Aktinson-EDF Postdoc Fellow (Groundwater Management)

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)
Various, United States
Position Type: 
Organization Type: 
NGO/Civil Society
Experience Level: 
Not Specified
Degree Required: 


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With world attention on both the environment and the economy, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is where policymakers and business leaders turn for win-win solutions. By focusing on strong science, uncommon partnerships and market-based approaches, we tackle urgent threats with practical solutions. We are one of the world’s largest environmental organizations, with more than two million members and a staff of approximately 700 scientists, economists, policy experts, and other professionals around the world. We operate in 22 geographies with unique projects running across four programs. You will be part of a vibrant workplace that welcomes diverse perspectives, talents and contributions, where innovation and results are a way of life.

EDF envisions a world in which people from all backgrounds and experiences feel connected to the environmental challenges we face and are engaged in creating durable, equitable solutions. We seek talented candidates who share the Core Values that allow us to experiment courageously in our work while staying true to who we’ve been as an organization for 50 years. Are you a results oriented individual who is passionate about creating environmental solutions that make a lasting difference in the world? Do you respect diverse perspectives, talents and contributions? Do you value innovation and enjoy designing and using a wide range of problem-solving tools? Do you embrace environmental goals with a sense of optimism while taking into account real-world dynamics? If you have integrity and a strong desire to uphold a commitment to science, rigorous analysis, intellectual honesty and ethical action, then EDF is the place for you.

EDF-Atkinson Post-doctoral Fellows will find a unique opportunity to advance joint research efforts between the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell University and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) that are relevant to informing policy and practice, while supporting the broader policy and engagement work of EDF program staff. Post-doctoral Fellows will gain experience not only in designing research plans and conducting cutting-edge applied research to answer important questions in their respective fields, but also in how to best support advocacy and the design of effective policies.

Program Overview

The Postdoctoral Fellowship program is intended to infuse the research being done at EDF and the Atkinson Center with greater energy, innovation, and impact by:

  • Stimulating original cross-disciplinary research and development of impactful solutions that address the world’s most pressing environmental challenges
  • Developing and deepening collaboration between the Atkinson Center and EDF in order to speed the creation and implementation of viable sustainability solutions
  • Building a cohort of environmental scientists with the intellectual skills and experience to create effective, workable solutions to the most serious sustainability and environmental questions.

In particular, this position focuses on the economics of groundwater management, institutions, and policy. The sustainable management of groundwater resources is a critical issue worldwide and especially in the American West. Communities across the American West face significant challenges in crafting effective institutions to manage their scarce groundwater resources and transition out of unsustainable open-access regimes. A better understanding of the bargaining and institutional problems associated with sustainable groundwater management and institutional change will become even more important as climate change alters hydrologic regimes across the West, and as efforts to measure the resource and define rights to groundwater intensify. The Post-doctoral Fellow will advance joint Cornell-EDF research efforts relevant to informing policy and practice in sustainable groundwater management by conducting cross-disciplinary research at the interface of economics, natural science, and policy, and by developing impactful solutions to pressing groundwater management challenges.

Overall Function

The Post-doctoral Fellow will undertake novel economics research to inform participation and intervention in ongoing groundwater management processes, with a goal of effecting institutional change that promotes efficient water use and environmental benefits. The Fellow will also synthesize lessons learned from experiences in groundwater basins in the American West, including Arizona, California, Texas, Colorado, and/or New Mexico, and perhaps other Western states that have successfully transitioned out of open-access regimes in collaborative processes. Depending on his or her background and interests, and on where data, information, policy-relevant economics questions and engagement opportunities become most available, the Fellow will likely focus his or her novel economic research on one of the following states: Arizona, Texas, Colorado, or New Mexico. Key research and policy issues that the Fellow will focus on include: identifying and characterizing barriers to successful transitions out of open access management, describing the real and perceived driver that move users to manage groundwater resources, illustrating the variable effectiveness of different mechanisms for prompting transitions, and designing promising methods for EDF to facilitate successful transitions.

Anticipated work products include research outputs that result in publication in top economics and policy journals, academic presentations, outreach presentations, contributions toward a synthesis report on lessons learned in concert with other EDF staff, and policy briefs. The Post-doctoral Fellow will be mentored by Dr. C.–Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell (Cornell), and Dr. Christina Babbitt and either Dr. Daniel Willard (if based in Texas) or Dr. Suzi Kerr (if based in California) from EDF. Additional support will be provided by Dr. Andrew Ayres (Public Policy Institute of California). The Co-PIs will guide the direction of research, facilitate interactions with EDF staff and experts, co-author journal submissions, and advise on research difficulties as they emerge.

Key Responsibilities

Tasks will include but are not limited to:

  • Produce research on the economics of groundwater use and management in the American West, with a goal of producing original publishable research, synthesizing lessons learned, and designing effective interventions.
  • Work with project Co-PIs to design an executable research agenda that focuses on feasible, high-impact economic analysis.
  • Work with project Co-PIs and EDF program staff to complete a synthesis report on lessons learned across the American West, and identify and pursue novel research questions based on this synthesis.
  • Co-author papers with project Co-PIs and EDF program staff for publication in top economics and policy journals; this will include economic and econometric analysis of the determinants of returns to groundwater management as well as the scope and scale of relevant open-access externalities.
  • Monitor the relevant literature and keep abreast of ongoing policy developments in areas of focus.
  • Support EDF teams in understanding the economic aspects of groundwater management in the West and incorporating this understanding into program activities.
  • Conduct institutional analysis in collaboration with EDF program staff
  • Build upon EDF’s experience where it is actively engaged on groundwater to identify and collect detailed data and information.
  • Be involved in EDF engagement activities with stakeholders and policymakers
  • Site visits to areas where the research is being undertaken in state of focus for novel economic research (Arizona, Texas, Colorado, or New Mexico).
  • Participate in and present at research seminars at Cornell University.
  • Participate fully in the Atkinson Center/EDF Sustainability Leadership Professional Development Training Program and related Atkinson/EDF activities.
  • Co-author policy briefs with project Co-PIs and EDF program staff.


  • Ph.D. in environmental and natural resource economics, or related field. Completed and conferred by October 1, 2019, and no more than 3 years earlier.
  • Preferred areas of disciplinary research interest: natural resource economics, new institutional economics, applied econometrics or statistics.
  • Willingness to collaborate with and integrate insights of scholars from other disciplines.
  • Demonstrated ability to produce novel empirical research and publish in economics, political science, and/or water policy journals.
  • Existing knowledge of Western water policy, politics, and economics.
  • Willingness to travel and work in the American West.
  • Experience with relevant software and coding languages, including R, STATA, ArcGIS.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Must be well organized, motivated, and detail-oriented
  • Ability to multi-task, prioritize, and meet deadlines.
  • Ability to work in a team setting and have the ability to work independently when projects are due.
  • Demonstrate initiative and problem-solving skills.
  • This Fellowship may require travel to Ithaca, New York.


San Francisco, CA, Sacramento, CA, or Austin, TX.


Two years. The second year is contingent upon performance and mutual agreement between the Fellow and supervisors.

Application Materials

Interested applicants should attach their cover letter and resume/CV to the EDF application, together with an unofficial transcript, a writing sample, and contact information for three references.

Environmental Defense Fund is an equal opportunity employer where an applicant's qualifications are considered without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other basis prohibited by law.