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Post Doctoral Research Associate - Chronic Wasting Disease Risk Assessment

Apply now Job no: 510055
Work type: Post Doc (Amherst Only)
Location: UMass Amherst
Department: Environmental Conservation
Union: Post Doc
Categories: Postdoctoral Research Associate, College of Natural Sciences

About UMass Amherst

UMass Amherst, the Commonwealth's flagship campus, is a nationally ranked public research university offering a full range of undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University sits on nearly 1,450-acres in the scenic Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, and offers a rich cultural environment in a bucolic setting close to major urban centers. In addition, the University is part of the Five Colleges (including Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, and Smith College), which adds to the intellectual energy of the region.


Job Summary

Emerging infectious diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), force decision-makers to make decisions in the face of large uncertainty and risk. Under these pressing circumstances, two important tactics and tools for decision-makers are: (1) obtaining buy-in from stakeholders and (2) formal risk assessments, which predict the potential distribution of a novel pathogen in new habitats. In an effort to prevent CWD from spreading into Massachusetts (MA), the MA state wildlife agency, The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife), is implementing several proactive management strategies (e.g., regulations to restrict whole carcass importation of deer, improving and focusing on standards for cervid farming); however, it is unclear whether there is stakeholder buy-in or how effective this management is. Therefore, the USDA APHIS Wildlife Services has funded a project to address these barriers. This work is a collaboration among the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Massachusetts Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit (MA Coop Unit) and Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife).

We are recruiting a postdoctoral researcher who will accomplish the following:

(1) Assess existing wild cervid stakeholder perceptions, behaviors, and misconceptions using a survey. The postdoctoral researcher, along with collaborators, will develop and disseminate a survey that reaches 9,500 wild cervid stakeholders in MA.

(2) Examine patterns and trends related to wild cervid stakeholder perceptions, behaviors, and misconceptions. Here, the postdoctoral researcher will analyze the data obtained from the wild cervid stakeholder survey to extract patterns and trends.

(3) Identify areas of high risk for CWD introduction, establishment, and spread in MA. The postdoctoral researcher will conduct a risk assessment for CWD introduction, establishment, and spread in MA based on host and prion ecology. Again, the postdoctoral researcher will work with us to identify important covariates and factors that might influence risk.

(4) In an effort to start building wild cervid stakeholder buy-in and trust, the postdoctoral researcher will be responsible for:

  • updating the MA CWD response plan with the results of the wild cervid stakeholder survey and the risk assessment (both completed as part of this project).
  • develop a communication strategy that will be used to help MassWildlife engage more regularly with wild cervid stakeholders.
  • disseminate the results of the wild cervid stakeholder survey and the risk assessment to wild cervid stakeholders as applicable.

Collectively, the postdoctoral researcher will help build and promote transparency between MassWildlife and wild cervid stakeholders, as well as aid in opening the lines of communication between the two entities. More specifically, the goals of this project are to engage wild cervid stakeholders prior to CWD invasion, generate a communication strategy based on what wild cervid stakeholders are seeking (and using the modalities of communication they prefer; learned from the survey), and obtain stakeholder buy-in for proactive and reactive CWD management.

We highly encourage people from historically underrepresented groups to apply. This is a one (1) year postdoctoral position with the possible extension to a second year depending on first-year performance.

The postdoctoral researcher will be stationed at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) in Amherst, MA. UMass is a top-ranked public university located in western MA. The area offers a rich cultural environment in a rural setting close to major urban centers, with many great outdoor recreational opportunities.


Essential Functions

Examples of duties:

  • Develop the wild cervid stakeholder survey, as well as disseminating and obtaining responses to the survey.
  • Analyze the survey data.
  • Compile the data for the risk assessment, analyze the data, and create risk maps.
  • Update the CWD response plan, develop the communication plan, and generate materials to disseminate the results of the survey and risk assessment to wild cervid stakeholders (i.e., magazine article, email, post reports on MassWildlife website).

Other Functions

  • Work collaboratively and effectively to promote teamwork, diversity, equality and inclusiveness. 
  • Work in partnership with colleagues within the CNS community and across the campus to support the Dean’s strategic priorities.
  • Perform other duties as assigned in support of the mission and goals of the College of Natural Sciences.


Minimum Qualifications (Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, Education, Experience, Certifications, Licensure)

  • PhD in ecology, epidemiology, disease ecology, public health, social science, or other related field.


Additional Details

Position is expected to start mid-November or early December 2021. This is a one (1) year appointment with possibility for reappointment, located at UMass Amherst.

Please send any questions to the principal investigators:

  • Graziella DiRenzo ( – USGS, MA Coop Unit
  • Martin Feehan ( – MassWildlife


Work Schedule

Monday – Friday 9:00am – 5:00pm, 40 hours a week, 100% FTE.


Salary Information

  • Salary will commensurate with experience.
  • Travel funds to attend a national conference.
  • A supportive network of professionals who encourage work-life balance, promote mental health well-being, and working towards career goals.
  • Professional development experiences relevant to a career with federal and state agencies.
  • Mentoring, encouragement, and autonomy that promotes an understanding of how diverse perspectives are vital to achieving project goals.


Special Instructions to Applicants

Submit a letter of application, resume, and contact information for three professional references. Apply by October 1, 2021 in order to ensure priority consideration. Search may remain open until a suitable candidate pool has been identified.

The cover letter should be 1 – 2 pages describing:

  • your research interests and background
  • why you are interested in this position
  • your career goals
  • your experience (if applicable) and/or enthusiasm for learning about each of the following areas (note we do not expect applicants to have experience under each of these areas):
    • Ecological knowledge related to:
      • Chronic Wasting Disease
      • Epidemiology/ Disease ecology
      • Large mammal/ deer biology
    • Quantitative and computer skills related to:
      • Analyzing survey data
      • Risk assessments
    • Project management skills related to:
      • large project management
      • working with stakeholders

As part of a commitment to their own multicultural community, CNS seeks an individual with a demonstrated commitment to diversity and one who will understand and embrace university initiatives and aspirations. (

UMass Amherst is committed to a policy of equal opportunity without regard to race, color, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, age, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, disability, military status, or genetic information in employment, admission to and participation in academic programs, activities, and services, and the selection of vendors who provide services or products to the University.  To fulfill that policy, UMass Amherst is further committed to a program of affirmative action to eliminate or mitigate artificial barriers and to increase opportunities for the recruitment and advancement of qualified minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and covered veterans.  It is the policy of the UMass Amherst to comply with the applicable federal and state statutes, rules, and regulations concerning equal opportunity and affirmative action.

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