The University of Idaho, Department of Natural Resources and Society is seeking a PhD student or M.S. student to conduct social science research with an interdisciplinary team studying how farmers, water managers, and scientists understand and use groundwater models to support water use decisions. This graduate assistantship will provide salary support for up to three years through research assistantship funding from USDA, with additional funding for a PhD student through two years of teaching assistantship, as well as all tuition, fees, and healthcare. The social science graduate student will be advised by Dr. Chloe Wardropper at University of Idaho and work in close collaboration with the two co-Investigators, Dr. Adam Zwickle at Michigan State University and Dr. Sam Zipper at University of Kansas and Kansas Geological Survey and a hydrology-focused graduate student at KU.

Project overview: Agricultural regions with connected groundwater-surface water resources provide crucial ecosystem services including irrigation for agricultural production and streamflow benefiting recreation and habitat for fish and wildlife. Ecosystem models, which provide decision-support systems (DSS) for policy and management, are often developed to inform management in these basins. However, little is known about how and to what extent DSS influence decision-making to sustain ecosystem services in these managed agroecosystems. In this project, we will connect refined models of groundwater-surface water ecosystem services with research on how people make decisions regarding natural resource management to address fundamental gaps between foundational and applied science. Our case study region in Kansas has streams affected by groundwater withdrawals and extensive irrigated row crop agriculture, providing the context to better understand the connection between ecosystem health and sustainability. Our research objectives and methods are: (1) Model ecosystem service outcomes under different management and climate scenarios to better understand the response of ecosystem services to local and global change; (2) Describe and compare the mental models (conceptual representations of an object or tool) of DSS creators and users through sociological interviews; (3) Develop a framework linking mental models to DSS processes and outputs, which will inform dissemination of best practices for DSS creators. The team will also conduct exploratory research in other states to support parallel and future inquiry, including Michigan and Idaho.

The social science student will help conduct applied research to understand and compare mental models of DSS creators and users under different scenarios of groundwater use and environmental conditions. The student will also help disseminate findings through workshops with environmental modelers and (if interested) help with grant-writing for continued support of the project, with mentorship of the project team.

University of Idaho: The student will be based in the University of Idaho’s Department of Natural Resources and Society and can enroll in one of several graduate programs—Natural ResourcesWater Resources, or Environmental Science. The university is in the Palouse Region, at the edge of the Rockies, which also includes Washington State University (located 8 miles from Moscow, in Pullman, WA) and a large and welcoming community of graduate students across a variety of relevant natural and social science disciplines. Moscow is a vibrant college town, including a bustling main street and excellent walking and biking, nearby outdoor recreation (mountain biking, hiking, and more), and rent is quite affordable (monthly rents for apartments near campus are ~$650). The student will also spend time in and around Lawrence and Wichita, Kansas and receive travel support to at least one academic conference.

Required qualifications include a Bachelor’s degree in natural resource or environmental management, sociology, geography, or related fields by summer 2022, high-level written and spoken English, and valid driver’s license (or willingness to obtain one).

Desired qualifications include a Master’s degree in a field listed above. Note that we prefer a PhD student for this project, but are open to a motivated Master’s student. The ideal student will have some previous research experience, good theoretical understanding of the social components (risk and decision-making, social studies of science, farming systems) and/or the ecological components of the project (groundwater and surface water systems) and be keenly interested in engaging in interdisciplinary research. Importantly, the student should have a strong spirit of curiosity and demonstrated ability to work well as part of a team.

To apply for this position, please send a single pdf attachment (file name formatted as lastname_firstname_groundwater_date.pdf) to [email protected], containing (1) a cover letter indicating reasons for desiring this position, preference for a Master’s or PhD, past experiences relevant to the position including academic training, research experience, and experience working with teams; (2) CV; (3) copies of undergraduate (& graduate) transcripts (unofficial is ok); (4) a recent sample of your technical writing; and (5) contact information for three references. Please use the subject header “Groundwater-Agriculture graduate application”. The student will commence graduate studies in September 2022 and ideally start field work in summer 2022. Review of applications will begin October 18th and continue until a suitable candidate is chosen.