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Bringing Young Scientists to the USGS

Rama K. Kotra, Bethany J. Girardi and P. Patrick Leahy

As part of its mission to support young scientists, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in fiscal year 2001 started a new postdoctoral research program: the Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.

Recent external and internal reviews of USGS programs, such as Geology for a Changing World, have identified a critical need for hiring young postdoctoral students. Pat Leahy, associate director for geology, has instituted the Mendenhall program to answer this high priority.

The program honors Walter C. Mendenhall, the fifth director of the USGS, whose directorate was pivotal in the Survey's history. Despite difficult times during the Depression and the beginning of World War II, he encouraged the Survey, as he had the Geologic Branch, to emphasize the necessity of basic research. He created an environment in which, in the words of the Engineering and Mining Journal, "scientific research, technical integrity and practical skill could flourish."

President Hoover appointed Mendenhall director of the Survey after Mendenhall had served a long career with the USGS. He joined the Survey in 1894, after he graduated from Ohio Normal University. In 1903, he was one of the first groundwater specialists to join the Water Resources Branch. His study of the principles of groundwater hydrology helped to establish it as a field of scientific endeavor. Mendenhall was also the chief geologist for eight years before he became director.

The Mendenhall Program is envisioned to bring current expertise in the earth sciences to assist in implementing the USGS Strategic Plan and the science strategy. Mendenhall selectees will have an opportunity to conduct concentrated research with members of the USGS professional staff, often as a final element to their formal career preparation. The program will also give postdoctoral fellows research experiences that enhance their personal scientific stature and credentials.

Mendenhall fellows are appointed as federal employees under an excepted appointing authority for two years. The positions are advertised through the U.S. Governments official site for jobs and employment information provided by the United States Office of Personnel Management. Applicants must be U.S. citizens. Selection is based on merit without discrimination for any reason.

For fiscal year 2001, the USGS announced 24 research opportunities through advertisements in professional journals, Web sites, and letters to Ph.D. granting earth science departments. Ten Mendenhall fellows were hired to conduct studies spanning the topics sediment transport modeling in coastal environments, geologic processes and human health, environmental geochemistry, impacts of climate change in arid and semi-arid lands, and geologic controls and ecosystem processes.

The Survey will announce 25 research opportunities for fiscal year 2002. Pending availability of funding, up to 25 postdoctoral fellows will start USGS employment Oct. 1, 2001 or later. Some of the research areas are: coastal erosion processes and modeling coastal change, interdisciplinary application of remote sensing, noble gas geochemistry, microbes and geologic substrates in estuaries, climate change, geologic processes, land use and land-surface feedbacks, estimating future strong ground motions, high-resolution imaging of earthquake rupture processes and fault structure, controls on magma ascent, stagnation and eruption, economic modeling of geologic energy resources and environmental biogeochemistry.

The USGS vision, mission and strategic direction focus on responsiveness and customer service, underscoring the application of science to customer, partner and other stakeholder needs. This mission directs the combined expertise of our many scientific disciplines and defines our commitment to pursue an integrated approach to providing science for a changing world. Over the last few years, the opportunities for interdisciplinary studies have been increasing. With a staff of approximately 10,000 located in every state, opportunities exist to conduct scientific investigations in a wide variety of locales and in collaboration with world-class scientists in the broad disciplines of geology, hydrology, biology and geography.


The authors work at the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va. E-mail: rkotra@usgs.gov

Check out the USGS Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellowship Program online.


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