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Need Recommendations for Evol. Bio. Programs

cboake at utk.edu cboake at utk.edu
Mon Sep 9 16:43:08 EST 1996

In article
<Pine.SUN.3.95L.960908144718.8506A-100000 at labdien.cc.columbia.edu>, Judith
Gibber <jrg43 at columbia.edu> wrote:

> "Rankings" of grad programs are not so useful.  Look through program
> descriptions and see which sound most appropriate for you.  

Very good advice.

> 1. You might try looking through your Evolution textbook, write down
> names of people whose research sounds interesting, and use BIOSIS to find
> out where they're working and what they're publishing now.

If you have access to a university library, go to the current periodicals
room and look through the last 2-3 years of issues of scientific journals
like Evolution, The American Naturalist, and Evolutionary Ecology.  Also
examine TRends in Ecology & Evolution.  Read the abstracts of the articles
whose titles interest you, skim a few articles, and take notes on the
names and locations of scientists who are doing work that you like.  Soon
you'll get a sense of places and potential advisors who might suit you. 

> 3. If you're primarily interested in behavior, look through the info put
> up by the Nebraska Behavioral Biology Group:
>         http://cricket.unl.edu/nbbg.html
> The Animal Behavior Society has a pamphlet on Graduate Programs in Animal
> Behavior, but the edition I have is from 1990.  I don't know if there's a
> more recent one.  NBBG has links to ABS.

The ABS will make an on-line version of an updated version of this guide
available soon, if it isn't already.  The hard copy is available for $8
which covers printing and mailing costs.

> 6. Once you find a few programs that sound interesting, visit the campus
> and talk to grad students/postdocs/profs/secretaries.  Ask where those
> students who have completed the program in the last few years have ended
> up.  This direct information on employability of graduates is probably
> more useful to you than rankings, which may be based on factors that are
> not relevant to you.

  Once you are far enough along in the reading (above) to have identified
faculty who might be possible advisors, write to them and see if they are
planning to take new students, and tell them that you are interested. 
Faculty members are _delighted_ to communicate with prospective students
who have actually read their work!  Many universities have slush funds
that can help pay the expenses of a visit from an applicant; if a faculty
member there wants to meet you, you may be eligible for help with travel
costs.  Make sure that you get appointments with students as well as with
faculty when you visit, so that you can get the straight story on quality
of life, quirks of the faculty, job prospects, etc.
  YOu should be aware of some trade-offs.  Schools which have strong
reputations in a certain field are likely to be highly competitive in
their grad admissions.    Faculty who are famous do not necessarily make
good advisors; they may be too busy pursuing their own careers.  However
they may have plenty of funds and lots of good contacts for getting their
students placed well -- every case is different.  If you choose an advisor
who is one of a small number in that field on a campus, you may have few
opportunities to take focused courses but on the other hand you'll
probably get a broad formal education and plenty of personal attention.  
  You need to be aware of your own abilities to work in a structured vs.
unstructured environment and choose your advisor accordingly.  A mismatch
here can be disastrous, and many disasters that I have seen can be traced
to incompatibilities between a student's needs and an advisor's style.
  In sum, I think that the choice of an advisor supersedes the choice of a
"program" in evolutionary biology.  This is not necessarily true in other

good luck!

Chris Boake
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Univ. of Tennessee

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