Research Lead for Population Futures

Date: Jun 14, 2024

Location: Oak Ridge, TN, US, 37830

Company: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Requisition Id 13059 


As a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science national laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has an extraordinary 80-year history of solving the nation’s biggest problems. We have a dedicated and creative staff of over 6,000 people! Our vision for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) is to cultivate an environment and practices that foster diversity in ideas and in the people across the organization, as well as to ensure ORNL is recognized as a workplace of choice. These elements are critical for enabling the execution of ORNL’s broader mission to accelerate scientific discoveries and their translation into energy, environment, and security solutions for the nation.

We are seeking to hire a Distinguished R&D Staff Scientist to lead ORNL’s Population Futures research and development strategic thrust.


This position aligns to the Human Geography Group within the Human Dynamics Section, Geospatial Science and Human Security Division (GSHSD), National Security Sciences Directorate, at ORNL. As part of our team, you will work on groundbreaking research and development for the US Federal government, supporting US energy security, environmental security, and national security missions. The GSHSD is the national leader in applied research and development in GIScience, with programs ranging from global population modeling to AI-driven gravity modeling, to geospatial data strategies for power grid modernization.


Population Futures at ORNL sits at the intersection of artificial intelligence, spatial demography, activity modeling, and micro/mesoscopic simulation to develop forecasts of human behaviors, movement, and outcomes. We seek to expand upon ORNL’s already strong capabilities in these four domains to develop new capabilities that characterize the potential changes and impacts on future populations from climate change, conflict, and policy scenarios. Our goal, as with today’s climate models, is to articulate a range of possible human-centered outcomes based on scientifically grounded human dynamics models coupled with known or anticipated decision feedback in the geopolitical and community dimensions.


The Distinguished R&D Staff Scientist for Population Futures will design, develop, and lead team-based research efforts, from proposal development to science execution to delivery of outcomes. They will create multi-discipline teams that can address complex research questions and serve as a principal investigator (PI) on large projects, with responsibility for the technical and financial aspects of the project. Our typical deliverables to sponsors include large-scale (country-to-global scale) datasets, unique models and algorithms that can transition to sponsor environments, geo-computing architectures to implement science methods at scale, and information systems to enable sponsors to on-demand leverage of ORNL’s science. Partnering closely with the Human Dynamics Section Head and Research Group Leaders across the GSHS Division, the Distinguished R&D Staff Scientist will pursue new research opportunities with sponsors, including cultivating future opportunities and contributing to white papers that characterize the state of science and provide a vision to apply new science for sponsor mission needs. Additionally, there is an expectation of routine publication of scientific advances in peer-reviewed journals.

The Human Geography Group at ORNL leads the development of methodologies, tools, and capabilities to advance knowledge of population distribution, geodemographics, and population futures. Leveraging capabilities across the GSHS Division and ORNL, Human Geography researchers lead interdisciplinary projects to enhance the spatio-temporal resolution and understanding of population dynamics, both domestically and abroad. The group’s research emphasizes models for the distribution and characterization of populations with respect to the built environment and human activity spaces. Additional focus areas include developing statistical learning frameworks, uncertainty quantification, machine learning and inferencing, and land use/land cover characterization to inform geo-demographics. The Human Geography group supports Federal missions ranging from hazard mitigation and response; consequence assessment; energy, environmental, and health equity and justice, and humanitarian response.


Major Duties/Responsibilities: 

  • Develop and lead the execution of ORNL’s Population Futures research strategy.
  • Lead research as a Principal Investigator (PI) across multiple project teams to achieve successful research outcomes.
  • Design collaborative research efforts and build teams with ORNL staff.
  • Mentor junior staff in research strategies, principles, and ethics.
  • Deliver strong science and engineering artifacts demonstrating research innovation for our sponsors.
  • Work closely with the Section Head and Group Lead to support sponsor engagements and proposal development.
  • Maintain an active role in the external professional research community and represent ORNL in relevant forums on Population Futures.
  • Lead and support peer-reviewed publications on scientific outcomes of research projects.


All team members deliver ORNL’s mission by aligning behaviors, priorities, and interactions with our core values of Impact, Integrity, Teamwork, Safety, and Service. Promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility by fostering a respectful workplace – in how we treat one another, work together, and measure success.


Basic Qualifications:

  • PhD degree in spatial demography, geoinformation science, computer science, or a related field.
  • 12+ years of applied experience (professional or academic lab setting).
  • Professional applied R&D experience in at least one of the following: spatial demography, population modeling, pattern of life modeling, agent-based modeling, micro/meso-simulations of human activities.
  • Demonstrated experience as a PI on sponsor-funded research.
  • Demonstrated experience in developing and managing a project budget.
  • Demonstrated experience leading a team of researchers to successfully deliver on a common objective.
  • Evidence of publications or research artifacts highlighting scientific contributions to domains related to human dynamics.
  • Demonstrated experience writing research proposals and obtaining funding.


Preferred Qualifications:

  • Demonstrated experience as a principal investigator on government sponsor-funded research
  • Experience leading multi-institution research projects.
  • Experience working with National Labs and the Federal government.
  • Experience with collaborative/team-oriented research in a multi-discipline environment.
  • Experience leading projects with a large number of participating research staff.
  • A strong track record of meeting project deadlines and deliverable expectations.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Motivated self-starter with the ability to work independently and to participate creatively in collaborative teams across the laboratory.
  • Ability to function well in a fast-paced research environment, set priorities to accomplish multiple tasks within deadlines, and adapt to ever changing needs.



Special Requirements:

Visa sponsorship is available for this position.


This position requires the ability to obtain and maintain an HSPD-12 PIV badge.


Benefits at ORNL:  

ORNL offers competitive pay and benefits programs to attract and retain talented people! The laboratory offers many employee benefits, including medical and retirement plans and flexible work hours, to help you and your family live happy and healthy. Employee amenities such as on-site fitness, banking, and cafeteria facilities are also provided for convenience.


Other benefits include the following: Prescription Drug Plan, Dental Plan, Vision Plan, 401(k) Retirement Plan, Contributory Pension Plan, Life Insurance, Disability Benefits, Generous Vacation and Holidays, Parental Leave, Legal Insurance with Identity Theft Protection, Employee Assistance Plan, Flexible Spending Accounts, Health Savings Accounts, Wellness Programs, Educational Assistance, Relocation Assistance, and Employee Discounts.

If you have difficulty using the online application system or need an accommodation to apply due to a disability, please email: or call 1.866.963.9545.


In addition, we offer a flexible work environment that supports both the organization and the employee. A hybrid/onsite working arrangement may be available with this position.


This position will remain open for a minimum of 5 days after which it will close when a qualified candidate is identified and/or hired.

We accept Word (.doc, .docx), Adobe (unsecured .pdf), Rich Text Format (.rtf), and HTML (.htm, .html) up to 5MB in size. Resumes from third party vendors will not be accepted; these resumes will be deleted and the candidates submitted will not be considered for employment.

If you have trouble applying for a position, please email

ORNL is an equal opportunity employer. All qualified applicants, including individuals with disabilities and protected veterans, are encouraged to apply.  UT-Battelle is an E-Verify employer.

Nearest Major Market: Knoxville