I am a federal fish biologist working for the U.S. Geological Survey. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to answer the question “shouldn’t you work for Fish & Wildlife or NOAA Fisheries?” Though I can explain the various agency mandates, the fact remains that many people associate the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with federal fish biologists – which is due to the great work of FWS and NOAA scientists and of FWS and NOAA communications in presenting that expertise to the public.
But, at a recent event with a strong NOAA contingent, there was, almost wistful, talk of…NASA. Where I may feel “little brother syndrome” towards NOAA, some NOAA employees feel the same way towards NASA. And I’ve heard that NASA considers itself in the agency shadow of…the Department of Defense. My point here is that there can always be someone bigger, who brands better, out there. We instinctually look for and look up to “big brothers” in our organizations and careers.
“Little brother syndrome,” as I’m defining it, is a situation where one party sees itself in a one-sided competition to keep up with another and the other party does not often recognize the rivalry. This “little brother syndrome” can manifest in one of two ways: 1) a sense of entitlement (i.e., “I deserve what (s)he has!”) or 2) a means for advancement (i.e., “If (s)he can do it, I can, too!”). While this concept isn’t exclusive to fisheries (e.g., Michigan State and University of Michigan football) , and there can be some danger in sentiments of underappreciation, I see great potential value in harnessing this “sibling rivalry” in a positive context for our field.
Looking up to high achievers can make us all better at what we do. In fisheries, we are all driven by an innate motivation to help conserve and sustain fish and fisheries resources. As younger siblings strive to be able to accomplish the same tasks and skills of an older sibling, we as fisheries professionals can look up to mentors and those successful in the field to help us grow personally and as organizations.
Competition, when carefully framed in a productive manner, can push the bounds of our potential. I think this is particularly important for fields like ours that constantly require innovative thinking to deal with the ever-changing landscape of issues and impacts to our fisheries resources. We cannot sit back and do the same things that we’ve always done. Sustainability is a shifting target that keeps us on our toes. We need to be always learning and trying new things that, at first, may be beyond our reach. Having a “big brother” to look up to can help maintain that growing edge.
So, whom do you look up to in our field?
What skills and actions do you hope to emulate?
How can you be a better “little brother”?