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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.

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. How do I apply for a Distinguished Staff Fellowship?

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

Your submission also must include three recommendation letters. They should be submitted by your references. See FAQ #4 for detailed instructions.

4. How should recommendation letters be submitted?

You are responsible for securing recommendation letters from three references who have known you for at least 1 year. Please ask your references to submit their letters directly to “DSF Selection Committee” and your name should appear in the email subject line. Letters should be written on official letterhead, signed with a handwritten signature, and addressed to the DSF Selection Committee. Recommendation letters can be scanned

5. 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.

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

ORNL accepts applications during the time frame noted on the Distinguished Staff Fellowship Program landing page (see bold, large-font announcement under the slider). Your recommendation letters should be received no later than 1 week following the application deadline posted on the landing page. Please be sure to inform the people from whom you request recommendations of this deadline.

7. What should I include in my research statement?

Research statements should be limited to two pages not including references. Any figures you include will count toward the page limit. Your research statement must include the following:

Research Statement Title

Your name as Principal Investigator

Proposed Research Idea: Summarize the scientific/technical research idea you would like to pursue.


  • Explain why your proposed research is significant and its relationship to ORNL’s Targeted Research Directions.
  • Introduce your proposed fellowship scientific research, and your unique approach.

Research Plan:

  • Provide a brief overview of the background of this research, the vision of your fellowship research plan, and 2–3 specific objectives/aims.
  • For each aim, address the following:
    • Describe the scientific hypothesis to be tested or technical concept to be demonstrated to achieve the aim.
    • Discuss the methods, materials, facilities, and protocols to be employed and techniques for analyzing data and validating results.
    • Describe the expected results and impact (e.g., fundamental breakthroughs, enabling technologies) of this aim.
    • Provide a deliverable for each year of this fellowship.

Future Funding Possibilities

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/February, May/June, and September/October. The open program call runs 4 weeks. We will announce application open cycles on the Distinguished Staff Fellowships 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.

There is no specific date by which candidates can expect to be notified of their status, but ORNL understands that your job search is a dynamic process and strives for an efficient process.

9. 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 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.

10. 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.

11. What if I have additional questions?

Please contact us at