The Grand Challenges Initiative Applied Research Fellowship


The SFPE Foundation, in collaboration with GCI Founding Partner Jensen Hughes, proudly announces the launch of the new GCI Applied Research Fellowship program.  

This program provides $30,000 USD in fellowship support to an advanced doctoral student or post-doc conducting research on an emerging topic in partnership with a host organization that provides industry mentorship and guidance throughout the eight-month fellowship period.  

APPLICATIONS DUE: 11:59 pm ET on Monday, June 24, 2024 


Through the efforts of the 34+ participating organizations in the SFPE Foundation’s Grand Challenges Initiative (GCI), we’ve identified a gap between the innovative research and training taking place in university settings and the emerging challenges that engineering practitioners face in the field. This fellowship program is designed to help close that gap by connecting industry partners with advanced graduate students or post-doctoral researchers conducting applied research on emerging GCI topics relevant to practicing fire engineering professionals and their stakeholders.  

By matching emerging researchers focused on cutting-edge problems with industry leaders who can help translate that research into professional practice, this program aims to create a pipeline for progress on critical issues. Industry partners will be able to better communicate the challenges they are facing and where (and what kinds of) research would be useful to help address those issues to the researchers who are motivated to apply their skills to practical problems in the field. Both sides will benefit from the exchange of ideas and the experience while developing a shared language and understanding when it comes to approaching applied problems.  


In this first pilot year of the program, Jensen Hughes will serve as the host organization for the selected fellow, with SFPE Foundation facilitating the selection process and the administration of the program. Eligible doctoral students and post-docs are invited to apply under one of the open fellowship topics for this year (see below), each of which corresponds to a priority area identified by the GCI working groups. These topics will change each year depending on the needs of the participating industry hosts.  

One fellowship will be awarded to the top applicant across the two topic pools. In future years, more fellowships may be awarded depending on industry participation. The selected fellow will hold the position for eight months, from September 1, 2024 – April 30, 2025. During their fellowship period, the student or post-doc will meet weekly with an industry mentor assigned by the host organization (Jensen Hughes) and collaborate on projects relevant to their research focus (not to exceed 15 hours of work per week). At the end of their fellowship term, the fellow will present their research and experience in the program during an open-access Research in Fire Engineering webinar hosted by the SFPE Foundation. Where possible and appropriate, the fellow and their industry host will be provided opportunities to publish findings from their applied work in SFPE or SFPE Foundation-affiliated outlets, conferences, and events. Findings will also be shared with the broader GCI Partners network to enable progress in research and education on the most pressing challenges facing fire engineers around the world. 


In this first year of the program, one advanced doctoral student or post-doctoral fellow will be selected through a global competitive process to hold the inaugural GCI Applied Research Fellowship in one of two GCI categories: Energy and Infrastructure (specifically Energy Storage) or Climate Change (specifically WUI Fires). The will be matched with a senior leader and mentor at this year’s host organization, Jensen Hughes.  

The fellowship carries a $30,000 USD stipend to support a fellowship period of eight months (September 1, 2024 – April 30, 2025), and the distribution of funds will be coordinated with the student or post-doc’s university.  


Applicants must be full-time PhD students or post-docs in fire engineering or a related field who have completed all required coursework and are working on their dissertation research (if enrolled in a PhD program) and are conducting research on a project related to one of the fellowship topic areas. All applicants must be available to hold the fellowship from September 1, 2024 – April 30, 2025 (eight months). Applicants can be based at any university worldwide as long as they are enrolled in a fire engineering program or related discipline, or hold a post-doctoral appointment in a fire engineering or related department. Additionally, the applicant must not have any conflicts of interest that would prevent them from working with the host organization for the inaugural fellowship year: Jensen Hughes. 


For the 2024-2025 fellowship cycle, we invite applications from advanced PhD students and post-docs conducting research germane to two high-priority areas identified in the GCI white papers: Energy Storage, and WUI Fires. One fellowship total will be awarded to the top candidate across both categories.  

The successful applicant will be able to demonstrate that their research interests are aligned with one of the topics below: 

Energy Storage – GCI Applied Research Fellow in Energy & Infrastructure 

As noted in the GCI Energy & Infrastructure white paper, energy storage plays a pivotal role in empowering the decarbonization of transportation and enabling power grids to function more resiliently. Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) based batteries have come a long way from their usage in consumer electronics with tens of Wh (Watt-hur) capacity to Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) with 1 GWh capacity. Like many other energy sources, lithium-ion batteries present hazards related to fire, explosion, and toxic exposure. Although the battery technology is considered safe and is continuously improving, the battery cells can undergo thermal runaway whey experience a short circuit, leading to a sudden release of thermal and electrochemical energy to the surroundings.   

For this fellowship position, we seek applicants whose work could be applied to a project developing guidance on understanding the variety of hazards posed by BESS enclosures. Some of the focus areas, while inclusive of the following, are not restricted to: 

  • Current testing methodologies to obtain the input data to define the explosion hazard and its limitations with a focus on translating test data to time-dependent battery gas release rates. 

  • Applicability and limitations of existing methodologies (NFPA 68, CFD models, etc.) for protecting BESS enclosures against explosions. 

