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Michelle McClure
Katie Valentine

Michelle McClure

Dr. Michelle McClure is the new director of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), one of seven OAR labs around the country. She started her role at PMEL in February, and since then has been working in pursuit of three goals. One is developing a sense of where PMEL needs to focus to make the biggest scientific and societal impacts it can. Another is ensuring that PMEL continues to be the kind of place where people want to work, and finding ways the lab can improve. The last is making sure that the world inside and outside NOAA is aware of what PMEL is doing, so that the lab's work is used and its scientists have the resources they need to do it.  

What drew you to your current career or field?

My path was fairly circuitous. It probably started at camp, in my pre-teens, which convinced me I really wanted to be able to hang out outside and watch birds and hike and look at plants. That led to an undergraduate career and three years of adventures afterwards that alternated between birds and archeology.  In grad school (where I originally went to study physical anthropology), I ended up working on evolutionary questions and fishes through a series of happenstances.

However, through it all, I was really drawn to public service, and was able to start at NOAA working on salmon conservation. I’ve found that doors opened in different places, and I’ve really been grateful for the opportunity to learn new things at each stage. 

What projects or research are you working on now?

I have two big projects right now. The first is getting my feet underneath me at PMEL. I’m working hard to meet all the research and other groups at the lab, understand their work (which is out of my field of expertise), and start to identify priorities for myself and for us as a team.

The second is finishing up a project from my former life at NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center. We conducted a climate vulnerability analysis for about 70 species of fishes, looking at biological attributes of each, and the distribution of climate-related environmental changes to determine which species and groups of species were likely to be most and least negatively affected by those changes. This is a nationwide project that started in the Northeast, and I was lucky enough to get to be involved for the West Coast. We’ve got the analyses done, and I’m plugging away at getting that paper written up right now. It was a huge and very fun group that worked on the project, and I’m really hopeful that this will be useful in the natural resource management world.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I think I like best the fact that my work does make a difference. I really enjoy working with people, and I like trying to solve problems. I try to remember that success doesn’t have to be complete to be very real, which helps me appreciate each step.  

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

The best advice I ever got was actually when I was pregnant with twins. A more senior colleague, who had teenage twins of his own, offered this pearl of wisdom: “Get help.  You have to outnumber them.” I found this to be very effective while my kids were little, especially around dinner and bath time. But I think it also encapsulates something more important than child care. There isn’t really anything I’ve done for which I haven’t needed help at one time or another, and recognizing that not only is there nothing wrong with needing it, but that everyone needs it (and whatever you’re doing will probably turn out better for it) can be really freeing. The second part of that advice is about scoping your problem and building alliances. Figuring out what you need to address about a problem, and starting to build a group of people who see the challenge, agree with your approach (or help you modify your approach), and are willing to pitch in is one of the most effective ways to get things done.  

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