NatureNet Science Fellows: How to Apply

Seeking Innovators for Nature and Development

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 mitigate and adapt to 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
  • Developing economic mechanisms and ecological approaches for landscape modifications that capture carbon, such as large scale habitat restoration
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, spatial planning, 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 habitats 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. 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 29 research centers and programs. In particular, faculty at Columbia provide research opportunities in climate change adaptation and mitigation, earth systems science, sustainable agriculture, and energy technology and conservation through, for example, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Earth Institute's Agriculture and Food Security Center, Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI).

Cornell University: Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future engages interdisciplinary teams of faculty and researchers to address the challenges of sustainability spanning energy, the environment, and economic development. The Center engages with external non-academic organizations to apply research discoveries for real-world impact.

Stanford University: Stanford University has strong research in biogeochemistry and agriculture/food security, and ecosystem health and services with faculty in the Department of Biology and Department of Earth System Science and collaboration through the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. A NatureNet Fellow at Stanford University will emphasize soil biogeochemistry, nutrient cycling, ecosystem services, and/or the management of agricultural ecosystems. The Fellow will choose a mentor from one of four leading scholars: Scott Fendorf, Pamela Matson, Kabir Paey, and Peter Vitousek.

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 Minnesota: The Institute on the Environment (IonE), through engaged scholarship and innovative educational programming, leads the way toward a future in which people and the environment prosper together. IonE pursues solutions to the biggest challenges of the 21st century related to climate adaptation, energy, food production and land use, freshwater conservation, urban resilience, and more. A NatureNet fellow at IonE will address the ecological economics or the management of agricultural ecosystems to maximize carbon storage and/or clean water. Candidates can select relevant faculty mentors who are current institute Fellows or any UMN faculty who is interested to become engaged with the institute.

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.”

The University of Queensland – Brisbane: The Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science has ten faculty with interests in all aspects of biodiversity conservation. The group has particular interests in spatial and quantitative aspects of biodiversity conservation, including climate adaptation, spatial planning, single species conservation, ecosystem services including human health, the relationship between people and biodiversity, invasive species, protected area management, global biodiversity policy (including IPBES), managing food webs, optimal monitoring, conservation by design and decision science for conservation.

University of Virginia – Charlottesville: The University of Virginia has tremendous interest and energy across campus to form interdisciplinary teams to address complex resilience issues that require multiple perspectives. The Environmental Sciences department located in its College of Arts and Sciences has over forty faculty spread across four research groups offering instruction and conducting research in the areas of Ecology, Geosciences, Hydrology, and Atmospheric Sciences. UVA and TNC have a longstanding partnership on coastal resilience through the Virginia Coast Reserve Long Term Ecological Program. The Biology department has groups focusing on Ecology and Evolution, Plant Biology and also hosts the Mountain Lake Biological station. The Chemistry department hosts the Center for Catalytic Hydrocarbon Functionalization and the Center for Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Science which also focus on alternate energy technologies and environmentally friendly material processing. The Physics department has research groups in alternate energy across the areas of Nuclear Science, Thermoelecrtrics, and Photovoltaics. These units collaborate with each other as well as with faculty in Engineering, Medicine, Education, Public Policy, Architecture, Management, Humanities and the Social Sciences. Under formation is The Resilience Institute that draws on UVA's history and considerable strengths.

Fellows must identify a potential University partner mentor and potential mentor at The Nature Conservancy. A list of suggested mentors at each university and ways to identify a TNC mentor can be found here.

Eligibility and Award Terms

The Conservancy expects fellow appointments to start between May and September. Eligible individuals will have completed their doctorate within five years before the application close date in November. 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

The Call for Applications for 2018 NatureNet Science Fellows will begin in Fall of 2017.

The application requires the following components:

  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. Three letters of recommendation to be submitted through the online application system.

Accepted candidates for the 2017 cohort will be notified by February 28, 2017. Funds are available for fellows to start on approximately May 1, 2017.

For further information about the NatureNet Science Fellows Program please contact