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A Unique Fellowship Opportunity:

Image of James SmithsonThe 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 scholars and leaders 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.

Started through the generosity of Paul Neely, immediate past chair of the Smithsonian National Board, the James Smithson Fellowship Program will offer an early career opportunity for scholars interested in gaining experience in both scholarship and policy through a Smithsonian lens.  The fellowship will provide an immersion experience working with Smithsonian scholars and relevant collections; in addition the fellows will develop an inside view of how policy is crafted and resource plans designed by participating in a well-planned program offering direct experience internally with Smithsonian leaders, and externally with leaders throughout the Washington, DC network.

The program is designed for a new generation of leaders, who seek a hands-on learning experience found nowhere else.


  • Conduct scholarly research at the Smithsonian
  • Gain an understanding of the interface between research/scholarship and policy
  • Gain experience in public policy matters and leadership skills

Program Description:

The James Smithson Fellowship Program is open to post-doctoral students in the fields of science, the humanities and the arts.  Fellows will work in 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. Specific fellowships will be tailored to each individual’s interests, field and talents. With such broad exposure, the James Smithson Fellowship Program graduates will secure, through personal experience, knowledge and understanding of how their work can contribute to decision-making in a broader context.  The new program is the Smithsonian’s first to combine the best of the Institution’s vast scholarship and collections and its unparalleled access to the nation’s capital in one year-long learning experience.

Program Elements

  • The James Smithson Fellowswill have two Smithsonian mentors:
    • The scholarly mentor will be responsible for oversight of the scholarly plan.
    • The policy mentor will help to guide policy-related opportunities.  Fellows will be provided opportunities to work closely with Smithsonian leaders and to meet with key administration staff to better understand how scholarship informs policy matters.
  • The program will provide 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.
  • Consideration also may be given to training programs and other social (networking) events offered within and outside the Smithsonian. 
  • The Smithsonian Office of Fellowships and Internships will provide administrative support including an orientation to the Smithsonian.


Candidates will be evaluated on three main criteria:

  • The innovativeness of the proposed research project;
  • How closely their career aspirations relate to the opportunity;
  • Potential for leadership as evidenced by past performance
  • The quality of their academic record.

Candidates must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and not more than five years beyond receipt of their Ph.D. degree by December 31, 2012. Candidates with professional degrees are also eligible to apply.

Application Guidelines:

Applications must be received by January 15, 2013. Each application must include:

  • Candidate statement (limited to two pages):  Should include a summary of background and expertise; specific areas or issues of policy interest within the fellowship experience; career objectives and how the fellowship may support those goals.
  • Research Proposal:
  • 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 five persons familiar with your work. These references will be asked to submit a confidential letter online.
    • Three letters of recommendation must support the research proposal. One of these recommendations should be a Smithsonian-based research mentor.
    • Two letters of recommendation must explain why you would be well suited to a fellowship that supports policy as an objective. 

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 five letters of recommendation may not be considered.

Selection Process:

  • 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.
  • Only applicants who have identified a research mentor (documented by letter of support) 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 training by September 1, 2013.

Tags: DC, Fellowship, James, Program, Smithson, Washington

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