Category Archives: Training Reflections

Alumni Spotlight: Elizabeth Long from Mohonk Preserve

Elizabeth Long is the new Mohonk Preserve Director of Conservation Science. She is pictured here with a tray of bird specimens found and collected for research in the Daniel Smiley Research Center. (photo by Lauren Thomas)
Photo by Lauren Thomas at Hudson Valley One

Scientists who find themselves in leadership roles wear a lot of different hats: researcher, project manager, program manager, human resources, grant manager, education and outreach coordinator, science communicator, financial manager, the list goes on. While some of these skills are touched upon during a scientist’s studies, the focus of a master’s or Ph.D. is so centered on developing science skills that it can be difficult to identify and use those acquired management tools down the road. SBI Alumna Elizabeth Long oversees the Daniel Smiley Research Center of the Mohonk Preserve in upstate New York. Her experiences transitioning from academia to Director of Conservation Science highlights the benefits of SBI training for those who find themselves in a wide variety of leadership roles.

Elizabeth was trained to be a scientist, and she quickly identified that this role of Director of Conservation Science required more than her science skills. Seeking that structure and methodology scientists love, she sought out SBI training. Our courses promise the skills necessary for scientists to excel in the managerial aspects of their jobs and provides tools that establish structure for abstract concepts like program sustainability and self-sufficiency.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“I had all the training for the job in terms of the science skills I needed, but in graduate school, they don’t teach you these types of skills you need when you’re running a field station or trying to keep a self-funded project up and running.”[/perfectpullquote]

The Mohonk Preserve is an 8,000-acre land trust, preserve, environmental research center, and environmental education center. The Preserve has been studying the biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems found in upstate New York for over 100 years. With such a strong sense of tradition in many of the Preserve’s programs, Elizabeth used matrix mapping and mission and vision statements to look objectively at some of their programs.

Through matrix mapping, Elizabeth was able to strike a balance between tradition and the viability of projects. Asking tough questions like is this project fulfilling our goals? Is it sustainable? Does it align with our mission and vision statements? This helped them keep better track of their projects and reprioritize their time and resources.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Tradition and history need to be balanced with profitability. Nothing should be safe, and everything should be evaluated regularly. Learning to take the emotion out of programmatic decisions has been so critically important to our program”[/perfectpullquote]

One project that came to the forefront was digitizing the research center’s archival data. This project would tackle digitizing over 100 years of data, including almost 1,000 species and abiotic parameters. This aligned perfectly with the Mohonk Preserve Conservation Science Goal “[to] research and document information about the natural environment of the Shawangunk Ridge, provide access to the scientific information we produce, promote connections to a variety of research user groups, and further engage the general public through citizen science.” (Mohonk Preserve Strategic Plan, 2020) This project won’t end upon digitizing the past 100 years, as long as the center is generating data, there will be a need for constant updating.

Elizabeth recognized the challenges that came with this project; to properly champion this endeavor, they needed a diverse and sustainable funding portfolio. Elizabeth secured an Institute for Museum and Library Services grant to begin this work and is well-equipped with the foresight necessary to develop a financial plan that will carry this work into the future. Coincidentally, Elizabeth’s favorite part of her SBI course training was the financial management sessions. “It really changed my approach to my budget and our finances…I’m presenting our needs to funders and donors, not just a dollar amount.” We have no doubt that the lessons learned from those sessions will help Elizabeth and the Daniel Smiley Research Center secure a wide variety of funding for their digitization project.

Elizabeth pointed out how her SBI skills have been transformative in all aspects of her work, including handling unexpected challenges like a global pandemic. She pointed out how leadership roles come in all shapes and sizes in the field of science, and all of them can benefit from the structure and tools provided by SBI courses. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” she said, “there are a lot of skills that you already have, but you might not be thinking of them in the framework of how to keep an organization, a research center, a lab, or a research project, up and running. This course will help you reframe and organize your skills, and it will also help you identify areas where you need more training or more practice.”

Elizabeth and the Daniel Smiley Research Center is one of over 100 biological infrastructure projects the SBI Training Initiative has helped to reframe thoughts about strategic planning, financial management, and communication. We take pride in drawing parallels between the structure scientists know and love and the skills they need. We love hearing about our Alumni’s continued success and the ‘ah-ha’ moments that allowed them to make amazing strides towards programmatic sustainability. To learn more about the Mohonk Preserve and Elizabeth’s work with the Daniel Smiley Research Center, visit their website. And to learn how you can follow in Elizabeth’s footsteps and improve your space for science, check out our latest course offerings.


