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James Smithson Fellowship Program

James Smithson

James Smithson


The Smithsonian Institution has a unique role in American life. It is a steward of our nation’s treasures, a generator of new knowledge through research, and a convener through public exhibitions, programs and educational resources.

Smithsonian leaders, scientists, curators and staff are experts in their fields. They are public spokespersons, quoted in the media, whose knowledge can shape the world we live in. They are scholar-practitioners familiar with the halls of government in Washington, DC, who testify before lawmakers, work with executive branch agencies, or help inform programs and policies of national and global impact.

The James Smithson Fellowship was started through the vision and generosity of Paul Neely, past chair of the Smithsonian National Board.



The James Smithson Fellowship Program was created to offer early career opportunities for scholars interested in gaining experience in both scholarship and practice through a Smithsonian lens.  While this fellowship provides an immersion experience working with Smithsonian scholars and relevant collections, it also affords fellows a hands-on opportunity to see how scholarship informs practice, and practice informs scholarship, through direct interaction with Smithsonian leaders, and with leaders throughout the Washington, DC network.

The program is designed for a new generation of leaders, who seek a experience that leverages both scholarly and practical expertise in an environment of innovation like no other. Among the goals of the James Smithson Fellowship are to provide fellows with the opportunity to:

  • Conduct scholarly research at the Smithsonian
  • Gain an understanding of the interface between scholarship and practice
  • Gain skills at leveraging scholarly expertise towards the establishment of best practices


How It Works:

The James Smithson Fellowship Program is open to post-doctoral students in the fields of science, the humanities and the arts.  Fellowship applicants submit proposals to pursue independent research that make use of Smithsonian experts, facilities, and/or collections – that align with one of the subject areas defined by the Smithsonian strategic plan’s four grand challenges: Understanding the American Experience, Valuing World Cultures, Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet, and Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe.

As part of the their proposal, applicants must identify a Smithsonian expert listed in the Smithsonian Opportunities for Research and Study guide to serve as their scholarly advisor during the fellowship. Before submitting a proposal in application to the Smithson Fellowship, applicants should make contact with a potential scholarly advisor to verify that the expert they have identified is a good fit for their proposed research project, and also available to serve as a scholarly advisor during the applicant’s proposed fellowship tenure.

If selected for the fellowship, an applicant will be assigned a policy advisor. Depending on a fellow’s focus of study, a policy advisor is selected from the Institution’s senior leadership or policy making units. In agreeing to serve as a policy advisor, the policy advisor makes a commitment to provide their fellow with numerous opportunities  to see how scholarship informs practice and practice informs scholarship (through meetings, events, one-on-one conversations, review of documents, strategy sessions, introduction to key figures, access to networks, etc)  relevant to their field of study during the course of their fellowship. The program provides opportunities for fellows to meet with leaders of all kinds. They may engage with leaders at government agencies; members of Congress; ambassadors; experts at nonprofit organizations and think-tanks, and others.

At the same time, the Smithson Fellow works with their scholarly advisor on the research aspects of their proposed project so that they may reflect on their practice track from the research perspective, and visa-versa, during the course of their entire Smithson Fellowship experience.

As the fellow reaches conclusions through the course of the fellowship through the empirical research they conduct, they are also expected to make conclusions about aspects of their area of expertise as it is conducted practically.

To support independent research and study, the fellowship includes a stipend of $53,000.

Program Elements:

The James Smithson Fellows will have two Smithsonian advisors:

  • The scholarly advisor, listed in the Smithsonian Opportunities for Research and Study guide, makes a commitment to provide a Smithson fellow with advice related to their independent research proposal related to Smithsonian experts, people, are collections. Through this research, the fellow is expected to make conclusions about empirical research.
  • The policy advisor, selected for a fellow after they are awarded the Smithson fellowship, makes a commitment to provide a Smithson fellow with opportunities to better understand how practice related to the fellow’s field of study is conducted. Through this experience, the fellow is expected to make conclusions about best practices.



Candidates must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and not more than five years beyond receipt of their doctorate degree by December 31, 2014. Candidates with terminal professional degrees are also eligible to apply.

Who is Ineligible?

No employee or contractor of the Smithsonian Institution may hold a Smithsonian fellowship during the time of his/her employment or contract.

A fellowship may not be awarded to any person who has been employed by or under contract to the Institution in the previous year without the prior approval of the Office of Fellowships.


