Postdoctoral Research Scholar

Boulder, Colorado
Salary appropriate to qualifications and experience and with eligible employee benefits.
May 11, 2017
Jun 10, 2017
Earth Lab, University of Colorado- Boulder
Career Level
Education Level
Job Type
Relocation Cost
No Relocation
Sector Type

Earth Lab Post-Doctoral Research Scholars

at the University of Colorado-Boulder

The Earth Lab initiative, part of the University of Colorado Boulder’s “Grand Challenge: Our Space, Our Future,” seeks post-doctoral researchers to join a dynamic team pushing the frontiers of coupled earth and social system science ( Earth Lab’s mission is to harness the wave of Earth data generated by aerospace platforms and other sources to better understand the pace and pattern of environmental change.

Earth Lab will:

  • Capitalize on the data deluge from space to accelerate science;
  • Reduce environmental risk and surprise by using this wealth of data to understand and predict both slow and abrupt Earth System change to help society manage and adapt;
  • Train a new generation of data scientists in Earth Analytics.

Earth Lab’s Analytics Hub is a state-of-the-art computing facility that leverages existing cyberinfrastructure investments at the University of Colorado-Boulder and houses data science specialists and support staff who assist researchers and students with data management, analysis and visualization needs.

Earth Lab seeks four Post-Doctoral Research Scholars to lead a research agenda in the following areas:

  1. The Natural Science of Coupled Extremes,
  2. The Social and Economic Impacts of Extremes,
  3. Human Health and Environmental Change, and
  4. Settlements and Environmental Change.

These target research areas represent Earth Lab’s efforts to explore society’s vulnerability and resilience to global environmental change. Post-Doctoral Research Scholars are responsible for carrying out Earth Lab’s research program. Successful candidates must have content knowledge and data analytics skills relevant to each theme, as well as an eagerness to bridge among the themes and interact with specialists in data analytics, visualization, and informatics in a high performance computing or cloud computing environment. Interest in mentoring undergraduate and graduate students is a plus, as Earth Lab is committed to advancing education and developing the Earth Systems data analytics workforce. Interest in interacting with the private sector, especially with companies providing environmental sensing data and analysis, from space, aerial, and in situ platforms, is also desirable.

Overall Qualifications:

  • Doctoral degree in natural or social sciences related to the Earth Lab research themes as described below.
  • Strong quantitative background.
  • Experience in, or willingness to learn, appropriate programming and data analytic tools. Ideally the candidates will have experience in programming languages (e.g., R, Python, or others), can work in different environments (e.g., Linux), and are well versed in geospatial analysis software (e.g., QGIS).
  • Experience in integrating and analyzing large, and/or heterogeneous datasets.
  • Experience in working with a high performance computing or cloud computing environment is a plus.
  • Demonstrated publication and grant-writing skills.
  • Team spirit and interest in interdisciplinary research settings.

These positions will be filled as Research Associates at the University of Colorado-Boulder, with salary appropriate to qualifications and experience, and with eligible employee benefits. Initial appointment will be for one year with high likelihood of renewal for an additional year.

1. Natural Science of Coupled Extremes: Understanding the drivers and interactions among disturbances, position #09415

We are seeking to better understand how fundamental processes explain extreme environmental events and abrupt behavior across systems, including wildfire dynamics, drought, flooding, and erosional processes, and the coupled human-natural systems that are vulnerable to changes in these phenomena. The successful candidate must have content knowledge and data analytics skills relevant to extremes, with emphasis on understanding natural systems and their responses. A desired outcome of this work is understanding how disturbances of one type catalyze or counteract the likelihood and magnitude of other types of disturbance events. Ideally the candidate will be able to apply different approaches to explore the spatial correlation and sequence of interacting disturbances and their consequences.

Specific Qualifications for Coupled Extremes:

  • Applicant must have demonstrated interest and skills in exploratory approaches to system dynamics, such as extreme value theory, tipping point theory, detection of emergent behaviors, or other related approaches.
  • Background expertise is preferred in one or several of these disturbance processes: droughts, wildfires, and/or floods.
  • A strong quantitative background is necessary.
  • Experience using the fundamental climate data that drive many of these phenomena is a plus.
  • The ability to work in the framework of coupled human-natural systems and collaborate across Earth Lab’s research themes is critical.
  • Ph.D. in a related field is required.

Contact for this theme:  Jennifer Balch, Director of Earth Lab & Department of Geography,

2. Social and Economic Impacts of Extremes, position #09414

Earth Lab seeks a Post-Doctoral Research Scholar on Extremes in Coupled Social and Natural Systems, with a focus on social and economic processes. The successful candidate must have content knowledge and data analytics skills relevant to extremes, with emphasis on economic impacts and responses. The extremes focus seeks to build on the suite of Earth Lab efforts, plus research findings in coupled human and environment systems, to pursue knowledge frontiers in dynamic and emergent system behaviors (e.g., understanding of extremes, threshold behaviors, and abrupt changes). This Post-Doctoral Research Scholar will work in the Risk and Decision Making project as well as bridge among other ongoing science themes at the Earth Lab (Wildfire, Drought, Erosion, Arctic Processes, Human Health, and Settlements). This position will focus on the impacts of extreme events on social and environmental systems, valuation of those impacts and of societal responses, including analyzing the value of information in reducing impacts and vulnerability. Moreover, we are interested in how coupled extreme events may further disrupt both ecological and social processes and infrastructure with special attention to the existence of threshold behaviors when the resilience capacity of a social and/or environmental system is exceeded.