Skills to Cope with the Completely Unexpected: A COVID Perspective

Science programs often run on carefully balanced budgets. When unforeseen circumstances befall your lab, collection, digital data repository, or other research programs, what tools and resources do you have to effectively pave a path forward that keeps you afloat until the storm has passed? We’ve seen some amazing acts of ingenuity from spaces for science seeking to continue reaching their audiences and doing their work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of current events, SBI skills (strategic planning, communication, stakeholder engagement, financial management) are more important than ever. We provide you with an arsenal of tools and resources that are highly adaptive. Our course is designed to help you futureproof your program in times of growth, in times of maintenance, and in times of hardship.

“Things I learned in the Strategies for Success course, have been directly applicable to the situation we’re in right now”

Elizabeth Long, SBI Alumni 2018

Sustainability has been completely redefined in the wake of this pandemic. SBI Alumni, Elizabeth Long, oversees the Daniel Smiley Research Center of the Mohonk Preserve in upstate New York. Elizabeth has turned to her SBI toolbox when considering how the conservation science and research wing of the Mohonk Preserve, can adapt to a new normal. When asked about how she’s weathering the pandemic Elizabeth said: “Things I learned in the Strategies for Success course, have been directly applicable to the situation we’re in right now”.

When Elizabeth used the matrix mapping tool during her course, it helped her look more objectively at the programs the Research Center had dedicated resources to. When she looked at each of these programs based on the Preserve’s mission statement and the revenue each program was producing, some needed to be prioritized and some needed to be phased out. She pointed out how valuable this tool can be when making tough decisions in light of the financial hardship professionals across all industries are currently facing.

Together, we continue to battle the uncertainty this pandemic has brought to our daily lives, our monthly goals, and our yearly targets. Building programs that can sustain these conditions is no easy task. Our Strategies for Success course helps you: create budgets that tell stories of creativity and adaptability, strategically plan the future of your organization, and provides you with tools to rely on in times that require tough decisions.

If you’ve never taken our course before: We’re offering an online SBI course this fall to help you assess your situation, plan for uncertainties, and diversify your funding sources. If you want to get started ASAP, consider taking a look at the free resources we have and sign up for the October course before it fills up.

If you’ve already taken our courses: Time to break out that SBI Coursebook! If you’re struggling with sustainability, strategic planning, communication, or funding right now, your SBI Coursebook is a valuable resource and includes tools like matrix mapping, storytelling, the Kellogg Logic Model, and others. Don’t forget about the SBI team, your instructors, and your fellow SBI alumni, all valuable resources when you’re feeling stuck. Let us know what SBI skills you’ve found most useful lately for a potential feature on our twitter account!



Harnessing Private Foundation Funding for your Research – WEBINAR

The SBI Training Initiative held a webinar, Harnessing Private Foundation Funding for Your Research Project, with SBI instructor Bill Michener, April 9th, 2020. This webinar is helpful if you’re looking for funding, for advice on proposal best practices, or an opportunity to learn more about the funding options out there for research. Bill does a fantastic job of explaining why scientists should investigate private funding, how one navigates the process of identifying and engaging with funding sources and developing a winning proposal. You can watch Bill’s full presentation here or continue reading for some of Bill’s key messages.

It’s worth your while to explore foundation funding!

Not only does foundation funding have the potential to diversify your funding sources and increase the stability and sustainability of your project, there are over 100,000 foundations that can potentially support your research. Navigating foundation funding doesn’t have to be a pain, they have grant guidelines that can be researched, and staff dedicated to managing the funds they use to support projects. Average foundation grants range between $35,000 – 50,000. Some search engines you can use to find foundation funding include Foundation Directory Online and GuideStar. These are both subscription-based sites, but some parts of the site are free.

Foundations are people-centric

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC

Foundations are focused on people outcomes. They have a vision and mission of what they want to see happen in the world. What impacts will your project have that relate to a societal need? Think about how many people will be trained, employed, or educated, through your project. Consider how your project has the potential to improve our ability to solve a societal problem. Keep these values in mind when researching foundations and considering a proposal. This will help you find which organizations your research is best suited for and subsequently where you’re most likely to successfully secure funding.

