My Experience as an ARIN Fellow, and Why You Should Be One Too

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By Adair Thaxton - Internet2 Cyberinfrastructure Security Engineer

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

In January, my Internet2 colleague Amber Rasche posted a link in one of our Slack channels to let us know that applications for the ARIN Fellowship Program were open. I was unfamiliar with the program, so I clicked the link to find out more.

That’s when I saw the ARIN 53 event was in Barbados — and, well, yes please!

But in all seriousness, we at Internet2 care a lot about internet policy and contributing to a safer internet for all. That’s why the Internet2 Routing Integrity Initiative focuses on promoting the adoption of routing security best practices to protect research and education networks from common routing threats. The opportunity to attend ARIN 53, get involved with the ARIN community, and deepen my knowledge of its role in this space led me to apply for the fellowship.

Applying and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

The application required me to answer a number of questions about why I thought I would be a good ARIN Fellow. This was when the impostor syndrome really kicked in for me! I had a very general idea of what ARIN did, but if you asked me to put it in a sentence, there would be a lot of hemming and hawing.

Adair Thaxton posing for a photo.

Want to learn more?

Explore the session recordings and slides on the ARIN 53 website. Watch for the ARIN Fellowship Program call for applications to attend ARIN 54, which will open in July.

I got my first tech support job at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2001, and then I took a role there as a networking intern in 2005 before transitioning to full-time. As an undergrad, I’d taken a course in media law with a focus on internet law. At the time, I entertained the idea of being a technology lawyer. That didn’t happen, but my interest in technology, policy, and the internet never waned. I suppose that was what I felt made me stand out as an ARIN Fellowship applicant, so I submitted the application and crossed my fingers.

In February, I found out that I had been chosen, which was fantastic. That’s when I began to realize just how far ARIN goes to support its fellows. I know most institutions in the Internet2 community have perpetual concerns about training and travel budgets, so this program makes it really easy to get involved at basically zero expense. ARIN arranged my flight and hotel and provided a stipend to cover taxis, bag fees, and other incidental expenses.

Reflecting on the ARIN Fellowship Experience

I was anxious about going to a Very Important Meeting for Very Important People, but ARIN made it possible for fellows to connect with each other and other ARIN community members ahead of time. That made it a lot easier to feel comfortable at the meeting itself. They also provided resources to help fellows prepare to participate in the discussions — from videos to several pre-travel Zoom meetings. The latter sessions split time between presentations about “this is what ARIN does” and allowing us time to get to know each other. We were also assigned mentors from the ARIN Advisory Council, and I was fortunate to be assigned to Brian Jones from Virginia Tech. 

When it came down to it, we were all technology nerds, and conversation came easily. This camaraderie continued in Barbados, as the fellows often chose to sit together in the meeting room and at lunch.

During the meeting itself, we heard updates from the ARIN divisions about projects and finances. After each section, we were welcomed to ask questions (if you know me, you know I did!). That definitely helped us understand the policies and processes more thoroughly. I think each and every fellow asked a question by the end of the meeting!

A number of ARIN policies were up for discussion, and I really appreciated how those were communicated. Each fellow was given a booklet of the printed policies, which were also available online. Individual policies were presented by their Advisory Council sponsor, with the original and proposed language clearly delineated. The history of each policy was also discussed for added clarity. Before the meeting, the idea of voting on policies seemed daunting; however, it was much easier to understand in person.

Why More R&E Community Members Should Apply

I had a great experience as an ARIN Fellow. If you’ve heard of the ARIN Fellowship before or are just hearing about it for the first time, I’d encourage you to apply. I wasn’t sure beforehand how engaging the policy process would be, but it was very easy to follow in person. 

Plus, how many times can you say you spent the week influencing internet policy for one of the five defined internet regions of the world?

I’ll also echo something my Internet2 colleague Steven Wallace has shared. Given the research and education community’s reliance on the internet as critical infrastructure, our community needs more participation in ARIN’s Policy Development Process and its governance. The ARIN Fellowship Program is one way to get involved.

Finally, I’d like to close this by thanking someone. When I was at UNC-Chapel Hill, thinking of taking on a leadership role in an Internet2 working group, I spoke with someone I really look up to — Susan Kellogg. She told me to stop doubting myself, that they wouldn’t have approached me if they didn’t think I would do a good job, and that I should absolutely go for it. I’ve used that advice when I applied to Internet2, when Internet2 sent me to my first NANOG, when I became a NANOG Program Committee member, and when I decided to apply for the ARIN Fellowship. 

The idea of taking on a role in a large organization may scare you, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be great at it and learn a lot. So take a deep breath and apply!

What’s Next?

The experience of being a fellow has left me looking forward to continuing to engage with the ARIN community. I plan to attend the fall ARIN 54 meeting after NANOG 92 in Toronto. Having the ARIN meeting immediately after NANOG is really convenient as it allows for consolidation of travel! The ARIN 55 meeting is in my hometown of Charlotte, a convenient train ride from my house in central North Carolina, and then ARIN 56 will be co-located with NANOG 95 in Arlington, Texas, which I will also be attending. Let’s hope they don’t get tired of me by then!