Announcing The Wilburforce Fellowship In Conservation Science

COMPASS and Wilburforce Foundation are excited to launch the Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science. The fellowship aims to build a community of scientists who do decision-relevant research, communicate scientific findings effectively, and contribute to conservation solutions by engaging with local communities, policymakers, land managers, advocates, and others. It’s open to scientists of diverse affiliations and career stages working in conservation biology, ecology, environmental economics, or traditional ecological knowledge within Wilburforce’s priority geographic regions. Fellows will participate in a week of training in science communication, leadership and engagement at the Wilburforce Greenfire Campus in Seattle and receive coaching and support throughout the following year to assist them in achieving their goals.

We spoke with our Executive Director, Brooke Smith, and Wilburforce Program Officer for Conservation Science, Amanda Stanley, to learn more about the fellowship, the collaboration, and who should apply.

What are the goals for this fellowship?

Amanda: I encounter so many scientists who want their work to be meaningful to conservation problems; this is going to give them tools to do that. Wilburforce works to provide science capacity to our grantees and partners. There’s a ton of relevant science out there already, but as a society, we need to be able to better connect what we know to conversations about what to do. We need translators who can bring that huge body of knowledge to bear on conservation issues.

Fellows will hone their communication skills through feedback and practice. Mock interviews with journalists, like that shown here from a recent COMPASS workshop at Wilburforce’s Greenfire campus, will be a core piece of fellows’ initial training.

Brooke: One of COMPASS’ core beliefs is that scientists are critical participants in the public discourse, because they can add not just data but insights. We also hear from scientists that they want to be impactful, but they don’t know how or where to make that happen. We want to create spaces where scientists are supported – and given the skills and encouragement – for that engagement.

What will fellows get from this experience?

Brooke: Fellows will have the opportunity to think deeply about the impact and relevance of their science – and science in and beyond their field.  They’ll also gain confidence in their ability to share these insights. Finding the ‘so what’ of your science is challenging work and benefits from the support of a community.  By exploring engagement with scientists in diverse research areas, you form relationships that might lead to valuable new ideas or future collaborations.

Amanda: The support throughout the year following the initial training is core to this fellowship. Ongoing mentoring and coaching will help fellows put the skills they acquire into action. At Wilburforce, we have found with our other leadership programs that it takes much more than a few days of training to absorb new skills and new approaches.  Building on the training over the year with a supportive peer network and mentors is fundamental to long-term change.

What makes someone a strong applicant for this program?

Amanda: Any scientists working in our geography on relevant issues who are ready to take the next step in making their science impactful in conservation. We are looking for candidates willing to take the time and energy to do the work and to support their peers. We’re also hoping to attract a truly diverse group, across gender, ethnicity, affiliation, experience, geography, and discipline. You can be a scientist with NGOs, universities, agencies, or indigenous groups; in the US, Mexico, or Canada; early career or well established.

Scientists working in Wilburforce's priority regions, like the Y2Y Far North, are encouraged to apply. Image of Virginia Falls in the Nahanni National Park Reserve courtesy of Viaje a Canada via Flickr.

Scientists working in Wilburforce’s priority regions, like the Y2Y Far North, are encouraged to apply. Image of Virginia Falls in the Nahanni National Park Reserve courtesy of Viaje a Canada via Flickr.

Diversity is important because conservation requires collaboration across cultures, among scientists, advocates, local and indigenous communities, agencies, industry, and federal and local governments. We also want to build networks that draw on what everyone has to offer. A mix of skills and perspectives is important.

Why collaborate?

Amanda: We have a longstanding relationship with COMPASS. They have trained many scientists in our regions over the years, and we appreciate their approach. When they expanded their work beyond oceans, we were excited about the prospect of working more closely with them. COMPASS brings years of expertise in training scientists to more effectively engage beyond their peers and a compelling vision for the importance of science to society. COMPASS and Wilburforce also share similar values around the deeply personal decisions scientists must make about where and how they can be most effective in contributing to conservation solutions.

Brooke: We share a philosophy with Wilburforce about the value of empowering scientists to share their knowledge. We believe that scientists engaging in the public sphere leads to more durable and robust solutions.

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More about Amanda: Prior to her work with Wilburforce, Amanda worked throughout western North America, studying topics such as restoration of imperiled prairie habitats in the Pacific Northwest, the population viability of rare plants in Oregon, the impacts of biological control agents on invasive weeds in Montana, small mammal ecology in the Rocky Mountains, and the effects of climate change on arctic tundra in Alaska.

She says, “As a scientist, I’ve had personal experience trying to translate research into action. In working with land managers on a research project to develop conservation solutions for degraded prairies, I saw that when they were engaged in the process throughout, we not only did better science, but managers were committed to using the results. So I thought I knew what applied research meant. When I came to Wilburforce, I saw there were so many more opportunities and ways to engage. I often say, “If I knew then what I know now, I would have been so much better at my job.” That’s what I want from my work at Wilburforce: to give scientists all the tools they need to make their work impactful.

More about Brooke here.  

Nancy Baron, COMPASS’ Director of Science Outreach, is the lead trainer for the fellowship. You can learn more about her here. She’ll be writing an “insiders view” of the fellowship on the blog in early September. You can find information about the Wilburforce fellowship, and application materials here. Applications are due September 30th. Please direct any questions to COMPASS at [email protected].

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