Deciding where and with whom you will study, work, and live for the next few years of your life is an extremely important decision. And deciding who will be in your lab can be just as important of a decision for a professor. I wrote this with the hope that it will help both sides of this decision process.
A few things you should know about me as an adviser and collaborator:
I can officially advise students in Geography and the Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology program at UNR. I’ve studied or worked in geography, zoology (ecology), and forest and wildlife ecology departments, as well as government agencies. I can offer some thoughts on these and other options, but the decision of which program to pursue is yours.
While I welcome those with interests in academia, the reality is that most people do not aspire to an academic (i.e. professorship) path and there are relatively few opportunities. It is more rewarding to focus on helping students achieve their goals and mold them to a path that suits their interests, abilities, and opportunities. The Mackay School has a career office that we work with to help our students to paths leading to industry, NGOs, agencies, consulting, etc…
Of course, I seek outstanding students and collaborators, so I will consider grades, letters of recommendation, experiences, and other evidence of talent, technical skills, and achievement. However, I realize that life is complicated and that motivation can help overcome many obstacles. In short, if you heart is in it, don’t let any perceived shortcomings dissuade you from seeking to join our lab. Also, GRE scores are no longer required by the Geography Department and are notoriously poor predictors of graduate student success. Therefore, please do not count yourself out if your GRE scores are not good or if you do not have them.
As much as I love science, the opportunity to work with students and talented scholars is why I pursued the very challenging academic track. I draw a lot of motivation from working with people from diverse academic and cultural backgrounds. I’ve found that sometimes you identify good people you want to work with and then figure out what you are going to do rather than the other way around. And don’t forget to have fun!
Do not expect to learn many technical skills from me (at least not directly). First of all, like most professors, I’m not as good at coding, GISing, etc as I used to be. When I look back at my advisors (all extremely successful), they did not teach these skills to me anyway. Instead most students learn technical skills from courses, self-study, the Internet, and peer learning. I see my role as an advisor as more focused on the “higher-level” skill and abilities such as scientific communication, critical thinking skills, professional development (experience as reviewers, how to attend conferences, networking, etc…). Related to this, I view as a top priority ensuring that students have the right environment in which to develop their skills and experiences. This includes holding meetings, both individually and as a group, fostering a supportive environment, connecting students to learning and networking opportunities, being cognizant of the work-life issues students are facing, etc…
And about Reno:
When I moved to Reno in summer of 2010, my first conclusion was that it was an underrated place. The cost of living is reasonable, the city has much to offer in terms of culture, food, sports, and entertainment, and the natural surroundings are among the best for outdoor activities of any college town in the country. It’s not perfect, but it is a very good place to live. This is an important consideration for most people, so don’t hesitate to ask me (or better yet a UNR grad student) questions about the area. And the university has excellent teaching and research facilities and strengths in geography, ecology, and natural resources.
If you are interested in joining our lab:
Please contact me as early as possible so we can begin evaluating the fit and think about what you might work on. This is especially important for international students and scholars. It will be helpful if you include a description of your background and interests as well as info on your record (resume/cv, GPA,, etc…). Sometimes I will have specific opportunities for research in defined areas based on grants or other projects I have. Other times, it will be more open and up to the student or postdoc to define the scope of research and study.