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Evolutionary Ecology of Fishes Laboratory: Frequently Asked Questions
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Updated: February 10, 2017

Here are some answers to Frequently Asked Questions:

1. "I heard from a friend of mine that ...."

Be very careful about any information about graduate programs that you hear second hand. Most often this information is INCORRECT. Furthermore, information that applies to a graduate program elsewhere almost certainly does not apply at Sac State. If you want to know something about being a graduate student at Sac State in general, ask the Graduate Coordinator. Better yet, if you want to know something about being a graduate student in my lab, ask me.

2. Do you have to meet all the entrance requirements?

Yes and no. It is possible to be "conditionally classified" if you have minor deficiencies. Read the rules very carefully. If you are unsure, ask me. You do have to take and submit GRE scores to the Department, though there is no particular "cutoff" score.

3. When is the best time to email me?

Most graduate students start in the Fall. The Department and University deadlines are typically Feb 1. So, if you are interested in starting in Fall 2016, you should send me an email in September or October 2015. November is starting to get a bit late...

4. Can I start in the Spring?

Sometimes. The Department gives the impression that graduate students can only start in the fall but this is not actually the case. In some cases, you can start in the spring. This depends on many factors, including the State budget and other dynamic factors. Email me to find out more.

5. Do you need to have a specific thesis project in mind?

Absolutely not. You might have something in mind but in most cases you simply do not know enough to know where the cutting edge of science is. That is my job. I have lots of ideas for interesting research projects that need to be done. I am also very willing to listen to your ideas and to develop those. The important thing is that you be interested in doing research within the general framework in which I operate, namely evolutionary ecology, certain aspects of physiological ecology and physiological biochemistry, game theory, etc. If you have an idea that you are not sure about, ask me.

6. Does the work have to be on fish?

Not necessarily. Fish are what I know best but I have also done research on frogs, reptiles, ants, birds and parasites. I know fish pretty well and can offer the most assistance in understanding fish. As far as I am concerned, frogs are just fish that hop -- the biology of amphibians is very similar to that of fishes and I am definitely open to research on amphibians and reptiles (e.g., I have had three Masters students work on frogs) provided the student recognizes that I know less about these than I do about fishes.

7. Does the research work have to be local?

Absolutely not. In fact, I am also interested in students who want to work in the tropics and/or marine environments. Funding is always the challenge for that kind of work. That said, I am also interested in students who want to do aquarium-based studies, as well as students interested in local field work.

8. Will I consider International Students?

Absolutely. I am particularly interested in students from Latin America that want to come and work in my lab, e.g., Luciana Ramirez came from Argentina to work in my lab.

9. Can the research be purely theoretical?

Yes it can, but it seldom will be.

10. Does the research have to have a theoretical component?

All the work done in my lab has to have a strong conceptual basis. I am not interested in just "doing things" for the sake of doing them. We do experiments to answer specific questions to help us understand bigger picture issues in evolutionary ecology. I put a lot of emphasis on designing tight, clean experiments that answer questions decisively. I am not interested in simply gathering data. In other words, just because something can be measured (or done) does not mean that it is worth doing.

On the other hand, do not discount an experiment just because it seems too simple. I like simple experiments. All too often, I think scientists, and particularly young scientists, over-complicate their experiments. I stress designing and performing the simplest, most direct experiment to test the question at hand. This approach works well within the framework of doing a Masters degree.

11. Can the work be outside the boundaries of what the lab currently works on?

Yes. I am interested in integrated approaches to understanding evolutionary ecology. So, for example, recent graduate students have examined biochemistry of fish eggs and the development of slime molds that attack fish eggs. Another student examined landscape genetics of tropical frogs as a conservation tool.

Some areas that I am interested in for the future might include projects using molecular approaches to fish phylogenetics, biomechanics, ecophysiology, population genetics of wild cichlid populations, system modelling of fisheries and water resources, etc.

12. Is my lab full (i.e., am I accepting students)?

I am always interested in new students. My lab is constantly changing as students graduate with their Masters degree and new students enter. Furthermore, each successful Masters project tends to generate all sorts of new ideas and expertise in the lab.

13. What is the best way to get into my lab?

Things to do:

Be enthusiastic. I am interested in students who really want to be in my lab and want to take full advantage of what we have to offer. I am not interested in students who are just putting in time.

Show some initiative. Write me an email. If you cannot take that much initiative, then you are unlikely to get into my lab.

Be persistent. If you send me an email and I do not respond, most likely your message is buried in my Inbox -- I get alot of email and things sometimes (but not often) get misplaced. If you do not hear from me within a week or so, send it again, indicating that you sent a message previously.

Follow through. For example, if you say that you will send me your resume, then do so and do it when you said that you would do it. It is very important to me that you do what you say you will do. I need to know that I can count on you.

Things NOT to do:

Do NOT send me a form letter that you are sending to dozens of other people. If you are interested in joining my lab, let me know that you know what it is that our lab does and that you are interested in doing those sorts of things.

14. Am I only interested in students who want to go on to a PhD?

No. My main interest is in producing quality people that do quality work. Where you take that is up to you. Some students will be looking for a bridge between a Bachelors degree and entering a PhD program. Others will want a Masters to further their education in general or to advance their career in a State or Federal agency . Others want to be teachers. Others may have a completely different goal in mind.

15. How long should it take to get a Masters in my lab?

It will likely take between two and three years, no longer. And yes, this means you will have to work hard and efficiently.

16. Bottom line: what am I looking for in a student?

I am looking for highly motivated people who want to make a difference in life. I am much less concerned with what you know than what you want to know.

You must be willing to make graduate school a major priority in your life and not just something you are doing on the side. It is a major commitment on your behalf and on mine. If you are willing to invest in yourself, then I am willing to invest in you.

Graduate school is about making the transition from someone who learns what others have done to being a person who generates new knowledge and contributes that to the world.

If this describes you and what you want, then we should talk.


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