Socio-Environmental Immersion Postdoctoral Fellowship Program 2019

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Nov 30, 2018


Please note: late applications will not be accepted.

Pre-screening application deadline: October 24, 2018, 5 p.m. Eastern Time (ET).

Collaborating Mentor application deadline for Mentor Registry: October 24, 2018, 5 p.m. ET. Please note: Interested mentors should submit an application as soon as possible to allow enough time to co-develop a project for the Fellowship application. Applications for the Mentor Registry are approved on a rolling basis.

Collaborating Mentor selection and commitment deadline: November 14, 2018, 5 p.m. ET. We strongly encourage the selection of a Collaborating Mentor via the Mentor Registry or applicant-recruited by this date; no official communication of the decision to collaborate on the proposal to SESYNC is needed.

Final application deadline: November 30, 2018, 5 p.m. ET. Please note: The link for uploading applications will be provided via email to successfully prescreened applicants. 

If invited, candidates must be available for Skype interviews February 21-22, 2019, and for in-person interviews March 25-26, 2019. Applicants selected for Skype interviews are typically notified during the second week of February.

Program Overview

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), located in Annapolis, Maryland, invites applications from early career scholars (≤ 4 years post PhD) for two-year postdoctoral fellowships that begin August 2019. Each Fellow works with a Collaborating Mentor of their choosing that extends the Fellow’s current network of collaborators; the mentor may be affiliated with any organization or institution. Fellows are in residence at SESYNC full time but are provided travel funds to interact with their mentor and attend conferences. 

Successful candidates will use synthesis methods to address a problem arising from, or associated with, the relationship between humans and nature. Priority will be given to projects that have the potential to advance understanding of socio-environmental systems, but the information synthesized may be primarily social or environmental in nature, or some mix.  SESYNC particularly encourages applications from candidates who will take advantage of ecological or geoscience data sets, ongoing experiments, or modeling results, especially if they wish to link their work with social data or theory.

SESYNC currently has 20 postdoctoral scholars in residence whose expertise spans the social sciences and natural sciences. In addition to undertaking a synthesis research project, Postdoctoral Fellows participate in the SESYNC Socio-Environmental Immersion Program. The program is designed to advance their understanding of theories and methods foundational to research on socio-environmental systems and to provide training in interdisciplinary and actionable science. Successful candidates will have made clear in their applications how progress on their proposed projects may benefit from participation in the Immersion program and/or how the program aligns with their specific career objectives.  This is important during the panel review and selection process, so candidates are encouraged to avoid generic responses on this aspect. Responses directly linked to the candidate’s background and future goals with specific examples are encouraged.

Prospective Fellows who propose the use of advanced theoretical, computational, and/or mathematical approaches to explore, characterize, and understand the structure and dynamics of socio-environmental systems are particularly encouraged to apply. Applicants who believe their project fits within the description of Computational Synthesis projects, should designate their project as such by putting the words Computational Synthesis: at the beginning of their project title. Applicants for Computational Synthesis projects will receive special consideration and will be evaluated based on additional criteria listed below. 

What is Socio-Environmental Synthesis? 

Synthesis is a research approach that accelerates knowledge production by distilling or integrating existing data, ideas, theories, and/or methods to draw more reliable or generalizable conclusions and to reveal novel areas of study. Socio-environmental synthesis often involves merging large and/or heterogeneous data sets from multiple sources, researchers, or fields of inquiry, as well as critical analysis in evaluating arguments and interpreting evidence. It can employ a diverse array of theoretical and methodological approaches (e.g., statistical/mathematical, structured case studies comparison, cultural analytics, scenario studies, game theory, ethnographic studies, organizational theory, simulation/computational modeling, etc.). Regardless of approach, Fellows’ projects take advantage of existing data/information; SESYNC does not fund Fellows to collect new field, lab, or survey data. 

What is the Socio-Environmental Immersion Program? 

Unique among environmental postdoctoral programs, a learning component of the SESYNC postdoctoral program will steep Fellows in theory foundational to understanding socio-environmental systems and prepare them to conduct interdisciplinary and actionable research. The core of this experience is engagement with material and people from diverse disciplines that are relevant to research on socio-environmental systems. This takes the form of interactive workshops and lectures by visiting scholars and policy-makers, discussions motivated by videos, or thought-exercises and activities. The 2018-2019 Immersion Program will include a series of five multi-day workshops.

Fellows have the additional opportunity to participate in a wealth of Center activities as observers or as active participants. These include seminars and working groups focused on areas as diverse as: global pet trade and disease; water security and ecosystems; trait-based ecology to understand economic and social impacts of climate change; social network analysis of response to environmental disasters; health, food security and environmental impacts; coupling social and environmental dynamics in integrated models; soil microbial diversity and humans; environmental shifts, human livelihoods and mobility. 

Regardless of disciplinary background, the SESYNC Postdoctoral Socio-Environmental Immersion Program provides the freedom and support to do cutting-edge synthesis research while increasing capacity to collaborate across disciplinary divides. It provides opportunities to help Fellows chart their own academic and professional path in a vibrant environment focused on actionable science for a more sustainable future.

Fellowship Eligibility Criteria

Applicants may hold a doctoral degree in any natural, physical, or social science discipline. To be eligible for the program, candidates must have received their doctoral degrees within four years prior to the start of the fellowship appointment (no earlier than June 15, 2015 and no later than July 1, 2019). Candidates who are offered a fellowship but do not complete their PhD by July 1, 2019 will have to reapply. Candidates must be eligible to work in the United States. International applicants are welcome to apply; however, please note that we follow University of Maryland visa procedures and requirements; visas are not guaranteed.

SESYNC encourages applications from groups underrepresented in SESYNC research, including scholars from developing countries, participants from underrepresented U.S. minorities (African Americans, American Indians including Native Alaskans, Hispanics, and Native Pacific Islanders), and persons with disabilities. Please see NSF’s policy on Broadening Participation for more information on such efforts. The University of Maryland is an equal opportunity employer.

Postdoctoral Support

Appointments will be through the University of Maryland, and fellowship awardees will be based full-time at SESYNC’s facilities in Annapolis, Maryland. The fellowship provides a competitive annual stipend, full University of Maryland employee benefits, and a small annual travel allowance to attend meetings or to meet with collaborators. Postdoctoral fellowships are awarded for a maximum of two years and include professional development and mentoring opportunities beyond the Immersion Program workshop series, as well as opportunities to participate in ongoing Center activities. SESYNC Collaborating Mentors will also receive support to travel to SESYNC to work with the Fellow.

The Application Process

Step 1: Preliminary Screening

Preliminary Screening Application Deadline: October 24, 2018 5 p.m. ET

All interested candidates must first submit a pre-screening application to insure the applicant’s background and interests are an appropriate match for SESYNC’s program. Final proposals will only be accepted from applicants who have successfully completed the pre-screening process.

Applicants that have not yet received their PhD must include a letter from their graduate advisor or a committee member that verifies expectations for date of degree completion. This must be included as part of the pre-screening application.

Pre-screening applications are reviewed on a rolling basis. Because the process of co-developing a proposal with a Collaborating Mentor takes a substantial amount of time, we strongly encourage pre-screening applications be submitted as soon as possible. Access to the Mentor Registry and the URL for the online application site will be emailed to all applicants who have been approved via the pre-screening application process.

To submit your pre-screening application, please click here.

Step 2: Selecting Collaborating Mentor

Applicants are responsible for initiating and developing the relationship with a Collaborating Mentor with whom they might be interested in co-developing a synthesis research project. Collaborating Mentors cannot be current or former advisors, dissertation committee members, or individuals with whom the candidate has published.

There are two pathways to selecting a Collaborating Mentor:

Option 1: Applicants may contact potential Collaborating Mentors listed on SESYNC’s Mentor Registry. SESYNC will provide Registry access to all successfully pre-screened prospective applicants. The Mentor Registry will include preliminary project ideas, short bios, and contact information for scholars who have expressed interest in working with SESYNC postdocs. Applications for the Mentor Registry are due by October 24, 2018.

Option 2: Applicants may recruit a potential Collaborating Mentor not listed in SESYNC’s Mentor Registry. If a Collaborating Mentor is not already listed on the SESYNC Mentor Registry, they a must submit CV and a statement of expectations by the Collaborating Mentor application deadline of October 24, 2018. SESYNC must approve all potential Collaborating Mentors to ensure they understand the commitment they are making to a fellow’s progress and success.

Co-Mentors are permitted provided: 1) co-mentors both agree to contribute to the project and mentor the applicant equally, 2) there are no more than two co-mentors, and 3) co-mentors agree to share the travel funds and honorarium. More information on the Collaborating Mentor application process can be found here.

Step 3: Proposal Co-Development with Collaborating Mentor

All proposals must be co-developed with a Collaborating Mentor, with the applicant taking the lead in writing and developing the proposal. In order to be competitive, applicants should begin working with their collaborative mentors on their proposal as soon as possible. Therefore, applicants are strongly encouraged to finalize commitments with Collaborating Mentors to work together in developing a proposal for the fellowship application by November 14, 2018. However, no official notification to SESYNC is required on this date.

Step 4: Final Application

Final Application Deadline: November 30, 2018, 5 p.m. Eastern Time.

Only those applicants who are successfully pre-screened are eligible to submit an application. Once approved, applicants will receive detailed instructions on how to submit the required components below.  

Applications must be submitted as a single PDF, using single spacing, 12-pt type fonts, and 1-inch margins with all sections in the following order:

  1. Cover Sheet
  2. Research Proposal
  3. Status of Synthesis Material
  4. Anticipated Cyberinfrastructure Needs
  5. Interdisciplinary Goals
  6. Full CV of the Applicant

Incomplete applications will not be sent for review.

Components of an Application

[1] Cover Sheet (1 page)

  • Descriptive title 
  • Short title (25 characters max)
  • Name and contact information
  • Date of PhD defense: If the defense has not yet occurred, applicants need a letter from their graduate advisor or committee member verifying the expected data of completion. Candidates who are not expected to complete their PhD by July 1, 2019 will be removed from competition.
  • SESYNC Research Collaborator name, title, and affiliation
  • Project summary (250 words), appropriate for the public and to be posted on the SESYNC website if applicant is awarded a fellowship
  • Keywords (up to 5 keywords different from those used in the title)
  • Potential conflicts of interest with members of the SESYNC Scientific Review Committee or Leadership Team (A conflict of interest will not disadvantage your application. Rather, we need this information to follow proper review protocol.)

[2] Research Proposal (5 pages max, including references)

  • Problem statement: Clear and concise statement of the project goals including specific research questions and how the project will advance understanding of socio-environmental systems.
  • Methods to be used for the synthesis project. For computational synthesis proposals, it is particularly important to describe why proposed computationally-intensive methods are necessary to investigate the research topic.
  • Description of prospective Fellow’s and Research Collaborator’s respective roles in the project and plans for maintaining communication throughout the project.

[3] Status of Synthesis Material (1 page max)

*Please note: Reviewers look at this section in detail, thus we ask that you please be specific and thorough.

  • Type of material (datasets, models, case studies, theories, etc.)
  • Location and accessibility of material

[4] Anticipated Cyberinfrastructure Needs (1 page max)

If applicable, briefly describe any anticipated needs for cyberinfrastructure support. This information should include descriptions of: data sets to be used during this project; new data sets or software/databases to be developed; high performance computing needs; required data aggregation or fusion; and visualization software needs. Applicants should review SESYNC's Cyberinfrastructure Support Information to familiarize themselves with the types of CI support SESYNC can provide. If the project’s needs are beyond the scope of services outlined, applicants should contact the SESYNC Cyberinfrastructure Team, prior to submission (

[5] Interdisciplinary Goals (~1/2 page)

In a paragraph of 300 words max, describe why SESYNC’s interdisciplinary programs are important for your career advancement. Be specific by providing, for example, one or two topics and/or methods outside your disciplinary area of expertise that could enhance your proposed or future work. One of SESYNC’s strengths is its diverse interdisciplinary culture, which provides many opportunities for such growth. Note – reviewers pay particular attention to this component of the application and generic responses do not fare well. Candidates should be as specific as possible in terms of what skills or interdisciplinary topics they hope to develop while at SESYNC and how these relate to their research or career goals.

[6] Full CV of the Applicant

Letters of Recommendation 

On the application page, please enter the names and contact information of your two letter writers and send a letter request via the application site. We've provided an email template, however, you will be able to personalize each email if necessary. The letter writer will receive a unique link to upload their letter to the system. Only two letters should be included in your application file. These letters are due by November 30, 2018, 5 p.m. ET.

Referees should briefly discuss how long they have known the applicant and in what capacity. Recommendation letters should also include comments on the applicant’s ability to carry out both independent and collaborative research.

Letter of Commitment from Collaborating Mentor

On the application page, please enter the name and contact information of your Collaborating Mentor(s) and send a letter request via the application site. We've provided an email template, however, you will be able to personalize the email if necessary. The Mentor will receive a unique link to upload their letter to the system. Only one commitment letter should be included in your application file, due by November 30, 2018, 5 p.m. ET. If you have Co-Mentors, please ask them to jointly submit one letter of commitment.

The letter of commitment should address the following:

  • Their expected role in the project;
  • Their view of and enthusiasm for the proposed collaboration;
  • How they envision staying engaged with you and the project; and
  • Endorsement of the proposed project and your ability to conduct the proposed research.

Selection Criteria

Postdoctoral applications will be evaluated by the following criteria. Each is given equal weight by the Review Committee:

  • Explanation of how the proposed research will advance understanding of socio-environmental systems or the potential for the project to contribute to the solution of socio-environmental problems;
  • Novelty, creativity, and/or urgency of proposed activities;
  • Feasibility of producing meaningful synthetic research within a two-year time frame, including identifying and showing ability to access appropriate data and methods;
  • Applicant qualifications and experience;
  • Clear delineation of the value of the collaboration and the respective roles for the Fellow and Collaborating Mentor in the project;
  • Potential to contribute to and benefit from other research activities at the Center; and
  • Explanation of how progress on their proposed projects may benefit from participation in the Immersion program or how the applicant’s specific career objectives align with the interdisciplinary programs of SESYNC.

Additional Criteria for Computational Applicants  

Successful candidates will lead strongly quantitative research efforts that synthesize understanding at the interface of the social and environmental sciences via computationally intensive analyses of socio-environmental systems (and their feedbacks). Key elements of successful applications will be: 1) the identification of specific research questions, 2) clear articulation of why such questions cannot be addressed without computationally intensive approaches, and 3) evidence that proposed projects are innovative. To be considered innovative, they must meet at least two of the following criteria:

  • Proposed computational technique is novel to the domain and/or problem application;
  • Computational techniques are chosen specifically to take advantage of new volume, velocity, and/or variety of data sources relevant to the research problem;
  • Proposed computational work is rooted in cutting-edge analytical techniques (e.g., network and information theory, sentiment analysis of social media data, advanced machine learning);
  • Proposed computational work uses established data and/or computationally-intensive methods in novel ways.


Please contact SESYNC at:


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

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