Paleontology in the Parks Fellowship Program

A collaboration between the National Park Service & Paleontological Society

Program Description

The Paleontology in the Parks Fellowship Program is designed to foster collaboration between members of the Paleontological Society (PS) and the National Park Service (NPS) by working together to help address fossil project needs in parks across the United States. Paleontological resources are known from 283 NPS units, whereby fossils are documented in situ, preserved in museum collections, or recorded in cultural contexts.

Map from https://www.nps.gov/subjects/fossils/fossil-parks-list.htm

The NPS welcomes the support of  individuals interested in contributing to the study and stewardship of fossils in the parks from students to teachers, avocational to professional paleontologists, and beyond. All members of the community are important in helping to protect paleontological resources service-wide. This particular fellowship program seeks applications from mentor-student pairs. That is, we seek the expertise of professionals to aid in paleontology projects with a commitment to guide a student in leading that research collaboratively with the NPS. Our goal is to provide research and professional development opportunities for students (including recent graduates) while supported by the expertise of a mentor suitable to contribute to specific NPS paleontology projects. Students in the program are additionally expected to participate in related education and outreach endeavors as part of the fellowship to foster their professional growth in learning more about federal careers and help promote the discipline.

Student-Mentor Eligibility:

Applications will be accepted from student-mentor pairs for specific paleontology projects identified by the NPS. Mentors will need to demonstrate their expertise and commitment in being able to contribute to a project through their own participation and guidance of a student on this work. Mentors at all levels are welcome, but in particular faculty who are earlier in their career are encouraged to apply. Students will receive a stipend to support their role in leading project work for the NPS, and as relevant to specific projects, additional funds will be provided to cover fieldwork expenses for both the student and mentor at the park if on-site work is needed. More program details are provided in a later section on application requirements.

Types of Projects & Funding Levels:

All students selected for the Paleontology in the Parks Fellowship will receive a stipend in support of their work on a project for the National Park Service. Opportunities to engage in fieldwork at a specific park may be available through this program; additional funds for such experiences will vary based on anticipated expenses for both student and mentor participants. Two project and funding levels are outlined here. We encourage mentors to consider how these projects may be suitable for summer research experiences, senior capstones, MS theses, etc.

Shorter-Term/Small-Scale Projects:
These projects are anticipated to involve work on a weekly schedule that could be either ~20 hrs/week for 2 months or ~10 hrs/week for 4 months or ~5 hrs/week for 6 months.

Fellowship stipend: $1500*

  • Travel/field expenses for work at a park as needed by the NPS will be additionally available in amounts up to $1000 for the student and up to $1000 for the mentor. 

Examples:

  • Researching or drafting a chapter for a paleontological resource inventory for a park focused only on specific taxonomic groups of fossils at a park or a thematic focus area for a park.
  • Developing education/outreach resources and related programming for a park.
  • Identifying fossil specimens and/or documenting fossil assemblages for a park.

Longer-Term/Large-Scale Projects:
These projects are anticipated to involve work projected to be ~8 hrs/week over a year. These projects could alternatively involve condensed periods of full-time work at a park.

Fellowship stipend: $3500*

  • Travel/field expenses for work at a park as needed by the NPS will be additionally available in amounts up to $1500 for the student and up to $1500 for the mentor.

Examples:

  • Completing a comprehensive paleontological resource inventory for a park. 
    • Depending on the park, project work could include synthesizing existing literature, studying specimen collections, assessing field localities, exploring management issues, examining opportunities for education and outreach, making recommendations for future work, and writing of the final report. 
  • Completing a comprehensive thematic paleontological resource inventory report focused on a group of fossils found across all parks. Previous reports of this nature have included inventorying fossils associated with caves, non-avian dinosaurs, proboscideans, trilobites, paleontological resources in cultural contexts, and more. 

Public versions of these comprehensive paleontological resource inventory reports can be found here and here.

