Q&A: NOAA Intern Interviews NOAA Corps Officer and Regional Response Officer Kyle Vincent

Posted Fri, 06/10/2022 - 15:55
By Abisola Ajayi

Hi! My name is Abisola Ajayi, and I’m a senior at the prestigious University of Maryland Eastern Shore. I’m currently majoring in biology. Growing up I learned at a very young age that education is a major aspect of life in today's world. Post-graduation, I’m planning to further my education and get into medical school.

In this Q&A series, I interviewed three scientists in NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. In this last interview, I talk with Ensign Kyle Vincent, a regional response officer in OR&R’s Emergency Response Division.

A person in uniform on a dock with a vessel in the background.

Kyle Vincent is currently based in Seattle as one of OR&R’s regional response officers. He’s also a junior officer in NOAA Corps, a scientific branch of the U.S. uniformed military service. As a NOAA Corps officer, Kyle has the opportunity to work in not just one role in NOAA, but to rotate through a variety of positions in different NOAA offices and programs. Kyle recently completed his first sea tour aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, where he served as the safety officer, environmental compliance officer, and navigation officer.

Kyle Vincent, is from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He attended Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he majored in marine science with a minor in coastal management. He graduated in 2019 with his bachelor’s degree. While in his sophomore year, he was awarded the NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship. As a Hollings scholar, he interned at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, where he researched harmful algal blooms under the supervision of Supervisory Oceanographer Vera Trainer. 

Join along in the interview below as I learn more about Kyle’s work at OR&R, and his previous positions and experiences around NOAA!

Abisola: Did you always want to major in marine science, and why a minor in coastal management? 

Kyle: I grew up fishing, and being outside. So I really had an appreciation for science by just growing up that way and always being close to the beach and being able to fish. I knew I always wanted to do something with science, as I got into high school I actually took an elective course in biological oceanography and then marine science. That pretty much sealed the deal on what my interests were. Around that time I was a junior, I started looking into colleges more. I worked at a restaurant as a busboy in high school, and I met somebody there that went to Eckerd College and he told me about their marine science program. They have a really good marine science program, they are in the top 10 in the country for undergrad. It was one of the three or four colleges that I applied to and I got in and I knew I wanted to go there.   

Abisola: I love how you knew what path you wanted to go on. What would you say is one of the biggest challenges you faced in university and how did you overcome this challenge?

A person in an athletic uniform on a grassy field.
Image courtesy of Kyle Vincent.

Kyle: I know my path may have been a little bit more difficult than some, because going into freshman year I knew I wanted to do marine science and no matter how difficult the courses were, I knew that I had to study hard. I had some other friends that did not necessarily know what they wanted to do, their path was a little bit harder trying to figure that out. I was lucky that I knew what I wanted to do and once I figured that out I was taking classes in that. Marine science isn't necessarily an easy major, I spent a lot of long nights in the library, even on weekends, studying. I had a lot of courses, like organic chemistry, that were challenging and I just hunkered down and did the work that I needed to do. I would say that I'm not necessarily a very academically smart person, I can't just read something and immediately understand it. I had to put in the work to understand some of the more complex theories and ideas. 

Abisola: I feel as though any science major is hard, because I'm a biology major and I can relate. It's hard, you have to put in the work no matter what. 

Kyle: I've come to realize that a lot of people in different fields just have the mind for it. I would say I have a mind for biology and there's people I know that can pick up chemistry really easily. 

Abisola: Yes, I  remember my freshman year of undergrad, there was this girl in my class who just automatically felt as though biology wasn't for her and then she switched to a chemistry major. What was one thing you wanted to accomplish when you graduated?

Kyle: When I graduated—this wasn't a big accomplishment, but I guess it was for me at the time—I wanted to have a job right after college, I was pretty much able to do that with this career. Going into my senior year, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. I was thinking about doing either a master’s or possibly a Ph.D. There was a part of me that maybe wanted to go into the workforce, and I heard about the NOAA Corps when I was a Hollings scholar. They had an orientation, with all the line offices of NOAA. I learned about it there, and thought about it a little bit more. It's funny, what it came down to when deciding on it. I reached out to maybe three or four master’s labs and didn't get a single reply back from any of them. The NOAA Corps recruiting office emailed me back pretty quickly. That, combined with a bit more of a difficult year academically my senior year, I was kind of done with school at that point. I figured I wanted to at least take a break, knowing that with NOAA Corps I can always go back.

Abisola: Did you always want to work for NOAA? 

Kyle: Either way I already kind of pictured myself working for NOAA. Just growing up in Florida, with all the hurricanes, seeing it as a kid with all the trajectory charts that they make and all the support they do with that. Growing up you see they only do weather, but they do a lot more than that, they do fisheries, they do all kinds of marine science. As I got older and started to figure out what field I wanted to go into, I always kept NOAA in my mind and then seeing the NOAA Corps it was a little more different, not necessarily research based. I'm very happy and I think it's really cool to get a job with NOAA.

Abisola: I'm so happy for you as well. What do you like about being a NOAA Corps officer?

A person with a rocky canyon in the background.
Image courtesy of Kyle Vincent.

Kyle: I would say my favorite thing about being a NOAA Corp officer is that you get to do a lot of different things. Getting your bachelor’s degree is a little different but as you continue and get a master’s, a Ph.D, your field narrows and you start to focus on one thing. That was something that I didn't really like the idea of. I'm one of those people that likes every aspect of science. I didn't want to narrow myself down to studying one fishery in one place for the rest of my life. That's something that I really liked about the NOAA Corps, you know, you move around a lot. So for the past two years I've been working on a Fisheries ship in New England doing groundfish surveys and now I'm in the Pacific Northwest working on oil spill response, so you can take a lot of different routes in your career and I just really appreciated that you can change things up every now and then and have a lot of different experiences in different fields, which I thought was really cool. 

Abisola: Do you get to pick where in NOAA you're stationed? 

Kyle: You get to have a say. I pretty much got exactly what I wanted for this land assignment. It's very circumstantial, and a lot of it is based on either the needs of the service or kind of where your assignment is supposed to end. So an example is, my ship assignment was ending in December of last year, so I had to find an open job that pretty much coincided with me leaving the ship and the person leaving this job. You can definitely find a lot of cool stuff. 

Abisola: What would be your ideal position within NOAA, or alternatively, what has been your favorite so far?

Kyle: I  would say the sea tour can get a little rough 'cause it's a lot of days at sea. I did enjoy the projects we had, it was always fun fishing because you know on my off time I would go down and look in the net to see what we got and just see all the different animals and then that was pretty cool to see all the fish and everything else. We also got to work on whale survey, so I got to see a lot of dolphins and whales, all that kind of cool stuff,  but I would say I like this position a lot more, because in a sea tour you’re mostly just driving the ship and you have a couple collateral duties that you do, and you don't get to really do a lot of science. But in this position that I'm in right now, I help the scientific coordinators provide scientific information and support to the Coast Guard whenever there's an oil spill. So I get to do a little bit of science, and it's fun because I get to do the biology behind it. How these oil spills are going to affect the animals in the area, what species are there, and also get to look at the oceanography and help with the trajectories and the chemistry behind the oil itself. So it helps me kind of get my science fix in this position, which I really like. 

Abisola: What would you say is the hardest thing a person can face when in this field?

Kyle: So I would say that one of the more difficult things is probably a lot of sea time. When you're on the ship, I mean my ship specifically was different from some other people from my training class, but it can be a lot of time at sea away from family and friends and you're spending weekends and holidays out there sometimes, so doing two years of that pretty much. It was only a year and a half for me because of Covid, but yeah doing two years straight can kinda wear you down a little bit, so I'm happy to be off the ship. That's definitely a common struggle with a lot of people especially on their first sea assignment, because they're getting used to that career change. 

Abisola: I know you recently completed your first sea tour. How would you describe your first experience?

Kyle: It was definitely a rewarding experience in some aspects. I reported to the ship straight from basic training and we had about two months of repair period before they were able to go to sea and then we did a 20-day-long trip and Covid happened so we were pretty much shut down until October [2021]. The thing about your sea tour, especially when it's your first one as an ensign [officer], your main goal is to get enough sea days to be qualified to stand the watch on the bridge by yourself so driving the ship and doing all the projects by yourself that's what you're working toward. My window for doing that was very short, usually you have two years. I had a year and a half. I had to pick up a lot of things a bit quicker than somebody else with a full sea tour. I would say I was able to get through my first bottom trawl survey which took up most of the spring. I felt pretty good about going into the mammal projects that we had in the summer. I was able to get my qualification. It was really rewarding to be able to get that, it's pretty crazy to go from being in college to driving a ship and doing the operations that we do. It asks a lot of you to be able to do successful fishing tows by yourself and it's pretty rewarding. 

Abisola: What advice would you give someone going into the same work field as you?

Kyle: You have to be open to new experiences and you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You're not going to know everything on the first day. It's going to take a while before you start feeling comfortable on the ship and you can't let that deter you from learning. 

Abisola: What do you like to do in your free time outside of work?

Kyle: I've been able to do a lot more of my hobbies now since I'm off the ship and that's what I love about my position in Washington, too. I get to do a lot more of the hobbies that make me happy. A lot of what I like to do in my off time is just to pretty much be outside. I like to hike a lot, there are a lot of great amazing trails out here in Washington. With hiking I'm pretty big into nature photography, I try to do a lot of landscape stuff and I'm pretty decent at wildlife portraits. I've been able to start working on my photography here like I said before. I've been into fishing since I was little, so I'm trying to pick up fly fishing here and put all my hobbies together and be outside, on the river, fishing, and taking photos. I'm hoping to maybe start playing rugby again. That's what I was doing in college. 

A person with a camera pointing an elk in a snow covered landscape.
Image courtesy of Kyle Vincent.

Abisola: I really like how you have it lined up, trying to get yourself you know back to what you were doing before. That's really good 'cause we need that once in a while. What advice would you tell your younger self? 

Kyle: I would tell my younger self, try not to plan every aspect of your life, 'cause I never would've thought that being a freshman in college I'd be doing something like this now and I think a lot of the things that I struggled with when I was younger was I was trying to have everything set in stone for my future. It makes things very stressful on you and it kind of takes away from the present to focus too much on your future. One thing I struggled with in college is “I need to get through this week because I have this one test” or “ I need to get through this month because I have all these assignments” and you can't live your life like that, you can't do it. You have to be able to just study and then find a certain point and just be like, “Okay, I'm going to go hang out with my friends 'cause it's what I need and then they're having fun so I need to have a little bit of fun right now.” I can't be too focused on my future, I have to enjoy what I have right now. 

Abisola: You know I'm going to take your advice. I'm a senior graduating in May and I want to go back to school right away but in my mind I'm telling myself maybe take a gap year and try to figure out what route I want to take.

Kyle: I mean as far as like the position you're in right now, one of those other key moments in my life when I figured out that maybe I wanted to do NOAA Corps instead of a master’s is that we had this one lady talk in one of my classes and she was like Peace Corps and her family kind of pressured her into doing post grad stuff getting a masters, getting a Ph.D. She got one year into it and she was just so fed up and overworked. She had this opportunity to do Peace Corps and her family wasn't very excited about it and she was just like, “I need to do something for me” and she did it. She said it was one of the most incredible experiences of her life as it changed her perspective on so many things, and she was able to spend three or four years in Africa doing that work, and then she came back and finished her master’s. 

Abisola: It's kind of hard for some people to choose the path they want instead of listening to what career path their parents want from them. I'm African and Africans have this mentality of wanting their children to either be a lawyer, engineer, or doctor. They see those types of career paths as being overly successful than any other careers. I'm really proud of her for following her path.  

Kyle: I did have some hard times on the sea tour but I'm very happy that I chose this because it was pretty nice to have a solo job during Covid, but I mean just the experiences I've had from this, it's something that people don't really have at all so I was very happy that I was able to do it, and it's been a pretty good ride since. 

Abisola: Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years? 

Kyle: I'm not too sure exactly what I want to do, I've been kind of taking that advice I told you about, trying not to focus on too many things about the future. I have nothing but options. If I wanted to, I could stay in this career. If I wanted to go back to school, I could go and get my master’s, if I wanted to get another job entirely, I have a pretty great resume setup. I want to see myself in the next five to 10 years probably being happy and enjoying life. That's all I can pretty much ask for my future self. 

Abisola: We all want to be happy and enjoy life. That concludes what I have for today, I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview with me. It's really nice for me to see what people across OR&R do, and their different roles and how they got here. I learned a lot and I'm also taking your advice from today's interview.