Propose a Pursuit

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May 15, 2017

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) invites proposals for collaborative team-based research (Pursuits) that synthesize existing data, methods, theories, and tools to address a pressing socio-environmental problem. Researchers are encouraged to develop research questions and methods that can be applicable across multiple places and scales and have the potential to inform decision makers. We are particularly interested in novel, actionable synthesis efforts that employ synthesis methodologies in new ways. Projects that bring together quantitative and qualitative data and knowledge are of special interest. Please note that proposals do not need to fall within one of SESYNC's previous Themes or the two new Themes described below. Applicants are encouraged to examine existing SESYNC funded Pursuits for examples of successful proposals.

SESYNC encourages proposals that focus on multiple aspects of socio-environmental systems. Teams should be comprised of no more than 15 members who will meet at our Center in Annapolis for 2–4 meetings of approximately 3–5 days over a period of 1–2 years. The composition and number of participants in a Pursuit will vary depending upon the nature of the research problem and the expertise needed to address it. Teams should be highly interdisciplinary (natural and social scientists), and we encourage the inclusion of individuals from outside of academia (i.e., governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, the business sector). Projects co-developed by academic researchers and non-academic knowledge users (from the NGO, private, and government sectors) are encouraged. SESYNC places priority on teams whose members have not had extensive prior collaborations with one another.

In this RFP we are introducing two NEW Themes and have a particular interest in developing portfolios of projects to address aspects of each (please note that as mentioned, we will accept proposals for S-E synthesis outside of these two Themes):

  1. Environmental Dynamics and Food Systems. We encourage the submission of proposals for projects that synthesize diverse data sources and/or develop models and scenarios that reflect the intersection of food system activities with ecological and/or broader socio-environmental systems. Ideally, studies will seek to identify the mechanisms that link the ecological and social dimensions of one or more activities within the food system, or those that link the food system to other (e.g. water or energy) systems. More information on this Theme can be found hereDr. Kristal Jones will serve as the leader of this Theme, providing support and coordination to funded teams. Inquiries regarding this Theme can be directed to

  2. Sudden or Unexpected Events: Environmental Recovery, Reorganization or Restoration. We encourage the submission of proposals for projects that synthesize data, develop and apply models, or couple quantitative and qualitative information in new ways to identify the mechanisms that lead to different ecological or socio-environmental responses to discrete events, which could have long-lasting environmental impacts. More information on this Theme can be found here.

Teams applying for one of these two Themes should be comprised of no more than 10 participants, including team leads. Projects under each Theme listed above may synthesize existing data, methods, theories, and tools to address the socio-environmental problem described. Researchers are encouraged to develop research questions and methods for results that can be applicable across multiple places and scales, and that either improve the sustainability and efficiency of food systems or inform the development of solutions to improve responses to unexpected environmental change. We are particularly interested in novel synthesis research that highlights key findings and research needs, and employs synthesis methodologies in new ways.

Projects may focus primarily on ecological, environmental or social dynamics and/or linkages between environmental and social systems. The research must contribute to understanding problems in complex socio-environmental systems. Our intent is to foster interdisciplinarity at the portfolio (Theme-wide) level. You should anticipate interacting with other disciplines other than your own.

For these two Themes, project leads are expected to participate in 3 “team leads” meetings in addition to their individual team meetings. The first team leads meeting, which will be held in late fall 2017 at SESYNC, will help launch the portfolio under each Theme with an emphasis on identifying points of intersection and possible collaboration across projects. The second, to be held halfway through the project, will be a webinar check-in meeting. The third will be towards the end of the project, which will focus on developing a plan for a joint synthesis effort or paper.

To be eligible for funding, all members of synthesis teams funded under these two Themes must be available to participate in their first and final meetings together at SESYNC on the following dates: 

Theme 1. Environmental Dynamics and Food Systems

    • November 13-14, 2017: Launching workshop of all team leads at SESYNC
    • November 15-17, 2017: 1st meeting of all funded teams at SESYNC
    • Spring 2018: 2nd team meeting at SESYNC (schedule on own)
    • September 2018: Webinar meeting with team leads for mid-term project reporting
    • March 4-5, 2019: Final team leads meeting at SESYNC
    • March 5, 2019: Theme-wide Plenary (half-day reserved for short team presentations)
    • March 5-8, 2019: Final meeting of all funded teams at SESYNC

Theme 2. Sudden or Unexpected Events: Environmental Recovery, Reorganization or Restoration

    • December 4-5, 2017: Launching workshop of all team leads at SESYNC
    • December 6-8, 2017: 1st meeting of all funded teams at SESYNC
    • Spring 2018: 2nd team meeting at SESYNC (schedule on own)
    • September 2018: Webinar meeting with team leads for mid-term project reporting
    • April 1-2, 2019: Final team leads meeting at SESYNC
    • April 2, 2019: Theme-wide Plenary (half-day reserved for short team presentations)
    • April 2-5, 2019: Final meeting of all funded teams at SESYNC

Please note: S-E Problem-Focused Pursuits are not required to attend the team lead or participant meetings listed above. 

