Graduate Student Pursuit RFP

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Jul 30, 2014

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

Click here for application submission details.

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

The goal of this program is to engage graduate students and to offer experiential opportunities in team science, socio-environmental synthesis research, and transdisciplinary collaboration.

SESYNC will support up to three graduate student teams under each Theme. Teams will conduct an independent synthesis research project (“Pursuit”), which involves a series of face-to-face meetings at our Center in Annapolis, MD. Ideally, each project should bring together social and environmental data in novel ways to address critical socio-environmental research questions. Details on each of the Themes can be found here.

Graduate student Pursuits will last 12–18 months and involve up to three meetings of approximately three days each at our Center. Although the composition and number of participants in each Pursuit will depend upon the skills, expertise, backgrounds, and time necessary to complete the proposed activities, we anticipate that core teams will be composed of 5–7 PhD students. In addition to the PhD students, Pursuit teams may also recruit up to three "external experts" whose targeted experience can provide supplemental input on how synthesis products may yield actionable outcomes. If recruited, external experts will supplement the activities of the core team as needed, and may include, for example, policy professionals, decision makers, government analysts, academic faculty, postdocs, NGO workers, master’s students, undergraduate students, and members from end-user communities. These individuals will not be considered members of the core team, and will not attend all group meetings at SESYNC.

SESYNC will provide support for travel and accommodations for all team members to attend meetings at the Center in Annapolis. Additional resources and expertise—particularly in areas of data aggregation, computational science, and informatics—may be available through SESYNC. These needs should be identified in the project proposal.

In addition to meetings of the team, up to two Pursuit team leads are required to participate in two Theme-wide meetings (one prior to the start of the Pursuit, and one final meeting at its completion); therefore, team leads should plan on two additional trips to SESYNC.

National Science Foundation synthesis centers are not designed to fund the collection of original (raw) field data, but to fund the collation of information/data that already exists in a highly dispersed or currently unusable form, as well as the integration and analysis of different types of information/data, synthetically derived data products, model building, and other creative processes. There is no restriction on the geographic or temporal scale of inquiry. Applications that primarily focus on impacts on human physical or mental health will not be considered.

The synthesis science produced through Pursuits should be use-inspired and yield actionable outcomes. Use-inspired science is science that is salient and legitimate to decision-makers and is credible based on scientific rigor. Pursuit components fostering actionability may include team engagement with decision-makers and, where appropriate, the co-development of research questions and approaches with stakeholders. Actionability might also be achieved through the creation of products useful and relevant to policy, scientific, and/or end-user communities, such as peer-reviewed publications, policy recommendations, end-user tools, and public outreach efforts.

SESYNC created a Facebook group to foster collaboration amongst potential SESYNC Grad Student Pursuit applicants and to assist in the formation of teams. While applicants may use this Facebook group as a way to help form Pursuit teams, it is by no means required nor will it be used in the evaluation process. Potential applicants can share their own academic background, skills, and Pursuit ideas, and learn about those of others. This Facebook community is "closed," which means although anyone can see the group and who's in it, only members see posts. If you are interested in accessing this Facebook group, please email SESYNC's Graduate Research Assistant ( to request an invitation.

Application Submission Details

All proposals must be submitted via SESYNC’s online submission system. Please read below for further proposal guidelines and requirements.

Completed applications are due no later than 5:00 pm EST on July 30, 2014. For more information on SESYNC’s Thematic structure and links to funded Pursuits, visit

Graduate Student Pursuits: Overview

  • Duration: 12–18 months with up to 3 in-person meetings at SESYNC.
    • Two additional meetings for all Pursuit team leads: The first team lead meeting will be held the week of December 15, 2014.
  • Pursuit core team size: 5–7 PhD students (including up to two Pursuit team leads).
    • Core team members must be enrolled PhD students at the time of the Pursuit launch in Fall 2014.
    • External experts (optional): 1–3 allowed.
  • Number of Pursuits per Theme: 2–3.
  • SESYNC funds: Travel and accommodations in accordance with our travel policies.
  • Stipends: Upon Pursuit completion, each core team member will receive a $2,000.00 stipend.
  • Fellowships: Upon Pursuit completion, each core team member will receive the title of SESYNC Graduate Student Fellow.
  • Project report: Pursuit teams are expected to provide SESYNC with a short reflection report upon project completion.
    • Stipends will be dependent upon report submission.
  • Data sharing and use agreement: Upon completion of the first meeting at SESYNC, Pursuit teams are required to produce a signed agreement concerning team access to their own and/or others’ data.

Pursuit applications will be ranked with regard to their:

  • Suitability to the described Theme.
  • Focus on fundamental research questions.
  • Conceptual framework of how you think about the problem.
  • Novelty, creativity, and/or urgency of the proposed activities.
  • Potential to show independent scholarship that integrates the contributions of all core team members.
  • Feasibility to produce meaningful synthetic research, including identifying and showing ability to access appropriate data.
  • Potential to translate findings into actionable solutions: Qualifications, appropriate diversity of scientific backgrounds (disciplinary, methodologically), and experience of the proposed participants.
    • Pursuit team leads should demonstrate academic proficiency and establishment within their program. This may include having passed qualifying exams and/or dissertation proposal defenses, as well as receiving strong support for this program from faculty advisors.
  • Inclusion of diversity to broaden the participation of underrepresented groups with respect to gender, ethnicity, disability, and geographic location.
  • Explanation of why SESYNC is the most appropriate way to support the activity.

