Postdoctoral Research Associate to work on dynamical models of the Milky Way–LMC interaction in the Gaia era University of Edinburgh, Institute for Astronomy United Kingdom

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Vacancy Ref: : 042009

Closing Date : 31-Jan-2018

Contact Person : Jorge Penarrubia

Contact Number : 44 (0)131 668 8359

Contact Email :

Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Institute for Astronomy (IfA), Royal Observatory of Edinburgh, to work on dynamical models of the Milky Way–LMC interaction in the Gaia era.


The main scientific goal is to develop novel dynamical techniques to (i) describe the measured phase-space distribution of stellar tracers orbiting in out-of-equilibrium gravitational systems, and (ii) infer the underlying (time-dependent) potential of the Milky Way and the LMC via fitting non-equilibrium dynamical models to existing astrometric & spectroscopic data sets, with particular emphasis on Gaia data.


We are seeking applicants with a strong background in galaxy dynamics and N-body simulations. Expertise in Bayesian analysis would be a particular advantage. Successful candidates would have access to substantial computational resources, including Archer - the UK National Supercomputer.


The contract will be for an initial period of two years, with the possibility of extension. The start date is nominally September 2018, but with significant flexibility. The position is open to applicants of all nationalities; applications from minorities are strongly encouraged.


Applicants should supply a CV, bibliography, plus a research proposal of up to three pages. Informal enquiries may be made to Dr Jorge Peñarrubia ( Letters of recommendation from two referees should be sent directly by email to Dr Peñarrubia by the closing date.


1. Job Details


Job title: Postdoctoral Research Associate in Galaxy dynamics

School/Support Department: Physics and Astronomy

Unit (if applicable): Institute for Astronomy

Line manager: Dr Jorge Peñarrubia


2. Job Purpose


This is a STFC funded project to study non-equilibrium dynamical modelling techniques led by Dr Peñarrubia. Recent HST measurements of the transverse velocity of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) are indicative of a very recent accretion time and suggest that the LMC may be more massive than previously thought. Accounting for the complex dynamical interplay between the MW-LMC pair requires a new generation of dynamical modelling techniques that do not rest on equibrium assumptions or adiabatic approximations. To this aim we will construct non-equilibrium N-body models that will reproduce the measured location and kinematics of stars in the LMC and the Milky Way measured by the Gaia mission. These topics involve multiple overlapping lines of enquiry, but can loosely be divided into (i) construction of N-body models; (ii) dynamical modelling of stellar tracers, and (iii) statistical inference from existing kinematic data sets. Successful candidates would need to be able to work effectively in one or more of these areas.


3. Main Responsibilities with Approx. % of time


(a) Routinely communicate complex and conceptual ideas to those with limited knowledge and understanding as well as to peers using a high level of skills and a range of media 10 %
(b) Write and present research papers and publications 10 %
(c) Coach and support colleagues in developing their research techniques 10 %
(d) Develop research objectives, projects and proposals for own or joint research 10 %
(e) Conduct individual and collaborative research projects 10 %
(f) Use initiative and creativity to identify areas for research, develop new research methods 10 %
(g) Deal with problems that may affect the achievement of research objectives and deadlines by using initiative and creativity 10 %
(h) Identify sources of funding and contribute to the process of securing funds 10 %
(i) Plan, co-ordinate and implement research programmes 10 %
(j) Involvement in the assessment of the knowledge of students and assist in the development of their research skills 10 %


4. Planning and Organising


a) Establish a coherent medium-term research programme.
b) Lead peer-reviewed funding bids, in order to develop and sustain research support for the specialist area.
c) Plan research projects including management of financial and other resources.
d) Handle diverse work pressures and tight deadlines.


5. Problem Solving


a) Use new research techniques and methods.
b) Use initiative and creativity to identify areas for research and develop new research methods.
c) Deal with scientific problems through trial and error, since research work is unprecedented with no guides in place; also refer to colleagues and project group leader.


6. Decision Making


a) Able to make decisions on both an individual and collaborative basis that have an impact on the research team which may endure for some time.
b) Provide input and recommendations to inform decisions of others, e.g. advise PhD and project students on data reduction techniques.


7. Key Contacts/Relationships


a) Exchange information with internal and/or external contacts and collaborators for effective working.
b) Build relationships and contacts to facilitate future research collaboration.
c) Collaborate with academic colleagues on areas of shared research interest.


8. Knowledge, Skills and Experience Needed for the Job


a) Possesses sufficient breadth or depth of specialist knowledge in the discipline and of research methods and techniques to work within established research programme.
b) Engage in continuous professional development.
c) A high degree of computer literacy.
d) Possesses or is about to be awarded a PhD in astronomy or a related scientific discipline.


Application Procedure


All applicants should apply online by clicking the apply link at the bottom of this page and submitting an up to date CV. The application process is quick and easy to follow, and you will receive email confirmation of safe receipt of your application. The online system allows you to submit a CV and other attachments.


You will be notified by email whether you have been shortlisted for interview or not.


The closing date is 5pm on 31st Jan 2018.


Eligibility to Work


In accordance with the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 the University of Edinburgh, as an employer, has a legal responsibility to prevent illegal working and therefore must check that all employees are entitled to work in the United Kingdom (UK).


To do so, the University of Edinburgh requires to see original documents evidencing right to work in the UK before commencement of employment and this is normally carried out at interview. Details will be provided in any letter of invitation to interview.


For further information on eligibility to work please visit our eligibility to work website


If you are not currently eligible to work in the UK, the University has the authority to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to successful candidates who meet the eligibility criteria. The CoS enables candidates to apply for a Tier 2 (general visa) in accordance with current UK Visas and Immigration rules.


