NSF Funded ELEVATE Program Seeks to Recruit Graduate Students to Pursue Research on Energy Systems, Social Equity and Climate Change


A new program at UMass Amherst has been awarded two grants totaling $6.3 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to ensure that the transformation of the electric grid is both sustainable and benefits all members of society equitably, an aspect of energy transition not often considered in policymaking or public discourse. Krista Harper, professor of anthropology and public policy, is among the researchers working on the project titled 'Elevating Equity Values in the Transition of the Energy System (ELEVATE).' The project unites scholars from engineering; natural sciences; computer science; and social and behavioral sciences; and now seeks to recruit graduate students with a strong interest in energy and climate justice. Accepted students will receive fellowship offers with a competitive stipend. Preference is for applicants with a lived experience of injustice.

Students will conduct research at the intersection of electricity technology, energy economics and policy, climate science and social equity. They will produce resilient and equity-driven innovations while developing effective leadership and communication skills ideally suited to engaging stakeholders. Through strategic partnerships with stakeholders at the front lines of the energy transition, the program will develop a collaborative community, working together to find optimal energy solutions with local to global-scale benefits. Example projects include conducting ethnographic and community-based participatory research with local organizations to understand people's experiences of the electricity grid and fuel insecurity, community co-design of algorithms and policies to enhance demand response opportunities for low-income and marginalized communities, and using climate ensembles and energy equity metrics to support robust decision making under deep uncertainty and multiple objectives for long-term planning of electricity infrastructure.

What the ELEVATE team is looking for:

  • Students with a clear commitment to social equity.
  • Strong scholarship in at least one of the fields closely related to this project: computer scienc;, computer engineering; cultural anthropology; economics; environmental science and policy; climate and geosciences; industrial engineering and operations research; and mechanical engineering.
  • Students with examples of determination and curiosity.
  • Students who are highly collaborative and willing to work with a group that is diverse in discipline, race and ethnicity, and economic background.
  • Spanish language skills are highly valued.

What kinds of anthropology will be involved:

  • Urban political ecology and the effects of climate change on communities.
  • Community-based participatory research in collaboration with local community organizations and institutions.
  • Ethnographic and participatory visual research methods.
  • Innovative game- and design-based research techniques to help community members imagine and discuss possible climate and energy system scenarios.
  • Communicating anthropological ideas and approaches as part of an interdisciplinary research team.

How to apply:

  • Prospective students should contact professor Krista Harper at kharper@anthro.umass.edu.
  • All students must apply to one of the affiliated departments: anthropology, computer science, economics, electrical and computer engineering, environmental conservation, geosciences, mechanical and industrial engineering, resource economics.
  • All students must be nominated for the program by their prospective Ph.D. advisor.