NatureNet Science Fellows: How to Apply

Seeking Innovators for Nature and Development

The call for applications for the 2017 NatureNet Science Fellows will be released on September 15th, 2016 with revised themes and listed partner universities.

The Nature Conservancy is pleased to solicit applications for the NatureNet Science Fellows program, a trans-disciplinary postdoctoral fellowship program aimed at bridging academic excellence and conservation practice to confront climate change.

The NatureNet Science Fellows Program

The Nature Conservancy recognizes climate change as the single greatest threat to our mission, and to humanity. Never before has there been an issue that so tightly integrates the health of the planet with the economy, food production, clean, reliable water, health, and equality. The NatureNet Science Fellows program seeks to bring leading early career scientists and engineers from diverse fields into the realm of problem solving at the interface of climate change, technology, and conservation.

This program drives research to tackle the two overarching challenges of climate change: 1) Halting climate change and 2) Adapting to the change that is already underway.

Theme 1: Halting Climate Change

The majority of projected climate change impacts can be avoided, if we act quickly and aggressively towards a low-carbon energy system. Getting there will require major new advances in the science and engineering behind energy technology -- from storage, improved efficiency, and transmission, to new source development--and in how we deploy all energy sources--from encouraging major energy source shifts to siting and operating new infrastructure with minimal environmental impact. Fellows may tackle these challenges from the fields of physics, chemistry, landscape planning, electrical engineering, biology, nanotechnology, political science, meteorology, waste management, computer science, energy technology, geography, or transport engineering and may address issues like:

  • Identifying priority areas for new renewable energy development that maximize production and minimize environmental impact
  • Discovering and deploying new low carbon energy sources with minimal environmental impact
  • Identifying the full suite of environmental, social and economic risks of new energy technologies, carbon capture technologies, or even geoengineering
  • Analyzing policy or market options to encourage a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy
Theme 2: Adapting to Climate Change

Climate change is already happening, and current levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere have already locked the planet into significant climate disruption. The NatureNet program supports research that will identify new means for reducing these impacts and improving the ability of both nature and people to adapt. Relevant challenges will be addressed by fellows from fields as wide ranging as coral biology, agricultural technology, political economics, coastal geomorphology, ecology, forestry, water and sanitation health, climatology, environmental toxicology, agronomy, irrigation engineering, animal husbandry, fisheries, or coastal engineering, and may include:

  • Protecting coastal habitats, urban areas and vulnerable communities from sea level rise
  • Predicting and responding to extreme events to reduce impacts and ensure disaster response does not further damage vulnerable ecosystems and people
  • Managing forests as carbon sinks, migratory corridors and water filters to lessen species loss and water supply impacts
  • Designing and incentivizing climate-smart agriculture, with lower fertilizer and water needs, higher drought and flood tolerance, and lower environmental impacts
  • Establishing networks of corridors and reserves that will be resilient to climate disruption
  • Consideration of assisted migration and enhanced evolution to facilitate resilience

Through this ground-breaking research, the program will create a network of fellows, university scientists, engineers and conservation scientists that increases the rigor and breadth of thought applied to the issue of climate change, and ensures that breakthroughs will reach well beyond the network to create impact.

Connecting Academia and Practice

Fellows will work with a Nature Conservancy mentor and a hosting senior scholar (or scholars) from one of the NatureNet partner universities to develop a research program. The joint mentorship model is unique, and additional training is provided in science communication and cross-disciplinary collaboration. Fellows spend up to two weeks each year in science communications training and intensive collaboration and problem-solving opportunities.

We envision the science leaders emerging from this program taking on top positions in tech innovation, academic research, conservation practice, government positions or any number of other influential conservation-relevant posts around the world. 

The program is run in partnership with a diversity of universities that represent traditional and non-traditional disciplines relevant to conservation science. Applicants must identify one university as their home institution, but are encouraged to suggest collaborations with additional universities and institutions if those collaborations will greatly enhance the research.  Applicants are also encouraged to identify a potential university mentor (not necessarily restricted to the list provided).  This year’s participating universities are:

Columbia University: The Earth Institute provides a focal point for interdisciplinary collaborations that involve natural sciences, engineering and social sciences through 28 research centers and programs. In particular, faculty at Columbia provide research opportunities in climate change, sustainable agriculture, and energy technology and conservation through the Earth Institute's Agriculture and Food Security Center, Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy and the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology.

Cornell University: Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future connects groups of faculty to collaboratively tackle problems related to energy, the environment, and economic development as interdependent and interconnected. The science and engineering needed to develop clean technologies cannot be separated from the ecological study of Earth's integrated human and natural systems or from the social science of human behavior and well-being.

University of California – Los Angeles: The Institute of Environment and Sustainability has over 70 faculty over eight research centers and is focused on climate, water, energy, air quality, urban sustainability, and conservation. Postdoctoral fellows are expected to have two UCLA advisors, each representing a different field– the point of this is to insist upon transdisciplinary research.  The fields can be drawn from natural sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, business, engineering, public health and humanities.

University of Pennsylvania: The University of Pennsylvania has an integrated program in energy research (VIPER), a Biology Department with several faculty members interested in conservation, and a strong sustainability program hosted through the Wharton School of Business. In addition, Penn’s Materials Science and Chemistry programs offer research opportunities in “green chemistry.”

Fellows are encouraged to identify a mentor at The Nature Conservancy, although not required.

Eligibility and Award Terms

The Conservancy expects fellow appointments to start between July 1 and September 1. Eligible individuals will have completed their doctorate within the past five years. Applicants who have not yet completed their doctorate must clearly indicate on the application the date the degree is expected. 

Each fellow will receive a non-negotiable annual salary of $50,000 plus benefits, with the postdoctoral position expected to run for two consecutive years. In addition to the stipend, each fellow receives an annual travel budget of approximately $5,000 and an annual research fund of approximately $20,000. 

Second-year renewal of the fellowship is contingent upon satisfactory progress and contribution to the collective program. 

Application Materials

Applications must be submitted by October 31 to Dr. Katie Dietrich at In the subject line of the e-mail place your last name and the host university. Submit the following materials: 

  1. Cover letter and research proposal (2 pages). Applicants should describe experience and suitability for the program through a brief research proposal. Unlike a standard cover letter, this proposal should highlight a research question of interest, the research approach and methods, the scientific significance, and significance to The Nature Conservancy and action-oriented research. The proposal should illustrate the strengths of the applicant’s experience towards developing and implementing this research.
  2. Curriculum Vitae or resume.
  3. Letters of recommendation. Arrange to have three letters of reference submitted to with only your name in the subject line.

Accepted candidates will be notified by January 31. Funds are available for fellows to start on approximately July 1.

For further information about the NatureNet Science Fellows Program please contact Katie Dietrich, NatureNet Program Manager, at


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