Information for prospective graduate students
I am currently looking for new Ph.D. students with a broad range of skills and interests. Our lab’s integrative approach, coupled with the complementary expertise of our collaborators and the diverse interests of faculty in Biology and EEB on campus, make it suitable for a wide range of students. Though the core of my lab’s research is animal behavior, specifically empirical studies of animal communication, current lab members have projects on theoretical ecology, population genetics, evolutionary genomics, and ecomorphology. The collective wisdom of the lab therefore goes way beyond my individual expertise, which makes for a stimulating learning environment for me as well as everyone else.
Grad students are, by default, funded by teaching assistantships for the duration of their tenure. All of my students to date have been funded from research assistantships or their own fellowships during the summer; a limited number of long-semester RAs are also available. I will work vigorously with you to help you get individual funding from fellowships or training grants, which will give you more time and flexibility. Adjusted for the low cost of living, our graduate stipends are extraordinarily competitive.
Bryan/College Station offers the multicultural experience of a huge university, coupled with the easygoing charm of rural Texas. The metropoloi of Houston and Austin are within easy reach for day trips, and you can fly nonstop to just about anywhere from IAH, about an hour and a half away. A PhD is a marathon, not a sprint, and in my experience the most successful students are people who have a life outside the lab.
Since we all work at close quarters for extended periods of time (especially at CICHAZ), accepting new lab members is a community decision. We want to be reasonably confident that in addition to being motivated and creative, a new lab member will be easy to get along with. As Albert Einstein famously said, “if we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research”. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and an ability to laugh at yourself and your circumstances really helps keep you sane when all your fish die or when you have to design an improvised tire iron at 3 am in a thunderstorm.
With occasional exceptions (imminent grant deadlines, field trips, or inspections) your day-to-day schedule will be yours to decide. I will strive to be available as much as possible, but I’m terrible at micromanaging. I expect my students to rise to the top of their field, publishing their thesis work in top international journals and securing their own research funding, but I am flexible as to how you get there or, within reason, how long you take. The goal is that by the time you have your PhD, you will have the scholarly background, practical training, and professional connections to be competitive for top faculty jobs and run your own lab. This means that you will get to participate not only in the design, execution, analysis and dissemination of research, but also in pragmatic but vital skills like animal husbandry, writing grants, applying for collection permits, and submitting animal-use protocols. I encourage my students to attend professional meetings starting the summer after their first year, and will provide financial support when possible.
Students typically spend their first year taking courses, teaching (one year of teaching is mandatory for a PhD even if you have fellowship or other funding), and conducting research. I encourage people to sample a few projects before settling on their core research program. Projects are developed in conjunction with me and other lab members. By your third year, you should have passed your qualifying exam and have enough preliminary data to apply for an EPA STAR or NSF DDIG <grant> to help independently fund your dissertation research. You should start contacting potential postdoc advisors in your fourth year, and be on target to defend your PhD at the end of your fifth. By the time you finish, you should have at least four manuscripts published or in review.
If you’re interested in applying, please browse Rosenthal lab publications and research projects, then contact Gil Rosenthal <email: grosenthal AT bio.tamu.edu> directly. The only prerequisite (besides a bachelor’s degree) on which I am entirely inflexible is that you have to have prior research experience - not necessarily in animal behavior or with fish, but you need to have a clear idea of the day-to-day experience of doing science. You don’t need to know exactly what you want to work on, but you should be prepared to be fully committed to spending the best years of your life in a medium-sized Texas town asking questions of little fish. For a colleague’s rather blunt perspective on this, see Prof. Eric Pianka’s letter to prospective students.
(If you’re not sure, I encourage you to consider a Master’s degree; however, neither my lab nor our graduate program is really set up for Master’s students. This is true of PhD-granting institutions in general; most of our Master’s students are people who have chosen or been asked to leave the PhD track. In the US, the best places to do an MS or an MA are institutions that don’t have a PhD program, notably the Texas State and California State Universities, where Master’s students are the focus of the graduate curriculum and are likely to get fully funded assistantships.)