PhD Student – Indiana

Department of Forestry & Natural Resources Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana
Job Category
Graduate Assistantships
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Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is an incurable prion disease that contributes to population declines among cervid species. Because local eradication of CWD in an infected region is unlikely, mitigating the spread of CWD from source populations into uninfected populations is a priority for the long-term management of deer populations. Despite this, management of CWD has generally focused on reactionary measures, including selectively and non-selectively culling deer within infected populations in an attempt to reduce disease prevalence. The objective of this research project is to develop an individual/agent-based modeling tool to assess the efficacy of management actions that focus on the mitigation of disease spread into new regions. The selected student will work to fill these knowledge gaps and inform white tailed deer management by conducting research to address the following 3 objectives: 1) designing, developing, and implementing a model of the spread of CWD along a linear element (river corridor) into an uninfected landscape and submitting a manuscript to an appropriate journal based upon the results from that model. 2) collaborating with relevant agency and NGO partners to design a digital tool based upon the output of the model from objective 1. This tool should provide stakeholders the opportunity to test their own ideas for how best to control CWD and educate themselves about the efficacy of proposed management methods. This student will collaborate with programmers from Purdue University’s Scientific Solutions Group (SSG) to develop this aforementioned digital tool and will lead the delivery of this tool to interested stakeholders. 3) designing, developing, and implementing a model of the spread of CWD from a point source (single outbreak location) into an uninfected landscape and submitting a manuscript to an appropriate journal based upon the results from that model. This is a unique opportunity for individuals interested in the interface of individual/agent-based modeling, quantitative ecology, movement ecology, wildlife biology and white-tailed deer management. The position provides applied experience for a career trajectory in local, state, or federal agencies or a research career focused on the fields of quantitative ecology and human-wildlife conflict. The student will be advised by Dr. Patrick Zollner (Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources). The student’s research will be a collaboration with Dr. Aniruddha Belsare (Michigan State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife) as well Dr. Joe Caudell from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Dr. Belsare has published highly relevant research on modeling white tailed deer using individual/agent-based tools (Ecological Modeling 2020, 417(1): 108919) and Dr. Caudell has managed white tailed deer in Indiana for years and experience studying CWD.
BS & MS in Wildlife Biology, Ecological Modelling or a related discipline. When preparing materials (statement of interest & response to 5 questions) applicants should explicitly address their demonstrated organizational skills, interest/background in individual/agent-based modeling, quantitative skills, and their ability to mentor others. Applicants should be highly motivated with a demonstrated ability to work independently and collaboratively. The student we hire should be able to readily interact with various stakeholders including government agencies, landowners, hunters, and non-governmental organizations. Applicants with experience publishing peer-reviewed journal articles, a strong work ethic, demonstrated technical writing ability, training in ecological modeling, excellent interpersonal skills, demonstrated skill or skill potential in quantitative ecology and proficiency in R will be most competitive. Experience developing individual/agent-based models in NetLogo or equivalent platforms, familiarity with white tailed deer management, as well as candidates who bring unique contributions to the diverse perspectives within the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources are all additional elements that will make applicants more competitive. Interested applicants should compile all of the following materials into a single pdf and email that file Dr. Patrick Zollner (; a 1-page statement of interest, CV, unofficial transcripts, contact information for three professional references and responses to the following 5 questions (each of these responses should be 250 words or less). 1. Describe a situation that demonstrates your work ethic and ability to complete complex tasks in a timely manner. 2. Provide an example of a work/academic situation that typifies how you handle adversity when striving to attain a goal. 3. What motivates you to pursue your proposed graduate studies, and how will completion of these studies prepare you to achieve your career goals? 4. Please describe a specific example from your work/academic experience that demonstrates your curiosity and creativity. 5. What are your strengths and weaknesses with regard to achieving goals individually and in collaboration with others?
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Pat Zollner
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