A note to prospective students from Irby: I am afraid that I am not seeking new graduate students via the Fall 2020 or Fall 2021 admissions cycles. In other words, I am not recruiting via applications due in November 2020 or November 2021 to start as a student in August 2021 or August 2022. My reasons are varied and include the size of our group at present plus my desire to pay careful attention to the post-Covid academic marketplace (however it shakes out) and its level of opportunity for our lab group alumni. I encourage potential applicants to look into working with one of my professorial colleagues at Cornell who might have more space in their group–and remember that we do a lot of intellectual sharing across lab groups and even departments! Many of the graduate students who are fully a part of our ‘lab group’ are not my own direct advisees.
Our lab group includes a core set of graduate students who engage in independent research of the highest quality and impact. My personal goal as a graduate mentor is to work collaboratively with students who will form the nucleus of a diverse, interactive, mutually supportive, and intellectually exciting research group while at Cornell, and go on to be valued colleagues after finishing their degrees.
My past graduate students have worked on a wide range of topics, including evolutionary ecology and phylogenetics, behavioral ecology, conservation genetics, and disease ecology. At present our lab group is somewhat more targeted (at least in terms of the methods people are using) towards using genomic-scale datasets to answer interesting broader questions. I am therefore most interested in recruiting new PhD students who will be part of this lab-wide genomics endeavor while also extending our intellectual breadth and expertise through their independently conceived research programs. From the perspective of our lab group, “genomics” might be characterized as a gradient of investigations that runs from understanding the functional genomic/genetic basis underlying particular traits, to studies of selection, gene flow, and adaptation as part of the speciation process (including but not exclusively among hybridizing taxa), to investigations of genomic differentiation among lineages that have diversified relatively recently (species flocks, geographic patterns, rapid radiations, etc.).
Students in my lab group are responsible for identifying, developing, and implementing their own projects, often on study systems that are not presently being worked on by me or others in our lab group. This requires a strong ability to think and work independently, while at the same time taking full advantage of the intellectual resources in our group and across Cornell.
I strongly encourage prospective students to contact me by email long before starting the formal application process. I would enjoy learning about your experiences in the field, museum, or laboratory and would also appreciate receiving a copy of your CV or resume as part of your first communication. I will also be particularly curious about specifically why you are interested in our lab group and in graduate studies at Cornell, so please explain in some detail what led you to contact me about graduate possibilities. I usually attend the annual meetings of the Society for Evolutionary Biology and the AOU/COS and enjoy meeting with prospective students who also happen to be attending those conferences. Those meetings are also great opportunities to meet some of the past and present graduate students and postdocs who are part of our lab community.
All of the students that I formally advise are admitted to Cornell through the Field of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (my own professorial home). Except in unusual circumstances, all students enter that Field directly on the PhD track; some have previously obtained an MS degree elsewhere, whereas others come directly from their undergraduate institution or from other field or research experiences. We therefore do not admit students who are pursuing only a MS degree. For more information on the nuts-and-bolts of applying and on the Field in general, be sure to visit the pages here. Note that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology does not have its own separate graduate program; all grad students advised by me and/or other Lab-based faculty are admitted through one of our on-campus graduate Fields. At present there are about eight Lab faculty who are actively mentoring graduate students in a total of three Fields: EEB, Neurobiology and Behavior, and Natural Resources. Students with advisors who are not themselves based at the Lab also commonly work in collaboration with me or other Lab-based faculty and staff. Students applying to our lab group are likely to be interested in the many cross-departmental opportunities fostered by the Cornell Center for Comparative and Population Genomics (3CPG) and the Cornell Center for Vertebrate Genomics (CVG).
Applicants should be aware that admission to the EEB Field is highly competitive (in a typical year, the entire Field enrolls only 7-12 students out of an applicant pool of well over 100). All admission decisions are made by a committee of faculty which reviews all applications in concert, not by me or other individual faculty (in other words, I can support your application but not decide whether or not you are admitted). All Ph.D. students in our Field are guaranteed at least five years of 12-month support that includes a competitive stipend (often in the form of TAships), full tuition, and health insurance. All students are however expected to aggressively pursue outside fellowships and research grants. Prospective students applying to work with me should simultaneously investigate national graduate fellowships such as those offered by NSF (for US citizens), NSERC (for Canadians), or Fulbright (many countries) and apply for those that are applicable to your interests and situation.
Because I like to meet or correspond with potential applicants long before they apply, be sure to let me know in advance if you are potentially interested in our program. Please understand that I get dozens of such query emails each year, so please read the information on this page carefully as background. Note that applications to the Field of EEB are due on December 1st of each year.
My current/former PhD students and their present affiliations are:
Bryce Robinson Current student
Amelia Demery Current student
Natalie Hoffmeister Current student
Stepfanie Aguillon Current student
Dr. Jake Berv, 2019 Life Sciences Postdoctoral Fellow, U. Michigan
Dr. Nick Mason, 2017 Assistant Professor, Louisiana State University
Dr. Petra Deane-Coe, 2017 Bioinformatics Scientist, Mascoma LLC
Dr. Yula Kapetanakos, 2014 Sr. Analyst, International Affairs, US Fish & Wildlife Service
Dr. Valentina Ferretti, 2010 Associate Prof., Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales
Dr. Daniel L. Rabosky, 2009 Associate Professor, U. of Michigan; Packard Fellow
Dr. Andrea K. Townsend, 2009 Associate Professor, Hamilton College
Dr. Mari Kimura, 2008 Program Officer, Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute