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Emily Smith
Katie Valentine

Emily Smith

Dr. Emily Smith is a program manager for Argo, Adopt a Drifter, tide gauges, sea level activities and glider activities for NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. 

What drew you to your current career or field?

In the eighth grade, I was sitting in Civics class when someone asked my teacher if she could go back and have a different career, what would it be? She said marine biology because there was so much we didn’t know about the ocean and needed to be explored. This hit me since I knew I loved science and the ocean (having grown up on the Gulf of Mexico) and now this sounded like an ideal combination.

After that, I had a very clear map in my head of what I wanted to do. All of my education was focused towards phytoplankton, but as in life, that map ended up with a few twists and turns so I didn’t get into my current position until my mid-30s. I now manage projects dealing with sea level change, boundary currents, and Argo.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I honestly enjoy several aspects of my current work. My coworkers are all amazing and I have a very supportive boss. The overall mission of long term in situ ocean observing was not something I knew much about when I started, but I have truly embraced the importance of the mission. I know coming to work every day that what I do and the projects my office supports are important. Without our increased understanding of the ocean, we wouldn’t have improved hurricane intensity forecasts or improved weather forecasting.

What was the best advice ever given to you that helped you become successful? 

Fail fast. In my early and mid 20s I would overthink everything. I'd try to make everything perfect before submitting anything. But this was holding me back and not allowing me to take on multiple projects. Sometimes you just need to make a decision —  turn in that report, even if it isn’t perfect. If you fail, no worries — you can try again. But if you don’t turn in an idea, how do you know if it will be perfect or not without feedback? And if it isn't, who cares? Life is about learning and outside perspectives can be very valuable, so give people a chance to give them.

What’s been your favorite (or proudest) moment in your career so far? 

Last year, I was able to plan and lead a workshop for women in the sciences. I was able to procure funding from six different groups and had more than 50 women in attendance. This workshop idea came from not being able to find any appropriate leadership training for myself, so I decided to make it for more than just me. I’m thankful to work in an environment where this idea was supported and encouraged. I’m more thankful that I’ve secured twice as much funding this year to put on another workshop for up to 100 women. My boss honored me with an award of recognition for this work, but it was the women who participated in the workshop and thanked me that gave me the warmest feeling.

Looking back, what would you tell yourself when you were 12 years old? Or what advice would you give to a woman just starting out in her career?

Life isn’t a straight shot and that is OK. I think because I’ve had various job experiences, I'm more adept at my current career. I do not see things in black and white or even fitting in boxes. Yes, I know how the rules work and usually follow them, but I also have learned to question things when they don’t seem to make sense. I think taking time before getting an advanced degree is very useful. It gives you a chance to go out into the world and try some different jobs on for size. If one is a good fit, then evaluating which degree will get you to the final goal makes more sense than just staying in school because it’s the only thing you’ve ever done.

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    Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of the NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.



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