HomeNewsIonE’s Postdoctoral Fellowship program centers highly collaborative, interdisciplinary cohorts

IonE’s Postdoctoral Fellowship program centers highly collaborative, interdisciplinary cohorts

At a transitional time in a researcher’s career, securing a postdoctoral position can be a great next step to deepen skills, gain training, and help steer a professional trajectory after earning a doctorate degree.

Despite the benefits, most postdoc opportunities have downsides, too: they’re often a solo appointment assisting a university researcher or faculty member on a project, which can make discovering the right fit a lonely pursuit, especially for an emerging scholar interested in interdisciplinary research.

According to Institute on the Environment Executive Director Jessica Hellmann, IonE is on a quest to re-imagine the postdoctoral experience. Through the development of the IonE Postdoctoral Fellowship program, early career scientists and researchers from varying backgrounds come together to work on impact-focused projects.

“We know we are doing something special here,” says Hellmann. “Our program is more of a community. Everybody still has their own projects, but we’re all rowing in the same direction, if you will.”

IonE’s fellowship program features a cohort-structured model. After an inaugural group of four postdocs joined the Institute in late 2021 into 2022, a large-scale call for applications went out in March 2023. More than 200 people applied, and nine were accepted into the first official cohort. The call for cohort two closed in March 2024, having received 277 applications. IonE’s current postdoctoral fellows will be joined over the next two months by 11 new colleagues who have accepted two-year appointments. The call for cohort three could open as soon as the end of the summer.

The cohort feature is core to the program; the intent is to foster a sense of belonging for research scholars dedicated to work within sustainability and environmental fields. “The cohorts in and of themselves are so diverse within and across each cohort,” explains inaugural postdoc Apoorva Joshi, a research scholar whose work cuts across the fields of communication science, behavioral and decision science, and environmental psychology. “The sheer diversity of subject matter expertise, disciplinary backgrounds, and cultural backgrounds is such a huge advantage because we get to learn so much from each other. And that really, I think, helps us grow as professionals in whatever direction we want to take careers.”

Most IonE postdoctoral fellows work on two research projects, and in some cases, work with two different supervisors. Most of the projects are externally funded, from sources including grants. Identifying two part-time projects for each postdoc to work on creates a full-time, benefits-eligible position, with more variety and range in the work. This creative structure benefits the research teams as well, many of whom would not otherwise have the resources or work needed to offer someone a full-time role.

Current cohort members are working on projects focused on broad interdisciplinary methods involving social science and synthesis, as well as systems modeling and data science. Specific projects include developing a food system supply chain sustainability model; enhancing climate information services for underserved communities; developing an integrative framework for ecosystem services of solar grasslands; community-engaged research focusing on equitable climate resilience; and using the power of communication and behavioral sciences to improve decision support tools, to name a few.

Another highlight of the program is its professional development offerings. Several times a month, the postdoctoral fellows gather for sessions; they can be informal discussions or feature a guest speaker ranging from university researchers, faculty, staff, or other sustainability leaders sharing their knowledge. Discovering the variety of paths open to them – whether it be in academia, government or non-governmental organizations, or even entrepreneurial endeavors – can be vital to providing sensemaking at a very pivotal point in a career.

Wherever the postdocs go next, “we will have had the opportunity to both learn from them and to influence the way they think about and do their work,” explains Hellmann. This symbiosis creates ripple effects, stretching well beyond IonE and the two-year fellowship experience. “Having been part of the Institute, [they] will carry that culture, learning, and experience with them wherever they go, in whatever they do.”

 

Stay tuned over the coming weeks as we sit down with the four postdoctoral scholars who started it all: Apoorva Joshi, Diele (Dee) Lobo, Elizabeth Abraham, and Shubhechchha (Suby) Sharma. We caught up with the four women about projects they’ve worked on during their time at IonE and their experiences in the program.

Dana Hernandez (she/her) is an IonE communications specialist. Her professional interests include environmental communication and intersectional storytelling.

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