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Post Doctoral Research Associate - Disease Decision Analysis and Research

Apply now Job no: 510812
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

There are many factors underlying the increased potential for emergence of wildlife diseases which have the potential for spillover into human populations. The pace of newly emerging and reemerging zoonotic diseases requires an ability to make predictions about the severity of a disease threat, and to rapidly identify mitigation strategies, which is difficult when managers lack basic information on pathogen characteristics and do not have trusted predictions species susceptibility and the expected disease dynamics. Typically, action is delayed while these uncertainties are resolved (e.g., via surveillance or research).

There has been rapid investment in understanding and forecasting the dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 in human populations; less attention has been given to forecasting the emergence and spread in wildlife populations. The generalized SARS-CoV-2 pathogen presents risks to many North American wildlife species, including bats. Disease spill-over from humans to wildlife could lead to sustained SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks in wildlife, increasing risk of transmission back to humans, negative species impacts and declines, and will increase the potential for new zoonotic diseases to emerge.

Forecasting these potential outcomes is necessary for decision making to mitigate risk, and to facilitate planning for the possibility that a disease may become enzootic in wildlife populations. These decisions must be made under uncertainty, and before research is available to inform these risks or to evaluate potential management strategies. The timeline for decision making typically exceeds that in which research results are available. To address this, it is critical to complete risk assessments for wildlife taxa beyond bats and develop and utilize scenarios to forecast disease emergence in native U.S. wildlife. Therefore, we are seeking a postdoctoral scientist in wildlife disease ecology and management, to support these activities and join the new Disease Decision Analysis and Research (DDAR) team of the Eastern Ecological Research Center (formerly, the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center), in collaboration with the University of Vermont and the USGS Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst

The work of the postdoctoral scientist will consist of two main objectives: (1) synthesize the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and establishment in native U.S. wildlife populations, to provide tools to decision makers for evaluating and managing risk; and (2) develop expertise and infrastructure for multi-model, long-term (6-month to 5-year) projections of wildlife disease dynamics, using scenarios that explore alternative actions and critical uncertainties.

Objective 1: Synthesis of SARS-CoV-2 Risk across Taxa

Risk assessments are valuable decision-making tools that can evaluate the magnitude of risk and the effectiveness of preventative measures. They can include formal estimates and analyses of disease dynamics such as species susceptibility, routes of exposure and transmission, and the probability of host infection; they can also be updated as new knowledge is gained.

In this project, we will work with taxa specialists and management agencies to develop causal chains for multiple wildlife species, identify possible control points, estimate spillover risk, and provide decision support tools to state, federal, and tribal resource management agencies. We anticipate analyzing the risks for 3-4 taxa.

Objective 2: Wildlife Disease Scenario Modeling Consortium

During the COVID-19 pandemic, two modeling hubs emerged in the United States. In both cases, these hubs involve multiple, independent modeling groups who submit forecasts or projections of the same scenarios, with the understanding that multiple modeling groups harness the wisdom of crowds and are both more accurate and better capture uncertainty. The multiple projections are then combined through ensemble methods. The sort of infrastructure that supports multi-model scenario modeling is valuable for disease management, scientific insight, and pandemic preparedness. We will meet this objective by harnessing insights and methods developed during the COVID-19 pandemic and apply them to more broadly to wildlife disease with zoonotic potential.


Essential Functions

Examples of duties:

  • Establish a multi-model wildlife disease scenario modeling consortium, designed in a manner similar to the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub.
  • Initially, the consortium will focus on projections of several well-studied fungal pathogens of wildlife (white-nose syndrome in bats, and the salamander fungus in amphibians), then will turn to exploring pathogens with zoonotic potential (e.g., SARS-CoV-2, highly pathogenic avian influenza, Zika virus, West Nile virus).


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)

  • Ph.D. in a relevant discipline, preferably within the last 5 years.
  • Excellent writing and personal communication skills, and a demonstrated desire and ability to publish in peer-reviewed journals.


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

  • Competitive candidates will have skills related to one or more of the following: wildlife ecology, modeling, epidemiology, statistics, estimation, quantitative ecology, expert elicitation, decision analysis, human dimensions of natural resource management, economics, behavioral psychology, or optimization.
  • Previous experience leading a collaborative research project and familiarity with disease ecology, epidemiology, and human dimensions are a bonus.


Additional Details

This position will be based in the research group of Dr. Graziella DiRenzo at the USGS MA Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst, MA). Work will involve close collaboration with Dr. Brittany Mosher at the University of Vermont (Burlington, VT), Mike Runge at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD, and Evan Grant at the Conte Anadromous Fish Research Lab in Turners Falls, MA.

We strongly encourage applicants from underrepresented groups in science, wildlife ecology, statistics, and modeling.


Work Schedule

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


Salary Information

Salary commensurate with experience.

Salary and benefits are competitive with support available for at least 13 months, with an opportunity to renew for another 12 months pending satisfactory performance. Some travel funds will be available to support visits with study team members and outside cooperators, to attend regional workshops during model development, and to attend professional conferences. Postdocs will receive high-level training in decision analysis and disease ecology.


Special Instructions to Applicants

Submit a letter of application describing your background and experiences as they relate to this position and any particular disease system in which you have an interest, a CV/resume, and contact information for three professional references.  Apply by December 22, 2021 in order to ensure priority consideration. Search may remain open until a suitable candidate pool has been identified.

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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