Senior Scientist

Location: Headquarters, Washington, DC
Supervisor: Endangered Species Conservation


Defenders of Wildlife is seeking a broadly-trained Senior Scientist to provide support, coordination, and leadership on science issues for all departments at Defenders.  Competitive candidates will have a Ph.D. in conservation biology, ecology, or other relevant discipline, have extensive networks with other scientists, have wildlife policy and communications experience, and demonstrate a strong desire to use science to conserve biodiversity.


The Senior Scientist has three core duties.  First is to provide in-house science analysis, advice, and research support for Defenders’ programs, especially Field Conservation, Landscape Conservation, Conservation Law, and Endangered Species Conservation.  Science support will often involve evaluating biological aspects of proposed government decisions under the Endangered Species Act and other federal wildlife and land management laws, and advising staff on a course of action.  When advising staff, the scientist will often be asked to gather relevant scientific information, distill key points, and weigh alternatives.  The scientist must also be comfortable helping staff navigate situations involving high scientific uncertainty, political controversy, and social conflict.  Exceptional communication and interpersonal skills are vital.  The scientist will also help our staff develop strategies to monitor the outcome of their field projects.  If an assignment requires specialized knowledge that the scientist lacks, he or she will identify and work with outside experts to fill the gap.  In addition to these technical assignments, the scientist will support a variety of communications, membership, and fundraising activities.  These include interpreting scientific information for non-technical audiences, contributing to social media posts, and speaking with the press and lawmakers.  Ability to communicate in plain English is essential.


The second core duty is to conduct applied research projects on conserving imperiled and at-risk species in the United States.  The scientist will be the primary investigator on these projects, which will focus on policy initiatives, species, and habitats identified in Defenders’ Strategic Plan.  The projects will not involve collecting field data but will instead use data generated by other scientists and government agencies.  The projects may also involve developing and implementing policy solutions to improve endangered species conservation.  The scientist is encouraged to publish project findings in peer-reviewed journals, Defenders reports, online blogs and articles, and/or other media. 


The third core duty is to enhance Defenders’ science capacity.  This duty has many facets including the following: coordinate with other scientists at Defenders; establish relationships with external scientists and scientific organizations; help create programs for visiting scientists, science fellows, and interns at Defenders; elevate Defenders’ presence in the conservation biology community through presentations and publications; act as the main scientific spokesperson for the organization; and inform staff about major scientific advances related to the organizational mission.  As the primary science liaison for the organization, the scientist will form working relationships with Defenders’ Science Advisors, government science staff, universities, environmental consulting firms, scientists for regulated entities, Defenders board members, and policy institutes.  The scientist will thus proactively identify opportunities to grow Defenders’ science programs and promote scientific norms and integrity throughout the organization.  


Education: Ph.D. or equivalent in conservation biology, ecology, or other relevant field of natural resource.

Experience: 7+ years of progressively responsible experience in wildlife conservation.  Competitive candidates will have a diverse background that includes many of the following topics: designing and conducting wildlife studies; implementing conservation actions; publishing in peer-reviewed journals; working with social scientists; policymaking; supervising others; and communicating with non-technical audiences.  Other relevant experiences may include public education, legislative procedures, grassroots organizing, and fundraising.

Scientific qualifications:

  • Understands and can apply key concepts in conservation.  Experience with population viability analysis, habitat management, population dynamic models,  landscape connectivity models, and climate change adaption is preferred.

  • Stays current on conservation literature, including by participating in symposiums and other opportunities to interact with conservation professionals.

  • Publishes in journals and other outlets on imperiled species conservation.

  • Comfortable recommending management decisions when scientific uncertainty is high or no scientific consensus exists.

  • Demonstrated ability to develop and implement a research agenda, including by bringing together contributing scientists and interns.

  • Preference for candidates with background in applying social sciences to conservation.

Other qualifications:

  • Working knowledge of federal and state wildlife laws, programs, and policies.

  • Exceptional verbal and written communications skills.  Strong ability to communicate in plain English using concise language and the active voice, and to simplify complex scientific concepts using terms that staff, members, news media, and decision-makers can easily understand. 

  • Experience working on multiple projects, including by balancing urgent assignments with long-term research projects. 

  • Enthusiasm to work on teams that include policy, legal, communications, and fundraising experts. 

  • Ability to think creatively but pragmatically about solutions to imperiled species conservation challenges.

  • Excellent organizational and management skills.  Supervisory experience is strongly preferred. 


  • While performing the duties of this job, the employee is regularly required to use a computer and communicate with others while doing so.


  • General office working conditions.  The noise level in the work environment is usually quiet.


  • This position may require occasional domestic travel.


Interested applicants please reference Senior Scientist position in your subject line and submit a letter of interest, along with your resume and salary history to us via e-mail at:

It is the policy of Defenders of Wildlife to provide equal employment opportunity to all qualified individuals without regard to their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, or any other characteristic protected by law, in all personnel actions.

Defenders of Wildlife is a national, non-profit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native wild animals and plants in their natural communities. Our employees work in an environment that is inclusive and honors each of our unique perspectives and backgrounds. We believe that the conservation of biological diversity is best advanced by the contributions of people of diverse backgrounds, experiences, beliefs and cultures.  We strive toward a collective goal of including all people in the conservation of our Nation’s wildlife and wild places.