Participation of Underrepresented Groups: 

Priority is placed on the inclusion of scholars from underrepresented U.S. minorities or scholars from developing countries; fellowships are available for qualifying individuals to be in residence at SESYNC for up to one year (2 years for postdoctoral fellows) to work on some aspect of the team project. In order to be considered, please email with a description of the proposed fellowship and the role that the fellow would play on the synthesis project. 

Data-intensive analysis and/or modeling projects:

In rare cases, highly computationally-intensive projects that advance socio-environmental synthesis may be eligible for limited technical support.* The proposed project must clearly demonstrate that need by meeting at least two of the following criteria (in order of importance): 1. Proposed computational work will require highly labor-intensive and iterative development of computational infrastructure (e.g. harmonizing and combining heterogeneous datasets; coding, debugging, and testing simulation models); 2. Proposed computational work requires additional effort and/or expertise beyond what SESYNC can provide; and/or 3. Proposed analysis has significant start-up costs (e.g. data cleaning, cyberinfrastructure set-up). 

Proposed project outputs must include one or more publically available and computationally-derived product, such as (but not limited to) original datasets, databases, web tools, and analysis or model code. In order to be considered for additional funding as a computational project, applicants must first contact Mary Shelley ( at least three weeks before the submission deadline to determine project suitability and obtain approval. If you ask for this type of funding support without approval, your application will not be considered. (*Eligible support: One-year at 100% or two-year at 50% graduate student research assistant, programmer, or database technician depending on the technical skills required, OR one-year at 75% or two-year at 49% post-doctoral researcher.)

Proposal Development

We encourage those interested in this RFP to discuss their ideas with SESYNC prior to developing their proposal. Discussions with team leaders can often help determine if an idea is appropriate for SESYNC, as well as how syntheses might be structured to achieve strong interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary outcomes. Please contact to arrange a conversation. We ask that you please include a paragraph and/or concept document about your project even if not fully developed (e.g., your research questions; what kind of socio-environmental data you plan to synthesize; what kind of product you envision). This will help in ascertaining whether or not your proposal aligns with SESYNC’s mission and in putting you in touch with the right person at SESYNC. To be effective, this conversation should occur no later than 3 weeks prior to submitting a proposal.

Graduate students are not eligible to apply as principal investigators/team leads for this opportunity, although they may participate on teams. Graduate student-led Pursuits are handled through a separate RFP. More information can be found here.

Support Details

Support for Pursuits includes travel, lodging, and meals for participants in accordance with our Travel Policies. All Pursuit meetings are held at our facilities in Annapolis, MD.

SESYNC has significant modeling, data analysis, and database management expertise to guide and support teams that need assistance with the technical aspects of data mining, processing, integration, analysis, visualization, and/or modeling.

Proposal Criteria

  • suitability to the described Theme;
  • for projects not linked to a given Theme, a focus on an important and timely socio-environmental problem;
  • scientific merit of fundamental research questions (i.e., for projects that focus on a more regional scale or on a limited number of cases, findings should have implications that provide new insights with broad applicability);
  • novelty and creativity in approach or proposed outcomes;
  • feasibility to produce meaningful synthetic research including identifying and showing ability to access appropriate data;
  • potential to contribute to actionable science (e.g., inform decisions at the government, business, and household level; improve the design or implementation of public policies; and/or influence public and/or private sector strategies, planning, and behaviors that affect the environment);
  • qualifications and experience of the proposed participants;
  • inclusion of diversity to broaden the participation of groups underrepresented in SESYNC research including scholars from developing countries, and participants from underrepresented U.S. minorities (African Americans, American Indians including Native Alaskans, Hispanics, and Native Pacific Islanders; for more information on such efforts see:; and
  • an explanation of why SESYNC is the most appropriate way to support the activity.

