Robert & Patricia Switzer Dissertation Fellowship

Welcome to the Switzer Fellowship application process. The application period for 2018 Fellowships is now closed.  We encourage applicants for 2019 to read the Become a Fellow page in detail before proceeding to the application. We are especially interested in receiving more applications from qualified Master's degree students. First generation graduate students, students of color, and individuals from underrepresented communities are encouraged to apply. We welcome your inquiries about these guidelines. 

All students applying for a Switzer Environmental Fellowship must submit an online application form. Each applicant will be prompted to create an account before gaining access to the application form. This will enable applicants to save their work, make edits and track progress during the application review process. Specific application instructions are available on the application form. General guidance is provided here to help you prepare the necessary documentation.

It is imperative that applicants review the eligibility requirements and guidelines prior to applying. Applications take a lot of time and work to complete, and ineligible applications will not be reviewed.

APPLICATIONS WILL NOT BE CONSIDERED COMPLETE UNLESS ALL OF THE REQUIRED MATERIALS ARE SUBMITTED AS INSTRUCTED. We cannot allow any exceptions. (Please note that if you need to convert hard copy documents to digital format, the online application has a 'Fax to File' capability that you can use for this purpose, but it requires immediate proximity to a fax machine. Further instructions are available via the online application form.)

The following materials are required to be submitted with your application:

  • A 2-3 page original essay. The essay is a critical component of the application screening process.  It is an opportunity for you to reflect on your accomplishments, how you contextualize your research and course work in society, and ultimately, your vision for your future leadership role in the environmental field, including the type of professional position you hope to pursue and the impact you hope to have.  You may describe your academic work and how it furthers your goals, but it should not be the sole focus of the essay.  Use the essay to talk about why your chosen field matters to you, to whom it is important, and how your background and personal experiences, combined with your academic course of study, will position you to be an effective leader for positive change.  In other words, how do you plan to use your academic experience for environmental impact?  Applicants should include examples of how you have been a leader or specifically contributed to solving an environmental issue or problem.  If you have limited leadership experience, you may describe the impact you hope to have.  You may also describe any  personal and professional challenges you have overcome to achieve your goals.  The essay field is limited to 10,000 characters in the online application.  (This equates to approximately three pages, single spaced, at 12 point font.)
  • Two professional letters of recommendation. Recommendation letters must be submitted by your recommender directly to the Foundation per the Recommendation Instructions. Letters can be from your academic advisors or close colleagues who know you and your work well, as we ask recommenders to relay specific information and examples of your work.  It is very helpful for one of the two letters to be from your academic advisor, a committee member, or academic colleague, especially for PhD applicants.  Your second recommender need not be from academia.  (Please refer to the Frequently Asked Questions in the Become A Fellow section for guidance on choosing your recommenders.)  Only two letters of recommendation may be submitted.  You are responsible for ensuring that your recommenders send their letters by the application deadline, and that they carefully review the recommendation instructions to ensure they are giving us the information we need.  It is worthwhile to make sure your recommender will not be writing more than one other Switzer Fellowship recommendation letter, as multiple letters from the same recommender can dilute the effect that that recommender has on each application.  Recommendation letters must be uploaded in Adobe PDF format.
  • A current resume, including relevant work and volunteer experience. Your resume is an important part of your application.  Please do not include a CV - we are more interested in your overall work experience than a list of your publications and presentations, particularly for PhD students.  Please include the number of hours per week and number of months worked for each professional and volunteer experience noted.  Resumes must be uploaded in Adobe PDF format.
  • Most recent Graduate academic transcripts. An official transcript of your graduate study is required.  Applicants must upload a scan of an official transcript in Adobe PDF or JPEG formats.  If you are unable to access your official transcript by the application deadline, you may upload an unofficial copy to your application and send the official copy when it is available.  Undergraduate transcripts are not necessary except in the case of applicants enrolling in one-year master's programs with no other graduate school experience. Specific instructions can be found on the application form.
  • A brief outline of the general course of study or research planned. Depending on whether you are a Master's or PhD student, this can include a course list or brief summary of your research. Master's students should list courses to be taken, focus or concentration, and thesis topic. PhD students should include a summary or precis of their dissertation, as well as estimated dates of written and oral presentations that will advance your degree.  This should not exceed four pages and must be uploaded in Adobe PDF format.
  • Evidence of financial need where applicable. Although the Switzer Fellowship is merit-based, financial need may be considered when comparing equally qualified applicants. Applicants will need to complete the financial information in the application.

Contacts for further information:

For eligibility and general questions:  Erin Lloyd, Program Director
(207) 338-5654;

For technical assistance with online applications: Don Brackett, Administrative Director
(207) 338-5654, 

Graduate Student Receives Switzer Environmental Fellowship

UC Riverside’s Heather Hulton VanTassel studies how species respond to environmental disturbances, such as fire and non-native grass species

By Iqbal Pittalwala on February 2, 2015

Heather Hulton VanTassel is a graduate student at UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Heather Hulton VanTassel, a current Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Riverside in Kurt Anderson’s lab, has achieved the high honor of being selected as a 2014 Switzer Environmental Fellow by the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation. The foundation invests in individuals and organizations that drive positive environmental change.

“I am honored to receive this fellowship and be part of a community that strives to make positive environmental changes,” Hulton VanTassel said.

UC Riverside’s Heather Hulton VanTassel is seen here with a juvenile California King snake.

Her dissertation research focuses on understanding how species respond to anthropogenic disturbances and environmental stressors across three different ecosystems within Southern California from both restoration and management perspectives. Her research has focused on a variety of species, including plants, invertebrates, mammals, and birds across multiple habitats with various environmental stressors in order to provide a more holistic view of environmental change. Her research has highlighted the importance of incorporating landscape complexity into future studies of disturbances as the remaining habitat can influence the severity of species’ responses to the disturbance.

Hulton VanTassel collaborates with the UC Riverside Center for Conservation Biology and the Joshua Tree National Park.  Her career goal is to conduct applied conservation research to inform land owners on how best to manage their landscapes to maintain or enhance biodiversity. She expects to receive her doctoral degree this spring.

UC Riverside’s Heather Hulton VanTassel is seen here with a tarantula.

This year, the Switzer Foundation awarded 20 fellowships, of $15,000 each, to emerging environmental leaders who are pursuing graduate degrees and are dedicated to positive environmental change in their careers.  Merit-based and rigorously competitive, the fellowships assist the recipients in completing masters and doctoral degrees to advance their skills and develop their expertise to address critical environmental challenges.

Founded in 1986, the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation is a grantmaking organization that mobilizes leaders from diverse disciplines who focus on integrated solutions to environmental problems.

More information on the 2014 class of Switzer Fellows, and the Fellowship program, is available on the Foundation website at

Archived under:Inside UCR, Center for Conservation Biology, Department of Environmental Sciences, ecosystems, fellowship, graduate student, Heather Hulton VanTassel, Kurt Anderson, Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation

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