Q & A with Brandon Ray

Why did you decide to pursue a Master of Marine Affairs?

After finishing my active duty career in the Navy, I knew I wanted to go into a field that would allow me to combine my knowledge of science with the ability to solve problems politically – and thus act as a liaison between communities that don’t often speak the same vernacular. The MMA degree helps me ground my scientific background in the policy process to look at how science-based solutions to societal problems can be achieved with optimal results.

Why did you decide to come to UW’s SMEA for graduate school?

Well, luckily for me – I was already here!  I came straight from finishing my Masters in Atmospheric Science, where I studied statistical methods to improve regional Arctic sea ice predictability. Plus, I had already completed most of my coursework before even starting the program!

Are you doing a thesis or capstone project? If thesis, what are you writing your thesis about and why? If capstone, what is the project about? 

I will be completing a joint thesis with the Jackson School of International Studies, where I am a concurrent student. I will be examining the transition from oil and gas-based energy to renewables in the Arctic, whether it is politically feasible and the roles that State and non-State actors play in the decision-making process (with the ideal goal of determining where coalition forming can occur on this issue). With the myriad of climate and environmental issues plaguing the Arctic, the push for sustainability has innumerable benefits – however, this is juxtaposed on an economy that is largely based on resource extraction. Thus, competing interests make this a “wicked problem.”

What has been your favorite class at UW so far? Why?

My favorite class thus far has been Environmental Decision Analysis (PB AF 597). This class examined how decisions are made through quantitative means (e.g. decision trees). The culmination of the class was a group project, which pulled together people from a variety of backgrounds to analyze a political decision, including its environmental implications, and provide a justification for which course of action should be taken. The interdisciplinary nature of this project has been one of the most rewarding experiences.

What do you like most about SMEA?

The best part of SMEA is the wide range of interests and experiences that students and faculty bring to the collective discussion. There are individuals ranging from active duty military to those fresh out of college; from those who have spent summers or years in the tropical Pacific to those who fish off the Alaskan coast. These perspectives are valued, and students are encouraged to explore their passions.

What’s it like to live in Seattle? What do you do in your spare time?

I live in the ‘burbs, which I feel is a highly-underrated art at UW! It’s been great having the Sound and the mountains near, although I wish there were more snow (and I realize I may be in the minority, as a former New Englander). Between grad school, family life, and working two part-time jobs, I’ve come to realize spare time is a myth.  However, I do enjoy singing in Choir of the Sound and spending time with my family.

If you could design your ultimate job after graduating, what would it be and why?

I would love to work in analysis and implementation of Arctic energy policy, as this combines my interests in climate change, international cooperation, technological solutions to societal problems, and the Arctic. This job would be a mix of quantitative and qualitative, with teamwork and planning at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels valued.  Ideally this job would be located up north; my family would love to experience true winter again.

What is your favorite form of marine life, and why?

My dirty little secret is that I don’t like fish. I can’t eat them, and biology is not my science of choice. I grew up near several historic New England whaling towns and always found the history of this practice interesting. As I’ve progressed in my studies, the concept of whaling has become more intricate when examining why certain countries or cultures promote or are opposed to whaling.