Notes to Prospective Graduate Students

In anticipation of retirement, I will not be taking graduate students starting their PhD program any later than Fall 2019. CAMsters entering graduate school in Fall 2019 or earlier are welcome to consider me as a potential thesis adviser.

I welcome students who share my interest in the interface of theory, modeling, and empirical ecology. My goals as an advisor are to encourage high standards, independence and a supportive attitude towards peers. From my advisor, Simon Levin, I learned by example that treating science as a team sport (with only one team) is more fun and ultimately more productive than "playing to win". I aim to pass that attitude on to my students. I try to be both supportive and demanding, in terms of course preparation, level of effort and quality of work. I look for students who want to tackle important questions and donít mind working hard to acquire skills and get results.††

If you apply, I and the Admissions Committee(s) will look for evidence of your quantitative skills, especially good grades in undergraduate math, statistics, physics, or computer science (e.g. linear algebra, probability, differential equations, statistical theory, numerical analysis). If you discovered theoretical ecology late and havenít taken many quantitative courses, that is not an insurmountable obstacle, but youíll have to play catch-up and we will look very closely at reference letters attesting to your progress towards becoming a theoretical ecologist.

I ask my students to define their own research problems, so that you donít wind up finishing your PhD and postdoc years with no experience at self-directed research. Grant-supported students typically do half their thesis on self-developed projects. It helps to pick a project where I can give you well-informed advice and help, but beyond that itís up to you. I am not much interested in understanding or predicting the effects of climate change. We already know that climate change is real and vitally important. The important questions are how we might reduce it or minimize its consequences. If you have ideas on how theoretical ecology can help with those, Iíll be happy to work with you on them.††

Nonacademic careers are often viewed as a fallback for weaker students. I find this incomprehensible. Non-academics do most of the real work of environmental management, planning, and conservation.If that's where you want to be, I'll do my best to help you get there.

Anyone planning to be a theoretical ecologist needs a solid grounding in quantitative methods, including mathematics and statistics. For that reason, students working with me typically face course requirements beyond those required by their graduate field. This is for your own good and I will be happy to explain why. Without the right foundation, the enormous literature in theoretical mathematics and statistics will forever be a closed book to you. My advisees should expect to spend one year (and possibly two) concentrating on coursework, followed by your "A" (admission to candidacy) exam. For consistency, all my students follow EEB's timeline for progress towards their degree, which you can find here.


Here are some research topics of current and past students:

         Optimal sampling effort for detecting and managing invasive species spread

         Spatial and temporal dynamics of monarch butterfly populations

         Effects of commuting patterns on disease spread in cities

         Design of effective trap-cropping systems for low- or no-pesticide pest control

         Understanding rapid evolution in predator-prey interactions using fast-slow systems theory

         How density-dependent costs of defense affect predator-prey coevolution

         Maintenance of communication systems with incomplete honesty

         Evolution of energy allocation strategies in fluctuating environments

         Accuracy of stochastic matrix models for population viability analysis

         Comparing strategies for controlling insect agricultural pests using genetic engineering

This is where some of my past PhD students are now:

            Hidetoshi Inamine, Department of Biology, Penn State University: Postdoc with Kat Shea.

            Matt Holden, Mathematics Department, University of Queensland: Research Fellow.

            Ben Dalziel, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Oregon State: Assistant Professor.

            Michael Cortez, Department of Biology, Florida State University: Assistant Professor.

            Paul Hurtado, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Nevada Reno: Assistant Professor.

            Virginia Pasour, US Army Research Office, Durham NC: Program Director for Mathematical Biology

            Jonathan Rowell, Department of Mathematics, UNC-Greensboro: Associate Professor.

            Paul Schliekelman, Department of Statistics, University of Georgia: Associate Professor. 

            John Fieberg, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota: Associate Professor.

            Kyle Shertzer, NOAA Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, Beaufort NC: Fisheries Biometrician

            Michael Easterling, Scientific & Social Systems, Research Triangle Park NC: Biomathematician  

            Georgiy Bobashev, Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park NC: Senior Data Scientist

            Barbara Bailey, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, San Diego State University: Associate Professor.

            George Hess, Department of Forestry, North Carolina State University: Professor

            Steven Peck, Department of Integrative Biology, Brigham Young University: Associate Professor.