Submission Instructions

What to Include

SESYNC applications are composed of three parts to be submitted via SESYNC's online submission system:

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

Proposal Requirements

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

Cover sheet (1 page max)

  • Theme that the Pursuit is responding to, or designate as “Socio-Environmental Problem-Focused” 
  • Descriptive title of proposed Pursuit  (“Pursuit: ….”)
  • Short title (25 characters max)
  • Name and contact information for up to two PIs
  • Project Summary (250 words), appropriate for the public; posted on the SESYNC website
  • Keywords (up to 5 different from those used in the title)
  • Proposed start and end dates, number and duration of meetings, and estimated number of participants. For those who are not applying under SESYNC’s two new Themes, teams should expect to start no earlier than late fall/early winter.  
  • 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 synthesis project to be undertaken and how and how it relates to the Theme (or “Socio-Environmental Problem”), including its direct or indirect contributions to complex socio-environmental systems. As appropriate, specify the novelty and creativity of the proposal.
  • Conceptual framework: Graphical and/or textual formats may be used to show how the synthesis approach and various components of the work are linked 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 intended data and any permissions needed for their use. If possible, please list the actual datasets that will be used to initiate the synthesis effort. 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 and integrate, but do not collect, primary and secondary data.
    • Please note: SESYNC discourages applications requesting funding for literature reviews. That said, we will consider meta-analysis synthesis of concepts, theories, and knowledge within the literature if particularly novel or timely.
  • 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 (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?

Diversity Statement (1 page max)

Please describe the aspects of diversity in your participant list. Diversity is considered in all its aspects, social and scientific, including gender, ethnicity, scientific field, disability status, career stage, geography and type of home institution.

  • In paragraph 1, please describe diversity of backgrounds (social and natural scientists), experience of participants, gender, career stage, persons of disabilities, and country of origin.
  • In paragraph 2, please describe the diversity of participants with respect to groups underrepresented in SESYNC research including scholars from developing countries, and participants from underrepresented U.S. minorities (African Americans, American Indians including Native Alaskans, Hispanics, and Native Pacific Islanders). 

Other Information (1 page max)

  • Briefly describe any anticipated needs for cyberinfrastructure (CI) support and any new data sets or software expected to result from the project. Applicants should review SESYNC's Cyberinfrastructure Support Information and Policies to familiarize themselves with the types of CI support SESYNC can provide and expectations regarding release of software and data upon project completion. Examples of supported CI needs include but are not limited to large data storage with collaborative access; assistance with database development, collaborative code development, and tool integration; use of SESYNC’s schedule cluster for large analyses; and advising/consulting on geospatial data processing and visualization. Applicants are encouraged to discuss their proposed project with Mike Smorul ( or Mary Shelley ( prior to submission if the project’s CI needs are significant in scope.
  • Work plan including: 1. numbers of trips by year to SESYNC (broken down by number of US domestic and international participants) and 2. days of local support. SESYNC provides neither honoraria nor stipends for participants unless they are in residence as a visiting scientist for two months or longer.
  • PIs are encouraged to discuss with SESYNC other support services available at the Center. 

Short CV of the Pursuit PIs/Team Leaders (2 pages max for each)

Please ONLY include the CVs of the Proposal Leaders, 2 pages maximum for each. Do not include talks, society memberships, or papers in preparation.

Current and Pending Support (1 page for each PI/Team Lead)

Please list current, pending support and the relationship to the proposed work at SESYNC. In addition, please list proposals that you anticipate will be submitted during the period of this project that are substantively related to the synthesis effort. 

Potential Participants

Please download the Excel spreadsheet provided and complete the template using the column headers listed below for all participants. This should be uploaded separately from your PDF proposal to the online form.

Teams applying for one of the two new Themes should be comprised of no more than 10 participants. Teams not applying to one of these Themes can include up to 15 participants. 

  • Last Name
  • First Name
  • Affiliation (include department)
  • Website address
  • Primary Area of Expertise
  • Secondary Area of Expertise
  • Confirmed (Y/N)
  • Prior Collaboration with Pursuit (Proposal) Leaders (Y/N)
    • If yes, provide a very brief description of the nature and duration of prior collaboration(s).

We ask that you download and complete this spreadsheet, and then upload it separately to the online form once you are ready to submit your full application.  


Proposals must be uploaded to SESYNC’s online submission system by May 15, 2017, at 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).



The University of Maryland is an Equal Opportunity Employer

Minorities and Women Are Encouraged to Apply

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