May 2017 RFP: S-E Synthesis Research for Graduate Students

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May 26, 2017

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) located in Annapolis, Maryland seeks proposals from highly qualified graduate students interested in conducting team based, socio-environmental synthesis research under the following eight Themes:

The goal of SESYNC’s Graduate Student Program is to support graduate students as emerging scholars in the growing field of collaborative, socio-environmental synthesis research. As such, SESYNC offers opportunities for graduate students to form diverse, interdisciplinary research teams (“Graduate Pursuits”) in order to investigate critical and innovative socio-environmental issues using existing data and information. 

Team Composition

Although the composition and number of participants in each Pursuit will vary based on the skills, expertise, backgrounds, and time necessary to complete the proposed activities, core teams should be composed of 5–7 PhD students. All graduate participants must have completed at least two semesters of their PhD program by May 2017, preference given to those who have passed their qualifying exams. In all cases, participants must plan to remain in their PhD programs until May 2019. Two team members will act as leaders of the team and will take on additional responsibilities, including facilitating team interactions and designing team meetings, acting as the team’s main points of contact, and attending additional leaders-only meetings at SESYNC. 

Graduate Pursuit teams are also encouraged to recruit up to two external experts whose targeted experience can act as topical or methodological supplements and provide input on the design, implementation, and use of synthesis projects and products. External experts may include policy professionals, decision-makers, government analysts, academic faculty, postdocs, NGO workers, and members from end-user communities. External experts will not be considered members of the team and will not attend group meetings at SESYNC.

Team Formation 

In prior years, teams are often formed during SESYNC’s annual Graduate Student Workshop, but have also taken shape through conference and meeting contacts, listserv postings, Google searches, etc. SESYNC also has a Facebook group as another optional way to facilitate team formation amongst potential participants. This year, SESYNC will also host an informational online webinar for the Graduate Pursuits on Friday, March 17 and again on Friday, March 24 from 1:30-3:30pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). As an informal platform to expand networks and facilitate collaboration opportunities in real time, the webinar will serve as an additional way to encourage team formation and idea generation. 

Support Details 

Graduate Pursuits will last for a period of approximately 18 months and will center around 3–4 meetings of approximately 3-4 days each. All Graduate Pursuit meetings will be held at SESYNC’s facilities in Annapolis, MD. In addition to attending all full team meetings, team leaders will be required to participate in two additional meetings at SESYNC for leadership and team facilitation training. 
In accordance with SESYNC’s Travel Policies, support for the Graduate Pursuits includes all travel, lodging, and meal costs incurred by team members during in-person meetings. SESYNC’s support also includes additional resources and expertise, particularly in areas of data aggregation, computational science, and cyber infrastructure. SESYNC has significant modeling, data analysis, and database management expertise to guide and support teams that need assistance with technical aspects of data mining, processing, integration, analysis, visualization, and/or modeling. Opportunities for training in computational tools and approaches will also be available over the course of Graduate Pursuits. 
Upon completion of Graduate Pursuits and pending satisfactory participation (including the additional meetings for team leaders) and successful submission of requested materials and reports to SESYNC staff, each team member will receive a $2,000 stipend and the title SESYNC Graduate Student Fellow.

Proposal Criteria

Each Pursuit should bring together social and environmental data in innovative ways to meaningfully address critical research questions and thematically appropriate topics. Proposals must fall under one of eight themes listed in this RFP to be considered. Each proposal will undergo a formal review. Pursuit applications will be ranked with regard to:

  • Suitability to the described Theme and level of appropriateness for SESYNC.
  • Focus on fundamental research questions.
  • Conceptual framework of how you think about the problem.
  • Novelty, creativity, and/or urgency of the proposed activities.
  • Integration of team members' contributions and feasibility of synthetic research.
  • Demonstrated access to appropriate and existing data.
  • Potential to translate findings into actionable solutions for scientific, policy, public, and/or end-user communities.
  • Proposed participants' qualifications and academic proficiency.
  • Appropriate levels of team diversity. 
  • Explanation of why SESYNC is the most appropriate way to support the activity.

As a National Science Foundation synthesis center, SESYNC is NOT designed to fund the collection of original quantitative or qualitative data. Rather, SESYNC supports the collation of existing data to facilitate the integration of social, natural, and computational sciences. Applications that primarily focus on impacts concerning human physical or mental health will not be considered.