When considering a proposal, hone in on the message most appropriate for that foundation. How does funding you help make steps towards the long-lasting systemic change this funder is dedicated to? How do you accomplish the foundation’s priorities? How do you help the foundation gain community visibility? How does your project contribute to creating a lasting change?


Respectfully engage with foundation staff both during the application process and after you’ve been awarded support. During the webinar Bill calls for you to consider a funder’s point of view: “If it was your job, how would you want to engage with a potential grantee?”

As the researcher, position yourself as a resource, provide the foundation with opportunities for visibility within your community, and share news regularly (this is particularly important if you’re funded, consider updating your foundation on a quarterly basis).

THE Proposal

Humanize your project, tell a story and avoid jargon.

The Proposal Package

Use the Kellogg Logic Model to think through your proposal. A well thought out logic model will make it easier for you to identify your ask, need, and outcomes/response.

Check out the webinar recording and handout for a detailed walk-through of the steps to putting together a proposal!

Where to start?

If you need somewhere to start, start by cultivating your donors. Build relationships and identify potential grantors well before you have an immediate need for funding. Communicate with them and offer your time to them as a reviewer or in some other capacity. Foundations are a rich source of funding researchers should invest time and energy into so that their research projects can be more stable and sustainable. Check out Bill’s webinar recording for more in-depth explanations of the topics mentioned and more. Finally, if this is something you believe you could use more training on, consider joining one of our courses!



Why Your Project Could Use an SBI Upgrade


The Sustaining Biological Infrastructure Training Initiative was created to help scientists gain key business, communication, and finance skills to enhance the sustainability of their projects. The culture surrounding business and science are very different, but business skills play an integral role in long term sustainability for any project, facility, or initiative, regardless of discipline.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”I searched for ‘business plan’ online and came back with thousands of results, I’m looking for the biologist’s perspective on what a business plan is and how it’s used” [/perfectpullquote]

Just like preparing and writing a grant proposal gives you the opportunity to explore a research idea, strategic plans and business plans give you the opportunity to explore your business idea. SBI’s courses have been running since 2014.  Over those 5 years we’ve refined and expanded our courses and we know exactly why this isn’t an opportunity you should let pass you by.

These skills are essential and transferable.

No matter the discipline, leaders often deal with finance management, strategic planning, internal and external communication, and future planning. Your funding sources have competing priorities; make sure your project is a long-term top priority by learning to effectively quantify its worth and communicate a clear path for the future.

Our courses are taught BY Scientists

Instructor Jon Anderson interacting with participants during our Fall 2019 Strategies for Success training in Fort Collins, CO

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Our audience is academia and we’re trying to sustain biological infrastructure, we’re not trying to overprice our product, we’re trying to sustain ourselves and establish respect, what works for the academic and research customer?”[/perfectpullquote]




Sure, you can sign up for any business or program management course online, but our courses address the unique issues you face as a scientist, and we leave out the business jargon you don’t need.  Our instructors have decades of experience in successful fundraising, managing nonprofits, financial management, and communications.  Odds are, they’ve already encountered some of the problems you’re facing and can offer tailored advice.

This course is about MORE than just content

In addition to the rich content, and empathetic instructors, our courses provide you with time and space in a conducive environment where you can devote your energy to focusing on this crucial, but often overlooked, aspect of your work. Spending two or three days (depending on the course) focusing on strategic planning, sustainability, and the future of your project, can help you get a solid start on deliverables like a strategic plan or a business plan. This will help you work more efficiently and strategically, and allocate your resources and time in better ways when you return to your busy schedule.

Over the past 5 years, our participants have reported increases in skills confidence at the end of the training across every skill category we cover

These categories include: Determining if my project is financially stable, understanding and communicating financial information, putting together a business plan, planning and prioritizing future activities, measuring and communicating project impact and success, analyzing stakeholders, communicating with stakeholders, approaching private funding sources, writing foundation grant proposals, and pitching my ideas to others.  Overall participants exhibited a 51% increase in skills confidence when comparing pre- and post-training survey results.

