Smith Fellows

Proposal Guidelines

2025 David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship (Smith Fellowship)

Bridging the Gap Between Research and Application 

Eligibility and Award Terms
Application Materials
Deadlines and Contact Info
Selection Criteria, Process, and Notification
Last updated: July 5, 2024

Below are the application guidelines for the 2025-2026 Fellowships. Please note that the guidelines may evolve year to year, and are updated annually when the application cycle opens (around July 1).

Important dates

All applications materials must be received by September 30, 2024. All candidates will be notified of the status of their application by January 31, 2025. Finalist interviews will be conducted in January or February 2025. Funds are available for Fellows to start anytime between March 1 and September 30, 2025.

About the Fellowship

The purpose of the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship is to create opportunities for leading conservation scientists to engage in innovative/novel applied research, and 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; 2) Contribute to solutions that address critical conservation problems through research and practice; and 3) Advance engagement with and understanding of conservation issues through communication, outreach, and diverse partnerships. Smith Fellows’ research and activities have long served on the cutting edge of conservation science, producing future world leaders in conservation science research and application. 

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

  • Innovative and/or pioneering applied conservation research defining frontiers and leading the future of conservation science. Proposed projects should not be a direct continuation of a candidate’s PhD work. If elements of their PhD are included in the proposal, they need to articulate the new or ‘risky’ elements incorporated in the Smith proposal;
  • Developing future 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 U.S and its 5 permanently inhabited territories: Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa. 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 continue to assume leadership positions across the field of conservation science.

Smith Fellows are awarded two years of support for applied research in 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 identified; 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 all options to determine which would be more suitable to the proposed research and beneficial to their continued development as a scientist.

More about the organizations supporting the Fellowship:

Funded by the Cedar Tree Foundation (CTF), and hosted by its administrative partner, the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB), The David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship Program (The Smith Fellowship) was founded in 1998 on a bold vision to bridge conservation science and practice by supporting the development of promising early career conservation scientists and their research. A prestigious two-year post-doctoral research fellowship, the Program recruits and funds high-caliber, early career scientists at the post doctorate level to conduct research to contribute critical knowledge and application to pressing problems in U.S. conservation science.

Please click here for the full Mission Statement and to learn more.

Values: The Smith Fellows Program values respect and dignity for all. The Smith Fellows Program recognizes that the advancement and excellence of conservation biology is intertwined with and relies on a commitment to greater access and inclusion of humans of many views, vantage points, identities, lived experiences, and geographies who actively participate in conservation with equal opportunity and access across all levels of the Fellowship experience. As a Program and community, the Smith Fellows Program welcomes diversity of all types and prioritizes equity, inclusion, and belonging. Likewise, as an entity promoting an evidence-based approach, we recognize and embrace multiple ways of knowing, including traditional ecological knowledge, community science, local knowledge, and Western science.

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.

Eligibility and Award Terms

To be eligible, individuals must have completed their doctorate within the five years preceding their award date, or by the time the award is made in 2025. For the 2025-2026 Fellowship, applicants must have completed their doctorate after March 1, 2020 and before September 30, 2025 to be eligible. Applicants who have not yet completed their doctorate must clearly indicate on the application the date the degree is expected.

The Fellowship must be administered by a U.S. based institution, but U.S. citizenship is not required. 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. Each Fellow will receive an annual salary of $70,000 in 2025 and $72,100 in 2026, 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 three weeks per year during their fellowship attending Program-sponsored professional development retreats (a total of six weeks of on-site professional development across the duration of the Fellowship). These retreats are a core aspect of the Fellowship experience, and participation is required. These retreats provide opportunities to cultivate skills not typically covered during their academic education including: leadership, communications, professional and funder networking, policy-making, and research applications. Fellows are expected to pursue the 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 host institution or organization is responsible for administration of salary and benefits, as well as visa sponsorship if needed. 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. 

Individuals needing a U.S. visa must work with their host institution to ensure they can live and work in the U.S. throughout the 2-year Fellowship. The Smith Fellows program does not provide visa sponsorships.

Application Materials

All materials must be submitted electronically on our online submission platform: All files should be uploaded in PDF or MS Word format. Please contact Program staff if you are unable to access or submit electronic systems for this application.

Before beginning your application, please thoroughly review these Proposal Guidelines in their entirety - including the selection criteria - to ensure you clearly address and incorporate the critical components of a successful Smith Fellowship proposal.

The research plan (excluding literature cited) must not 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, mentor description, literature cited, budget, personal statement, and curriculum vitae are not included in the 8-page limit for the research plan. Please note that your application will be reviewed by conservation professionals from a variety of backgrounds and expertise, including (but not limited to) expertise in the field you select as your primary field of focus. In addition to a completed application form, the required application materials are:

1.  Cover letter: Applicants should provide a narrative of their interest in conservation, experience with leadership and innovation, and how the Fellowship would facilitate a unique and interdisciplinary plan for professional development and pioneering applied research. 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.   Title Page to include applicant's name, contact information, project title.

3.   A) Mentor team with roles/anticipated nature of support and institutional affiliations, and

      B) reference names with institutional affiliations.

4.   Research Plan (8 page maximum): The research plan should include the following:

          a. abstract

          b. background section

          c. statement of objectives

          d. approaches and methods

          e. anticipated results

          f. research schedule

          g. relevance to conservation science and practice and proposed mechanism for conservation application (how will it help solve a problem(s)). This should include a well-thought-out approach to how the work will be ‘actioned’ and with which partners.

          h. statement on the innovative or risky nature of the proposal, including how it differs from past research (yours and others’)

5.   Literature cited 

6.   Budget and narrative: Please provide a 2 year projected budget, and a brief narrative explaining it, for the research and travel funds ($40,000 over two years).  We recognize that a number of factors may impact the proposed budget, and we can be flexible in this regard with accepted proposals. The budget should include

          a. travel and accommodation costs

          b. research supplies/equipment

          c. contract or other outsourced services (eg. sequencing)

          d. other costs (explain)

7.   Applicant’s Curriculum Vitae.

8.   Personal Statement: Please address the following questions (<200 words each):

          a. 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?

          b. 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 future leader and entrepreneur in the field of conservation? 

          c. Which conservation policymaker(s) and practitioners (e.g. federal/state/local legislators or agencies, NGOs etc.) will be interested in your research and how will they use it? Please be specific based on connections and partnerships you have made or people you have spoken with.

9.   Letters:

          a. 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, the novelty of the approach, the quality of the science, and the potential to impact conservation 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!

          b. Mentor letters of commitment (2): 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. 

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 two mentors, 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 will be required to provide a letter containing the following information from their proposed host institution during the final interview stage: 1) indirect costs and the benefits rate for postdoctoral researchers (the host institution is required to verify that they will waive indirect costs in excess of 5%), and 2) an equipment waiver and confirmation of compliance 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.

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 30, 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. 

Smith Fellowships are geared towards individuals who propose innovative and/or pioneering applied conservation research. Successful applicants propose research that is:

  1. novel, with aspects that have not been done (or done successfully) before, and is potentially a bit risky;
  2. grounded in conservation application to management and/or policy; and
  3. solution-oriented and will make a real difference, not just fill a knowledge gap. 

While it is acceptable for a project to involve a continuation of previous work, if new or risky elements aren't made clear in the proposal or it doesn't seem like a big change or challenge for the candidate, the application might not score as highly. 

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.