Funding decisions will be based on external peer review by an international panel.

Components of Pursuit Proposals

Include the following using single spacing, 12-pt font types, and 1-inch margins.

Cover sheet (1 page)

  • Name of Theme
  • Descriptive title of Pursuit
  • Short title of Pursuit (25 characters max)
  • Project summary (250 words) – appropriate for the public; to be posted on SESYNC’s website
  • Keywords (up to five keywords different from those used in the title)
  • Proposed project start and end dates

Main Body (4 pages maximum, including references)

  • Problem statement: A clear, concise statement of the goals of the proposed synthesis project, including:
    • An explanation of the social or environmental synthesis to be undertaken.
    • How the proposed synthesis research and/or project activities will contribute to and/or advance socio-environmental synthesis science or policy.
    • How the proposed synthesis relates to one of the Themes outlined in the RFP: Proposed projects should demonstrate a clear link to the Theme.
    • Conceptual framework for the study: Graphical and/or textual formats may be used to describe the synthesis approach and show how various components of the work are linked together to address the problem of interest.
  • Proposed activities: Brief description of the proposed activities, including a description of any modeling to be done, software development, education activity, and intended data with any permissions needed for their use.
    • Data access extends beyond identification of data sources to include a description of data accessibility, permissions, structure, format, and storage requirements. Proposals that do not provide detailed information on the data will not be reviewed. SESYNC supports socio-environmental synthesis research projects that aggregate, but do not collect, primary and secondary data.
    • Examples of acceptable data aggregation include: writing a script to scour the web for data; transcribing primary research; content analysis of policy briefs or records; analyzing governance structures and procedures; patching together raw data.
    • Examples of unacceptable data collection include: gathering new samples from the field; conducting new interviews; launching new questionnaires.
  • Metrics of success: Description of which metrics are the most appropriate for evaluating the success of the proposed project, including an explanation of products and how products will help each audience. Examples include:
    • Engagement and outreach to the policy or user communities.
    • Academic products through papers, presentations, or otherwise.
  • Suitability for SESYNC: Brief description of why the proposed synthesis activities are appropriate for funding by SESYNC as opposed to another funding program.

Potential Participants (2 pages maximum)

  • Core team: 5–7 PhD students on each team; must be enrolled graduate students at the time of Pursuit launch in Fall 2014.
    • Team leads: Up to two members of the core team. Include a separate statement indicating how each team lead has demonstrated academic proficiency and establishment within his/her program. Academic proficiency varies amongst disciplines and institutions, and may include having passed qualifying exams and/or dissertation proposal defenses.
  • External experts (optional): 1–3 individuals (ex: policy professionals, academic faculty, postdocs, and members of end–user communities). External experts will not receive a stipend.
    • Include a statement for each expert explaining his/her unique contribution to the team.
  • Table with the following column headers on team membership:
    • Last Name
    • First Name
    • Affiliation (include department)
    • Role on Team (Team lead and Core member, Core member, or External Expert)
    • Website Address
    • Primary Area of Expertise
    • Secondary Area of Expertise
    • Confirmed Team Member (Y/N)
    • Prior Collaboration with Applicants (Y/N)
    • Year in School
    • Number of Years into PhD Program
    • Predicted Years Remaining until Degree
    • All But Dissertation (ABD) (Y/N)
    • Advisor’s Name
  • Diversity statement: Include a paragraph describing the aspects of diversity in your participant list. Diversity is considered in all aspects: social and scientific, including gender, ethnicity, scientific field, disability status, career stage, geographic location, and type of home institution. We highly encourage teams that demonstrate diversity with respect to institutions and disciplines. Although not a disqualifying feature, the least desirable form of disciplinary diversity is within one’s own department or lab group.

Other Information (1 page)

  • If applicable, briefly describe any anticipated needs for cyberinfrastructure support, including: descriptions of data sets to be used during the project, new data sets or software/databases, high-performance computing, data aggregation or fusion, and/or types of visualization.
  • Work plan, including:
    • The number of trips per year to SESYNC broken down by number of U.S., domestic, and international participants, as well as days of local support.
    • Group interaction plan when not at SESYNC.
    • Timeline for work and products. Successful projects are expected to provide SESYNC documentation of progress after each team meeting.

Short CVs of the team leads (2 pages for each)

Faculty Advisor Letter

  • A letter of recommendation and support from each core team member’s faculty advisor should be sent directly to SESYNC separate from your application. In addition to offering their recommendation, advisors should include a written confirmation that their student will be able to participate throughout the duration of the Pursuit, and the activity will contribute to their student’s ongoing scholarship. As appropriate, the letter should also specifically address advisors' policies for their students' use of lab-generated and/or dissertation data in SESYNC Pursuits.
  • Letters of recommendation and support should be sent directly to from each core team member’s faculty advisor by 5:00 pm EST on July 30, 2014.

Click here to upload your proposal as a single PDF file using SESYNC’s online submission system.

Complete applications are due no later than 5:00 pm EST on July 30, 2014.

The University of Maryland is an Equal Opportunity Employer
Minorities and Women Are Encouraged to Apply

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