I welcome new members to my lab across all levels (undergraduates, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows or visiting scientists) as contributors to intellectual interchange and inspiration. With this background, there are few things you should know to determine whether you would be a good candidate for joining the lab.
Most importantly, with the exception of some undergraduate assistants, members of the lab do not work for me. I do my own research, although I will often collaborate with lab members on research projects. Therefore, if you are inquiring about joining the lab, you should explain what research you would like to do as a member of my lab and why you think my lab would be a good base for doing it. Successful lab members tend to have a semi-obsessive interest in ecology and natural history and are independent, self-motivated researchers.
As my research is largely field-based, there is a strong seasonality to lab activity. Research activity in Chicago (September-March) is usually limited, and is focused on computer-based work (modeling, data analysis and management). There rarely is research activity in Chicago during the field season (April-September); most occurs in remote rural areas of Washington state. The capacity for researchers at the field sites, particularly on Tatoosh Island, is extremely limited and the supporting logistics can be expensive, so it is not feasible for me to bring in many researchers to work in these areas. The best times to inquire about positions are in September and late February.
The field research is carried out in remote rural areas which lack amenities of civilization to varying degrees. Tatoosh Island has no running water, minimal power, and all personnel and equipment must be landed/depart through the (potentially heavy) surf and hauled up a 100′ cliff to base camp. There is no internet and barely functional cellular service in a few specific locations served by one carrier. At our mainland base in Clallam Bay/Sekiu, Washington, which have a combined population of perhaps 1000 and require a drive of >1 hour to reach the closest modest sized city (Port Angeles), finding temporary housing can be difficult, cellular coverage is spotty, and internet, when available is very slow. Having your own vehicle to get around is essential. If you are someone who must be “connected” you will not be happy. If you are someone who wants to be outside observing nature or exploring at every opportunity, this is a good situation. But remember the work is done in the Pacific Northwest–it is likely to be gray and foggy/raining, temperatures are often stuck in the upper 50’s-low 60’s during the summer, and the ocean is very cold. The terrain is difficult and substantial hauling of personal and research equipment is required–you must be in good physical shape and know how to swim.
Here is some specific information for different career stages:
Students are admitted to our programs, not to particular labs, and there is only one admission period (application deadline in December for matriculation the following fall). While contacting relevant faculty is a good idea, the faculty as a whole, not the faculty member you contact, ultimately determines admission. We intend to fund students for 5 years; this means that incoming classes are very small and admission is competitive. Investigate and apply for any fellowships you may qualify for, such as the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. This is especially important for international students, as U.S.-based funding sources are very limited, which makes it especially hard to bring in foreign students. If you are interested in my lab, be sure to check out both graduate programs that I am part of: the Department of Ecology and Evolution and the Committee on Evolutionary Biology. When applying, you should have enough motivation and background in ecology or related areas to be able to outline examples of conceptual areas that you might want to pursue in depth and explain why my lab and our program would be a good home for you.
Visiting Graduate Students
I receive frequent requests from graduate students in other institutions and countries to visit the lab for extended stays. From the perspective of the University of Chicago, the greatly preferred way for students to have extended interactions with its faculty and to use its resources is to apply to be a student through the normal admission processes, which allows the University to recoup the costs of its resources through various mechanisms. Therefore, the University has specific guidelines that need to be met by any visiting students, which can be found at this website. Be sure you visit this website, understand the University requirements, and be prepared to meet them before contacting me.
Potential visiting students should be able to intellectually justify in depth to me why visiting my lab and collaborating with me, my colleagues and my students will make a substantial and unique contribution to their research projects. As noted above, graduate students in my lab do not work for me, so a simple offer of free labor is not an adequate justification.
If I have funding for post-doctoral positions, I will list it HERE:
Currently I have no post-doc positions available.
I am open to collaborating with and/or sponsoring motivated potential post-docs interested in writing proposals to granting agencies to fund their positions. I am also happy to serve as sponsor for applicants with relevant interests for Chicago Fellows, the university-wide post-doctoral fellowship competition.
First a quick general message–don’t be afraid to contact faculty with interests relevant to you: we are happy to talk with anyone who shares our enthusiasm for the topics we study! I often hire an undergraduate or two to assist with field work, data analysis, and lab work, and my graduate students also sometimes have opportunities in their research programs. Research assistants have been drawn from both the University of Chicago and other institutions in the past, in the latter case usually if applicants seem to be potential candidates to eventually join the lab as a graduate student. University of Chicago students who wish to pursue independent research or an honors thesis are also encouraged to contact me. The best time to contact me is in early fall quarter and in early spring quarter.