Bill Brignon, an Oregon State alum with a Master’s in fisheries science, is working as a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. An advanced degree from America’s Natural Resources University not only helped him land his job in a tough economy, it will help him achieve his goal of contributing to the preservation of the Northwest’s endangered salmonids.
Can you tell me about the position you got in the Portland area?
I work for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as a Fishery Biologist on the Hatchery Assessment Team. I am stationed in Vancouver, but we also have offices in Portland. My job is to evaluate how hatchery rearing practices and release strategies impact wild and endangered salmonids in the Columbia River Basin. We hope to minimize the negative interactions between hatchery fish and wild salmon populations.
Why is the Portland/Vancouver area and ideal place to work in your field?
When I looked for jobs, I had three criteria that needed to be met for me to consider a location: Interesting fisheries conservation questions that needed to be addressed; a location with a high density of employers, which would allow me a variety of job opportunities; and area that offered personal opportunities as well.
How did you find a job?
I was working for USFWS for a few years when I attended an American Fishery Society (AFS) meeting and met my future major professor, Dr. Carl Schreck. Through meetings with Carl and my USFWS supervisors I was accepted to graduate school at OSU, and the USFWS agreed fund my research. However, returning to school forced me to take leave from employment. Nearing completion of my graduate degree, I was fortunate enough to be hired back by the USFWS.
How have you managed to set yourself apart from others in your field?
Continuing your education is very important in the fisheries field, and it set me apart from a lot of others, I think. By returning to school I got statistical, study design and other scientific skills—all of which are needed in this field. Networking with people, just shaking hands and discussing your interests and your projects is very helpful, too. Connections are the reason I’m employed with the USFWS and the reason I was able to attend graduate school at OSU.
What has OSU done to prepare you for your professional future?
OSU gave me the scientific tools necessary to assess recovery and rebuilding strategies for Endangered Species Act listed salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia River Basin.
Do you have any advice for other OSU students?
There are two things: take part-time jobs and volunteer. You need the experience and these are the best and sometimes only way to get it. By working with all types of species and agencies, you will have a competitive edge. Don’t be afraid to take positions that may not appeal to you at first because every position will have something different to teach you and help build a diverse network of colleagues.
How do you see the impact you will make on the fisheries community?
I would like to bring my interests and expertise to a diverse community of fisheries professionals where we can apply our collective knowledge to conserve endangered salmon stocks in the Northwest.