This week I accepted a job offer from the National Weather Service.
OK, let’s back up a little bit. In January, I resigned from the police academy after I decided that I couldn’t simultaneously start careers in meteorology and law enforcement, especially being restricted to Arizona. The academy was always a career testbed of sorts, and in that sense it served exactly the purpose I intended. Since then, my job search has proceeded in earnest. My focus has been on positions in meteorology/atmospheric science and more general physical science. I’ve emphasized federal jobs, partly because I already have years counting towards federal retirement, and partly because usajobs.gov makes job searching and applying easy.
The National Weather Service has been a particular target of mine. They post openings for two classifications: forecaster and meteorological technician (met tech). Entry-level forecaster jobs open up frequently, since there are something like 100 different offices and stations that hire them. At any given time, it’s likely that at least one has an opening. My strategy has been to hit every one that pops up (excluding a few places I won’t go to), reasoning that I’d eventually get lucky.
Then a problem came up. The Office of Personnel Management has a minimum education requirement for the forecaster jobs, regardless of experience. Having an MS in in atmospheric science isn’t enough; there’s a laundry list of coursework I need. And I discovered I’m just three credits short on forecasting classes. Needless to say, that was a bummer. One of the biggest source of forecaster jobs was now closed to me. Sort of. It turns out that there’s some kind of internal dispute going on within NOAA over how to interpret those requirements, and I’m currently being found qualified for some I’ve applied to, but not others. It depends on which HR person gets the application. It’s also unofficial wisdom that pretty much the only way to get in on the ground as a NWS forecaster is to volunteer with them during school—something I didn’t do.
However, once in a while NWS posts a met tech position, with less stringent qualifications. These are rare and getting rarer, as most met tech slots are being gradually converted to forecaster positions. In late January I casually applied to a posting advertising three met tech jobs manning remote weather stations in Alaska. I was taken quite by surprise when the Alaska Region Headquarters called me for an interview last week.
The posting was to fill three billets: two at the Weather Service Office (WSO) in St. Paul, Alaska, and one at Kotzebue. I got St. Paul. The government will pay to relocate me, and as a result of that cost, I have to sign a contract in which I agree to work for the government for at least 12 months. The 12 months don’t even have to be at St. Paul itself. Easy.
The hiring manager explained that the job will be fairly easy. I’ll take observations, compose and send reports, and give weather briefings as need to support air and sea operations. The St. Paul WSO operates 16 hours per day, comprising two eight-hour shifts. In my downtime, I’m going to work on scientific research and professional development. A former university professor has already asked me to contact him for ideas once I’m settled in. I’ll have 24/7 access to the office to support that. Even better, I am to be introduced to the science team in Anchorage during my orientation there; they may also have science-oriented extra duties and training. I’ll also enroll in distance learning to fill the three-credit hole in my forecaster qualifications.
The biggest issue with the job will be getting up there and getting used to life in a remote Alaska bush town, far away from many of the urban conveniences I enjoy here in Tucson. Before I go I have to get decent winter weather gear, among other things. But all that’s far outweighed by the big opportunity this presents.
Regardless, even if this doesn’t work out the way I want (and there’s know way to know until I try), it’s for a limited time, and the pay and benefits are good. If nothing else, I can explore more of the meteorology career field and network my way to something more suitable.
I debated with myself whether to do a blog post about this. I’ve had career plans before that I’ve backed out of, with all the embarrassing explaining that goes with it. Here’s why I think this is different. I’ve come to realize in the last few months that what I’ve needed more than anything else is a break. A few days after I graduated high school, I went into the military. I was accepted to a university before my enlistment was up. In May 2011, I finished six non-stop years of education after I got my MS. This would have been the first time in my life where I had skills, education, and freedom to do just about anything. But I didn’t take the opportunity to explore my options. Instead, I had been lined up for the Air Force for a year before that. Readers here know how that turned out. After a brief post-Air Force scramble to find a job, I finally started taking my time, relaxing, and doing my career homework. From a combination of this research, gut feeling, and relying on the advice of people with experience, I’m now more confident about this job than I’ve been about any other before it.