Smith Fellows

Proposal Guidelines

2025 Smith Postdoctoral Fellowship in Conservation Research

Bridging the Gap Between Research and Application

Eligibility and Award Terms
Application Materials
Deadlines and Contact Info
Selection Criteria, Process, and Notification

Important dates

All applications materials must be received by September 15, 2024. Finalist interviews will be conducted in January or February 2025. All candidates will be notified of the status of their application by January 31, 2025. Funds are available for Fellows to start anytime between March and September 2025.

About the Fellowship

The purpose of the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship is: To create opportunities for leading conservation scientists to strengthen their skills through two years of applied post-doctoral research, supplemented by training programs, peer networking, and field learning experiences; so that they may: 1. Build productive partnerships with conservation practitioners; and 2. Contribute and communicate scientific knowledge to problems of critical importance in conservation.

The focus of Smith Fellows’ research and activities should be characterized by:

  • Cutting edge research in conservation science;
  • Defining frontiers and leading the future of conservation science;
  • Developing the future world leaders in conservation research and application through training and mentorship;
  • Building coalitions of organizations and partnerships to support conservation science;
  • Supporting and encouraging high-potential individuals to accept risk as a component of change and leadership and thus make significant change in the world.

These Fellowships provide support for outstanding early-career scientists from around the globe based at a United States institution to improve and expand their research skills while directing their efforts towards problems of pressing conservation concern for the United States. Individuals who want to better link conservation science and theory with policy and management are encouraged to apply. We envision that the cadre of scientists supported by the Smith Fellows Program will eventually assume leadership positions across the field of conservation science. The Program is funded by the Cedar Tree Foundation, founded by Dr. David H. Smith, and administered by the Society For Conservation Biology

The Smith Fellows Program and its administrative host, the Society for Conservation Biology, are committed to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB), and invite individuals who bring a diversity of lived experience and ideas to apply. We believe diversity promotes innovation and is essential to addressing complex conservation challenges, leading to more just, equitable and effective conservation goals. We are committed to an inclusive environment, ensuring that everyone connected to the program feels valued, supported, and empowered to thrive. Our commitment to DEIB extends to all aspects of the Program, including recruitment, selection, support, and advancement of our Fellows.

Smith Fellows are awarded two years of support for applied research in the field of conservation science and closely related fields, including conservation social science. Research may include approaches such as comparative studies, synthetic analyses across sites, experimentation or observational studies, applied modeling, incorporation of social science data, or any combination. In all cases, the central questions of the inquiry must be clearly articulated. Proposed study site(s) must be noted; and an explanation and plan for how the results inform conservation practice is required. For a strong proposal this explanation should include specifics for how the applicant will work with a broad array of partners and collaborators to ‘apply’ this work.

Each applicant proposes a team of at least two mentors to work closely with them during their Fellowship including: providing an ‘institutional home’ for the Fellow, helping with research design, connecting the Fellow and their research to practical applications, supporting the Fellow’s professional development as a conservation scientist, and helping to build research skills, collaborations, and networks.  At least one of the mentors should have a primary focus on conservation practice and will help connect the Fellow’s research to practical applications and provide insight into the management and policy implications of the work. The mentor team is integral to the Fellow’s and project success, and mentors are expected to be an active part of the proposed research plan and to meet with Fellows regularly to help shape and guide the work.

Fellows may be administratively based at either the sponsoring academic institution or a conservation organization and are typically based at the location of either the academic or practitioner mentor. We encourage applicants to explore both options to determine which would be more suitable to the proposed research and beneficial to their continued development as a scientist.

Eligibility and Award Terms

To be eligible individuals must have completed their doctorate within the past five years or by the time the award is made in 2025 (September 2025 latest). Applicants who have not yet completed their doctorate must clearly indicate on the application the date the degree is expected.

The Fellowship funders require that

  • (1) the Fellowship be administered by a U.S. based institution and
  • (2) the research must have primary relevance to conservation management or policy as it is practiced in the U.S and its 5 permanently inhabited territories: Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa. The majority of the work must take place on site within these locations, including relevant local partnerships. However, U.S. citizenship is not required.

Each Fellow will receive an annual salary of $70,000 plus benefits, with the post-doctoral position expected to run for two consecutive years. In addition to the stipend, each Fellow receives a travel and research budget of $40,000 over the 2-year fellowship period.

Fellows will spend up to three weeks per year during their fellowship attending Program-sponsored professional development retreats each year. These retreats provide opportunities to cultivate skills typically not covered during their academic education including: leadership, communications, professional and funder networks, and to gain better understanding of policy-making and application of research. Fellows are expected to pursue their research outlined in their proposal on a full-time basis.

Fellows are employed either by their sponsoring academic institution or conservation organization, typically the location of either their academic or practitioner mentor. The Program will provide up to 5% of the total direct costs as overhead reimbursement to the host organization. Second-year renewal of the fellowship is contingent upon satisfactory progress (including but not limited to participation in Program sponsored retreats) as well as timely completion of first-year activity and financial reports.

Application Materials

All materials must be submitted electronically on our online submission platform: All files should be uploaded in PDF or MS Word format. 

The research plan (excluding literature cited) must not under any circumstances exceed 8 pages. Font size must be at least 11 point; margins must be at least 2.5 cm; line spacing must be at least 1.5. The cover letter, title page, literature cited, personal statement, and curriculum vitae are not included in the 8-page limit for the research plan. Deviations from these requirements may be grounds for disqualification.

