Atkinson Center offers leadership program for real-world impact

This fall, Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future is rolling out a leadership training and development program that will help postdoctoral researchers and graduate students translate ideas from the academy into real-world impact.

The Atkinson Sustainability Leadership Program is being designed in collaboration with the center’s long-standing partner, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and will initially focus on the center’s postdoctoral fellows in sustainability and EDF postdocs, as well as graduate students and recent Cornell alumni who have been involved with Atkinson-supported research projects.

Researchers working on sustainability are aware of the urgent challenges facing us globally, but they face a number of institutional barriers when attempting to design, implement and report research for both the academic and nonacademic worlds,” said David Lodge, the Francis J. DiSalvo Director of the Atkinson Center. “Taking knowledge to action effectively requires a range of skills in the areas of collaboration across disciplines and sectors.”

A workshop and monthly seminar series will train participants in science communication, policy development, leadership and career design, and expose them to multiple perspectives and approaches, according to Carrie Young, Ph.D. ’17, who is leading the design and management of the program. These skills will help participants leverage the knowledge they have gained on campus so they can better collaborate with external, nonacademic partners to tackle immediate global sustainability challenges – such as reducing climate risks, increasing food security, accelerating energy transitions and achieving planetary health.

“Graduate students and postdocs working on sustainability issues are often trained rigorously in research design and analysis, but continue to express the need for learning skills that would help them take their knowledge into the world for greater impact,” said Young. “We hope to create leaders who prioritize listening, responsivity, respect and equality as they increase their interactions with NGOs, government organizations, private-sector organizations and communities.”

Young added, “Learning how to be a valuable collaborator with external partners takes some skill and practice, but the process of co-designing research questions and methods and working together innovatively on a project from the idea phase all the way to the implementation and impact phase can be deeply inspiring and rewarding.”

The Atkinson leadership program will have a soft launch with a workshop, “Science at an NGO,” led by EDF chief scientist Steven Hamburg on Oct. 19. The workshop will be open to Atkinson and EDF postdocs, Atkinson research fellows, recent alumni and students in the Master of Public Health program. A group from Syracuse University’s Education Model Program on Water-Energy Research graduate education program will also attend.

Also beginning in the fall is a monthly Atkinson-EDF Graduate Seminar Series for postdocs and grad students that will feature collaborative research efforts between Atkinson fellows and EDF scientists and economists.

Each seminar will include an overview of a joint Atkinson-EDF project, followed by a discussion about the ways to approach collaborative research, communication with stakeholders, policymakers and the media, and how to chart nontraditional career pathways outside of academia.

After the initial piloting and evaluation phase this year, program participants will earn a Sustainability Leadership certificate.

“We couldn’t be more excited to be partnering with the Atkinson Center on these programs,” said Doria Gordon, lead senior scientist for EDF. “By integrating EDF’s science-based focus in this multifaceted approach, we are empowering academics to take their knowledge, skills and passions into the world for greater impact in the short and long term, creating a vibrant network of sustainability thought leaders.”

For more information, email Carrie Young.

David Nutt is managing editor of the Atkinson Center.

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