Specific Qualifications for Social and Economic Impacts of Extremes:

  • Doctoral degree in social sciences or interdisciplinary field (economics, public policy, geography or other quantitative social science)
  • Demonstrated interest and the skills necessary to explore the social and economic impacts of extreme environmental events.
  • Strong quantitative background.
  • Experience or willingness to learn how to integrate and analyze large and/or heterogeneous datasets, including socio-economic data and Earth observations from remote-sensing platforms.


  • Skills that enable exploratory approaches to system dynamics, extreme events, tipping points, and emergent behaviors, across a wide range of systems from natural to social.

Contact for this theme:  William Travis, Deputy Director of Earth Lab, and Department of Geography,

3. Human Health & Environmental Change, position #09413

This project will explore how we can better understand the links between environmental change and human health. The project will integrate Earth Systems datasets (e.g., satellite-derived climate, wildfire, and/or land use data) being created through Earth Lab with larger health datasets (examples include data from the Rocky Mountain Research Data Center opening up at CU Boulder in Spring 2017, electronic medical records, social media, etc.). The successful candidate will explore one or more of the following research areas: 1) Health impacts of smoke from wildland fire in various ecological contexts; 2) Health impacts of drought; 3) How social media can better inform understanding of spatiotemporal relationships between environmental exposures and health outcomes; and 4) Projecting health impacts of climate change using information on changing demographics, land use, and environmental exposures. Linking to other research areas within Earth Lab, such as Fire, Risk & Decision Making, Data Harmonization, Settlements, and Extremes is a key goal of this project to further Earth Lab’s goals of exploring the human dimensions of global environmental change.



Specific Qualifications for Human Health & Environmental Change: Completed Ph.D. in epidemiology, medical geography, biostatistics, environmental health sciences, public health, or related field. Strong quantitative skills and experience in linking environmental data to health data is recommended.

Contact for this theme:  Colleen Reid, Department of Geography,

4. Settlements and Environmental Change, position #09412

This project seeks to leverage access to massive data on environmental change and property location and other attributes to advance our understanding of interrelationships between natural hazards risks and our built environment. Central questions are how changing settlement patterns relate to exposure to natural hazards but also how extreme events and other types of environmental change impact housing stock and potential value change. The study of such bidirectional dynamics helps to advance our understanding of social vulnerability such as housing market response to extreme events and climate change indicators. Settlement distributions and real estate markets are characterized by a spatio-temporal development in response to external factors, and we are particularly interested in how environmental events change settlement pressures and patterns through time. Moreover, important questions of social and environmental justice arise due to external pressure, development, and environmental risks.

Natural hazards risk analysis and exposure assessment are important components of this project. The successful candidate will explore one or more of the following natural hazards and the vulnerabilities in existing settlements: 1) Sea level rise, its impact on structures potentially affected along coast lines and how settlement and occupation has evolved over time. 2) Changing wildfire patterns: Explore the interrelationships between settlement distribution and fire frequency and occurrence over time using wilderness-urban-interface (WUI) concepts; 3) Increased Droughts: Investigate the response of urban development to persistent droughts.

Specific Qualifications for Settlements and Environmental Change:

  • Ph.D. in geospatial science, geoinformatics, computer science, economics, natural hazards, or other related field  
  • Strong quantitative and programming skills and knowledge in data science, statistics, demography and coupled human-natural systems
  • Eagerness to develop models of improved understanding of interrelationships between urban processes and environmental settings in the context of hazards, risk assessment and extreme events
  • Interest in spatio-temporal analysis and in interdisciplinary research, housing markets and demographic analysis

Contact for this theme: Stefan Leyk, Department of Geography,

To Apply:

Please visit the CU Careers website ( to apply for these positions (search for position #s: 09415, 09414, 09413, 09412).  Applications that are received by June 9th will be given full consideration, but the positions will remain open until filled. Applicants should provide:

  1. personal information prompted by the CU Careers website,
  2. a 1-2 page cover letter explaining relevant research background and interest in the specific Earth Lab theme (Doc 1),
  3. complete C.V. (Doc 2),
  4. a document listing the names and contact information for two references, who then will be prompted to submit their reference letters (Doc 3),
  5. proof of Ph.D. degree, or formal letter from your institution stating that all requirements for the Ph.D. degree have been completed (Doc 4).

For general information on applying, please contact Chelsea Nagy (Rachel.Nagy@Colorado.EDU).

Additional Information

The University of Colorado at Boulder is committed to providing a safe and productive learning, living and working community.  To achieve this goal, we conduct background investigations for all final applicants being considered for employment.  Background investigations for this position include criminal history and reference checks. The Immigration Reform and Control Act requires that verification of employment eligibility be documented for all new employees by the end of the third day of work.

The University of Colorado is an Equal Opportunity Employer committed to building a diverse workforce.  We encourage applications from women, racial and ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities and veterans.  Alternative formats of this ad can be provided upon request for individuals with disabilities by contacting Employment Services at (303) 492-6475.