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Biodiversity Fellowships 2024-2025 will nurture young talent in the area of biodiversity sciences, with the goal of preparing Fellows to tackle knowledge gaps in species discovery, building the tree of life, and broad evolutionary, ecological and genetic insights into the biodiversity heritage of India. These are one-year, pre-doctoral, mentored fellowships. 


BACKGROUND: India is blessed with unparalleled biodiversity that is rich in charismatic animal and plant species, and countless microorganisms that occur across its hill ranges, forests, grasslands, rivers and marine ecosystems. Yet, a considerable portion of India’s biodiversity still remains poorly documented, with little scientific understanding of its evolutionary and genetic provenance, current ecological context, and long-term future. Additionally, many species are yet to be scientifically named and documented. The discrepancy between levels of biodiversity and knowledge gaps may be understood as shortfalls based on missing scientific insights into species discovery, the tree of life (molecular phylogenetics), species abundance and distribution, and abiotic tolerances, species interactions and genetic heritage that enable persistence of populations and species in an ever-changing world of ecological opportunity and climate. Some aspects of human-nature interaction have been crucial for the origins as well as persistence of biodiversity, and understanding them is equally important for conserving biodiversity. These factors have been engines of rich biodiversity, yet the knowledge shortfalls limit our scientific understanding of biodiversity in the Indian Subcontinent and its continued contribution to human welfare, for example through horticultural productivity and natural products. There is transparent hunger in the society to learn about these aspects and see biodiversity persist and thrive in the Indian Subcontinent.

Studying these aspects requires rigorous training in scientific thinking and methods in biodiversity sciences and associated fields such as evolutionary biology, ecology, museum sciences, and bioinformatics. Evolutionary biology forms the core of our modern understanding of biodiversity sciences, from the concept of species to systematics, phylogenetics, adaptations, and genetics and genomics. This type of training is sorely missing in the Indian educational system. The few exceptionally accomplished Indian scientists in this area invariably point to influential mentors who channelled raw energy and talent into a scientific force with the right academic opportunities, intellectual freedom, careful training in the field and in the lab, and academic discipline during early part of careers. Many of them also point to childhood exposure, some having overcome considerable challenges to nurture their love of nature and biodiversity at early stages. Many members of the fellowship committee have this experience either as budding scientists or as mentors.

Thus, the Biodiversity and Evolution Fellowships are envisioned:

  • to nurture young talent in the area of biodiversity sciences,
  • with the aim of preparing them to tackle knowledge gaps in species discovery, building the tree of life, and broad evolutionary, ecological and genetic insights into the biodiversity heritage of India,
  • using methods in macro-evolution, macro-ecology and genomics,
  • through one-year early career mentored fellowships such as at pre-doctoral level or during gap years.

The fellowships are inspired by exceptional mentors who have made a difference in the lives of young students and biodiversity researchers in India, and to the academic fields they represent. This includes Prof. Madhav Gadgil and Prof. Milind Watve, who were generous mentors to many biodiversity scientists in their early careers in India. They cast a long shadow not only on the scientific understanding of the evolution of biodiversity, but also on its persistence in a changing world. Their vision and unfailing mentoring efforts complement India’s strong commitment to nature, biodiversity, and the environment, formalized through signing major national legislation such as The Biological Diversity Act, 2002, and international treaties such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and Paris Agreement.

STRUCTURE OF THE BIODIVERSITY AND EVOLUTION FELLOWSHIPS: Biodiversity Fellowships are envisioned to be one-year pre-doctoral mentored fellowships under a suitable mentor preferably in a research institute/museum/university/trust/NGO. Fellows will be paired with mentoring scientists, who will undertake a year-long research project on any aspect of biodiversity sciences, broadly in species discovery and systematics, evolutionary biology, ecology, genomics, bio/ecoinformatics, and human-nature interaction relevant to biodiversity. Training and research may involve field, lab, or bioinformatics work. These will be full-time, on-site fellowships during which Fellows will be expected to work closely with their mentors for the entire year. The main goal will be training of the fellows in biodiversity sciences at an early stage of their professional careers. Fellows will receive a generous monthly stipend.

