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Director of Research

Savanna Institute
Midwest US: IL, WI, MN, IA, MO, IN, or MI
Closing date
Apr 29, 2024

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Job Opening: Director of Research

The Savanna Institute invites applications for a Director of Research to lead current and future research work at the Savanna Institute.

We seek applicants who share our passion for ecological and equitable agriculture as a nature-based climate solution and who are motivated to widen the circle of who has the opportunity to inform, support, and benefit from its development. To that end, we are seeking a diversity of voices at the table and strongly encourage people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ individuals, people with disabilities, members of ethnic minorities, foreign-born residents, and veterans to apply.

Who We Are
The Savanna Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Madison, WI and Urbana, IL. Established in 2013, we work in collaboration with farmers, businesses, and scientists to lay the groundwork for widespread agroforestry in the Midwest US. Inspired by the native savanna ecosystems that once covered much of this region, we envision a transformed agricultural system, centered on trees and other perennial crops, that fosters ecological resilience, climate stability, economic prosperity, and vibrant, equitable communities. For more information, please visit

Job Description

Hours: Full-time
Location: Midwest (IL, WI, MN, IA, MO, IN, or MI)
Start Date: Fall 2024
Salary: $90,000-$110,000

  • This position is eligible for the Institute’s benefits package. Benefits for full-time employees include 30 days paid time off per year, 3 weeks of paid family leave, a health reimbursement arrangement that can be applied to insurance premiums and approved healthcare costs, a 401(k) retirement savings plan, and a monthly home office stipend
  • This position reports to the Director of Agroforestry Innovation

Agroforestry is poised for a potential major expansion in the coming years and decades, and our research team is working to prepare the improved tree crop varieties and refined systems and practices knowledge base needed to support this scale-up. The Director of Research will lead the Savanna Institute’s agroforestry research efforts (80% time) and have the opportunity to carry out relevant research or scholarship in their field (20%). 
More specifically, they will: 

  • Lead current and future research work at the Savanna Institute:
    • A tree crop cultivar development program with a staff of six plant breeders and other research professionals, applying methods like genomic selection and digital imagery-based phenotyping to six key tree crop species
    • Programs in the landscape ecology, ecosystem science, and agronomic / horticultural management dimensions of agroforestry, with a staff of four (soon to be five) plant and soil scientists and other research professionals
    • Potential future research areas, such as ag engineering or social sciences
  • Act as the direct supervisor to most research staff 
  • Ensure strategy & mission alignment and operational excellence in the department
  • Coordinate department staff in setting and implementing a grant writing strategy and personally participate in grant writing, developing sponsored research partnerships, or securing other funds to help fund research programs
  • Cultivate external research partnerships, and coordinate with internal and external agroforestry outreach and education professionals to help inform research goals with on-the-ground farmer and other stakeholder needs
  • If desired, carry out individual research or scholarship at the intersection of the Director of Research’s individual expertise and Savanna Institute’s research scope (Estimated time available: 20%) 


Required Qualifications
We’re looking for someone who is passionate about the future of agroforestry, and has:

  • A core commitment to using rigorous science as a tool to generate real results for people and planet
  • A PhD in the agricultural or biological sciences, or a PhD in any discipline plus substantial demonstrated experience in interdisciplinary collaboration with agricultural or biological science researchers
  • Direct work experience as a researcher or scholar, accompanied by a meaningful peer-reviewed publication record
  • Demonstrated success in soliciting and stewarding external funding from grantmaking agencies, foundations, or donors
  • Prior experience managing a team of researchers, or a brief description of what makes you ready for your first people management job
  • Interest and ability in being an effective external collaborator and communicator, and as a leader and participant in external research partnerships
  • Candidates are required to locate in the Savanna Institute’s Midwest US service area of IL, WI, MN, IA, MO, IN, or MI. Preference may be given to candidates willing to locate within convenient driving distance of our primary field sites in southwestern WI and central IL

If you're excited about this job, we're excited to learn about your experience! Please be sure to address each of the following qualifications in your cover letter — paint us a picture of how your unique skills, experiences, and/or education meet or exceed the qualifications. Cover letters should be no longer than 1 typed page. 

How To Apply Submit a resume/CV and cover letter to the position on our jobs page:

Deadline All applications must be received by 11:59 pm CT on April 29th, 2024, but position will re-post until filled. 

Questions? Email Kathleen Fitzgibbon, Operations Manager,

Diversity Commitment
The Savanna Institute affirms the value of diversity of staff and stakeholders, and aims to foster inclusive environments and equitable outcomes of our work. We seek individuals who are committed to these goals.

Equal Employment Opportunity
Equal Opportunity is and shall be provided for all employees and applicants for employment on the basis of their demonstrated ability and competence without unlawful discrimination on the basis of their race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, disability, veteran status, or any other status protected by applicable state or federal law.

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