  • Understanding flame extinction and the role of ventilation in ESS enclosure fires. 

  • Status of toxic and flammable battery gas detection technologies for operational as well as research applications and their usage to define inputs for outdoor dispersion model. 

  • Interaction of explosion control systems with other fire protection mitigation measures. 

 WUI Fires – GCI Applied Research Fellow in Climate Change 

The GCI Climate Change white paper recognizes the relationship between climate change and the growth and impact of fires in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) as a critical area for research and innovation in fire engineering. One area where additional collaboration is needed is in furthering best practice guidance for WUI fire risk reduction at the community scale. While the bulk of WUI research, guidance, and codes are focused on individual structures and at the parcel scale, elements of the neighborhood and community context can pose additional risks and challenges. Crucially, actions and mitigations at the community level can reduce risks to structures and households and improve fire response capabilities. Many opportunities exist to improve codes, reduce impacts on residents and visitors, and improve firefighter and emergency responder safety. 

Depending on the interests and background of the successful candidate, this fellowship project could focus on different research areas and questions related to community wildfire risk, such as: 

  • Engineering analysis and literature review to identify and prioritize gaps in research related to infrastructure (e.g., transportation, water, electrical, communications) for future prioritization. 

  • Development of a methodology to identify and delineate communities with limited access and egress including consideration of adapting building codes to the community scale. 

  • Assessment and gap analysis of community organizing programs to better understand efficacy of widely adopted programs and guidance. 

  • Improvements to real-time situational awareness for detection, suppression, and evacuation during wildfire events. 


To be considered for the award, applicants must submit their materials through the application portal online. Applicants are expected to complete their own application form. As part of the application form, you will be required to upload your full application as a PDF.  

The following materials are required to be included in your PDF upload: 

  1. Cover page (one page) containing:
    1. Topic you are applying under (Energy Storage or WUI Fires)
    2. Full name, email address, phone number, and mailing address of the applicant
    3. Academic program type (doctoral student or post-doc) and university name/affiliation of the applicant
    4. Full name, email address, job title, and university affiliation of the applicant's supervisor
    5. Description of any financial support (including the name of the funder) you may already be receiving for research you propose to conduct during this fellowship.
    6. Written confirmation that, if selected, you are available to hold the fellowship from interest associated with Jensen Hughes acting as your host organization and mentor throughout the fellowship period; that you acknowledge that your fellowship terms include spending no more than 15 hours per week working on a project in your fellowship topic area in collaboration with staff based at Jensen Hughes; and that you will be required to present on your project and fellowship experience during a webinar organized by SFPE Foundation staff.
  2. Applicability of current research and proposed project to the fellowship topic -- 2,000 words maximum
    1. Describe your research interests and experience and how they apply to the proposed fellowship topic.
    2. Describe the research project you envision working on as part of this fellowship, including any major project milestones. You should refer to the GCI white paper for your topic area in articulating how your research will help address critical gaps in the field, as well as the topic description listed in the call for applications.
  3. Potential impact of the fellowship -- 500 words maximum
    1. Explain how receiving this particular fellowship would align with your professional goals and ambitions. Strong applications will clearly articulate why a fellowship program that includes mentoring and working alongside practicing fire engineers would be especially useful to the researcher and their project goals and outcomes. 
  4. Evidence of academic achievement and scholarly engagement -- no page or word limit
    1. Include a copy of your most recent transcript for coursework completed during your graduate studies.
    2. Include a list of publications, conference presentations, or other academic activities. You may include an academic CV to satisfy this requirement. 
  5. Letter of recommendation from academic supervisor/sponsor -- no page or word limit
    1. Your application must include a letter of recommendation from your academic supervisor. There is no required template for the letter, but it should include (among other details regarding your suitability for the award) a clear confirmation from your supervisor that you will be able to hold the fellowship during the required period of September 1, 2024 - April 30, 2025.

You are also required to upload a completed Conflicts of Interest Disclosure Form. Download the form here, complete it, save as a PDF, and be prepared to upload it in the application form linked above. 

Any questions or issues encountered in utilizing the application portal should be directed via email to Amanda Tarbet, Research Manager, at No phone calls, please. 


Complete applications must be submitted through the application portal by 11:59 pm ET on Monday, June 24, 2024. Applications that do not contain all the required materials will be considered incomplete and may not be reviewed.  

All complete applications will be reviewed by a Selection Committee consisting of representatives from the SFPE Foundation Board of Governors, SFPE or SFPE Foundation staff, the GCI Working Groups for Energy & Infrastructure and Climate Change, and the host organization, Jensen Hughes. 

The Selection Committee will select a short list of finalists based on the evaluation criteria described above. If selected as a finalist, you will be contacted no later than July 15 to schedule a virtual interview with Selection Committee members between July 15 and July 26. We expect to notify the successful candidate by August 1. The successful candidate must be available for a virtual meeting with SFPE Foundation staff and the host organization (Jensen Hughes) in early- to mid-August to make initial introductions and arrangements for the start of the fellowship period on September 1, 2024.  


We expect to open the program to additional industry partners starting in 2025. Please contact Leslie Marshall ( to learn more and discuss the options.