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Frequently Asked Questions

1. How is an ORNL Distinguished Staff Fellowship different from a postdoctoral appointment?

A postdoctoral appointment is temporary. Distinguished Staff Fellows join ORNL as independent, early-career research staff and are retained beyond their 3-year term if mutually beneficial to ORNL and the Fellow. A Distinguished Staff Fellowship is like a tenure-track position at a university; Fellows are given an opportunity to advance their scientific experience and are envisioned to pursue a long-term career at ORNL and establish their research portfolio.

2. Do I need to apply for a specific fellowship?

The fellowships (Russell, Weinberg, and Wigner) are jointly posted on, so you apply to the program rather than a specific fellowship. The Laboratory designates the fellowship awarded to selected candidates based on their research area(s) of interest.

3. Do I need to make a connection with an ORNL staff scientist prior to my application?

You are not required to designate an ORNL mentor on your application. However, it is helpful to identify and contact research groups at ORNL that align with your proposed research idea or research area(s) of interest. Please list ORNL research groups you identify as pertinent to your proposed research under the Significance section of your research statement.

4. Do I need to have completed my PhD to apply for the Distinguished Staff Fellowship Program?  

No, you may apply if you have not yet completed your PhD. If selected and made an offer, you will need to complete all degree requirements before a report to work date will be determined. Generally, applying within 6 months of your degree being conferred is standard. 

5. How do I apply for a Distinguished Staff Fellowship?

When the application window is open, the Apply button on the DSF website landing page will link to a position announcement on Follow instructions on to submit your application.

Please attach the following documents with your application submission: 

  1. A one-paragraph abstract of the research statement explaining, in general terms, what information will be discussed in your research statement. This should be in a standalone cover page.  
  2. A concise but thorough research statement (up to 1,500 words, not including illustrations or references) that describes a vision for tackling a grand research challenge, its significance and relationship to ORNL research programs, and its alignment to one (or more) of ORNL's targeted research directions 
  • Background and significance 
  • Describe the problem to be solved, the need to be addressed, or the gap in knowledge to be filled. 
  • Describe the current state of the field (including citations to relevant literature). 
  • Research plan and approach  
  • State your specific aims and describe specific questions to be addressed or steps that will be taken to reach the overarching goal of your proposal. 
  • For each specific aim, describe the approach that will be taken to address that aim, providing enough detail to allow reviewers representing a broad range of research areas to assess the appropriateness and novelty of your approach. 
  1. References 
  • Unofficial Ph.D. transcript 
  • CV/resume including a list of scholarly outputs (e.g., scientific publications in journals, conferences, reports, patents, etc., which distinguishes refereed from non-refereed items, and other notable scientifically related achievements, such as technical achievements, spin-offs, startup companies, etc.)  
  • Cover letter addressed to the Distinguished Staff Fellowship Selection Committee 
  • Three letters of recommendation: You are responsible for requesting the recommendation letters from your references, and all references should submit their letters directly to Please have your references address their letters to the Distinguished Staff Fellowship Selection Committee. To ensure proper receipt, please ask your references to use a subject line with your name included. 

6. Am I allowed to submit more recommendation letters than the three required?

Only the first three recommendation letters we receive at will be accepted for your application.

7. How long do I have to complete my application?

When the application window is open in January, May, and September, ORNL accepts applications during the time frame noted on the DSF website landing page (see bold, large-font announcement under the slider). Your recommendation letters should be received by the application deadline posted on the landing page. Please be sure to inform the people from whom you request recommendations of this deadline.

8. When do the application windows open and close, what happens to my application, and when can I expect to be notified of my application status?

There are three application cycles per year: January 1–31, May 1–31, and September 1–30. Open application windows run 4 weeks and are announced in bold, large font under the slider on the DSF website landing page, so please keep us bookmarked.

Once the open application window closes, the DSF Selection Committee reviews applications and shares finalists with directorate leadership. Interviews are held, and then offers are made to those selected for a fellowship. Notifications are sent to all applicants once our process is complete. 

While the DSF program selection committee strives to notify candidates of their status within 4 weeks of the closing date, it may take several weeks for you to be notified of your application status. Our process prior to sending out notifications includes reviews of applications by our recruiter, candidate selection by committee members and applicable R&D division director, and a full interview process. You are encouraged to review all opportunities (particularly Research Professional or Research Development openings) available at ORNL on

9. What are the career paths for DSFs at ORNL?

A key aspect of the Distinguished Staff Fellowship program is a mentorship plan designed to facilitate the successful integration of each DSF into ORNL’s scientific community and the alignment of each fellow’s research activities with US Department of Energy missions. We strive to provide all our DSFs with an experience that encourages a long-term relationship with the laboratory. Our alums have gone on to make significant impacts at ORNL and in their scientific communities. Please visit the DSF Alumni page to read about their accomplishments.

10. What if I have additional questions?

Please contact us at