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NIMBioS Postdoctoral Fellowships in Mathematical Biology


At a Glance


NIMBioS provides an opportunity for postdoctoral scholarship at the interface between mathematics and biological science that builds upon the experiences gained through the many successful postdoctoral fellows who have been in residence at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville over the past decades. Postdoctoral scholars propose synthetic projects that require an amalgam of mathematical and biological approaches, and are expected to include explicit opportunities to expand the scholars previous education. Projects should not require the collection of additional empirical data, but may involve many aspects (collating, formulating data bases, developing models) of synthesizing existing data. Applications are welcome from those with a range of both biological and mathematical prior experience, with highest priority given to those with explicit plans to develop their ability to effectively carry on research across these fields.

Postdoctoral applications are reviewed two times per year and the selected researchers are offered positions at NIMBioS where they conduct research that is mostly self-directed. While NIMBioS encourages its Postdoctoral Fellows to collaborate with established faculty locally and globally, to participate in Working Groups and Investigative Workshops and to interact with visiting scholars, the NIMBioS Postdoctoral positions are expected to be independent researchers. Given the breadth of backgrounds needed to be successful interdisciplinary researchers, NIMBioS will assign two mentors to each Postdoctoral Fellow, with one mentor having more biological experience and the other having more mathematical/computational experience. These mentors are expected to assist the Fellow to broaden their experience, and provide research suggestions, not to direct the Fellows research. Thus, applications which do not have a clearly defined set of research objectives are unlikely to be successful. While it is appropriate for applicants to identify particular local researchers whom they suggest as appropriate mentors, including those who may be most appropriate to assist in broadening the applicants prior experience, this is not necessary.

Postdoctoral Fellowships are for two years (assuming satisfactory progress toward research goals in year one). Under appropriate circumstances applicants may request periods shorter than two years, and in special circumstances a Fellow may request an extension beyond two years. NIMBioS Postdoctoral Fellows are encouraged to participate in grant proposal development workshops offered through UT and Fellows are permitted to serve as a Principal Investigator on grant proposals submitted through NIMBioS.

Outreach Opportunities

NIMBioS will have in place a variety of opportunities for Postdoctoral Fellows to participate in outreach and education opportunities, or to create new ones. These will include opportunities to collaborate with graduate students based at NIMBioS, assist in mentoring participants in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program, assist in developing educational programs at Minority Serving Institutions, develop new quantitative components for the Biology-in-the-Box program, and participate in outreach programs in collaboration with interpreters at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Fellows who so wish may take on the responsibility for teaching a formal undergraduate course, particularly if this experience will assist them in meeting their career goals. All Fellows are expected to participate in an outreach or education activity of some kind during their tenure at NIMBioS.

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Call for Postdoctoral Fellowship Applications

NIMBioS Postdoctoral Fellows are chosen based upon indications that the applicant's research plans are consistent with the mission of NIMBioS, the applicant has the demonstrated ability to carry out the proposed research, and the opportunities provided through NIMBioS will enhance the capacity for the research to be completed in an efficient and timely manner. Fellows are also supported in order to enhance the diversity of the cadre of researchers who are able to effectively address research at the interface between math and biology, and thus a successful applicant will include a plan that indicates how NIMBioS will expand their abilities in this regard. The research questions to be addressed by a Fellow may be either fundamental, applied or both, and may be focused around a particular biological topic, or one from mathematics that is driven by biological insight. We are particularly interested in requests to support research that integrates diverse fields, requires synthesis at multiple scales, and/or makes use of or requires development of new mathematical/computational approaches. In addition to the research responsibilities associated with the proposed project, each Fellow will be expected to collaborate in teams with other Fellows, faculty, staff and graduate students, and to participate in an outreach activity.

Support for a Fellow includes an annual stipend of approximately $51,000, full University of Tennessee employee fringe benefits including retirement and health care plans, and an annual travel allowance of $3,000 for attendance at professional meetings or to meet collaborators. If you have a spouse/partner with appropriate background to be associated with a university academic department, NIMBioS will provide a limited cost-match to the department to encourage an appointment in the unit for your spouse/partner.

Development of new experimental or observational data is outside the scope of activities for NIMBioS Fellows.

A goal of NIMBioS is to enhance the cadre of researchers capable of interdisciplinary efforts across mathematics and biology. As part of this goal, NIMBioS is committed to promoting diversity in all its activities. Diversity is considered in all its aspects, social and scientific, including gender, ethnicity, scientific field, career stage, geography and type of home institution. Questions regarding diversity issues should be directed to Dr. Ernest Brothers, the NIMBioS Associate Director for Diversity Enhancement ( You can read more about our Diversity Plan on our NIMBioS Policies web page. The NIMBioS building is fully handicapped accessible.

