James S. McDonnell Foundation -- Understanding Dynamic & Multi-scale Systems

Note to PIs: The following program summary is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It does not replace the sponsor’s actual funding opportunity announcement. Always review the most recent version of the sponsor’s full announcement to verify that the deadline has not changed and to identify the most current program requirements.

About the program

JSMF's Understanding Dynamic and Multi-scale Systems program was initiated to support scholarship and research directed toward the discovery and refinement of theoretical and mathematical tools contributing to the continued development of the study of complex, adaptive, nonlinear systems. From its inception, the program's emphasis has been on topics on the development and application of the theory and tools used in the study of complex research questions and not on particular topics or fields of research per se. JSMF also supports projects attempting to apply complex systems approaches to coherently articulated questions in fields where such approaches are not yet standard but where such work could open new paths to progress. Currently, JSMF primarily funds research on dynamic and multiscale systems via its postdoctoral fellowship program.

The fellowship is geared to students near the completion of their doctoral training and committed to acquiring new skills and experience in a multi-disciplinary field such as complex systems science. This fellowship is targeted towards students who wish to broaden their research experience and require protected time to acquire new knowledge and skills. Postdoctoral positions providing experiences that contribute 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) can be limited if the position is supported by institutional training grants or faculty research grants. Too often, the more traditional postdoctoral experience results in a postdoctoral fellow engaging in a research project dictated by the needs of the research grant (this is not a problem if the grant goals align with training goals) rather than providing the freedom for pursuing a creative and self-directed training program based on his or her interests or goals.

The James S. McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Postdoctoral Fellowship Award in Understanding Dynamic and Multi-scale Systems is intended to provide students in the final stages of completing a Ph.D. degree more autonomy in identifying and securing postdoctoral training opportunities and is designed for students who have already demonstrated maturity, independence of thought, and self-initiation.

Following a multi-phase review of applications, selected pre-doctoral students are granted “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 opportunities to pursue postdoctoral training that might not be otherwise readily available. The Fellowships are intended to allow students to seek postdoctoral research opportunities aligned with the student's interest and desire to obtain additional skills and experience that will further their pursuit of careers in complex systems science. If it is highly likely that you can pursue your postdoctoral training goals via a more traditional fellowship, we encourage you to reconsider applying for a JSMF fellowship.


The JSMF Fellowship is a unique opportunity for students with an interest in and an aptitude for complexity science who are in the final stages of completing their Ph.D. and looking to add new dimensions to their graduate training that will either be difficult or impossible without an independent source of funding. Students should anticipate completing their degree requirements and activating the Fellowship between May 2022 and April 2023.

In prior years, upwards of 70% of submissions were not advanced past the first review phase due to poor fit with the described goals of the program. JSMF requests that potential applicants and their advisors carefully consider the characteristics of this rather unusual Fellowship prior to applying.

Important: This Fellowship is not intended for individuals that already have completed a Ph.D. or students that have already identified a postdoctoral position and a postdoctoral mentor as traditional funding mechanisms are better suited for such training positions. Such applications are ineligible for consideration.

Award amount


Award period

Two to three years.

Application deadline

June 11, 2021.

Learn more

Visit the James S. McDonnell Foundation website at https://www.jsmf.org/apply/fellowship/.

Source: https://www.jsmf.org/apply/fellowship/.

Last updated: July 2021.