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SESYNC
The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) brings together the science of the natural world with the science of human behavior and decision-making to find solutions to complex environmental problems. We convene science teams to work on broad issues of national and international relevance, such as water resources management, land management, agriculture, species protection, among other areas of study. By supporting interdisciplinary science teams and researchers with diverse skills, data, and perspectives, SESYNC seeks to lead in-depth research and scholarship that will inform decisions and accelerate scientific discovery. SESYNC is funded by an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation. Learn more about SESYNC.

SESYNC Career Opportunities

  
The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) is currently accepting applications for a variety of career opportunities, including those in science and policy and data science. Please see below for a full list of the job opportunities for which we are currently accepting applications:

 

Assistant Director of Science and Policy

Deadline: Sep 30, 2016

Working Together: Research and Water Governance on Mount Kenya

August 10, 2016

Working Together: Research and Water Governance on Mount Kenya as seen in National Geographic and on Vimeo  

Researchers meet with pastoralists in the Mount Kenya region. Photo by Matteo Dell'Angelo

By Kate Weiss, The National Socio–Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC)

Environmental social scientist Jampel Dell’Angelo and filmmaker Matteo Dell’Angelo recently co-directed a documentary film of Elinor Ostrom’s last research project. Working Togetherdocuments the challenges and successes of interdisciplinary research on smallholder climate adaptation and community water governance in semi-arid areas. The study found that involvement of all the river basin actors in a participatory way reduced social conflicts while providing more sustainable water allocation in the region. The film features water competition and governance in Kenya, which is a country that is innovative among developing countries for participatory water governance reforms.

A postdoctoral research fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), Jampel Dell’Angelo conducted over nine months of fieldwork on Mount Kenya as postdoctoral researcher at the Ostrom Workshop and coordinator of an interdisciplinary team on the U.S. National Science Foundation research project awarded to Elinor Ostrom. The film chronicles Elinor Ostrom’s last research project and can be found here: http://videos4water.org/.

The Dell’Angelo brothers worked on the project alongside an interdisciplinary science team that included social science researchers from Indiana University and hydrologists from Princeton University.

Jampel Dell’Angelo has a passion for science and scholarship that has the potential to inform decisions and improve public policies. He believes multimedia can provide a powerful and inspiring means for scientific storytelling to accomplish those goals. “It’s not often science makes an effort to communicate in a way that is entertaining and for larger audiences, and this documentary thanks to the involvement of my brother Matteo, makes that effort,” he says. “The film also documents the value of critical efforts to address emerging problems, such as the issues around climate change adaptation and water resources in Mt. Kenya, through real interdisciplinary research.”

Ostrom was the only woman in history to win a Nobel Prize in economics for her work on community natural resource management. Ostrom unfortunately passed away before her research team got to the field; but she was the principal investigator who received the grant from the National Science Foundation research featured in the video.http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/19578.html/

I had the opportunity to catch up with Jampel to discuss the documentary, the research conducted in Mt. Kenya, and the implications of this research.

In Working Together, Jampel Dell’Angelo and other researchers provide a glimpse into what happens when two teams of researchers combine efforts to gather important information on both human and natural systems. Here they learn about the water resource needs of villages and pastoralists in the Mount Kenya region. Photo by Matteo Dell’Angelo.

In Working Together, Jampel Dell’Angelo and other researchers provide a glimpse into what happens when two teams of researchers combine efforts to gather important information on both human and natural systems. Here they learn about the water resource needs of villages and pastoralists in the Mount Kenya region. Photo by Matteo Dell’Angelo.

Q: In Working Together, you provide a glimpse into what happens when two teams of researchers work together to gather important information on both human and natural systems. With so much happening on the research end, how did you begin filming this as a research narrative?

Dell’Angelo: It began both as a desire to keep Elinor Ostrom’s legacy alive as well as a response to how, when I first arrived in Kenya, I was immediately touched with how much people were affected by and involved in managing water at a local level and how this really affected their lives. And all of this was happening in a scenery that was incredible and that had enormous ecological, cultural, and social variety. It was evident that this research was incredibly interdisciplinary and needed to account for an enormous amount of complexity. So, I thought, “Well, this is something that should be documented.”

Q: What were the main findings of the research?