Application and Submission Process

The next deadline is September 1, 2015, for activities beginning summer/fall 2016.

NIMBioS applications for Fellowships are brief, not to exceed 5 single-spaced (12-pt type) pages (excluding cover sheet, literature citations, names and contact information of referees, and CV). The Problem Statement and Proposed Activities sections combined must not exceed 5 pages, including any figures or tables.

The application process has two parts, an online summary form and a more detailed project description.

PART 1: Complete the online application form: CLICK HERE.

PART 2: Submit an application in PDF format, organized as follows:

  1. Cover sheet (~1 page)
    1. Descriptive Title
    2. Short Title (25 characters max)
    3. Name and contact information
    4. Project Summary (250 words max) - appropriate for public distribution on the NIMBioS web site
    5. Proposed start and end dates
    6. Potential conflicts of interest with the members of the Advisory Boards or the NIMBioS Leadership Team.
  2. Problem statement - Clear and concise statement of the research problem to be addressed, why it is important, and the approach to be used to address it. Include detail on mathematical and biological connections involved, and describe why your background is appropriate to address the problem. Include appropriate literature citations.
  3. Proposed activities that make use of NIMBioS opportunities to enhance the applicants abilities - include any particular outreach or educational activities planned. Applicants should try to identify (if possible) two appropriate local mentors (one more focused on biology and one more focused on mathematics) associated with NIMBioS, the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory or Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  4. Names and contact information for three references. Please arrange for each reference to provide a letter of recommendation regarding your background and ability to carry out the independent research as proposed, and your ability to engage in collaborative research as part of NIMBioS community. These letters should be submitted by email to separately from your application. All letters of recommendation must be submitted before the request deadline.
  5. Full CV.

Applications will be accepted in digital format only, as a pdf file, submitted via email to: Graphics should be embedded directly into the application document. Note that applications should be submitted as a single pdf file including all of the components listed above (items 1-5).

Note that information contained in applications for NIMBioS support are governed by the NIMBioS Privacy Policy.

Tips for Postdoctoral Fellowship Applicants

Postdoctoral Fellowship applications are evaluated based upon a number of criteria. Below are some suggestions on how to structure a successful application.

1. The proposed research project should address an interesting and important biological question. Your application will be read by Advisory Board members who may not be experts in the biological area of the proposal, so an application should clearly elucidate the questions to be addressed and the relevance of these to major issues in biology. A Background section in the request should make it clear that you are aware of prior work on the questions being addressed, and an Objectives section should point out the main hypotheses for the project and how these relate to prior work.

2. The request should be explicit about the importance of mathematical efforts that need to be carried out to address the objectives of the project. A Methods section should identify previous mathematical work on the topic and point out how this will either be elaborated or applied in new contexts to address the project objectives. Any associated computational challenges should be identified along with a plan for meeting these. A description of the data needs of the project should be included along with a description of how these data will be obtained.

3. An Expected Results section should identify the projected products from your proposed efforts, including a outline of possible journal articles to be produced, software that will be developed, and any educational materials that are expected to arise. If appropriate, you should describe how the results will contribute to national needs in either fundamental or applied biology.

4. If the project is related to your prior research, for example from your dissertation, then the project description should elaborate how the proposed effort differs from your previous work and requires the facilities and expertise available through NIMBioS to be successful. If the project differs significantly from your previous research, the description should identify your capacity for expanding your expertise to be successful in carrying out the project.

5. Throughout you should emphasize why NIMBioS is the appropriate venue to both carry out the proposed research project and to meet your career objectives. Be explicit about any new skills or expertise you wish to develop and how the opportunities available through NIMBioS will assist you in meeting your goals.

6. Your recommenders should clarify in their letters why your experience is appropriate to the project you propose, and your competence to carry out independent research. Thus you should share your project request with your reference writers so that they may address these issues in their letters.

7. If there are mentors at the Univ. of Tennessee or Oak Ridge National Laboratory who are well suited to provide advice to you on the proposed project, please do identify them, but it is not necessary to contact them in advance. Mentors are not directing your research but assist as appropriate in the scientific aspects of the project and in providing career guidance. If there are particular researchers who are not based in the Knoxville area who you would like to collaborate with during your fellowship and suggest as potential additional mentors, do describe the proposed interactions with these individuals. Keep in mind that some funds are provided for travel for Fellows, but that these are limited, so that you should plan on mostly at-distance interactions with potential mentors based elsewhere.