Information for prospective graduate students


I am most interested in working with graduate students who want to develop projects that combine the study of basic and applied ecological questions. Students who want to join our research group need to be self motivated and willing to develop independent projects (though with guidance from myself and others), rather than simply taking on a project that I have planned. Prior field experience working with birds is desirable, as is any prior research experience. Other things that I look for in a prospective student are past experience with statistical analysis and other quantitative techniques, good writing skills, and clearly focused research ideas that address conceptual issues of importance to applied ecologists. For general information about the application process, or being a graduate student in our department, please see the information for prospective students on the department's web site (click here).


Most funding in our department is through teaching assistantships (TAs), although the number of students that can be supported on TAs is very limited. Funding is also sometimes available through research assistantships (RAs), but these funds are usually associated with grants and are most often used to support students who are already in the lab. All students are therefore strongly encouraged to write their own grant proposals and fellowship applications in order to support their research. Having your own support not only improves your chances of being admitted, but also gives you more freedom to pursue your own work. Possible sources for fellowship funding are NSF Graduate Research Fellowships and EPA STAR fellowships (some other opportunities are listed here).


I am open to students working in any area of conservation biology or avian ecology that I feel qualified to give advice on, but I expect our group's research over the next few years to focus in the following areas:


(1) Conservation and ecology of tidal marsh birds. Much of the research by our group in recent years has focused on tidal marsh birds. In particular, several students have conducted detailed work on habitat selection and reproductive biology in saltmarsh sparrows. Prospective students interested in this general topic should familiarize themselves with our published work and identify specific ways in which they could build on those studies and develop them in new directions. More information on the tidal marsh work we are currently doing in collaboration with others is available here.


(2) Assessing the conservation value of agricultural lands. Since my dissertation research on the birds that use California rice fields, I have been interested in the role that agricultural lands can play in conservation planning. My current interests focus on developing general approaches to quantifying the value of farmland and assessing how these (and other) heavily modified habitats can be incorporated into the conservation planning process. Students interested in developing projects focused on the conservation value of rice, or other crops, should suggest specific questions that they would be interested in tackling.


(3) Understanding the mechanisms behind area-sensitive distribution patterns in birds. Many species have lower occurrence rates, densities, and breeding success in small habitat patches compared to large patches. Our group has been studying this phenomenon in saltmarsh birds and we have recently compiled a large data set from the literature to describe general patterns for the phenomenon across all the world's birds. Ultimately, our goals are to determine whether, and how, small patches can contribute to meeting large-scale conservation goals. Students interested in expanding our group's work on this topic would be very welcome in the lab.


(4) Using models to better guide conservation management, especially for waterbirds. Recently, I have become involved in several projects that combine modeling and empirical research to guide conservation actions. Currently these projects include: (i) modeling introduced and endangered populations to predict future population trajectories and compare management scenarios, (ii) using simulation models to evaluate and design better monitoring programs, (iii) using sighting record models to determine how conservation priorities should be set, and (iv) using models to help managers prioritize their conservation actions to maximize the conservation benefits that can be achieved with limited resources. I'm not primarily a modeler, or a mathematical ecologist, but I use quantitative tools in all of my work and would be very interested in working with students who have a strong math background and want to develop them to address applied problems.


If you feel that you would like to conduct graduate work in our research group, please send me a note explaining (in as much detail as you can) what you think you would like to work on, why you think our group would be good place for you to study, and what research experience you have. Please be warned that I have been getting several dozen inquiries about grad school a year. I will try to respond to all inquiries promptly, but if you do not get a quick answer it will mean that I am either travelling or hiding from my email for a few days in order to study birds. I apologize in advance for any slow responses.


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