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International Research Experience for Students










IRES in Eswatini and South Africa (2022-2024)

The goal of the National Science Foundation’s IRES program is ‘to provide high quality educational experiences for small groups of U.S. students through active research participation in collaboration with foreign researchers at an international site… and provide students with international collaborative research training and a personal network on which to build future collaborations.’ This is a competitive program, and selected students will receive 1) plane fare, 2) 8-week paid internship, 3) food and accommodation at the research camp. This is our 3rd cohort, which will consist of 4-5 students. This work builds off our prior experience and a related program that ran from 2016-2018.


As part of this education and training experience, students will undertake individual research projects at a biodiversity hotspot and test hypotheses regarding how defaunation, or the decline and loss of animals, impacts savanna ecosystems. We will focus on the roles of charismatic megaherbivores, such as elephants and giraffe, on these inspiring ecosystems.


This fall (Oct 2023 – Nov 2023), we will select 4-5 undergraduate students from the US and 4-5 students from southern Africa to work together on these issues. Students will be mentored by faculty from the University of Florida (UF), the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Eswatini (UNESWA). University of Florida faculty include Robert Fletcher (, Robert McCleery (, and Samantha Wisely (


Before traveling to southern Africa, successful applicants will take a 1-credit course during Spring 2024 through the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the UF on savanna ecology, defaunation, and the scientific method, which is needed for their success prior to the initiation of their educational and in-country program training. Participants will then spend eight weeks in southern Africa conducting independent research and increasing their proficiency with research methodologies, ecological theory and Southern African culture.


In Eswatini, students will be based the Savannah Research Center, established by UF to facilitate undergraduate research. The center is located in the Mbuluzi Game Reserve (, located in eastern Eswatini within the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Biodiversity Hotspot, and surrounded by a mosaic of intensive and rain-fed agricultural production. In South Africa, students will be based in Kruger National Park, the largest park in southern Africa.


To apply: 

You will only be eligible for this year’s cohort if you are starting your freshman - junior year during Fall 2023, and those who have taken at least 3 credits of general ecology. The program is intended for students that have not completed degree requirements, so those wishing to participate after the end of their senior year will not be considered. We will consider students graduating in December 2024 or Spring 2024 (but not before that time).


Anticipated dates for the start of in-country activities for 2024 are the first week of June and an end of IRES in-country activities at the end of July. However, applicants will expected to be available from between May 15 and July 31, 2024.


Interested students must submit to  the following materials by October 25 in one zipped file in order to be considered*:

  1. A 2-minute video. For approximately one minute of the video you provide motivational statement detailing why this international experience in southern will be beneficial to your academic and career goals. For the second minute of the video, you describe an example of how you overcame a challenge in your life.

  2. A curriculum vitae that includes relevant research and educational experience, related volunteer activities, courses, hobbies, etc.

  3. Also include a writing example from a previous assignment that you have done during your academic career (indicate the course and faculty associated with the course) that illustrates your writing capabilities.

  4. A copy of academic transcripts (unofficial is acceptable for initial application, with formal copy available upon request).

  5. Contact information (email and phone) for three references who can speak to your academic work ethic and suitability for this program. We will likely contact references if you are short listed.


*Note: Application materials should be placed in a folder titled “<your_last_name>2024_application” and compressed (zipped) to be sent as a single file. 


We will begin reviewing applicants on October 25, 2023, and anticipate interviewing candidates the week of November 6, and making offers in mid November  — please have your materials in by October 25th at the latest, after that we may no longer have open positions! Applicants will be informed once their applications have been received in full (application and reference letter).

For more Information:

For any questions, please contact Dr. Robert Fletcher:

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