Selecting a graduate program is one of most important decisions that you will have to make early in your academic career. To help you determine whether joining my lab at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center is right for you, I have included some information about my research, my general approach to mentoring students, and my expectations.
Research in my lab
I am broadly interested in understanding the effects of environmental change on the structure, productivity, and dynamics of interconnected ecosystems. I use a combination of mathematical models and computer simulations to generate hypotheses about the processes that govern natural patterns of population abundance and species diversity. I then test these theoretical predictions using statistical analyses of temporally-resolved and spatially-explicit empirical datasets. Although I typically use marine (intertidal) communities as a model system, I am interested in developing general ecological theory that applies to marine, aquatic, and terrestrial ecosystems alike. You can find examples of this general approach in the publication and research sections of this website.
As you might expect, research in my lab emphasizes quantitative skills. However, don’t be intimidated if you do not already possess a strong quantitative background. After all, it’s called graduate school for a reason: you’re not expected to know everything going in! Rather, your goal should be to immerse yourself in an environment that will allow you to grow and acquire desirable new skills in order to get a leg up on the competition. I would argue that developing a quantitative background is probably one of the the best strategies for ensuring success in graduate school and beyond. Students who become well-versed in numerical methods (e.g., statistical analyses, mathematical modeling, computer programming) will be in prime position to exploit (instead of be intimidated by) increasingly complex ecological datasets.
I actively recruit students whose training and interests lie anywhere along the continuum between empirical and theoretical ecology. By promoting the exchange of ideas between budding theoreticians and empiricists in my lab, I hope to train versatile students who can marry modeling and experimental approaches to develop and validate ecological theory. To achieve this goal, my students will have access to a traditional wet lab for experimental work and a dry lab for high-performance computing at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center.
What to expect from me and what I expect from you
My main role as your advisor is to help you develop and carry-out your own independent research in a timely manner. I will advise you on every aspect of your project, from its inception and implementation all the way to its conclusion. However, I will not assign you a “ready-made” project because no one will do so at the next stage of your career. Instead, you will have to create your own project based on an ecological topic of your choice. You will then have to determine the best way to address the topic given your time and budgetary constraints, perform the research, and present your results.
In many ways, conducting research is just like running your own small business: (1) you must have a great idea for a product (i.e., hypothesis), (2) convince backers that it is a worthy investment (i.e., proposal), (3) create the product (i.e., research), and (4) finally sell it to a skeptical audience (i.e., peer-reviewed publications and presentations). Because you will be assuming all of these roles as you progress through the various stages of your research, success in graduate school will require equal parts imagination, passion, and dedication.