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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 a better understanding about the interplay between research and public policy & discourse, through a Smithsonian lens.  While this fellowship provides an immersion experience working with Smithsonian researchers and relevant collections, it also affords fellows a hands-on opportunity to explore relationships between research and public policy through direct interaction with Smithsonian leaders, and with policy 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
  • Strengthen understanding of the interplay between research and public policy & discourse
  • Gain skills at leveraging research to inform conversations about public policy & discourse


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 research advisor during the fellowship. Before submitting a proposal in application to the Smithson Fellowship, applicants should make contact with a potential research 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 research advisor during the applicant’s proposed fellowship tenure.

If selected, after arriving at the Smithsonian, a Smithson fellow will work with their research advisor to:

1) Outline research goals for their fellowship and identify points the fellow is interested in exploring where those research goals intersect with public policy & discourse.

2) Identify several other researchers and/or leaders at the Smithsonian to form a consultant committee. The consultant committee is meant to serve as a resource for the fellow during their tenure at the Smithsonian. Specifically, the consultant committee supports the fellow’s exploration into points they have identified where there is interplay between research and public policy & discourse. Activities that a consultant committee takes to support a Smithson fellow very much depends on the research area and interests being examined by the fellow.

For example, consultant committee members might invite a fellow to take part in meetings, events, or various one-on-one conversations that are relevant to the fellow’s area of study. At the request of a fellow, consultant committee members may point fellows toward particular documents, strategy sessions, key figures, or networks that are relevant to the the fellow’s interests. It is expected that during the Smithson experience that, should they seek it, a fellow will have the resources at their disposal to engage with leaders at government agencies, members of Congress, ambassadors, experts at nonprofit organizations and think-tanks, and others. If the fellow seeks access to these sorts of resources, their consultant committee is meant to help them make connections needed.

The fellow’s empirical research and study into the interplay between research and public policy & discourse is meant to be simultaneous and synergistic. See descriptions below about previous Smithson fellows’ projects.

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



Candidates must be U.S. citizens, 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 the following 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 research 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.

Target start date for this fellowship is on or about September 1, 2015.

Smithson Brochure


Previous James Smithson Fellowship Awardees


Shermin de Silva is a Smithson Fellow beginning in 2015. 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.


Clark Rushing was previously a Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellow at NZP in 2012. His a Smithson Fellowship started in 2014, advised 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 received 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.


Dr. Erica Farmer was the Smithsonian’s first James Smithson Fellow; she conducted her research between September 2013 and August 2014.

During her time at the Smithsonian Erica’s research 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.

You read about Erica delivering the first annual James Smithson Lecture on 5/14/14 here or watch below.