Funded PhD Position open

Conservation Policy and North American Wildlife PhD Assistantship 

Conservation Governance Lab at Auburn University, United States 

Location: Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, 602 Duncan Drive Auburn AL 36839 

Timeline: fall 2021 (3 year assistantship) 

Salary: Stipend, benefits, and tuition fully covered by assistantship 

Responsibilities: Serving as a teaching assistant and research assistant during spring and fall semesters, serving as a research assistant during summer semesters. Classes may include statistical methods, conservation law, habitat management, and other conservation-focused classes across different disciplines. Students must be confident that they can learn new things to achieve these interdisciplinary objectives. 

Last date to apply: May 15, 2021 but apply as soon as possible because I interview and fill positions on a rolling basis


The Conservation Governance Lab at Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences is looking for a competitive applicant for a PhD student assistantship on public policy and North American Wildlife conservation. Possible topics for PhD projects in this general research space include utilizing public policy research methods and literature to: investigate the relationships between stakeholders, managers, and wildlife in the North American context; examining how the history of conservation policy impacts the regulatory setting today, examining how partisan political disputes are related to public land management; examining how wildlife management policy is related to science and stakeholders; and focusing on the policy, management, and institutions of white-tailed deer, moose, and elk management in the United States. Of particular interest is the evolving situation with chronic wasting disease (CWD), a disease that poses a major threat to state wildlife populations, and linked challenges to management efforts. This is due to unique policy systems, namely the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, where hunting licenses play a major role in funding conservation. We will utilize public policy research methods and literature to investigate the relationships between stakeholders, managers, and wildlife in the North American context. The funding comes from a teaching and research assistantship. As a collaborative and interdisciplinary project, Dr. Steve Ditchkoff and Dr. Will Gulsby of the Deer Lab will serve on your dissertation committee with Dr. Kelly Dunning. This affords the student mentorship in both science and public policy, making them very competitive for today’s job market. 


  • Relocate to Auburn to begin your program in person in fall of 2021 understanding that being in person for research and coursework will be required.  
  • A masters degree in public affairs, public policy, political science, economics, or another social science; biology; ecology; or a relevant field. This is an interdisciplinary degree, so you must be willing to take classes in both social and biological sciences. This takes enthusiasm and dedication. 
  • Quantitative/statistical skills or a willingness to learn. 
  • A demonstrated interest in some or all of these topics: environmental policy, conservation, human dimensions of wildlife, political science, economics, hunters and anglers, and public land. 
  • Some previous work experience (this can be hourly or salaried, experience in the service industry is acceptable as well and should be indicated on the resume). Relevant work experience is preferred but not required. 
  • A competitive GPA that shows ability to work hard in graduate and undergraduate. 
  • Strong letters of reference from 3 former supervisors, mentors, or professors including your direct supervisor from your masters program. 

Application instructions:

Email Dr. Kelly Dunning: with the following combined as a single PDF document: 

  • A 1-2 page resume 
  • A 1-2 page personal statement of why you are interested in this position, how your accomplishments meet these requirements, your willingness to pursue an interdisciplinary graduate degree, and your commitment to diversity and inclusion. 
  • Masters and bachelors transcripts (scanned copies will do, but official ones will be needed for the formal application to Auburn)
  • A writing sample that shows that you are a strong writer. This can be of any length.
  • Names and emails of three references. I will only obtain reference letters if the applicant is interviewed. 
  • It is strongly recommended that you apply as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I cannot provide individual feedback on any applications. 

About the lab: 

The Conservation Governance Lab is led by Dr. Kelly H. Dunning. Dunning holds a PhD from MIT in Natural Resource Management and an MSc from Oxford University Christ Church College in Environmental Policy. Her 2018 Fulbright-funded book, Managing Coral Reefs (Anthem Press), examines how communities manage biodiversity resources through policy. This assistantship would be ideal for someone looking to pursue a career in environmental policy, wildlife conservation, and natural resource management. 

Diversity and inclusion: 

Diversity and inclusion are major priorities of the Conservation Governance Lab, all applicants are welcome and encouraged to apply. GREs are not required. 

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