Submission Instructions

All proposals must be submitted via SESYNC’s online submission system. Please read below for further application guidelines and requirements. Completed applications are due no later than May 26, 2017, at 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).

What to Include

SESYNC applications are composed of four parts.

The following three parts should be submitted via SESYNC's online submission system:

  1. An online webform,
  2. A proposal in a single PDF, which should be uploaded to the online webform, and
  3. A downloadable Excel spreadsheet of potential participants, which should be completed and then uploaded to the online webform. 

Lastly, a letter of recommendation and support from each core team member’s faculty advisor should be sent directly to no later than May 26, 2017 at 5:00pm EDT. More information can be found below. 

Proposal Requirements

Include the following in your uploaded PDF using single spacing, 12-pt type fonts, and 1-inch margins.

Cover sheet (1 page)

  • Theme to which your Pursuit is responding
  • 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)
  • Potential conflicts of interest with members of the SESYNC External Advisory BoardLeadership Team, Researchers, or Fellows

Main body (5 pages max, including references)

  • Problem statement: Clear and concise statement of the proposed project and its key questions and hypotheses; descriptions of how the project relates to the theme and the mission of SESYNC; explanation of the project’s novel contributions to fundamental science and/or actionable outcomes.
  • Conceptual framework: Theoretical or conceptual framing to show how the questions, synthesis approach, and various other project components link together to address the problem of interest.
  • Proposed activities: Brief description of the proposed synthesis activities and why they are appropriate for funding by SESYNC as opposed to another funding program, such as NSF's core programs.
  • Data: Description of the proposed synthesis activities and the existing sources of data to be incorporated. SESYNC supports socio-environmental synthesis research projects that aggregate and integrate, but do not collect, primary and secondary data.
  • Metrics of success: Description of appropriate metrics to validate or evaluate project results and explanation of how products will contribute to or benefit diverse stakeholder groups (e.g., papers, policy-directed efforts, databases, models, development of new resources, etc.). If successful, who are the non-peer audiences that would most likely use the knowledge or tools developed?

Data Description (1 page)

  • Name and describe identified data sources to be used, including data accessibility, permissions, structure, year collected, and storage requirements. If appropriate, include the listed data in a table format as part of the one-page description. Proposals that do not provide detailed information on data will not be reviewed.

Diversity & external expert statements (1 page)

  • Describe the aspects of diversity in your team participant list. Diversity is considered in terms of scientific background (discipline, institution, methodological training), experience, stage of PhD, gender, ethnicity, disability, location, etc.
  • Fundable teams should not include more than two members from a single department, lab group, academic institution, etc.
  • If external experts are included in your participant list, please include a statement for each optional external expert that explains his/her unique value and expected contribution to the team. External experts are optional, but if selected, teams can have up to two individuals such as policy professionals, academic faculty, postdocs, and members of end user communities.

Other information and team work plan (2 pages max)

  • 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:
    • Indicate proposed start and end dates and a timeline for team meetings at SESYNC, broken down by number of domestic and international participants;
    • Highlight proposed timeline for expected project outcomes and products (teams are expected to start in late fall/early winter 2017); and 
    • Describe a group interaction and communication plan when not at SESYNC.

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

Include ONLY the CVs of the team leads. Do not include talks, society memberships, or papers in preparation.

Potential Participants

Download the Excel spreadsheet provided and complete the template using the column headers included for all participants. This should be uploaded separately from your proposal PDF to the online webform.

Faculty Advisor Letter

A letter of recommendation and support from each core team member’s faculty advisor should be sent directly to SESYNC, separately 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 that 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 no later than May 26, 2017, at 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). 


Click here apply for a Graduate Student Pursuit using SESYNC’s online submission system. Complete applications are due no later than May 26, 2017, at 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT)


We encourage those interested in applying to discuss project ideas with SESYNC representatives no later than 3 weeks prior to submitting. Such discussions can help determine how appropriate an idea is, help guide the synthesis design and activities, and increase the likelihood of success and achievement of desired interdisciplinary outcomes. For any questions about the Graduate Pursuits or to schedule a conversation about your proposed idea, please email SESYNC’s Graduate Student Program Coordinator, Dr. Nicole Motzer, at

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

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