For applicants interested in sponsorship information is available on our Working in the UK website


However, if you have previously been sponsored by an employer within the UK but your leave has expired or lapsed and you are no longer in the UK, according to Home Office Visa Immigration rules you cannot apply for sponsorship under any category of Tier 2 for a period of 12 months after the date your visa expired and/or you left the UK.


Conditions of Employment


Pension Scheme


This role is grade UE07 and therefore the post holder is automatically included in membership of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), subject to the USS membership criteria, unless they indicate that they choose not to join the Scheme.


For further information please visit our Pensions website.




The role is grade UE07 and attracts an annual salary of £32,548 to £ 38,833 for 35 hours each week. Salary is paid monthly by direct transfer to your Bank or Building Society account, normally on the 28th of the month. Salaries for part-time staff are calculated on the full-time scales, pro-rata to the Standard Working Week.


The University reserves the right to vary the candidate information or make no appointment at all. Neither in part, nor in whole does this information form part of any contract between the University and any individual.


The Institute for Astronomy

The Institute for Astronomy (IFA) is a research and teaching group within the School. It is one of the UK's major centres of astronomical research, with special strengths in survey astronomy, cosmology, active galaxies and the formation of stars and planets.

The IfA runs introductory courses in astronomy for students of any discipline at first year level, Honours Degree courses in Astrophysics (both BSc and MPhys), and research degrees leading to the award of PhD in astronomy. The IfA is co-located with the Astronomy Technology Centre on Blackford Hill, at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh.

The School of Physics & Astronomy

The School of Physics and Astronomy is in the College of Science & Engineering and comprises the Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics (IPNP), the Institute for Condensed Matter and Complex Systems (ICMCS) and the Institute for Astronomy (IfA).


The School has around seventy academic staff, over 100 research staff and around 50 professional services staff.


In the most recent Research Excellence Framework the School was ranked 2nd of the large Physics departments in UK universities and 4th overall. The submission was a joint exercise with St Andrews University (PHYESTA).


The School runs undergraduate programmes at BSc and MPhys level in Physics, Mathematical Physics, Theoretical Physics, Computational Physics, Astrophysics and (jointly with the School of Chemistry) Chemical Physics. The undergraduate programme has flexible entry and exit points, creating courses of variable duration and level.


The School accepts around 175 new undergraduates into its programmes each year and has current student populations of around 680 undergraduates, 55 taught postgraduates and 220 research postgraduates.


Further information about the School can be viewed at


Working within the School


We aim to ensure that our culture and systems support flexible and family-friendly working and recognise and value diversity across all our staff and students. The School has an active programme offering support and professional development for all staff; providing mentoring, training, and networking opportunities.


The School of Physics and Astronomy holds Athena SWAN Silver and IoP Juno Champion awards, in recognition of our commitment to advance gender equality.

College of Science and Engineering (

The College of Science and Engineering (CSE) is one of the largest and highest-ranked science and engineering groupings in the UK. Headed by Professor Dave Robertson, CSE comprises seven Schools (Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Engineering, GeoSciences, Informatics, Mathematics, and Physics and Astronomy). Informatics is located in the University’s Central Area near George Square, with the other six 2 miles further south at the King’s Buildings. The College has over 3,000 academic and support staff, and educates some 6,000 undergraduates, over 1000 taught postgraduates and more than 2,000 research students. It is in the front rank of UK university science and engineering groupings for research quality and income, and is a key player in many European and international research collaborations.


Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014


In the 2014 REF over 95% of our staff were submitted. Of our seven submissions, four of which were as a joint research school in combination with a strategic research university partner through pooling, 3 were ranked top in the UK and all 7 were in the top 5 in their discipline in the Times Higher Power rankings.

The University of Edinburgh

For more than four centuries, our people and their achievements have rewritten history time and again. They’ve explored space, revolutionised surgery, published era-defining books, paved the way for life-saving medical breakthroughs and introduced to the world many inventions, discoveries and ideas from penicillin to Dolly the sheep. We have believed that anything is possible, we still do.

The latest Research Excellence Framework highlighted our place at the forefront of international research. This adds to our international reputation for the quality of our teaching and our student experience excellence. The University is proud of its success with online teaching initiatives, with 2550 students currently studying its online distance learning postgraduate programmes, and a total to date of more than 2 million enrolments for Edinburgh MOOCs.


As a member of staff, you will be part of one of the world's leading universities, with 20 Schools spread over 3 Colleges that offer more than 1600 undergraduate and 600 postgraduate programmes to over 35,000 students each year. Professional services are critical to this success as well as our world-class teaching, research and student facilities. In fact, we are one of the top employers in Edinburgh, with over 13,000 people spread across a wide range of academic and supporting roles.


As a world-changing, world-leading university, we offer an exciting, positive, creative, challenging and rewarding place to work. We give you support, nurture your talent, develop and reward success and integrate academic, professional and personal career goals, as well as give your career the benefit of a great and distinguished reputation. In addition, our employees benefit from a competitive reward package and a wide range of staff benefits, which include generous holiday entitlement, a defined benefits pension scheme, staff discounts and much more. Access our staff benefits page for further information and use our reward calculator to find out the total value of pay and benefits provided.


The University of Edinburgh holds a Silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of our commitment to advance gender equality in higher education. We are members of the Race Equality Charter and we are also Stonewall Scotland Diversity Champions, actively promoting LGBT equality. The University has a range of initiatives to support a family friendly working environment, including flexible working and childcare vouchers. See our University Initiatives website for further information.


University Family Friendly Initiatives

The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in Scotland, with registration number SC005336.

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