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James Smithson Fellowship Program

James Smithson

James Smithson

The 2018 James Smithson Fellowship Application is now CLOSED 

Application Deadline: Monday January 15, 2018

Start date: Monday September 10, 2018

End Date: Friday September 6, 2019

Because the James Smithson Fellowship Program involves participation in a cohort the start and end dates for this program are firm and can’t be changed.

Theme for 2018: History, Memory, Authenticity

After hearing the Declaration of Independence read aloud on the night of July 9, 1776, a group of American colonists proceeded to Lower Manhattan, tied ropes around an equestrian statue of King George III, and pulled it down.

Although debate about public symbols and what they represent is as old as our nation itself, recently the volume of public discourse attempting to reconcile meaning attached to historic people, objects, and places has increased. As discussion about history’s “authenticity” in social media and modern society has surged, so too has dialogue about the meaning of scientific research and its uses in public life.

This public desire for modern life to be better informed by history and science presents an opportunity for researchers to engage in a number of pressing conversations on the national and global level.

In no particular order, subjects for independent study or research through the 2018 James Smithson Fellowship might include but are not limited to:

  • Names and Namesakes: What Places and Buildings are Called
  • When Research Meets Politics
  • Divisive Symbols in Public Spaces
  • Remembering the Past, Honoring Victims
  • The Ethics of Using Historical Data Obtained Unethically
  • Historic Figures, Modern Norms: The Question of Context
  • The Changing Meaning of Material Culture
  • Documenting and Preserving Intangible Cultural Heritage
  • Iconoclasm
  • When Seeing and Believing Collide
  • Popular News and Climate Change
  • The Life of Monuments in the 21st Century
  • Democracy and Public Spaces
  • When Science was Wrong in the Past
  • Portraiture and the Face in a Digital Age
  • Contemporary Ethnography as a Lens to Pre-History
  • Nostalgia and Reflection in History and Policy
  • Ambivalent or Unwanted Legacies
  • War Memorials, Trauma, and Identity
  • National Narratives in a time of Changing Borders


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 post-doctoral researchers interested in gaining a better understanding about the interplay between scholarship and public policy 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 an experience that leverages both scholarly and practical expertise in an environment of innovation like no other. The goals of the James Smithson Fellowship Program provide fellows with the opportunity to:

  • Conduct scholarly research at the Smithsonian
  • Strengthen understanding of the interplay between research and public policy
  • Gain skills at leveraging research to inform conversations about public policy

How It Works:

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

As part of 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 their applications, applicants should make contact with a prospective research advisor to verify that the Smithsonian expert they have identified is a good fit for their proposed research project, and also available to serve as a research advisor during the proposed fellowship tenure.

In addition to the opportunity to conduct independent research, those who accept awards under the James Smithson Fellowship Program form the James Smithson Fellow Cohort during their time at the Smithsonian. As members of this cohort, James Smithson Fellows are obliged to participate in a series of activities (i.e. conferences, meetings, presentations, etc.) designed to enrich their fellowship experience by highlighting aspects of public policy that inform scholarly research, and visa-versa.

Though absences from cohort activities can be excused by the Office of Fellowships and Internships under extenuating circumstances, full participation in cohort activities is generally required as a condition of being a part of the James Smithson Fellowship Program.

During the James Smithson Fellowship experience, empirical research and study into the interplay between research and public policy is meant to be simultaneous and synergistic. See descriptions of previous James Smithson Fellowship projects below.

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

In addition to this base stipend, allowances may also be provided to help cover relocation, health insurance, and research expenses.


Candidates must be U.S. citizens and not more than five years beyond receipt of their doctorate degree. 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 Smithsonian 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 from the Office of Fellowships and Internships.

How to Apply:

The James Smithson Fellowship Program is offered in every even numbered year.  All applications must be submitted through the Smithsonian Online Academic Appointment System (SOLAA) 

Each application must include:

  • Candidate Statement: A summary of background and expertise; practical interests related to an area of study; career objectives and how the fellowship may support those goal (no more than two pages).
  • Abstract : Abstract of the proposed research (no more than one page).
  • Research Proposal: Excluding other parts of the application such as the abstract and bibliography this is the  full statement of your research (no more than 1,500 words, maximum of six pages with 12-point typescript, double-spaced). 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 our research facilities and resources.
    • Identify the Smithsonian research staff who will serve as your principal advisor. Identification of a Smithsonian advisor is a requirement. You are strongly encouraged to correspond with your advisor in preparing your proposal.
  • Timetable: Estimate of the time period it will take to achieve your research objectives.
  • Budget and Justification: Budget and justification for equipment, supplies, research-related travel costs, and other support required to conduct the research itself. This excludes stipend and relocation costs. You are encouraged to discuss potential research costs with your advisor before submitting your application.  If the funds you require 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 (no more than two pages).
  • Curriculum vitae: Current curriculum vitae that highlights education, expertise, achievements and honors, and publications. Should include a description of your research interests (not to exceed five pages). 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 name and email address of three persons familiar with your research. These references will be asked to submit a confidential letter of recommendation online.
    • Encourage your references to submit their letters by the application deadline.
    • Please provide a copy of your proposal and a copy of the Letter to Reference (downloadable PDF) to each of your references. Each applicant is responsible for ensuring that all letters of from references are submitted by the deadline. Applications with fewer than three letters of recommendation may not be considered.

Selection Criteria:

Please note above the current theme for the James Smithson Fellowship program.

Applications will be evaluated by both Smithsonian leadership and by scholars in appropriate fields. Candidates are evaluated on the the following criteria:

  • The degree to which the proposed research is innovative and relates to the theme;
  • The level to which the proposed research project relates to public policy issues surrounding the theme;
  • 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 the applicant’s interests;
  • How closely the applicant’s career aspirations relate to the opportunity;
  • Candidate’s potential for leadership as evidenced by past performance;
  • The quality of the candidate’s 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 based on race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, gender stereotyping, pregnancy, and sexual orientation), national origin, age, disability, genetic information, parental status, or marital status of any applicant.

Smithson Brochure


Previous James Smithson Fellowship Awardees


Karin T. Burghardt is the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Fellow awarded through the James Smithson Fellowship Program. She is collaborating with Dr. John Parker an ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC).

Her research is broadly focused on how plant defenses and diversity shape communities and ecosystems.

Early work with Dr. Douglas Tallamy focused on how plant novelty and phylogenetic relatedness to native plant community shapes herbivorous insect host use and community composition. This led to intraspecific work examining how induced defenses in Solidago altissma impact insect populations while simultaneously altering fluxes and flows of nutrients.

Her current research at the Smithsonian utilizes Smithsonian’s large-scale tree diversity manipulation plots at SERC and SCBI (BiodiversiTREE) to examine the role of neighboring tree taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional diversity in determining caterpillar community composition and host use.

Jeremy Feinberg the Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan Fellow awarded through the James Smithson Fellowship Program. He is collaborating with Dr. Kevin de Queiroz at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and Dr. Jessica Deichmann at the National Zoological Park (NZP).

His research is broadly focused on natural history, habitat use, movement ecology, and metapopulation dynamics.

Early research for his PhD involved studying the disappearance of leopard frogs from many parts of the New York metropolitan area. This work led to the unexpected discovery of a previously unidentified cryptic leopard frog species across parts of the mid-Atlantic region.

His current research at the Smithsonian extends his work on leopard frogs by exploring biodiversity, conservation needs and ecologies of rare species particularly amphibians and reptiles in urban settings.

Matthew S. Leslie is the Secretary G. Wayne Clough Fellow awarded through the James Smithson Fellowship Program. He has been collaborating with Nicholas Pyenson and Kristofer Helgen at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and National Zoological Park (NZP).

His research broadly focuses on conservation-driven studies of the ecology and evolution of marine mammals. He is especially interested in uncovering natural patterns and processes of ecology, population biology, and evolution in order to provide targeted conservation actions for marine mammal species protection and recovery.

Matt has done extensive fieldwork on whales in Madagascar, the western Hawaiian Islands, the Gulf of Mexico, the Bahamas, Cambodia, Australia, and most recently Chile.

His current research at the Smithsonian includes diversity in whales and dolphins using field studies, applied conservation genetics, and paleontology.

Dara Satterfield is the Smithsonian Institution National Board Fellow awarded through the James Smithson Fellowship Program. She is collaborating with Peter Marra and Scott Sillett at the National Zoological Park (NZP).

Her research broadly focuses on migration biology and infectious disease ecology. She investigates these areas through the study of insects to inform conservation efforts for migratory species and to connect public audiences with insects through citizen science.

Her past research involving wild monarch butterflies indicated they declined by 75% from 2010 to 2015 alarming conservationists and government agencies which heralded a presidential memo to save pollinators.

Her current research at the Smithsonian includes Investigating and protecting migratory insects critical to ecosystem processes. She seeks to clarify questions related to parasite spread and transmission.


Alyson Hayes Fleming commenced her Smithson Fellowship in December 2015. She is collaborating with Dr. Nick Pyenson and Dr. Kris Helgen at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH).

Her current research project focuses on the study of Arctic marine mammals as historical records and sentinels of climate change.  Using the extensive SI collections of cetacean specimens Fleming is working to identify ecological responses of Arctic cetaceans to historical environmental fluctuations utilizing stable isotopes as proxies for species habitat and diet. The primary objective of the study is to achieve a comprehensive view of ecosystem processes taking place within the Arctic region, which, being the site of some of the most rapid and dramatic climate change on earth, remains underexplored due to many scientific challenges.

Throughout her career Fleming developed a substantial expertise examining oceanographic influences on cetacean species distribution and habitat preferences. She participated in a National Marine Fisheries Service global review of humpback whales under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and co-authored a memorandum characterizing the species population in terms of the structure, abundance, growth rates, genetic diversity and threats. Fleming completed her Ph.D as an interdisciplinary fellow within the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, in 2013. She received her B.Sc in Biology from Tufts University in Boston, MA, in 2004. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, Dr. Fleming was a Knauss Sea Grant Fellow – Foreign Affairs Officer at the Department of State’s Office of Marine Conservation in Washington D.C.

Shermin de Silva began her Smithson Fellowship in 2015. She collaborated with Dr. Peter Leimgruber at the National Zoological Park (NZP).

Her interests involved the study of “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 modeled demographic rates in relation to habitat, extent, and water availability. She used 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 collaborated with Dr. Peter Marra of the National Zoolological Park (NZP). His interests involved 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.