Biogeography, Evolution, and Conservation

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

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Prospective graduate students:

It’s important to know what you’re getting into when you apply for graduate school.  A PhD in biology (or related fields) in the USA is at least a five year commitment and requires considerable focus, self-motivation, and maturity on the part of the student.  This is because in graduate school, the emphasis is on learning how to formulate and conduct independent research.  Some students do not realize how challenging grad school is until they get into it and realize it requires complete immersion in their field of study.  Jobs in this field are hard to get and often go to the hardest working and most persistent people, not always the most brilliant.  Although mentorship and funding are important elements to consider when choosing a graduate program, what you choose to do with your time in graduate school will ultimately be one of the most important factor sdetermining your success. 

Admission into graduate programs in zoology and marine biology at UH Mānoa are very competitive.  Hawaiʻi is a fantastic place to do research in ecology and evolutionary biology, so it’s not surprising that my lab gets many qualified applicants, far more than I can take.  Therefore, you must put your best foot forward when you first contact me.  The most important thing you can do is explain why you want to work with me based on an understanding of what my lab does.  When you write to me about openings in my lab, please tell me about yourself: your education, research experience, goals, and why you think you might be a good fit with my lab.  Include a copy of your CV.  Look at this website, read some of the lab’s publications, and consider writing up a paragraph or two about a particular kind of research project you would like to work on. 

My lab’s research has taken on a larger experimental component in Hawaiʻi, but the projects that we do still involve a lot of time in the lab.  So, if you are imagining yourself spending most of your graduate school days scuba diving over spectacular reefs in the Coral Triangle, my lab (and most others in my field) is probably not the place for you.  The students and postdocs in my lab go on exciting trips to exotic places with amazing biology, but that part of the work is relatively small compared to the many hours they spend at a lab bench and in front of a computer screen.

In addition to having an opening for a student, a good student-advisor match is an important consideration when I take new students because I am going to be responsible for you and your research for the next several years.  My overall philosophy towards mentoring graduate students is to take fewer and be available to spend more time with each of them, their projects, and (especially) their writing.  I am in the Stearns camp, that research quality will almost always trump research quantity, and I believe this principle also applies to graduate student mentorship.  Although I am not the type of advisor who will be looking over your shoulder, I do expect continuous progress and results.  Few things (at work) make me happier than having a student walk into my office with a graph or a figure with data.  I also want students that will not only be successful personally, but who will also make an intellectual contribution to the lab by helping others with their ideas and projects as well as maintaining lab hygiene and taking care of equipment that we all depend on.  

Hawaiʻi is a great place to live and an even better place to work as a marine biologist.  Barely a day goes by in which I am not thankful to be here.  However, before applying to our programs (in either Zoology or Marine Biology) you should consider the cost of living on the rock.  The lifestyle of a graduate student will always involve financial hardship, which is amplified in Hawaiʻi.  The upside, of course, is that you’re in Hawaiʻi.  As a student, your income is most likely to come from three sources: teaching assistantships (typically from your advisor’s home department), research assistantships (from your advisor’s grants), and external fellowships.  In my lab, your salary will probably come from all three sources, depending on your research interests but also your progress.  I do expect that anyone who writes to me is already investigating external fellowships, such as from the National Science Foundation.    

If, after reading this, you are still interested in graduate school in my lab, I would be very excited to hear from you.