Research Opportunities

Invitation to Apply for Biology Education Postdoctoral Fellowship with an Emphasis in Cognitive Psychology at San Francisco State University

SEPAL – The Science Education Partnership and Assessment Laboratory – at San Francisco State University (SFSU) invites applications for a unique Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology Education Research with an emphasis in Cognitive Psychology. The position is renewable for up to 2 years and may begin as early as January 1, 2016.

The Team

Funded by a National Science Foundation Education Core Research award, this SEPAL Postdoctoral Fellowship position will be under the direct supervision of Dr. Kimberly Tanner at SFSU, with extensive opportunities for collaboration with and supervision by Dr. John D. Coley, Director of the Categorization and Reasoning Laboratory at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. We also anticipate appointing a second Postdoctoral Fellow who will be based at Northeastern. The Postdoctoral Fellows at NU and SFSU, along with PIs Coley and Tanner, will form the core of an interdisciplinary research team that will collaboratively investigate the influence of informal understandings about biology on formal learning of biological concepts.

The Project

Research and theory development in cognitive psychology and science education research remain largely isolated from each other. Biology education researchers have documented persistent scientifically inaccurate ideas, often termed misconceptions, among biology students across biological domains. In parallel, cognitive and developmental psychologists have described intuitive conceptual systems—teleological, essentialist, and anthropocentric thinking—that humans use to reason about biology. We hypothesize that seemingly unrelated biological misconceptions may have common origins in these intuitive ways of knowing, and that relations between the two have important implications for biology education. To test these hypotheses, we are assembling and interdisciplinary team to investigate linkages between intuitive ways of thinking and biological misconceptions. Prior publications related to the research effort can be found at:

The Position

The Postdoctoral Fellow’s responsibilities will include collaborating in designing measures of intuitive biological thinking and scientific misconceptions, collecting data from populations including but not limited to undergraduate biology majors, non-majors, and faculty, supervising data coding and entry, conducting analyses to gauge the relations between intuitive thinking and biological misconceptions, and co-authoring publications. In addition, the Postdoctoral Fellow will have opportunities to pursue other professional opportunities within SEPAL, including mentoring undergraduates in biology education research, pursuing additional lines of research, and potentially teaching biology courses,. This fellowship is designed to prepare an individual who is an aspiring Science Faculty with Education Specialties (SFES) and who intends to apply for positions in university biology departments at the end of their fellowship.

Required and Preferred Qualifications

Required qualifications are a Ph.D. in biology or life science education, and a strong interest in developing excellence in biology education scholarship and research. The abilities to prioritize tasks, to engage in long- and short-term planning, to collaborate with many stakeholders, and to handle a variety of demands simultaneously are critical. Candidates must be willing and able to work a flexible schedule, including occasional travel, weekends, and extended hours during periods of intense activity. The following attributes, experiences, and knowledge are preferred: creativity and curiosity, experience working directly with culturally diverse populations at many levels, successful record of publishing graduate research, assessment development experience, qualitative and quantitative assessment analysis skills, experience with databases, in-depth knowledge of national science education reform efforts, and formal teaching experience. We seek self-motivated, creative individuals who have excellent communication skills (interpersonal, written, and public speaking), and who can work both independently and as part of a team effort.

Salary and Appointment

This Postdoctoral Fellowship position is a full-time, salaried, and benefited position at San Francisco State University. The position is annually renewable, dependent on performance and continued grant funding, which is anticipated. Salary is competitive and commensurate with professional experience and qualifications of the candidates. San Francisco State University offers excellent benefits packages.

Application Procedure

To apply for the SEPAL Postdoctoral Fellowship positions, please submit the following to SEPAL Program Administrator, Trisha DeVera, via email ( 

1) a letter of interest in the position, (no more than 2 pages),

2) a current curriculum vitae,

3) a statement of long-term research interests and career goals, (no more than 2 pages and need not be specific to the projects described above),

4) a statement of teaching philosophy (no more than 2 pages), and

5) the names of three professional references, including their current position, relationship to the applicant, and phone and email contact information.

Application Review Timeline

Review of applications will begin on October 1, 2015, and will continue until the positions are filled.


Questions about the position should be directed to SEPAL Director, Dr. Kimberly D. Tanner, Professor, Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, ( More information about SEPAL can be found at:

San Francisco State University is an Equal Opportunity Employer with a strong commitment to diversity. We especially welcome applications from members of all ethnic groups, women, veterans, and people with disabilities.


Master’s Thesis in Biology

Investigate science education research. Develop and conduct a full graduate thesis in biology, chemistry, geoscience, or physics education research.

  • Who: Science graduate students and K-college educators
  • Time: 2-3 years

Research in Science Education

Integrate science education research into your Master’s research. Complete a graduate research project in science education as a chapter of your thesis.

  • Who: Science graduate students and K-college educators
  • Time: 1-2 years

Independent Study Projects

Get a taste of science education research. Contribute to ongoing science education research projects for independent study credit.

  • Who: Science graduate and undergraduate students
  • Time: 1-2 semesters