Duration of Individual Fellowships: 12 months. Fellowships will normally start between May and July of calendar Year 1, and continue for 12 months from the date of initiation. Candidates and mentors should be willing to commit to such a one-year mentored fellowship.

Eligibility Criteria for Candidates and Mentors: Talent shines through multiple paths and outcomes. Although the selection of fellows and mentors may be guided by the following criteria, opportunities for talented candidates should not be limited by rigid criteria. Thus, exceptions may be made in each selection criterion for truly exceptional candidates if this serves the larger goals of the fellowship programme.

  • Candidates must be passionate about some aspect of biodiversity sciences, have a strong desire for a research career or for an alternative/unconventional career, and have a clearly demonstrable experience in field work/museum work/research labs/bioinformatics relevant to biodiversity studies.
  • Candidates who are doing or wishing to do something out of the ordinary and/or of societal impact using scientific research in biodiversity sciences are preferred.
  • Candidates from disadvantaged social, family and academic backgrounds but with a strong desire and a vision to make a contribution in the field of biodiversity sciences are particularly encouraged.
  • Candidates may hold a Bachelors or Masters degree in any area of natural sciences (biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics), medical sciences, or engineering. It is fine if candidates are enroled in a degree programme at the time of application but will have finished the degree programme by the time of starting a Biodiversity Fellowship.
  • Exceptional students in gap years may be considered.
  • Candidates 25 years of age or younger at the time of initiation of the fellowship may be preferred, although there is no age restriction.
  • A strong academic record is welcome but it is not a primary criterion. Passion and preparation for the academic field should be sufficient.
  • Candidates should be Indian citizens.
  • Mentors should be experienced practising scientists based in India, with a good academic record (research and publications) as well as a track record of nurturing young students, training them in scientific research, and guiding them in their careers.
  • Mentors will be required to submit a one-page write-up on the research-cum-training project and a vision for mentoring the candidate during the process of finalizing the fellow-mentor pairing.

Selection Process: Applications will be invited for an openly and widely publicised nation-wide search for suitable candidates. Candidates will need to apply with their CV, a one-page write-up about their interest and preparation in natural history and biodiversity, and names of two referees. Final selections will be made after initial screening, followed by interview of short-listed candidates with the committee constituted for the purpose. Candidates may identify their preferred mentor(s) at the time of application. However, pairing of a candidate with a suitable mentor is at the sole discretion of the Fellowship Committee.

Deadlines for Biodiversity and Evolution Fellowships 2024-2025:

  • 15 April 2024: Application deadline
  • 15 May 2024: Selected Fellows will be informed
  • June/July 2024: Fellowships must be initiated
  • May/June 2025: Fellowships must be ended

Mentorship Outcomes: The training and mentorship that Biodiversity Fellows receive should be personally and professionally transformative for the Fellows. Mentoring should prepare Fellows for: (a) top PhD programmes in competitive universities, research institutes and research museums in the world, and set them on course to become world-class biodiversity scientists and evolutionary biologists who study Indian biodiversity in its unique geological, evolutionary, ecological and socio-political setting, (b) alternative careers related to biodiversity sciences or unconventional paths of research outside academia, e.g., engineering or bioinformatics solutions in the service of biodiversity sciences through industry or other fields.

Scientific Outputs: Biodiversity Fellows and their mentors are expected to produce at least one original research or synthesis paper in a mainstream international scientific journal. Fellows doing unconventional projects may produce other relevant, equally impactful outputs, such as white papers, policy documents, books, or patented technology. These research outputs should be based on the work undertaken or initiated during the Biodiversity Fellowship. Biodiversity Fellows and their mentors should strive to publish their outputs within one or two years after the Fellowship has ended, although there is no mandatory timeline to do so.

PARTNERS: Fellowships will be administered as a collaborative, non-profit, educational and professional development effort between universities, research institutes, trusts, NGOs, etc. The Biodiversity Fellowships 2024-2025 consortium currently includes Shiv Nadar University, National Centre for Biological Sciences - TIFR, Sharma Kamala Educational Trust, and Indian Foundation for Butterflies Trust. This is an evolving list; participation and support from other potential partners is welcome.