Dell’Angelo: I think that one of the most interesting things we observed was that this system of community-water governance has a real impact on people and on how resources are allocated. We were working with 25 communities along five different river basins that had experienced increasingly elevated conflicts over water resources. This was really because the downstream users didn’t have a voice to articulate their discontent and frustration when they felt the up-stream users were withdrawing too much water. The transition over to a community-based water governance drastically reduced the level of conflicts between different users.

In terms of the main bio-physical findings, we found that, with climate change, what’s happening in the area isn’t that there’s less rainfall, but that the distribution of rain is changing. This is important, because there is a big difference between the same amount of rain falling in one month versus in six months. This has significant implications in terms of agricultural production and agricultural decision making. This raises questions of how people will adapt to these various changes in the future.

Q: Why is it important for both researchers and decision-makers to understand the human dynamics and climate impacts of Mt. Kenya’s water governance?

Dell’Angelo: Kenya is a little bit of a laboratory in terms of community irrigation schemes and community water management—they are pioneers in this new system of community water governance that’s also hugely affected by climate change, so they are on the front-line of new systems of governance in the face of climate change. Understanding what is happening in this area is hugely important in terms of generalizing knowledge for other areas in developing countries that face similar challenges.

Q: What do you want people to take away from this video?

Dell’Angelo: I hope people take away from this documentary a better understanding of the complexity and importance of interdisciplinary research when combined with local people and local knowledge. I think it is both a valuable resource for those interested in natural resources, sustainability, and development as well as for those who might be facing similar problems in their own communities. I hope this can be an educational and practical tool as well as an insight into a reality that many communities across the world face.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating data-driven scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at www.sesync.org and follow us on Twitter @SESYNC.

Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 

I2Insights: Ten Communication Tips for Translational Scientists

July 19, 2016

Sunshine Menezes, member of SESYNC's Translational Ecology pursuit team.

Ten communication tips for translational scientists

By Sunshine Menezes

This blog post originally appeared in the Integration and Implementation Insights blog (http://I2Insights.org) as “TEN COMMUNICATION TIPS FOR TRANSLATIONAL SCIENTISTS," and is reposted with the author’s permission.

 

As someone who works with scientists, journalists, advocates, regulators, and other types of communication practitioners, I see the need for translational scientists who can navigate productive, start-to-finish collaborations between such groups on a daily basis.

This translation involves the use of new, more integrated approaches toward scientific work to confront wicked environmental problems society faces.

In spite of this need, cross-boundary communication poses a major stumbling block for many researchers. Science communication requires engagement with potential beneficiaries, not just a one-way transfer of information.

Effective communication is a key component of translational science, requiring both theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

To that end, I offer ten tips for translational scientists seeking more effective communication:

1.) Stop referring to the “general public”

There is no such thing. Each of us brings a different suite of experiences, biases, and values to how we view the world. A translational scientist must recognize this, and respect that these diverse perspectives occur among the beneficiaries, stakeholders, and other scientists with whom she collaborates.

2. ) Start a conversation

Academics are very good at talking to one another, but listening is a critical aspect of integrative, cross-boundary thinking. Good listeners can help others open up, providing new information for the discussion and building trust along the way.

3.) Accept that trust only goes so far

In spite of the previous point, it is possible that you might not be the optimal translator for a given interaction. Depending on a person’s background and values, he or she is likely to trust some people more than others. While your Ph.D. might open doors to a new academic collaborator, it could close the door to a person who entered the workforce after graduating high school. Or not. It is important to consider these biases and include team members who can build a rapport with all the necessary stakeholders.

4.) Remember your – or your friend’s – love for Lego

I was forever changed by my interaction with a sculptor who said she learned how to understand the world by playing with Lego. She meant that some of us learn by reading, some by looking at two-dimensional images, and others by experiencing three-dimensional representations. These different learning styles cannot be undervalued when attempting to collaborate across disciplines and boundaries.

5.) Feel all the feelings

Scientists are trained to view their work objectively, and to present themselves as impartial observers. But remember that your humanity, your expression of emotion, can sometimes strengthen collaborations, especially with stakeholders who exist outside of the ivory tower.

6.) Embrace change

Let’s face it: wicked problems are constantly evolving. A translational scientist must adapt and be willing to move past approaches that no longer suit the problem.

7.) Recognize differential power dynamics

Many levels of power dynamics are at play when investigating/resolving complex environmental challenges. Identify these dynamics and address them in your interactions.

8.) Explain uncertainties

Researchers accept scientific uncertainty and work within its constraints, but those outside of the scientific community view uncertainty as a weakness, at best, or ineptitude, at worst. You can bridge this gap by noting consensus where it exists, describing the uncertainties associated with your research, and explaining how scientific uncertainty does not necessarily preclude policy action.

9.) Practice your writing skills

Academics tend to undervalue brevity. Be an example to your colleagues and collaborators by practicing this skill. Make time for regular writing and seek feedback.

10.) Become a negotiator

In the political sphere, compromise is often viewed negatively. But when it comes to solving complex environmental problems, compromise is unavoidable. By honing negotiation skills, you can foster discussions, and possibly solutions, that might otherwise be out of reach.

 

What would you add to the list? Are you teaching these skills in your graduate courses? I look forward to hearing your thoughts about how to better incorporate these skills and related knowledge in graduate education.

 

Biography: Sunshine Menezes is executive director of the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography (URI GSO) and associate director for communication in the URI GSO Office of Marine Programs. She also co-leads the Engagement Team for the Deep Carbon Observatory, a global community of multi-disciplinary scientists unlocking the inner secrets of Earth through investigations into life, energy, and the fundamentally unique chemistry of carbon. Prior to focusing her communication efforts on improving news coverage of the environment, she developed national and state-level environmental policy, first as a Dean John Knauss National Sea Grant Marine Policy Fellow with Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. and later as part of a multidisciplinary team at the URI Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant. She is a member of the Translational Ecology pursuit, funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

 

SESYNC Welcomes Summer 2016 Interns!

June 10, 2016

SESYNC Associate Director of Education, Dr. Cindy Wei, University of Maryland graduate student, Alec Armstrong, and the SESYNC 2016 summer interns! Intern Angelica Li not pictured.

by HANNAH GRIMES

Communications Intern

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) proudly welcomes undergraduates from University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) and Coppin State University (CSU) to our 2016 summer internship program!

Starting June 6, 18 dynamic undergraduate students joined the SESYNC team for a summer of experimental learning and valuable professional experience. Interns will be challenged to use critical thinking and problem solving skills in order to address both social and environmental issues presented to them in their work.

Each intern is paired with a mentor, either on UMD’s College Park campus, in SESYNC’s Annapolis center, or at CSU.  These interns represent a diverse group of undergraduates, with varying backgrounds and research interests.  Interns will assist their mentor in data collection, management, compilation, and more. Once a week, all the interns will convene at SESYNC to share and reflect on their experiences, and to participate in activities on topics from data synthesis to science communication.

Check out our diverse group of summer 2016 interns and their mentors!

 

Adrienne Beerman

  • Major: Biological Sciences
  • Mentor: Kelly Hamby 
  • University: UMD

Aisha Ward

  • Major: Biology and Life Sciences
  • Mentor: Mintesinot Jiru
  • University: CSU

Angelica Li

  • Major: Environmental Science and Policy: Environmental Politics and Policy
  • Mentor: Melissa Kenney
  • University: UMD

Beatrice O'Connor

  • Major: Government and Politics
  • Mentors: Ariana Sutton-Grier and Melissa Kenney
  • University: UMD

Belton DeLaine-Facey

  • Major: Biological Sciences: Ecology and Evolution
  • Mentor: Cerruti RR Hooks
  • University: UMD

Ben Swartz

  • Major: Biological Sciences: Ecology and Evolution
  • Mentor: Kate Tully
  • University: UMD

Brije Smith

  • Major: Biology and Life Sciences
  • Mentor: Mintesinot Jiru
  • University: CSU

Christodia Forsen

  • Major: Political Science
  • Mentor: Mintesinot Jiru
  • University: CSU

Coline Bodenreider

  • Major: Environmental Science and Policy
  • Mentor: Alba Torrents
  • University: UMD

Devin Simmons

  • Major: Geology
  • Mentor: Daniel Engelberg
  • University: UMD

Heather Levine

  • Major: Engineering: Mechanical Engineering
  • Mentor: Evan Ellicott
  • University: UMD

Jake Shapiro

  • Major: Government and Politics\
  • Mentor: Julie A. Silva
  • University: UMD

Jessica Ho

  • Major: Biological Sciences:General Biology
    • Minor: Sustainability Studies
  • Mentor: Karen R. Lips
  • University: UMD

Natalia Jaffee

  • Major: Environmental Science and Policy: Environmental Economics
  • Mentor: Michael Gerst
  • University: UMD

Noah Maghsadi

  • Major: Anthropology
    • Minor: International Development and Conflict Resolution
  • Mentor: Lea Johnson
  • University: UMD

Ryan Bolt

  • Major: Atmospheric and Oceanic Science
    • Minor: Geographic Information Systems
  • Mentor: Joe Maher
  • University: UMD

Tonle Bloomer

  • Major: Engineering: Bioengineering
  • Mentor: Cerruti RR Hooks
  • University: UMD

Virginia Hagerott

  • Major: Environmental Science and Policy: Environmental Politics and Policy
    • Minor: Spanish Language and Cultures
  • Mentor: Elizabeth F. Daut
  • University: UMD

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating data-driven scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at www.sesync.org and follow us on Twitter @SESYNC.

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Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 

SESYNC Welcomes Ian Carroll

May 31, 2016

Ian Carroll, SESYNC's new Data Science Instructor

Ian Carroll, SESYNC's new Data Science Instructor

by HANNAH GRIMES

Communications Intern

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) is pleased to welcome Dr. Ian Carroll, as our new Data Science Instructor. 

The position of Data Science Instructor entails teaching workshops on cyberinfrastructure and its utilization. “I am most excited for the live teaching. It’s exciting; you get immediate feedback on how well you are doing,” said Carroll, who thinks his days teaching in front of groups will be his real pay-off days. 

Carroll comes to SESYNC from Georgetown University, where he developed web-scraping tools as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Bansal Lab. Carroll received his Ph.D. in theoretical ecology from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2012.

Carroll was drawn to SESYNC by the “…diverse opportunities to be engaged with the environmental academic community in a way different than just being involved directly in research.” Carroll looks forward to lending a unique perspective to working groups at SESYNC, as he believes his background in ecology will help connect gaps between ecologists and data scientists. Carroll joins Philippe Marchand, also a SESYNC Data Scientist, in helping the Center's supported researchers overcome the computational and methodological challenges they face.

A native Marylander, Carroll enjoys sailing and cooking in his free time. His specialty? Homemade cherry pies, with cherries picked from his wife’s family farm in New York.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating data-driven scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at www.sesync.org and follow us on Twitter @SESYNC.

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Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 

SESYNC Releases R Package for Working with PostGIS

May 4, 2016

by PHILIPPE MARCHAND

Data Scientist

From geotagged social media posts to satellite-based remote sensors, the variety and volume of geodatasets – data items associated with specific spatial coordinates or areas – are rapidly growing, as is their use in socio-environmental systems research. Today, free and open source spatial analysis software offer a level of functionality and efficiency matching that of proprietary Geographical Information Systems (GIS). At SESYNC, we provide tools for and training on how to use the R programming language for spatial data analysis and visualization, and also host a PostGIS server to store larger geodatabases. PostGIS is the spatial extension to the popular open source database system, PostgreSQL. A typical workflow integrating both resources might involve importing a subset of the geodata from PostGIS into R, performing some analysis, and possibly re-exporting the output to the database.

A data table containing both geometries (spatial points, lines or polygons) and hstores (sets of key-value pairs) – Diagram made by Kelly Hondula, SESYNC

Above graphic: A data table containing both geometries (spatial points, lines or polygons) and hstores (sets of key-value pairs) – Diagram courtesy of Kelly Hondula, SESYNC

To simplify data transfer between PostGIS and R, we developed a set of functions that was recently released as a R package on CRAN. These functions automate the conversion between the PostGIS “geometry” data type and the standard spatial data types in R; they can also read and write data in the PostgreSQL “hstore” format, a flexible data type where each table cell can contain multiple named attributes. Example use cases can be found in the accompanying vignette/tutorial.

We plan to update these tools based on user needs, and thus welcome any feedback on current features or potential new features that would be of interest. For more details or to open an issue concerning the software package, please visit our Github site.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating data-driven scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at www.sesync.org and follow us on Twitter @SESYNC.

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