Legal and Policy Research Assistants – Summer 2020

Are you interested in studying issues related to public health, access to clean water, and regulation of toxic substances and chemicals in the United States (and abroad)? Are you a graduate student in law, public health, environmental management, public policy, or related social science field? Do you have experience researching and analyzing legal, regulatory, and policy research? Are you dependable and organized?

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions seeks two motivated law, policy, public health, professional, or masters-level students to join our State Policy Program research team focused on studying policy mechanisms to address emerging contaminants in drinking water supplies. One position will focus on domestic sub-federal policy approaches to regulating PFAS and disclosure obligations of local governments when unregulated emerging contaminants are found in drinking water supplies. The second position will focus on comparative federal and international laws for the regulation of chemicals and toxic substances.

Position 1

Several communities in North Carolina are wrestling with the discovery of unregulated water contaminants (specifically per/polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS) in their drinking water supplies. State and local government officials have adopted and implemented a number of mechanisms intended to provide the public with information, to equitably provide water resources and tap testing to all members of the using and consuming public, and to address resource inadequacy for some communities. The State Policy Program is currently focusing on researching the regulatory approaches taken at the state and local levels to address these emerging challenges.

As a research assistant on this project, your role is foundational and may include helping with:

  • Researching and analyzing differing regulatory standards and policy approaches across US state governments for managing per/polyfluoroalkyl substances in drinking water supplies
  • Researching state regulations and policies related to disclosure of unregulated emerging contaminants in drinking water supplies
  • Researching and assessing potential avenues for local governments in North Carolina seeking to secure new drinking water supplies or new treatment technologies

This work may include drafting legal/policy memos, completing law review and scientific research literature reviews and/or annotated bibliographies, and assisting with organizing trainings on the above research.

Position 2

There are a diversity of approaches and mechanisms for regulating chemicals and toxic substances both within the US legal system and within other countries with similar legal systems. Some place the burden on the government to assess the safety and suitability of chemicals for certain purposes while others shift that burden to the user and/or manufacturer of the chemical. When situations arise like those experienced by communities around the Chemours plant in the lower Cape Fear River Basin or the Pittsboro community in the upper Cape Fear River Basin, many are quite surprised at the way our legal system manages toxic substances and chemical regulation. The State Policy Program is interested in creating resources to compare regulatory approaches across different sectors within the United States as well as across countries that regulate chemicals and toxic substances quite differently (such as those that make up the European Union).

As a research assistant on this project, your role is foundational and may include helping with:

  • Researching and analyzing differing statutory approaches beyond environmental laws (e.g., food and beverage standards) within the US
  • Researching international law and approaches to regulating chemicals and toxic substances
  • Researching burden shifting in statutes and regulations

This work will emphasize drafting legal/policy memos, completing law review literature reviews and/or annotated bibliographies, and assisting with policy publications on the above research.

Both positions will require approximately 20 hours of work per week with work to begin as soon as late May 2020 through early August 2020. Though remote work may be necessary due to the current state-of-emergency related to the COVID-19 outbreak, all work must be done within the state of North Carolina.


The successful candidates will have demonstrated experience in regulatory and policy research, demonstrated interest in public health or environmental policy, eagerness to take initiative and solve intricate problems, excellent time-management skills and ability to work effectively with minimal supervision, and exceptional research and analytical writing skills. Prior background in environmental law, public health, environmental science, policy, or another relevant social science field is preferred, but not required.

About the Nicholas Institute

The Nicholas Institute provides decision makers in the public and private sectors with unbiased evaluations of policy risks and rewards as well as innovative, practical ideas for meeting complex challenges.

To Apply

Please email your resume, cover letter (indicating clearly which position you are most interested in applying to—Position 1 or 2), and a brief writing sample to Donna Brown,

Deadline for Submission

We will review applications on a rolling basis. The positions will remain open until filled.

The intent of this job description is to provide a representation of the types and level of duties and responsibilities that will be required of positions given this title. It shall not be construed as a declaration of all specific duties and responsibilities of the particular position, as employees may be directed to perform job-related tasks other than those specifically presented in this description.

Duke University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer committed to providing employment opportunity without regard to an individual's age, color, disability, gender, gender expression, gender identity, genetic information, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or veteran status. Duke also makes good faith efforts to recruit, hire, and promote qualified women, minorities, individuals with disabilities, and veterans.