Understanding Dynamic and Multi-scale Systems: 21st Century Postdoctoral Fellowship Awards

James S. McDonnell Foundation

Grant amount: US $200,000

Anticipated deadline: Jun 26, 2018 1:59pm PDT

Applicant type: PhD Student

Funding uses: Fellowship

Location of project: Anywhere in the world

Location of residency: Anywhere in the world

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The Understanding Dynamic and Multi-Scale Systems (formerly Studying Complex Systems) program supports scholarship and research directed toward the development of theoretical and mathematical tools contributing to the science of complex, adaptive, nonlinear systems. While the program's emphasis is on the development and application of the theory and tools used in the study of complex research questions and not on particular fields of research per se, JSMF is particularly interested in the continued development of complex systems science, and in projects attempting to apply complex systems approaches to coherently articulated questions.

The Fellowship

Students completing doctoral training, desiring to continue gaining experience in a multi-disciplinary field such as complex systems science, benefit from postdoctoral training providing an opportunity to broaden research experience and acquire additional skills prior to pursuing a career in academia or elsewhere. Success in securing a postdoctoral position, particularly those providing training that adds new dimensions to a student’s doctoral education (adding theoretical skills to one’s experimental training or vice versa; pursuing work in a new topic or field), oftentimes depends on the availability of funds to support positions via institutional training grants or faculty research grants. The latter case can result in a postdoctoral fellow engaging a research project dictated by the needs of the research grant rather than his or her interests or goals.

The James S. McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Postdoctoral Fellowship Award in Understanding Dynamic and Multi-scale Systems provides fellowships to students completing doctoral training in the multidisciplinary field of complex systems science. The JSMF Fellowship is intended to provide students in the final stages of completing a Ph.D. degree more leeway in identifying and securing postdoctoral training opportunities in complex systems research. The program, following review of applications, provides selected pre-doctoral students with “letters of intent to fund” that the student can use in negotiating with potential postdoctoral training institutions while the student is in the final phase of graduate school. The JSMF Fellowship is designed to provide students with an opportunity to seek potential postdoctoral research opportunities on the basis of the student’s interest and desire to obtain additional skills and experience that will further their pursuit of careers in complex systems science.

Award Details

The total amount of the JSMF Fellowship is $200,000 USD to be expended in no less than 2 and no more than 3 years.

  • The cost of the full postdoctoral salary or stipend and fringe benefits must be paid in full from the fellowship.
  • Institutions cannot request that other funding sources be used to cover the Fellow’s salary or stipend; JSMF Fellowship funds are not intended to be used primarily as a source of laboratory support.
  • If the institutional postdoctoral salary scales are set such that there are funds in excess of what is needed for stipend and benefits, the excess funds can be used by the institution to support the Fellow’s research.

Important Note: JSMF Fellowships are not awarded until the student applies to and is accepted as a postdoctoral fellow at a qualified 501(c)(3) institution or foreign equivalent and the institution submits an acceptable application to JSMF.

You can learn more about this opportunity by visiting the funder's website.


  • This fellowship is intended for Ph.D. students with theoretical and/or experimental training in complex systems science that anticipate completing their graduate training in late 2017 or in 2018.
  • The earliest start-date for a fellowship is December 1, 2017.
  • Applicants must not already have a Ph.D. or expect to receive one before the application deadline.
  • Applicants should have theoretical and/or experimental training in complex systems science.
  • Applicants should not be in a fellowship position prior to the earliest start date for this grant is December 1, 2017.
  • Applicants should not have already identified a postdoctoral position and postdoctoral research mentor.
  • Applicants should understand that if a letter of intent to fund is received, it is unlikely that an application to remain at the same institution will be approved.
  • JSMF Fellowships can only be used to support postdoctoral training at a qualified institution.
    • This includes institutions with IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exemption status, institutions that are government instrumentalities or foreign equivalent institutions.
    • More information on JSMF Tax Status policy can be found here.


  • Institutions cannot request that other funding sources be used to cover the Fellow’s salary or stipend; JSMF Fellowship funds are not intended to be used primarily as a source of laboratory support.
  • It is not intended for individuals that already have a Ph.D. or students that have already identified a postdoctoral position and a postdoctoral mentor as there are traditional funding mechanisms available for these students.
  • SMF supports research in the brain sciences through its topical program Understanding Human Cognition.
    • The Foundation recommends that researchers in the neurosciences not submit applications to the Dynamic and Multi-scale Systems Postdoctoral Fellowship Award.
    • Typically, such applications are unsuccessful.