The first thing to do is to figure out if the general interests of the lab match up with your own. Browse the rest of the site, check out what we're up to, and if you like what you see send me an email describing your general research interests along with your CV, GPA, and GRE scores. Don't worry if you don't know precisely what you want to work on yet (even if you think you do it will probably change several times during your first semester). Just give me a rough idea of the kinds of topics you are interested in pursuing.
I believe that the best way to educate graduate students is to give them the freedom to develop their own research interests and pursue their own ideas. So, graduate students in my lab develop their own projects and I do my best to help them learn how to become productive scientists in the process. Of course graduate school is intended to be an educational experience, so I like to meet with each of my students once a week to talk about what they're up to, provide feedback and advice on their research, talk about general approaches to science and scientific careers, or just talk about how life and graduate school are treating them.
Collaboration is becoming increasingly important in ecology and in science in general (check out this recent paper). As the discipline becomes increasingly multidisciplinary it becomes more and more difficult for a single scientist to aquire all of the skills necessary to conduct the most interesting research. In addition, two or three (or even five or ten, well... maybe not ten) minds are often better than one when working on complicated problems. Therefore the lab is very collaborative and most of my students collaborate with me and with other students, postdocs, and faculty. Besides the other members of the lab, we maintain active collaborations with the Ernest Lab (located right next door) and with Allen Hurlbert at the University of North Carolina. We're also not shy about finding new collaborators when our interests take us into new territory.
While most of my research is focused on analyzing data that have already been collected, students are free to pursue field and/or lab work related to the interests of the lab. The lab collaborates actively with Morgan Ernest and the Portal Project providing opportunities to combine field work with analysis of large amounts of spatially explicit data collected continuously for the past 30 years. In addition, we are currently involved in developing sensor network technology for studying small mammals providing field work opportunities for those interested in mammalogy and/or field electronics.
Students accepted into the Biology Department at USU are provided support in the form of Teaching Assistantships (TAs). In addition, there are often Research Assistantships (RAs) available in my lab to support students for some period of time without teaching. My students have also been very successful at getting university fellowships, which typically supply 1-3 years of work-free support at the begining of graduate school. Additional student support and money to attend meetings is available through the Ecology Center.
In addition, I strongly encourage anyone applying to the lab to apply for a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. In addition, underrepresented minorities should consider applying for a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Diversity Fellowship. These fellowships provide amazing salaries, research funds, and time to focus on your research. Note that the deadlines for these applications typically occur early in the Fall semester.
Applying to USU
USU does not technically have an application deadline for its graduate program. However, in order for me to compile and compare applications I ask that those applying to the lab submit their applications no later than January 1st. The application process consists of two stages: 1) a preapplication to the Biology Department; and 2) a full application to the University. Detailed information can be found on the Biology Department Prospective Student Page.
Contacting Current Lab Members
One of the best ways to figure out if a lab is right for you is to talk to current members of that lab. So if you are seriously considering graduate school with me I would strongly encourage you to contact one or more of my current lab members and ask them about life in the lab.
If you do this with the other labs that you are considering as well, it should help you get a feel for which advisors and lab environments are right for you.