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Research Director

Research Director
Food & Environment
Union of Concerned Scientists
Location: Remote/hybrid near existing office location (DC, MA, IL, CA), with a preference for DC
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is an independent national nonprofit that uses science to protect our health, safety, and environment. We are scientists, engineers, economists, activists, and everyday people who develop and advocate for innovative, practical solutions to some of our planet’s most pressing problems—from combating global warming and developing sustainable ways to feed, power, and transport ourselves, to fighting misinformation, advancing racial equity, and reducing the threat of nuclear war.
UCS is seeking a Research Director for the Food & Environment Program. The successful candidate will leverage their skills and expertise as a senior member of an interdisciplinary team that includes dedicated outreach, policy, and communications staff in addition to scientists and analysts. Under the supervision of the Deputy Director, the Research Director will direct research across food and agriculture issues; supervise and mentor a team of scientists and analysts; lead and shape publicly-resonant and policy relevant scientific analyses; craft scientifically-rigorous written communications for a variety of audiences; develop and maintain comprehensive scientific and policy expertise on food and agriculture issues and relationships with key experts and allies; communicate with policymakers, media, and other stakeholders; and provide analytical support to campaigns. As a member of the program’s senior team, the Research Director will play a leadership role in establishing UCS policy positions and strategy on food and agriculture issues and in developing program direction and plans; contribute to cross-program scientific projects; and represent UCS, its philosophy and positions as needed.

·      Direct and manage F&E’s research portfolio and the program’s research team. Lead the design and implementation of a research agenda that is innovative and can help advance short-, medium-, and long-term campaign, program, and organizational goals. Supervise and mentor an interdisciplinary team of scientists and analysts, including occasional fellows, interns, and consultants. Support direct reports in conceptualizing research questions and developing methods, overcoming obstacles, prioritizing projects, and time management. Provide ongoing feedback, coaching, and annual performance reviews to help staff meet program and organizational expectations and develop professionally. Lead recruitment and retention of research team members as needed.

·      Develop, lead, and oversee the production and presentation of publicly resonant scientific analyses and other communications. Identify, assess, and develop relevant and novel analytic ideas that will advance campaign goals and objectives. Plan, design, and conduct research to produce compelling reports, white papers, and other analytic products. Serve as a project leader to guide research led by other research team members, reviewing and editing drafts and engaging with external collaborators as needed. Prepare and contribute to a range of materials, including briefing papers, legislative testimony, comments to government agencies, fact sheets, op-eds, letters to the editor, press releases, content for UCS online and print publications, and journal articles. Deliver expert testimony, comments, and presentations for various audiences. Ensure that policy positions and materials are technically accurate and credible, up to date with respect to relevant science, and communicated in a style suitable for the target audience.

·      Develop and maintain scientific and policy expertise. Stay up to date on policy and scientific/economic developments relevant to sustainable agriculture and food systems. Provide scientific support for UCS policy development and advocacy aimed at Congress, the USDA, and other policymakers. Serve as a senior advisor on relevant research and other projects led by other project leaders or programs. Participate in regular cross-programmatic discussions with UCS scientists and analysts to share research findings, analytic best practices, and challenges. Engage in rapid response to new scientific and policy developments. Cultivate and maintain strong working relationships with academic colleagues, relevant experts, and influential stakeholders at other institutions, to exchange information, share resources, provide expert review, and generally strengthen UCS’s leadership role on agricultural science and policy.

·      Communicate with policymakers, media, and other stakeholders. Serve as a senior spokesperson, communicating with media, congressional and government agency staff, funders and donors, and other stakeholders on scientific topics in the food system and implications for policy. Take reporter calls, participate in press conferences, cultivate and maintain relationships with key reporters and bloggers, respond to interview and information requests, and write for the UCS blog. Represent UCS at public forums, government hearings and meetings, coalition meetings, and scientific conferences.

·      Shape program and campaign goals, strategies, and tactics. As a member of the program’s senior team, play a leadership role in establishing UCS policy positions, strategies, and approaches on food and agriculture issues— including those for diversity, equity, and inclusion—and in developing program direction, strategic plans, and annual workplans. Advise on major programmatic decisions and priority-setting. Apply technical knowledge to the formulation of advocacy strategies that advance the program’s goals. Contribute to development of fundraising strategies, foundation proposals and reports, and interact with members, foundation staff, and major donors, as needed.

·      Foster a positive team spirit. As a senior leader, guide, mentor, and develop junior staff to support their professional growth and enable them to assume greater responsibilities on behalf of the program and its work. Actively engage in problem solving around relevant strategic questions, issues of substance, and matters of staff time prioritization and resource utilization. Propose and help implement strategies to improve team planning, meeting effectiveness, and team functioning.

Qualifications and Experience
·      7-10 years of comparable experience connecting science to policymaking and 3-5 years of demonstrated experience managing projects and supervising staff.
·      Ph.D. in agricultural science, environmental/sustainability science, nutrition/public health, or other relevant natural or social science discipline(s).
·      Strong quantitative and analytical skills; knowledge of scientific, economic, and public policy issues associated with sustainable agriculture and food systems; and understanding of the importance of racial equity to effectively achieve program goals are required.

·      Excellent writing and public speaking skills, strong project management skills, excellent interpersonal skills, and the ability to handle multiple tasks and to work independently and in collaboration with others.
·      Proficiency in computer applications (spreadsheet, word processing, statistical analysis, specialized research software, basic programming) and the ability to write for both scientific and general audiences are required.

·      NGO experience is preferred but not essential.

·      Extensive experience managing scientific and technical groups while utilizing project management techniques and supervising research staff is desired.


This is a full-time position that can be fully remote or hybrid near an existing office locations (DC, MA, IL, CA), but with a preference for DC. For those who meet all position requirements, the salary range is $129,001-$145,130. *FOR CA RESIDENTS ONLY a 12% pay differential is offered*. UCS offers excellent benefits and a rewarding work environment.

Information about the organization is available at

Comparable training and/or experience can be substituted for degrees when appropriate.
More about the team:
Our team is made up of a dedicated group of researchers, scientists, communicators, campaigners, and advocates from wide-ranging backgrounds and experiences. We are committed to building a diverse and inclusive team and a collaborative and supportive work environment where all staff can thrive. We continually strive to create an environment that is a welcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, parents, empty-nesters, and people with a wide variety of interests and backgrounds.

To Apply: We know there are great candidates who won’t check all of these boxes, and we also know you might bring important skills that we haven’t considered. If that’s you, don’t hesitate to apply and tell us about yourself. Please upload a cover letter and resume. Upload materials in Word or PDF format only. No phone calls, please.

Covid Mandate for New Hires:
For roles that require in-person work or travel (including this one), UCS employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Employees are considered fully vaccinated as defined by the CDC. All new hires who will be reporting to an office location or conducting in-person work must provide notice of their vaccination status and vaccination documentation, on or before their first day of work. For all others, UCS strongly encourages full vaccinations among its employees, up to and including booster shots, even if working remotely.

All new employees must comply with the mandatory vaccination requirements outlined in UCS policies as soon as practicable. Union of Concerned Scientists will notify candidates for employment of the requirements of this policy before the start of employment.

Deadline: Until Filled