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Postdoctoral Fellowships

Sustainability Innovation Leaders

How to Apply

Eligibility:

  • Ph.D. completion before fellowship begins

2021 cycle is open:

Questions or More Info:

At Cornell Atkinson, collaborating defines our approach to catalyzing change and creating scalable, lasting impact. Our postdoctoral fellowships reflect this commitment to partnership by teaming postdocs with advisors from both the Cornell faculty and nonacademic organizations. The Cornell Postdoctoral Fellowships in Sustainability and the new Atkinson-Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Postdoctoral Fellowships stimulate original cross-disciplinary research and the development of sustainable solutions by developing and deepening connections with external partners.

In the last five years, Cornell Atkinson has supported more than 20 postdoctoral fellows in translating research into real-world results, from biological control agents for small-scale farmers to renewable energy in China. By developing a cohort of postdoctoral scholars on campus working in sustainability and related fields, we are also building a core group of leaders capable of creating effective, workable solutions to the most serious sustainability questions. Applications are welcome from all disciplines across the natural and social sciences, as well as the arts and humanities.

Cornell Atkinson and EDF Postdocs are also eligible for our new Sustainability Leadership Program, designed in collaboration with EDF. This program offers professional development around interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaboration, science communication, policy, and career design.

 

Selections

  • 2020  

    Four Postdoctoral fellows were selected

    Sara Perl Egendorf

    Sara Perl Egendorf

    Education: PhD ’20, CUNY Graduate Center, New York
    Cornell Adviser: Jenny Kao-Kniffin
    External Partner: The NYC Mayor's Office of Environmental Remediation
    Theme: Increasing Food Security, Reducing Climate Risks
    Start Date: August 2020

    Sara Perl Egendorf (“Perl”) (she/her pronouns) was born and raised on unceded Lenape land (known as New York City), where she continues to learn from soils and people who work with them. Her PhD research at the City University of New York (CUNY) developed a multi-scalar systems approach for limiting exposure to lead (Pb) in soil, particularly by constructing new soils with the NYC Clean Soil Bank. As a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, she uses a range of biogeochemical and participatory action research methods to study bacterial and fungal communities in newly constructed soils, and the wide-ranging impacts these soils have. In collaboration with many experts outside of academia, she conducts experiments on the ways urban soils can mitigate climate change and promote food justice, with the aim of co-creating knowledge platforms that document and amplify the vital impacts of urban soils and urban growers.

    Greening the Smart City: Developing an Internet of Things (IoT) Platform for Enhancing Urban Soil Ecosystem Services, Food Justice, and Climate Change Mitigation

    Cities face many environmental challenges, and one globally ubiquitous yet drastically underexamined issue pertains to urban soil. Cities do contain soil; even New York City (NYC) has 36 percent of its surface covered by this life-supporting matrix. The heterogeneities of urban soil are vast, and yet in metropolitan areas throughout the world, they share one commonality: urban soils hold the legacy of contaminants such as lead (Pb), arsenic (As), polycyclic aromatic hyrdocarbons (PAHs), and many others. To mitigate exposure to such toxicants with life-altering and life-shortening effects, contaminated soils must be removed or at least covered. New soils (known as Constructed Technosols) are urgently needed to accomplish this goal.

    The NYC Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation (OER) has proposed a solution to this problem, the first of its kind in the United States. OER created the Clean Soil Bank (CSB), using deep excavated glacial sediments from development sites in the city for various beneficial and resiliency purposes. Since 2014, Egendorf has been the lead researcher examining the use of these sediments mixed with compost as growing media for urban agriculture and horticulture. Preliminary research shows that these soils provide adequate structure and function to mitigate contaminant exposure and support a wide range of ecosystem services including greenhouse gas sequestration, reduced storm-water runoff, reduced heat island effect, increased biodiversity, and increased food production and access. Soils are known to promote these ecosystem services, but the actual impacts of these Constructed Technosols have not yet been quantified, and many questions about their unique compositions remain unanswered.

    While this program can and should serve as a model for cities throughout the country and the world, it is not yet fully operational. OER is the primary external collaborator on this proposal because their goal is to have the city implement this program, and they recognize the need to gather more data before this can occur. Data must be gathered on various scales: on the biological communities and mineralogical associations comprising these soils; on the differences or similarities between CSB soils with other soils used for urban agriculture; on the ecosystem services provided by this program; and on the cost savings and societal benefits. These data must not simply be gathered – they must also be co-determined by community partners, so that they are accessible, shared, and understood by practitioners, agencies, and decision makers.

