The National Estuarine Research Reserve System’s (NERRS) Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) Program was established in 1997 to support graduate students interested in coastal and estuarine sciences. By providing stipends, a living laboratory, and a broad network of fellow scientists, the Reserve system aims to encourage and enable talented young scientists to contribute to the knowledge base, provide the science to support coastal decision-making, and train future coastal scientists and policy-makers.
One of the largest graduate programs supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the GRF program has supported more than 300 students since 1997. Fellows conduct their master’s and doctoral research in the 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves located in 22 states and Puerto Rico – truly living laboratories for scientists, teachers, and students.
The National Estuarine Research Reserves are partnerships between NOAA and the coastal states. The Reserves are managed and protected by state agencies and universities for long-term research, education, and stewardship. NOAA provides matched operations funding as well as program guidance and technical support, but management priorities address local and regional issues and needs.
GRF projects support the Reserve system by studying pressing estuarine management topics with local, regional, and/or national significance. Fellows also engage with reserve staff members to contribute to their host reserves’ research and/or monitoring, stewardship, education, or coastal training programs, while gaining hands-on skills to complement their academic studies.
Fellowship projects enhance scientific understanding of reserve ecosystems, provide information needed by reserve managers and coastal management decision-makers, and improve public awareness of estuarine ecosystems and estuarine management issues.
The Graduate Research Fellowship Program’s Focus Areas are:
- Nutrient dynamics and/or effects of non-point source pollution and eutrophication;
- Habitat conservation and restoration;
- Biodiversity and/or effects of invasive species;
- Mechanisms of sustaining estuarine ecosystems;
- Economic, sociological, and anthropological research applicable to estuarine ecosystem management.
To date, more than a million dollars have been awarded each year on a competitive basis to graduate students admitted to or enrolled in a full-time master’s or doctoral program at accredited U.S. universities. Two fellowships are funded at each reserve every year.
Fellows are selected based on the quality of the proposed research, the applicability of the topic to the Reserve system’s scientific focus areas, the resource management goals of the proposed reserve(s), and the student’s academic record (based on applicant’s transcripts and two letters of reference). Fellows can receive up grants for up to three years of research.
A large number of current and past fellows present their work at the international Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation conference held biannually in the fall. A GRF reception is hosted at this meeting to provide an opportunity for current and past fellows to network and share their experiences. Fellows also share project information with local reserve constituencies and academic partners, and most publish their work in highly regarded peer reviewed journals such as Estuaries, American Scientist, Conservation Biology, American Anthropology, and Oecologia.
Fellows’ academic merit and standard of achievement is high and their work is often recognized for their significance to coastal management. For example, six NOAA Graduate Research Fellows have been awarded Walter B. Jones Memorial Awards for Excellence in Coastal Marine Graduate Study since the inception of the program. The Jones Awards honor those who exemplify innovation, resourcefulness, leadership, and a commitment to balancing the human use of America’s coastal and ocean resources with the needs of the resources themselves.
Upon graduation, fellows find relevant employment in state and federal government, consulting firms, and academia. Several fellows in academia are now nurturing their students’ careers through the GRF Program. We also have a number of former fellows who are now employed in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System as well as NOAA.
The National Estuarine Research Reserve Graduate Research Fellowship Program provides a remarkable opportunity for students to follow their academic passions in living laboratories, gain hands-on experience working with reserve programs in research/monitoring, education, and stewardship. Fellows contribute to scientific understanding of estuaries and coastal management in a collaborative and supportive environment.
NERRS Celebrates 10 Years of Graduate Research Fellowships