Over the past 5 years, 100% of our participants agreed that the knowledge and skills they gained would make a meaningful impact in their projects over the next year.

This implementation leads to reaching indicators of success in your project sooner, identifying unique and innovative funding opportunities to help you diversify, and having a clearer and more productive vision for the future of your project/program/lab/etc.

This is a training you will refer back to countless times over your career, and as an alumnus of the program the SBI team is there to support you!  We’re constantly updating our online resources, we use your feedback to develop new and relevant training opportunities, and we’re available via email to support you whether it’s been 6 months or 6 years.

Check out our courses page for our latest offerings, join the SBI community, and become one of our success stories!



SBI Reflections from Fort Collins, CO- October, 2018


Over the past 5 years, our Sustaining Biological Infrastructure program has trained 162 leaders with skills to develop and run successful projects and programs. In October, 2018, we headed to Fort Collins CO with our newest version of the course, and left with great connections, memories, and lessons learned. 

Fort Collins, Colorado, a city known for its vibrant music scene, local breweries, and outdoor enthusiasts, lies at the base of the Rocky Mountains just an hour north of Denver. It also supports a vibrant research community that includes the Unites States Geological Survey’s Fort Collins Science Center. Nestled within the center is the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis, a scientist driven institution which provides a space for innovation and collaboration between scientists and managers. Having hosted groups working on natural resource management, climate change, and ecosystem services; we knew it would be a great location for our course, which brings together leaders of field stations, research centers, laboratories, and natural history collections.

Scientists leading biological infrastructure projects often lack formal training in accounting, finances, business management, and communication. In a world where funding is highly competitive, stakeholders are often diverse, and marketing is confusing, we strive to equip these scientists with the skills and tools to make their projects more sustainable and successful in the long term. The Ecological Society of America’s 3-day Sustaining Biological Infrastructure (SBI) course does just that: it’s designed to help scientists build these skills in an interactive, engaging, and fun setting—and with meaningful takeaways.

Serving as mentors over the course of the workshop, our instructors bring decades of experience and a wealth of knowledge on topics ranging from accounting, strategic planning, business management, marketing, and communications. Although lecture is part of the learning, the course is also very interactive and is shaped by unique class discussions, breakout groups, and partner work. We create a safe environment to foster the open sharing of ideas, feedback, and constructive criticism that help attendees to grow as part of a community and as individuals.

Our Fort Collins course brought together 9 leaders of programs spanning the United States (and globe!) from Massachusetts to the Marianas Islands – leaders of marine labs, botanical gardens, mountain research stations, and bird conservation research. The diversity in project type, location, and age- with our youngest projects in the early stages of development to our oldest project at 43 years old- allow a broad range of knowledge and experiences to be shared between colleagues. This group aspired to develop sustainable and effective organizational structure, learn effective strategies for funding, and establish financial independence. Identifying specific goals through pre-course surveys helps our instructors tailor the course to each group, and directly address those goals through case studies, business model and analysis activities, and the culminating exercise: developing a pitch. Overall- the experience and connections that were made through lots of laughter,

Following up with SBI alumni is always uplifting, as is hearing stories about the work they have completed using skills developed in the course. From alumni surveys, we have found that 98% gained knowledge and skills that will make a meaningful impact on their project within the next 6-12 months, and 95% will recommend the course to a colleague! However, survey results only tell part of the story, and the anecdotes and ideas that come directly from our alumni are the most motivational for us as we continue planning for the future of SBI.

“The resources–the logic model, the things we’ve learned, everything Lynda had to lecture on, can help me to do my job more effectively. Thinking about and practicing “the pitch” one way or another will help as we move forward to diversifying our support out of government grants and into individual or foundation asks.”

“I am excited to use many of the tools to help support our overall objectives. I plan to utilize the workbook to help facilitate projects for my team and how to better direct our work. I hope to have greater success with grants and pitches using the feedback [received in the course].”

“These are topics I have been wanting to spend time on since I started my job. A 3-day immersion was just what I needed. Having a colleague there was doubly valuable.”

The 3-day Sustaining Biological Infrastructure course happens twice each year, but we also present short versions at various societal meetings and conferences. Are you interested in joining a course or getting involved? Please send an email to Jill and Emily at and visit to learn more about the course, including future dates. We’d love to hear from you, and to meet you in the future!