How to Apply:

Applications must be received by January 15, 2015 through the Smithsonian Online Academic Appointment System (SOLAA) 

Each application must include:

  • Candidate statement (limited to two pages):  Should include a summary of background and expertise; practical interests related to an area of study; career objectives and how the fellowship may support those goals.
  • Abstract: Abstract of the proposed research, not more than one page.
  • Research Proposal: The full statement of your research, not more than 1,500 words (maximum six pages 12-point typescript, double-spaced, excluding all other parts of the application such as the abstract and bibliography).  In preparing your proposal, be sure to provide and address the following:
    • A description of the research you plan to undertake at the Smithsonian Institution, including the methodology to be utilized.
    • The importance of the work, both in relation to the broader discipline and to your scholarly goals.
    • Justification for conducting your research at the Smithsonian and utilization of research facilities and resources.
    • Identification of the member of the Smithsonian research staff who will serve as your principal advisor/host.  You are strongly encouraged to correspond with your advisor(s) in preparing your proposal; identification of the Smithsonian mentor is a requirement.
  • Timetable: Estimate of time period for which these research objectives can be reasonably achieved.
  • Budget and justification: Budget and justification for equipment, supplies, research-related travel costs, and other support required to conduct the research itself (excluding stipend and relocation costs). You are encouraged to discuss potential research costs with your advisor(s) before submitting your application.  If required funds exceed the maximum research allowance of $4,000, please explain the source of the additional funds.
  • Bibliography: Bibliography of literature relevant to the applicant’s proposed research (not to exceed two pages).
  • Curriculum vitae: Curriculum vitae (not to exceed five pages), should highlight education, expertise, achievements and honors, and publications, and should include a description of your research interests. Also, if English is not your native language, describe the level of your proficiency in reading, conversing and writing in English.
  • Transcripts: Transcripts from terminal degree institution/s are required. Unofficial transcripts are acceptable.
  • References: You will need the names and email address of three persons familiar with your work. These references will be asked to submit a confidential letter online.

Please provide a copy of your proposal and a copy of Letter to Referee (downloadable PDF) to your referees. Each applicant is responsible for ensuring that all letters of recommendation are submitted by the deadline. Applications with fewer than three letters of recommendation may not be considered.


Selection Criteria:

Applications will be evaluated by both Smithsonian leadership, and by scholars in appropriate fields, on the basis of the proposal’s merit, the applicant’s ability to carry out the proposed research and study, the likelihood that the research can be completed in the requested time, and the extent to which the Smithsonian, through its research staff members and resources, can contribute to the proposed research and interest in policy matters.
Candidates will be evaluated on four main criteria:

  • The innovativeness of the proposed research project;
  • The applicant’s ability to carry out the proposed research and study;
  • The likelihood that the research can be completed in the requested time;
  • The extent to which the Smithsonian, through its research staff members and resources, can contribute to the proposed research and fellow’s interests;
  • How closely their career aspirations relate to the opportunity;
  • Potential for leadership as evidenced by past performance;
  • The quality of their academic record

Only applicants who have identified a scholarly advisor will be reviewed for this Fellowship. Applicants also may be required to participate in a phone interview.

The Smithsonian Fellowship Program does not discriminate on grounds of race, creed, sex, age, marital status, disability, or national origin of any applicant.

Fellows start by September 1, 2016.

Smithson Brochure


Previous James Smithson Fellowship Awardees


Clark Rushing was previously a Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellow at NZP in 2012. He is a Smithson Fellow starting in 2014, assisted by researchers at the Migratory Bird Center.

During his time at the Smithsonian Clark collaborates with Dr. Peter Marra of the National Zoolological Park (NZP). His interests are in using a combination of long term monitoring data, cutting edge tracking and remote sensing technologies, and innovative analytical approaches to advance conservation of the Wood Thrush, a rapidly declining migratory bird.

Clark is currently finishing his Ph.D. in Behavior, Ecology, Evolution and Systematics at the University of Maryland, College Park. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University in 2005.

Shermin de Silva is a Smithson Fellow beginning in 2014. She collaborates with Dr. Peter Leimgruber at the National Zoological Park (NZP).

Her interest is in studying “elephant landscapes” at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) modeling how Asian elephants’ populations globally have been impacted by trends in land cover change. She models demographic rates in relation to habitat, extent, and water availability. She uses a combination of person research from Sri Lanka and satellite imagery.

Shermin received her Ph.D in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010 and was an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Biology at Colorado State University. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Integrative Biology and Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 2001.


Dr. Erica Farmer is the Smithsonian’s first James Smithson Fellow from September 2013 to August 2014. She is based out of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) where Rob Leopold serves as her policy adviser and Joshua Bell serves as her research adviser.

During her time at the Smithsonian Erica’s research has focused on the communal cultural property rights in Native American archival and artefactual collections of SI, with a focus on the gaps between legal and sociocultural constructions of such materials in the context of legislation, policy, and social practice.

Erica completed her Ph.D at University College in London in 2013. She received a MA in Anthropology from the George Washington University in 2008 and received a JD from Stanford in 2004. She received her undergraduate degree in Romance Language and Literature from Harvard in 2001.