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Post-Doctoral Scholar

Institution: Purdue University, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Location: Purdue University West Lafayette, IN is preferred. However, we will consider hybrid and remote work models.


Title: Agent Based Modeling to Improve Cage-Free Housing Systems: What Does the Hen See?


Salary: Commensurate with standards for post-doctoral scholars in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University the starting annual salary will be at least $47,500. The position includes benefits typical for post-doctoral scholars at Purdue (https://www.purdue.edu/gradschool/postdoctoral-studies/resources/index.php).


Duration of Appointment: Eighteen months.


Pertinent Websites: https://ag.purdue.edu/stories/through-the-hens-eyes-1-million-grant-to-improve-cage-free-housing-for-egg-laying/ and https://cris.nifa.usda.gov/cgi-bin/starfinder/0?path=fastlink1.txt&id=anon&pass=&search=R=95189&format=WEBFMT6NT


Start Date: Negotiable but desired mid-June 2023


Project Description: Egg production in the US is changing from caged to cage-free production. This requires that 72% of laying hens are raised in cage-free housing by 2025. However, there are many different cage-free designs and we don’t know about the performance of hens in these different designs. As more hens are housed in cage-free housing systems, it is important to design systems based on hens' perceptions and needs, rather than human assumptions. This project aims to understand how hens see the environment so that new cage-free housing can be created that positively impacts hen behavior, productivity and welfare, and food safety. This project will 1) collect information on the laying hens' eyes, physiology, behavior and welfare in two cage-free housing systems; 2) develop models to estimate how hens see their environment; 3) develop Agent Based Models (ABM) for comparing virtual cage-free housing systems; and 4) build and validate the virtual cage-free system in real life. This approach will facilitate the design of a housing system better suited to the laying hen by reducing unwanted behaviors and improving hen welfare. Egg producers will understand hens' perceptions and use of the cage-free environment, guiding producers' decision-making. Additionally, housing manufacturers will have a new approach that could inform the design of future cage-free housing systems.


Position Description/Project Role: The selected post-doctoral scholar will work closely with the entire team (see below) to design, code and implement this ABM under the supervision of Dr. Pat Zollner.


This is a unique opportunity for individuals interested in the interface of individual/agent-based modeling and animal biology. The position provides relevant experience for a career trajectory within a government agency or a research career at a university or non-governmental organizations (NGO). The post-doctoral scholar will be supervised by Dr. Patrick Zollner (Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources). They will collaborate with: Dr. Darrin Karcher, Dr. Marissa Erasmus, and Dr. Greg Fraley of Purdue’s Department of Animal Sciences as well as Dr. Esteban Fernandez-Juricic from Purdue’s Department of Biology and Dr. Deana Jones US National Poultry Research Center. They will also work closely with representatives from industry throughout model development, testing and implementation.


Specific Duties: The post-doctoral scholar will be actively engaged throughout the ABM model development cycle to design, document, implement in code, analyze outputs from a complex agent-based model and prepare/submit manuscripts describing the final products. Successful applicants should expect to do the following:

  1. Collaboratively design and develop/code an agent-based model that will integrate inputs from multiple contributors across the project team and stakeholders. Including the ability to plan for this integration, and maintaining iterative versions of model code.

  2. Run agent-based modeling software at scale, so that a complex model with thousands of interacting agents can be run hundreds, if not thousands, of times for different analyses working on a computing cluster and/or using cloud-based resources. This skill is required for model testing, calibration, sensitivity analysis, and applied analyses to simulate many stakeholders or researcher-driven alternative management scenarios to assess their relative effectiveness.

  3. Use strong code documentation skills (e.g., modeling notebooks, comments in code, etc.) to work with the project team to develop appropriate documentation (ODD, TRACE) of the development and application of this ABM.

  4. Use documented scientific writing skills to synthesize this work into manuscripts submitted to journals as final deliverables for this project.

  5. Use effective communication skills to interact with stakeholder to ensure their perspectives and concerns are addressed in model development and implementation.

Qualifications: PhD in Computer Programming, Software Engineering, or a related field with an interest in management of cage-free housing systems for egg laying hens. Alternatively, PhD in Biological Sciences or a related discipline with experience in Agent Based Modeling or clearly demonstrated strong quantitative skills.


When preparing materials (statement of interest & response to 5 questions described in how to apply below) applicants should explicitly address their demonstrated organizational skills, interest/background in agent-based modeling, quantitative skills, and their ability to successfully engage with stakeholders. Applicants should be highly motivated with a demonstrated ability to work independently and collaboratively. The post-doctoral scholar that we hire should be able to successfully interact with partners including industry, and government agencies across many levels as well as NGOs. Applicants with experience publishing peer-reviewed journal articles, a strong work ethic, demonstrated technical writing ability, as well as training in quantitative modeling, excellent interpersonal skills, demonstrated skill or skill potential in agent-based modeling will be most competitive. Experience developing individual/agent-based models in NetLogo or equivalent platforms, knowledge related to optimizing solutions to network structure challenges, familiarity with poultry and specifically egg laying industry 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.


How to Apply: Interested applicants should compile all of the following materials into a single pdf file; a CV that includes contact information for three professional references, a 1-page statement of interest, 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 post-doctoral scholarship, and how will participation in this project 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?

That single pdf should be attached to an email that has a subject line of “Application for Post-Doctoral Scholar on Egg Laying Hen ABM”. That email should be sent to Dr. Patrick Zollner (pzollner@purdue.edu) and applicants should understand that their application materials may be reviewed by other project collaborators as part of application evaluation. Application review will begin on June 1 of 2023 and continue until a suitable applicant is hired for the position.


Employment Context: Purdue is a land-grant university of over 40,000 students and ranked the 10th best public university in the U.S. The Department of Forestry and Natural Resources is housed administratively in the College of Agriculture (#7 US ranking) and offers vibrant, nationally ranked graduate programs. Located in West Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue is an easy drive from Indianapolis and Chicago. The West Lafayette-Lafayette area is home to a diverse community of 174,000, with good schools, safe neighborhoods, over 40 parks and extensive trail systems, active Farmers Markets, and year-long community festivals and art events. Purdue University is committed to providing an educational and work environment free of discrimination and harassment and does not condone and will not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any person in the University community.


Contact Persons: Dr. Patrick Zollner

Contact Phones: (765) 496-9495

Contact e-mails: pzollner@purdue.edu


Purdue University is an EOE/AA employer. All individuals, including minorities, women, individuals with disabilities, and veterans are encouraged to apply.

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