  1. Cover letter: Applicants should provide a compelling narrative of their interest in conservation, evidence of leadership and innovation, and how the fellowship could facilitate a unique and interdisciplinary plan for professional development. Applicants should not use cover letters to restate or extend material presented in the proposal, personal statement, and vita. Thoughtful, well-crafted cover letters improve the likelihood that competitive proposals will be identified during the initial stages of proposal evaluation.
  2. Research Plan: The 8-page research plan should include the following:
    1. Title Page (not included in 8 page limit): Include applicant's name, contact information, project title, academic mentor(s) and research institution, conservation practitioner mentor(s) and institution, reference names and institutions,
    2. abstract,
    3. background section,
    4. statement of objectives,
    5. approaches and methods,
    6. anticipated results,
    7. research schedule,
    8. relevance to conservation science and practice and proposed mechanism for conservation application (i.e. how will it solve the problem?),
    9. Budget and narrative (not included in 8 page limit): Please provide a 2 year projected budget, and a brief narrative explaining it, for the research and travel funds ($40,000 over two years).
  3. Applicant’s Curriculum Vitae.
  4. Personal Statement: Please address the following questions (<200 words each):
    1. How have your life experiences uniquely positioned you to contribute to the diversity of perspectives in conservation and the goal of broadening participation in the field of conservation?
    2. The David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship Program seeks to develop future world leaders and entrepreneurs who are successful at linking conservation science and application. How do you define leadership and how do you envision yourself as a world leader and entrepreneur in the field of conservation? 

    3. Which conservation policymaker(s) (e.g. federal/state/local legislators or agencies) will be interested in your research and how will they use it? Describe your proposed research and its potential application as though you were communicating directly with them.

  5. Letters:
    1. Two (2) letters of reference addressing the merits of the candidate and the candidate’s proposal. Letters should be written by individuals familiar with the applicant's skills, experience, and research. Letters should emphasize the qualifications of the applicant, in particular any unique abilities to contribute significantly to conservation science and practice. Each letter writer must submit an electronic copy of their letter via our online submission platform. Applicants may NOT upload these letters directly - the system will send each letter writer a link through which they will be able to upload their letter. It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that reference letters are submitted by the deadline - you will not be able to submit your final proposal without having all of your reference letters filed before the deadline. Request these letters early!
    2. Mentor letters of commitment: Letters from 2 mentors expressing their commitment to supporting the Fellow including: helping with research design, connecting the Fellow and their research to practical applications, supporting the Fellow’s professional development as a conservation scientist, and helping to build research skills, collaborations, and networks. Letters should articulate the nature of the support. Fellows may be administratively and/or physically based ("sponsored") at either mentor's institution. The sponsor’s letter should verify the availability of laboratory/office space, other relevant institutional resources, and describe how the applicant’s research relates to the sponsor’s ongoing endeavors. These may be uploaded to the online submission platform directly by the applicant. These letters should include a commitment to regular meetings, attending Program site visits, and developing a mentor plan with the applicant should they be accepted. These may be uploaded to the online submission platform directly by the applicant. 
    3. Academic and Practitioner Mentors' Abbreviated Curriculum Vitae: A 2-page version of the sponsoring scientist’s CV (similar to that required by NSF).

To be clear, applicants may have more than one academic or practitioner mentor, however, support letters are not required from more than two. In order to alleviate the burden on both applicants AND reviewers, only four letters (two reference, two mentors) are able to be uploaded to the online submission platform. If you feel strongly you would like all mentors to provide letters, it is suggested that mentors could write joint letters or a mentor could provide one of the reference letters, so long as no more than four letters total are associated with any applicant. 

For Finalists: Applicants who are selected as finalists must submit an indirect cost and equipment waiver. A letter verifying that the sponsoring institution will waive indirect costs in excess of 5% and comply with the Smith Program's policy that all equipment purchased with Smith Fellowship funds remains property of the Fellow and will follow the Fellow to their next institution at the conclusion of the fellowship. The institution should also note its benefits rate for postdoctoral researchers.

Deadlines and Contact Information

All application materials, including letters from sponsors and references, must be received by Society for Conservation Biology via the online submission platform on September 15, 2024. The review process begins immediately after this date. There are no extensions to this deadline and incomplete applications may be disqualified. Questions about the application process may be directed to the Smith Fellows Program at

Selection Criteria, Process, and Notification

Fellows are selected according to four criteria: 1) demonstrated excellence in research, 2) potential for innovation and leadership, 3) commitment to conservation, and 4) the strength of their proposal. An ideal Smith Fellow is an innovative, practical-minded researcher with strong leadership potential. They will have excellent communication skills and a keen interest in applied research that improves conservation practice. The ideal proposal will clearly articulate concepts and objectives that are both innovative and feasible. 

Proposal evaluation will emphasize clarity of thought and evidence of leadership potential. A broad spectrum of external research scientists and other conservation professionals initially conduct written reviews of all applications. A separately convened review panel selects a pool of semi-finalists deemed eligible for interviews. Interviews are then conducted before making the final selection.

Current Smith Fellows and alumni understand that they may be contacted by applicants with questions about their experience with the Fellowship and/or application process. Fellows will reply to such requests as they are able.

Informational webinar with application/selection process overview as well as FAQ recording here.

All candidates will be notified of the status of their application by January 31, 2025. Because of staff limitations we are unable to provide a written critique of proposals. Funds are available for Fellows to start between 1 March and 1 September 2025 at the Fellow’s discretion.