    Egendorf applied to Cornell Atkinson Postdoctoral Fellowship because of the Center’s interdisciplinary emphasis and systemic approach to environmental change. She is excited to work alongside so many visionary and proactive scholars. With support from Cornell Atkinson, Professor Kao-Kniffin from Horticulture, and Professor Parikh from Cornell Tech, Egendorf aims to co-construct an Internet of Things (IoT) platform with urban farmers for data sharing on urban soils. The mentorship and interdisciplinary guidance she receives as a Postdoctoral Fellow will enable her to work closely with a range of community partners to gather data towards understanding the impacts and benefits of constructed urban soils, particularly on ecosystem services pertaining to climate change mitigation and food justice, and to create an IoT model for making such understandings shared and accessible. In so doing, this work will support the creation of the first municipal urban soil distribution network and provide the monitoring and assessment platform to enable such programs to emerge in other locations.

    Juliet Lu

    Juliet Lu

    Education: PhD ’20, University of California, Berkeley
    Cornell Adviser: Philip McMichael
    External Partner: Mekong Region Land Governance Project
    Theme: Reducing Climate Risks
    Start Date: August 2020
     

    Juliet Lu is dedicated to driving global rubber supply chains to be more sustainable and inclusive. Specifically, her PhD dissertation documents how Chinese agribusiness firms adapt to new social and political challenges and affect trajectories of sustainable development as they move beyond China’s borders. She has a keen interest in how Chinese rubber investments transform landscapes, livelihoods, and state control in the Sino-Lao borderlands.

    In contrast to portrayals of Chinese capital as predatory, Lu has found that Chinese companies struggle to obtain land in Laos and often bow to the demands of local authorities and Laotian land users. In her research, Lu has demonstrated a far more complex, contingent relationship between Chinese investors and Laotian smallholder rubber farmers.

    Wheels of Change: Engaging Chinese Firms in Sustainable Rubber Supply Chain Initiatives

    Over a two-decade boom, monoculture rubber plantations expanded dramatically across Southeast Asia, driving mass clear-cutting of some of the world’s most biodiverse, carbon-rich forests. Responding to intense public pressure, six of the top global tire companies announced initiatives to make their supply chains more sustainable between 2016 and 2019. These sustainable supply chain initiatives are an increasingly popular approach to addressing social and environmental issues, in part because they target whole networks of actors instead of individual nodes.

    However, the rubber supply chain is particularly polarized. Although smallholders produce 85 percent of the world’s rubber, mid-stream (processing and export) companies, particularly Chinese agribusiness firms, exercise increasing control over the rubber supply chain more broadly. Curbing rubber’s contribution to deforestation and climate change will therefore hinge upon engaging upstream natural rubber suppliers in the region, including Southeast Asia’s vast army of independent smallholders, and the Chinese firms that have moved into planting and processing across the region. However, while most environmental and social justice advocacy groups have corporate engagement strategies for targeting established market firms, they struggle to engage firms from emerging market countries, like China and Vietnam, which have come to dominate rubber supply chains.

    Lu will examine this new challenge facing Chinese rubber companies today: the public push for sustainable rubber production. The central objective of Lu’s project is to understand how sustainable rubber initiatives will be implemented, and to identify strategies for constructively engaging Chinese rubber sector actors and smallholder farmers to enact change. Lu is partnering with Oxfam International and The Mekong Region Land Governance Project (MRLG) in this work.

    The global movement for sustainable rubber is new and rapidly evolving, and the research Lu plans to conduct would be impossible without working in close partnership with civil society actors on the ground in the Mekong Region. In academia, connecting with civil society groups, and especially producing tools and outputs that respond directly to their needs and questions on their more rapid timeline, is often respected but rarely rewarded or systematically supported. Lu feels this reflects the unique ethos of Cornell Atkinson's mission to catalyze collaborative and solution-oriented research. She developed her application in regular consultation with her civil society partners, which shaped a very different vision for her research program than she might otherwise formulate. Lu's research design is rooted in urgent questions that need answers and the concrete outputs she proposed serve the needs of her civil society partners first and foremost. All of the qualities of Cornell Atkinson, combined with Cornell's long history of supporting cutting edge, applied research in the fields of land politics, agriculture, and sustainable development, make this particular fellowship the best place for this project and for Lu as a scholar.