*Fellowship stipends start at these amounts but may be higher depending on the scope of work involved. Typically, projects that have no field component/expenses and instead require more intense literature or database research will have increased stipends.

Mentor Responsibilities:

The primary role of the mentor is to guide and support the project work of the student in this fellowship program. The mentor is expected to be an active collaborator in the research process in order to ensure that project needs are met and that professional guidance is available to the National Park Service. The mentor is responsible for directing the student in the project experience, leading initial communication with the NPS about project goals, and providing expertise and encouragement for the student to succeed in the project work. The mentor will be asked to complete an evaluation of the program experience at the conclusion of the work.

Student Responsibilities:

The primary role of the student is to contribute to a paleontology project as guided by the mentor and the National Park Service. Requirements aside from specific project goals include:

  1. Provide photos and write-ups for the Paleontological Society to share on social media
    • Note: Project details to be shared online must be approved before posting by the National Park Service as certain details about paleontological resources may need to remain protected.
  2. Draft an article for the Park Paleontology Newsletter. See here for more about the newsletter and here for access to previous issues.
  3. Complete a service event in support of education and outreach for the Paleontological Society and/or National Park Service such as helping at the PS booth at GSA or other conferences, contributing to local activities for National Fossil Day, etc.
  4. Participate in a selection of 2-3 professional/career development opportunities (such as attendance in webinars offered online) as directed by the Paleontological Society and/or National Park Service.
  5. Submit an evaluation at the conclusion of the program in reflection of your experiences. The prompts will include reporting on your various contributions to the project work.

Application Requirements:

The application period for the Paleontology in the Parks Fellowship Program is expected to open in April 2022. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis prior to the deadline as funds are available or until opportunities are filled. Because funding for specific projects may become available as park needs are identified, opportunities may be posted on a periodic basis throughout the year.

Mentors must meet all of the following requirements.

  1. Have expertise to contribute to the specific park paleontology project advertised
  2. Be a member of The Paleontological Society 
  3. Provide a letter of support for the application that includes reference to the following (1-2 pages maximum):
    1. A recommendation for the student applicant
    2. A statement of commitment to guide the student in the project work
    3. A summary of qualifications to participate in the project as a professional paleontologist by demonstrating relevant expertise to the project work
  4. Include a CV/biosketch (no more than 2 pages)
  5. Complete the mentor application form here:

Students must meet all of the following requirements.

  1. Be a degree-seeking student enrolled or recently graduated from an undergraduate or graduate program at an academic institution in the U.S.
  2. Be a member of The Paleontological Society
  3. Provide a statement of interest for the application that includes the following criteria (1-2 pages maximum):
    1. A description of your interests and expected contributions to the project
    2. A summary of relevant experience in support of your application
    3. A discussion of your career goals and how this work will impact your next steps
  4. Include a CV/biosketch (no more than 2 pages)
  5. Complete the student application form here

Program Duration:

The program period for the Paleontology in the Parks Fellowship is one year. Timelines for project work may vary depending on agreements between the student, mentor, and NPS unit given the scale of the project; however, deliverables for this fellowship program are due unless otherwise stated one year after initial funds are awarded.

Program Participation:

All individuals selected to participate in this program must adhere to professional and ethical guidelines as outlined by the Non-Discrimination and Member Code of Conduct Policy for the Paleontological Society and the 2009 Paleontological Resources Protection Act that applies to fossils on federal lands including all units managed by the National Park Service. The 2018 Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Paleontological Society and the National Park Service should serve as a guide for all Paleontology in the Parks Fellowship Program activities.

Contact Information:

The Paleontology in the Parks Fellowship Program is coordinated by Christy Visaggi, as representative of the Paleontological Society. Please email if you have questions about the program or application process. Thanks to the Paleontological Society and Vincent Santucci, Senior Paleontologist and Paleontology Program Coordinator for the National Park Service, for their ongoing support and contributions to the development of this program.