Graduate Pursuits - Request for Proposals

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Nov 02, 2018


The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) in Annapolis, MD invites proposals from highly qualified graduate students interested in conducting collaborative, socio-environmental synthesis research (i.e. “Graduate Pursuits”).

Graduate Pursuits are supported for a period of 18 months. Such support centers around 3–4 team meetings at SESYNC, but also includes a suite of services ranging from team facilitation to computational and cyber infrastructure resources to science communication.

SESYNC is particularly interested in Graduate Pursuit proposals that bring together diverse backgrounds and disciplines as well as diverse sources of data in novel, integrative ways. Graduate Pursuit proposals that are designed to be applicable or generalizable across multiple locations and scales in addition to those with potential to contribute to decision-making and non-academic communities are also of special interest to SESYNC. 

Team Details

Team Composition

Although the composition and number of participants in each Pursuit will vary based on skills, expertise, backgrounds, and time necessary to complete proposed activities, core teams will be composed of 5–7 PhD students. All participants must have completed at least 2 semesters of their doctoral programs by November 2018. In all cases, participants must plan to remain in their programs until 2020.

Each team will designate at least 2 leaders. While the exact roles of team leaders are flexible from team to team, leaders will agree to undertake certain core responsibilities relating to the management and organization of teams. Team leaders will serve as primary points of contact between the team and SESYNC, and are required to attend additional leadership and facilitation training at SESYNC.

Graduate Pursuit teams are also encouraged to recruit a maximum of 2 external experts. External experts should be selected for targeted experience or expertise, and for abilities to contribute valuable input and insights towards the development, design, and execution of the project. 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 official members of the team, but are permitted to attend 1 meeting at SESYNC each. 

Team Formation & Facilitation

Graduate Pursuit teams form in a multitude of ways. SESYNC’s Graduate Student Workshop serves as the primary catalyst for teams; however, conference and meeting contacts, listserv postings, and social media have all successfully served the development of teams. SESYNC has a designated Graduate Pursuit Program Facebook group for this purpose, and also works to directly match individuals with relevant teams.

Informational webinars are one of the ways SESYNC actively facilitates team formation and idea generation in real time. Webinars will be held Monday, September 10 and Wednesday, September 12 from 12:30-2:30pm Eastern Time. Please visit for webinar details and links.

Support Details

Graduate Pursuits are supported by SESYNC for a period of approximately 18 months, with such support centering around 3–4 meetings of 3-4 days each at SESYNC. All Graduate Pursuit meetings will be held at SESYNC’s facilities in Annapolis, MD. In accordance with University of Maryland and SESYNC Travel Policies, support for the Graduate Pursuits includes all travel, lodging, and meal costs incurred during in-person meetings.

SESYNC’s support also encompasses team facilitation services, science communication coaching, and a suite of cyber infrastructure and computational resources and expertise. Full-time staff are available to assist teams with technical aspects of data mining, processing, integration, coding, analysis, visualization, and/or modeling. Training opportunities are available over the course of the program and may be tailored to fit individual team needs. 

Successful completion of the Graduate Pursuit program is contingent upon satisfactory participation of all team members, attendance of in-person meetings at SESYNC (with exceptions made on a case-by-case basis), and the submission of requested materials and reports to SESYNC staff. Following successful completion, each team member will receive a $2,000.00 stipend and be awarded the title SESYNC Graduate Student Fellow

As a National Science Foundation synthesis center, SESYNC does NOT fund the collection of original or primary data. Rather, SESYNC supports the collation of existing data sources to facilitate the integration of social, natural, and computational sciences.

Proposal Criteria

Proposals must be submitted under one of the following themes:

Each proposal will undergo a formal review by members of SESYNC’s Scientific Review Committee. To be considered, Graduate Pursuit proposals must address critical problems or research questions in ways that integrate social and environmental systems and synthesize social and environmental data. Applications that primarily focus on human physical or mental health will not be considered.

Proposals will specifically be assessed and ranked with regard to: 

  • Suitability to the designated theme and appropriateness for SESYNC
  • Merit of fundamental research questions
  • Novelty, creativity, and/or urgency of the proposed activities
  • Conceptual framing and degree and feasibility of socio-environmental synthesis
  • Demonstrated access to appropriate and existing data
  • Potential to translate products and/or findings into actionable solutions for decision makers and end-user communities
  • Need for and thoughtful engagement with SESYNC’s support services
  • Participant qualifications, academic proficiency, and diversity

Submission Instructions

Graduate Pursuit proposals should include the following 4 items to be uploaded to SESYNC’s online submission system:

  1. Online webform,
  2. Main proposal in a single PDF,
  3. Downloadable Excel spreadsheet provided completed for all participants, and
  4. A letter of recommendation and support from each core team member’s faculty advisor is required as part of the application process. 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.

The main proposal should include the following 7 sections:

1. Cover Sheet (1 pg.)

      • Descriptive title of Graduate Pursuit
      • Short title of Graduate Pursuit (25 characters max)
      • Theme to which your Graduate Pursuit applies
      • Project summary (250 words)
      • Keywords (up to 5)
      • Potential conflicts of interest with members of SESYNC’s External Advisory BoardLeadership TeamResearchers, or Fellows

    2. Project Description (5 pg. excluding references)

        • Problem and purpose 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
        • Data and methods: Description of the proposed synthesis activities and the existing sources of data to be incorporated
        • 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.

      3. Data Description (1 pg.)

          • 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.

        4. Diversity & External Expert Statement (1 pg.)

            • 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 2 members from a single department, lab group, academic institution, etc.
            • Include a statement for each optional external expert that explains his/her unique value and expected contribution to the team

          5. Other Information (1 pg.) 

              • If applicable, briefly describe any anticipated needs for cyberinfrastructure support, including software/data storage, high-performance computing, data aggregation, data visualization, etc. Review SESYNC’s Cyberinfrastructure Resources and Policies for information of cyber support and resources

            6. Team Work plan (1 pg.)

                • 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
                • Describe a group interaction and communication plan when not at SESYNC

              7. Team Leads CVs (2 pg. each excluding talks, papers in prep, society memberships)

              To Apply

              Proposals are due no later than 5:00 pm Eastern Time on Friday, November 2, 2018. Apply through the online application portal.


              We encourage those interested in this RFP to discuss ideas with SESYNC prior to developing proposals. Discussions with team leaders can often help determine if an idea is appropriate for SESYNC and its mission, as well as ascertain how synthesis might be structured to achieve strong interdisciplinary outcomes. Please contact to arrange a conversation. We ask that you please include a paragraph or concept document, even if not fully developed, to aid in such conversations. To be most effective, this conversation should occur no later than 3 weeks prior to submitting.

              For any other questions about the Graduate Pursuits or SESYNC, please email SESYNC’s Graduate Program Manager, Dr. Nicole Motzer, at

              The University of Maryland is an Equal Opportunity Employer

Minorities and Women Are Encouraged to Apply

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