    Juana Munoz Ucros

    Juana Munoz Ucros

    Education: PhD ’20, Cornell University
    Cornell Adviser: Miguel Gomez
    External Partner: Centro de Investigaciones del Cafe - CENICAFE
    Themes: Increasing Food Security, Reducing Climate Risks, Advancing One Health
    Start Date: August 2020

    Growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, Muñoz-Ucros saw a country where inequality in land ownership conflicted with megadiverse forests, and she felt compelled to study sustainable agriculture. Her graduate studies in the U.S., at the University of Minnesota and Cornell, introduced her to the impacts of agriculture on global processes like nutrient cycling, climate change, and social justice. She has focused her research on how plants can recruit soil microbes when experiencing drought to improve plant performance. Partnering with Cenicafé (Centro Nacional de Investigaciones de Café), she will centralize her research on sustainably grown coffee production in Colombia, and novel farming techniques in order to address the impact of soil health on coffee quality.

    Developing rhizosphere engineering techniques that facilitate organic production for Colombian coffee farmers

    Colombian conventional coffee farmers are greatly restricted by high input costs and low and volatile coffee market prices, where production costs are often higher than the commodity market price of beans. Not only does this situation promote and reinforce global income inequality, but it is often financially unsustainable for smallholder coffee farmers, who are forced to switch to a different crop, or leave their farms and find employment elsewhere.

    However, organic and specialty coffee markets offer more stability and higher prices for high quality coffee, but little research or guidance is available to farmers on sustainable and organic coffee growing practices. Because of Colombia’s current political situation and the global climate change discourse, there is a great demand for sustainable alternatives to conventional farming practices which will promote low-input, resilient agroecosystems that foster biodiversity and offer farmers access to higher value markets.

    While humans have exploited a great deal of plant genetic resources, Muñoz-Ucros believes we have only scratched the surface of what microbial metabolism can do. In the context of optimizing and sustaining agricultural productivity with limited resources, plant-microbe interactions may be the most efficient and safest way to adapt to climate change and improve resource use efficiency. Her research data suggest that microbial communities can adapt to drought and alter plant performance, and can have lasting effects of subsequent generations of plants. These results reinforce her conviction that agriculture can be reinvented to use, not exclude, soil microbes.

    Soil microbial communities directly associated with roots, collectively called the rhizosphere microbiome, can influence plant performance, defenses, and the incidence of soil-borne pests and pathogens. However, these microbiomes are dependent on carbon food sources from plants, and there is abundant evidence that diversity in plant communities directly affects the root microbiome, suggesting that monocultures are at a disadvantage in using beneficial soil microbes. Muñoz-Ucros will strive to find the conditions under which optimized microbiomes can form on coffee roots, then evaluate farmer willingness to adopt new management practices that promote healthy soils and optimized microbiomes, and finally quantify the economic impact that such technology could have on farm-level financial sustainability. Muñoz-Ucros’s proposal aims to incorporate farmer behavior with novel techniques that focus on root-associated microbes to address the impact of soil health on coffee quality and evaluate the potential economic outcome.

    “I like the freedom that the fellowship allows to formulate interdisciplinary projects with immediate applicability. After completing all my advanced degrees in the US, this fellowship has given me an opportunity to work in my home country, and has opened doors and granted me the professional support that I otherwise would not have.”

    Jesse Rodenbiker

    Jesse Rodenbiker

    Education: PhD ’19, University of California, Berkeley
    Cornell Advisers: Cliff Kraft, John Zinda, and Raymond Craib
    External Partner: WWF Hong Kong
    Theme: Advancing One Health
    Start Date: January 2020

    Dr. Rodenbiker began studying sustainability and urbanism in China as an MA student at the University of Oregon. He went on to complete his doctorate at University of California, Berkeley with a dissertation called "Ecological States: Nature Conservation and Urban Development in China." This project explores the history of ecology in China, urban-rural land governance, and the politics of peri-urban displacement. His ongoing research continues to reconceptualize sustainable development through urban-rural interconnectivity, conservation planning, and sustainability practices. Before beginning at Cornell University, Dr. Rodenbiker was a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at Rutgers University. After his Postdoctoral Fellowship, he intends to continue research and teaching.

    Sustainable Maritime China

    China is the world's largest producer and consumer of marine fish, which includes both domestic aquaculture and catch from distant water fishing (DWF) fleets. With global fisheries overfished at a rate of 85 percent of global fishing stocks, China's role in oceanic environmental governance and the health of the world's oceans is undeniably important. Rodenbiker's research project will explore China's maritime activities internationally and domestically, considering economic, ecological, and political factors to make fisheries more sustainable. The project will also address measures to protect endangered wildlife, particularly those threatened through poaching for fish maw, the dried air bladder of large fish sold as one of the "four treasures" of traditional Chinese seafood cuisine.

