Graduate Student Research Opportunity in Agricultural Conservation and Watershed Planning

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Ames, IA, United States
Position Type: 
Organization Type: 
Experience Level: 
Not Specified
Degree Required: 
Bachelor's (Or Equivalent)


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*Applications will be reviewed on a rolling-basis.

Two research opportunities are currently available with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment located in Ames, Iowa.

This research opportunity will support a project to assist the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in utilizing a new technology for conservation planning in agricultural watersheds, called the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF). The project is developing ACPF planning results for a total of 30 small watersheds across eight states using geographic information systems (GIS) software, and delivering those results to participating NRCS state and local offices. Under the guidance of a mentor, the participant will be involved in facilitating interactions between the project's GIS analysis team and NRCS officials to evaluate and customize ACPF results to improve planning outcomes in each watershed. Additionally, under the guidance of an ARS mentor, the participant will also contribute to training NRCS staff on interpreting ACPF results and their use in planning and farmer engagement. Training resources are available to the participant and will continue to be developed as part of the project. We anticipate most interactions with NRCS staff will be remote (video conferencing), but limited travel may be involved. The participant will collaborate with project team members in ARS and at Iowa State University.

The learning objectives for the selected participants include:

  • Using data visualization to enhance conservation management of agricultural landscapes
  • Learning how ACPF tools can be customized to adjust output to match different agricultural landscapes
  • Database design and data management for agricultural watershed conservation
  • Enhancing communication skills for training and technology transfer in the context of a large project with multiple organizations and participants
  • Integrating research on natural resource conservation with the human dimension (social science)

This program, administered by ORAU through its contract with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to manage the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), was established through an interagency agreement between DOE and ARS. The initial appointment is for one year, but may be renewed for an additional year upon recommendation of ARS and is contingent on the availability of funds. The participant will receive a monthly stipend commensurate with educational level and experience. A health insurance allowance for single coverage will be provided, along with a travel allowance to cover all travel expenses. No relocation allowance will be provided. Proof of health insurance is required for participation in this program. The appointment is part-time (20 hours per week) at ARS in the Ames, Iowa, area. Participants do not become employees of USDA, ARS, DOE or the program administrator, and there are no employment-related benefits.

This opportunity is available to U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR) only.

For more information about the ARS Research Participation Program, please visit the Program Website.


The qualified candidate should be currently pursuing a master's or doctoral degree in one of the relevant fields.

Preferred skills:

  • Good academic background in agricultural conservation, natural resources management, environmental science, and/or watershed management
  • Coursework, research, and/or work experience with geographic information systems software
  • Coursework, research, and/or work experience in rural sociology or economics of resource conservation
  • Understanding of surveys and their use in social science research

Eligibility Requirements

  • Citizenship: LPR or U.S. Citizen
  • Degree: Currently pursuing a Master's Degree or Doctoral Degree.
  • Discipline(s):
    • Communications and Graphics Design (2 )
    • Computer Sciences (1 )
    • Earth and Geosciences (4 )
    • Engineering (2 )
    • Environmental and Marine Sciences (4 )
    • Life Health and Medical Sciences (4 )
    • Mathematics and Statistics (1 )
    • Social and Behavioral Sciences (6 )