Graduate Student Research Themes

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

Please note: we are no longer accepting applications for this opportunity.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) seeks proposals for independent synthesis research by graduate student teams focused on two broad Themes:

  1. Cities in Sustainable Resource Management
  2. Surprise in Human Adaptation to Environmental Change

Under each of the two Themes, several graduate student teams will lead independent synthesis research projects (“Pursuits”) at our center in Annapolis, MD. Each research team should produce final products that may include joint publications, conference presentations, and/or other scholarly output.

These graduate student Themes were defined as a result of the SESYNC Graduate Scholars Program. For more information on SESYNC’s Thematic structure and links to funded Pursuits, visit www.sesync.org/opportunities/programs/themes.

Graduate Student Pursuits

  • Duration: 12–18 months maximum with 2–3 in-person meetings at SESYNC
    • One additional meeting of Pursuit team leaders
    • One additional meeting of all graduate student Pursuit teams and all traditional Pursuit teams in spring 2014
  • Group size: 5–7 students (including two Pursuit team leads)
  • Number of Pursuits per Theme: 2–3
  • SESYNC funds: Travel, accommodations, costs associated with academic products in accordance with our travel policies

Graduate Student Theme #1: Cities in Sustainable Resource Management

Urban environments are home to 50% of our global population. Although they do not cover large amounts of land, decisions, design, and organization within cities have impacts that reach far beyond their physical limits. Human decision-making and management at the city scale can affect local, regional, and global sustainability problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss, water management, and food provisioning. Additionally, natural and social phenomenon originating outside cities can influence urban environments in unique ways. For example, human and ecological responses to natural disasters, resource use, human migration, and economic development require special consideration in urban environments. Exploring these insights will enhance our understanding of emerging urban properties and scale mismatches.

We invite proposals that seek to better understand resource use and management within the physical and social contexts of contemporary cities. Within this context, research teams could incorporate, but are not limited to, issues regarding governance of various sectors or different scales; community-based use and management of natural resources; location-specific landscape ecology and urban ecology; urban social and ecological resiliency; urban ecology and cultural systems; and civil engineering surrounding current or future citywide plans. We request data-focused synthesis approaches, rather than synthesis projects intended to integrate knowledge, literature, or develop new theoretical frames.

Below, we provide examples of questions that could be addressed. These examples are meant only to illustrate the diversity of potential topics related to the link between cities, human decision-making, and sustainable resources management rather than the full extent of relevant topics.

  • Given rapid urbanization, what are potential paths forward towards natural resource sustainability, and are these paths scale-dependent? Additionally, how can the well-being of dense urban human populations be enhanced without environmental degradation amidst climate change and shifting access to natural resources?
  • Under what conditions could rapid population growth, maintenance of native biodiversity, and urban agriculture co-exist? What tradeoffs and/or changes in human behavior or decision-making might be required?
  • How can human decision-making processes be used to increase the resiliency of urban natural resources, based on local impacts of global environmental stresses?
  • How can formal and informal institutions, political coalitions, and social movements mediate environmental impacts across interdependent ecosystems and political jurisdictions?
  • How do preexisting and novel sites of urban ecology influence social and cultural norms for urban populations?
  • How does urban natural resource use and environmental planning influence demographic composition within cities? Additionally, how does use of and access to natural resources in cities vary between different metropolitan populations?

Graduate Student Theme #2: Surprise in Human Adaptation to Environmental Change

Humans are constantly adapting to environmental change. These adaptations may be changes in governance approaches, social structures, and ecological systems, playing out on a variety of spatial and temporal scales. The results of adaptation activities can often lead to unexpected outcomes in both social and ecological systems, resulting in unforeseen elements of surprise. Surprises (breaks in trajectories) can be positive or negative, and involve anything current management systems are not prepared to deal with. Surprises may include, but are not limited to, rapid changes in ecosystem resilience or livelihood shifts; emergence of new natural resources or natural resource uses; disease outbreak; social unrest and social movement emergence; new cultural landscapes; and shifts in traditional cultural and political systems. These unexpected results from human adaptation raise challenges and new opportunities for science and policy that often require timely responses.

We invite proposals from social and environmental scientists that can effectively synthesize research on the unexpected impacts of human adaptation to environmental change. Multi-disciplinary groups whose work synthesizes social and environmental science are invited to apply, as are single-discipline groups or individuals whose work could contribute to future socio-environmental synthesis. All proposals should have implications for better anticipating unexpected outcomes of human adaptation to environmental change. We request data-focused synthesis approaches, rather than synthesis projects intended to integrate knowledge, literature, or the development of new theoretical frames.

Below, we provide examples of questions that could be addressed. These examples are meant only to illustrate the diversity of potential topics related to the link between human adaptation, environmental change and surprise rather than the full extent of relevant topics.

  • How do human responses to sea-level rise and ocean acidification result in unexpected shifts in marine biodiversity, provisions of ecological services, fisheries management, and fisheries-dependent communities?
  • How do natural resource conservation initiatives impact traditional economic, social, and political systems of communities surrounding the newly protected resources or areas?
  • What are the collateral impacts of assisted migration (e.g., translocation of tree species) on local ecosystems, natural resource management, and human livelihoods?
  • How do human responses to natural disasters (such as emigration, intensified natural resource use, and reconstruction) influence the resiliency of impacted-area species and ecosystems?
  • How can governance systems and decision-making processes be designed to enable timely responses to socio-environmental surprises?