    His research will assess the interconnections between urban consumption of endangered fish in Hong Kong, fisheries and trade on a global scale, as well as open ocean illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU). Rodenbiker’s study will take a three-pronged approach to address the urban biophysical metabolism of fish maw and the global political ecological forces precipitating this environmental crisis.

    First, he will employ genetic testing at "Dried Seafood Street" located in the Sheung Wan area—the key dried fish trading site in Hong Kong—to determine the species and provenance of fish maw on the market. This will be the first such genetic study of fish maw in Hong Kong markets and will be carried out in partnership with WWF Hong Kong.

    Second, he will conduct interviews with Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department, China's Ministry of Agriculture, DWF fishing companies, and Hong Kong traders regarding the political economy of fisheries. In addition, he will carry out surveys, interviews, and ethnography with Hong Kong residents on the cultural politics of consuming fish maw.

    Dr. Rodenbiker will also conduct interviews with marine conservation practitioners across national contexts to elucidate the challenges to maintaining sovereign control over regional fishing territories, such as EEZs and Marine Protected Areas (MPA). Through this three-pronged approach, his work aims to untangle the biophysical, political economic, social, and regulatory forces contributing to unsustainable urban consumption of sea life in Southern China and species endangerment on a global scale.

    "My project is inherently interdisciplinary," says Rodenbiker. "Sustainable Maritime China intersects with the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities because problems of global sustainability require multiple ways of understanding and addressing socio-environmental interactions. The Cornell Atkinson Postdoctoral Fellowship in Sustainability facilitates interdisciplinary connections with Cornell faculty, as well as partnerships with local NGOs. These cross-cutting collaborations are essential to the conceptual and practical work of sustainability."

    Publications related to this research project are available in Society and Space, China Dialogue Oceans, and in preparation for Global Environmental Change. In addition, Rodenbiker is completing a book manuscript for Cornell University Press based on extensive fieldwork in China titled, Ecological States: Politics of Sustainable Urbanization in China. Learn more at his research website.

  • 2019  

    Five Postdoctoral fellows were selected - announcement

    Adekunle Adesanya

    Adekunle Adesanya

    Education: PhD ’18, Washington State University
    Cornell Adviser: Katja Poveda
    External Partner:The International Center for Insect physiology and Ecology
    (ICIPE), Kenya
    Theme: Increasing Food Security
     

    Gemma Clucas

    Gemma Clucas

    Education: PhD ’17, University of Southampton and University of Oxford, UK
    Cornell Adviser: Amanda Rodewald
    External Partner: Northeast Fisheries Science Center
    Theme: Achieving One Health
     

    Tomasz Falkowski

    Tomasz Falkowski

    Education: PhD ’18, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
    Cornell Advisers: Laurie Drinkwater, Johannes Lehmann
    External Partner: Dana, A.C.
    Themes: Increasing Food Security, Reducing Climate Risks
     

    Katherine McClure

    Katherine McClure

    Education: PhD ’17, University of California Santa Cruz
    Cornell Adviser: Steven Osofsky
    External Partner: American Bird Conservancy
    Theme: Achieving One Health
     

    Faraz Usmani

    Faraz Usmani

    Education: PhD ’19, Duke University
    Cornell Adviser: Christopher Barrett
    External Partner: German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ)
    Theme: Accelerating Energy Transitions
     

  • 2018  

    Five Postdoctoral fellows were selected - announcement

    Rafael Almeida

    Rafael Almeida

    Education: PhD ’17, Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora (Brazil)
    Cornell Adviser: Alexander Flecker
    External Partner: Wildlife Conservation Society
    Focus Area: Computational Sustainability
     

    Ben Augustine

    Ben Augustine

    Education: PhD ’17, Virginia Tech
    Cornell Adviser: Angela Fuller
    External Partner: Wildlife Conservation Society
    Focus Area: Computational Sustainability
     

    Cynthia Bartel

    Cynthia Bartel

    Education: PhD ’17, Iowa State University
    Cornell Adviser: Matthew Ryan
    External Partner: The Land Institute
    Focus Area: Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems
     

    Tyler Harlan

    Tyler Harlan

    Education: PhD ’17, University of California, Los Angeles
    Cornell Adviser: John Zinda
    External Partner: Global Environmental Institute
    Focus Area: Energy Transitions
     

    Aaron Koning

    Aaron Koning

    Education: PhD ’18, University of Wisconsin Center for Limnology
    Cornell Adviser: Peter McIntyre
    External Partner: Conservation International
    Focus Area: Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems
     

  • 2017  

    Three Postdoctoral fellows were selected

  • 2016  

    Three Postdoctoral fellows were selected

  • 2015  

    Four Postdoctoral fellows were selected

Primary Research Areas: