Graduate FAQs

What is your advising style?

Graduate degrees are as much about working out how you best do research as actually doing great research (although of course the latter is important!). I will give you lots of independence to come up with ideas, but will work with you to hone those ideas. Often this will involve  me and the rest of the group discussing your proposed research approach as I have always found this a very efficient and enjoyable way of developing strong research ideas and methods.

I will give you honest feedback if I don’t think something is going to work or isn’t an interesting question. I do that to prevent you from wasting your time and to help you graduate with what you need to be successful.

I will seek to stay up to date with your work through regular one-to-one meetings while you are in the department (at least monthly but generally more often), visits to your field sites and intensive collaborations on analyses and manuscripts. My door is always open (well nearly) if you want a quick chat about any aspect of your work or career.

How does the application process work?

Formal applications to the EEB graduate program are due on the 15th of December each year. It is strongly encouraged that you open a discussion with a member of the faculty who you’d like to work with before that point.  If you would like to work with me, drop me an initial email with:

  1. a cover-letter including a description of (i) qualifications, (ii) research interests and (iii) brief ideas for research projects (5-6 sentences).
  2. an up-to-date CV,
  3. transcript (unofficial is fine),
  4. a couple of questions that you are interested in working on in my lab.

Should we agree on questions to pursue, I will request a 1-page description of the ideas you’d like to work on. I recommend the following structure (a) description of motivation (why is this an interesting topic), (b) questions, hypotheses and/or predictions, (c) very brief description of approach (e.g., experimental manipulation of plant density crossed with suppression of natural enemies) and (d) implications (how will this work advance the field and benefit society).

If I think you’d be a good fit to my group we can have a telephone chat and discuss projects. At that point I will encourage you to apply if I think that you have a good chance of being accepted by the department as a student in my group. The criteria include GPA scores, research skills and experience and overlap in research interests.

How committed will I be to the research ideas we discuss during the application process?

I see the research ideas I ask for as a starting point, not a protocol that you will stick to during your time in my lab. It helps me work out if you are interested in similar questions. As we develop the plans over email and phone conversations, I get an idea of how well we might work together; I hope prospective students also get an idea of how I think and whether they’d like to work with me! The additional benefit is that it gets you started on developing ideas for fellowship and grant applications – it is never too early to start on those…

What are the minimum GPA scores for your group?

Although I don’t want to impose arbitrary cut-offs on applicants, higher scores will certainly make applications more competitive in gaining admission to the department and funding. As a rule of thumb, GPAs  >3.5 are typical of successful applicants to the department.

Do you require GREs?

No. The EEB department as a whole has decided not to consider GREs in our evaluation of graduate student applications.

I want work on a topic that is not on your list of potential questions. Can I still apply?

The list of potential questions is certainly not meant to be exhaustive. I am open to students in my lab working on a wide range of questions. Anything involving community ecology, particularly of plants and their interactions with other organisms, either in temperate of tropical forests, is potentially of interest to me.

However …

there are limits to both my expertise and time. I am reluctant to focus on individual species because I am most interested in generalizing to communities and ecosystems. I am interested in conservation questions, but prefer to focus on how ecological processes are impacted rather than wildlife or forest management per se. I have limited expertise with lab work, so would not feel comfortable advising a project that was very lab-intensive. If there was a substantial lab component to the project I would expect you to have a high level of prior experience and competence in the necessary procedures (i.e. first-authored publications in international journals) and would want to discuss possible collaborations with other faculty either at UConn or elsewhere to support you. After all, there is no point you joining my lab and then feeling unhappy with the support you get!

A lot of your work so far has been tropical – could I work on temperate systems in your group?

The short answer is yes – I am very interested in working in temperate forests and have an active project on forest fragmentation impacts on temperate forest food webs.

Does that mean that you are not working on tropical forests any more?

No – I still see the bulk of my research occurring in tropical forests. Indeed, one reason for my increasing interest in temperate forests is to provide a sand box for testing ideas that can then be applied to tropical forests and also provide a comparison. Projects that involve temperate and tropical forests simultaneously could be very interesting to me.