In looking for content to put in the space below, I checked with some of my esteemed colleagues from UF and stole this nearly verbatim from Dr. D. Reed who stole this from Dr. T. Palmer because I thought it captured succinctly what I wanted to say. Thanks David and Todd.
The primary function of graduate programs is to train the next generation of professionals. Opinions differ as to the best way to educate students, but the broadest goal of graduate school is to help people make the transition from students to scholars. These days, graduate school admissions have become an increasingly competitive process. No matter what lab you are interested in joining, there are a couple of steps you should take before contacting a potential major advisor.
- Read a few papers written by the person with whom you are interested in working. You can find some of mine here. Does their work interest you? Does their approach to science (e.g., experimental, mathematical, comparative) interest you? Does their area of general interest match that of your own (e.g., I study the evolution of genes that support color vision and to some extent systematics of Odonata and Coleoptera); is this something you are interested in?
- Spend some time coming up with a few potential research questions that YOU might be interested in pursuing. These do not have to be written in stone, but advisors generally are more interested in students who can show that they have done some independent thinking.
- After you have completed steps 1 and 2, send your potential advisor an email, and include information about who you are, what you are interested in, and why you are considering that person as an advisor. If you have unofficial transcripts, GRE scores, or other (admittedly dubious) measures of academic potential, include them too. Many schools, and Brigham Young University is among them, have basic requirements for GPAs and GREs that you must meet to be considered as a student. More information about those basic requirements can be found on the BYU Biology Graduate Program’s website.
- Lastly I want to say something about the nature of getting an advanced degree in this field (broadly speaking evolutionary biology). This is not a 40-hour per week endeavor (see Stearn’s advice). You should treat grad school like you would treat the start-up of your own small business. You get out of it what you put into it. I want students who are absolutely driven by the need to pose and answer scientific questions. Ultimately, the questions you ask should keep you up at night and drive you to succeed. If you are not committed to becoming a scholar and scientist in this way, then my lab is probably not for you.
- If you have read this far, you have the potential level of commitment that advisors like to see. If you are interested in joining our lab, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.