Information for Prospective research graduate Students
current OPPORTUNITIES in My Lab
- Updated December 2021
I welcome queries from prospective graduate students at any time with their own ideas for funding Masters or PhD projects that are related to any of my research interests. I accepted two new graduate students who starting Spring 2021 and one in Fall 2021.
I plan on taking sabbatical for 2022-23 Academic Year and therefore am not entertaining any applicants for next year (Fall 2022). I will consider Fall 2023 applicants in Fall 2022 subject to funding availability.
See here for more information on Geomorphology at USU. In addition to explaining the process of applying and what to expect if you work with me, there is a lot of unsolicited advice on this page (sorry if it seems patronizing) that might just be helpful to help you figure out what makes sense for you. A lot of it is stuff I wish someone would have told me when I was stumbling through my experiences as as student. The rest of this is to help those considering applying whether I would be someone you want to work with. Even if I never meet you (or pathetically don't return an email), I hope you find some of the information here helpful.
As of Fall 2021, I am a full professor and my primary responsibility (50%) in my role statement with USU is research. One of the ways in which I advance my research is building collaborations and partnerships with students I choose to mentor. Amongst my secondary responsibilities is teaching (40%) and this includes both the supervision of graduate students through to successful degrees and teaching graduate classes. When I first started at USU in 2009, I quickly built a big lab and at one point had six graduate students (in addition to a staff of 10 - 15 full time researchers and technicians). It was too much. They all did great things, but I wasn't spending as much time as I would have liked to with each graduate student. On my sabbatical, in 2015-2016, I took time to reflect on where I wanted to take my research and what kind of supervisor I wanted to be. I believe that mentoring the next generation of researchers is one of the most important and lasting contributions we make. I decided that for the next phase of my academic career I would focus more on supervising fewer students. Ideally, I will have 2-3 graduate students in the lab at any point in time, that are actively collaborating and working with my lab staff and me. It means I will be accepting less students unfortunately, but I hope that those I can commit to, I can provide with the best opportunities possible.
why would I want to supervise you?
There are a variety of selfish reasons I might choose to invest in a graduate student like you. Here's me being transparent about that:
If you want to do a research graduate degree, there are tons of great programs and people to work with in our Department, across our college, across campus, and at other institutions. The trick is to not just find the advisor and program in the place you want, but to get the stars of opportunity to align between those things, your situation, your timing, the funding being available, and you being chosen. Of course, a graduate degree is not the only option.
Application & Funding
You can apply for graduate study at USU at anytime. However, if you are to be accepted for graduate study at USU in Watershed Sciences, you will need sponsorship from a faculty member. We offer PhDs and Masters in a) Watershed Science, b) Ecology and c) Fisheries Biology. If you are interested in working with me, make contact early in the process to discuss ideas. The application procedure itself is fairly straight-forward and involves:
If you want me to consider your application:
You can feel free to email me with specific questions or inquiries at any time. However, if you want me to consider your application, I want to see some additional materials. In addition to the University and Department's requirements, if you want me to consider your application, I ask for the following:
If you want to forgo the USU application fee, and get an honest appraisal from me if I will personally seriously consider your application and find you competitive, I am happy to review these materials and get back to you with an honest appraisal. If you want to do this, please do so before December 20th of the year prior to applying, if you wish to be considered for fellowships. This will give me enough time to make the review and you enough time to get your application in before January 10th. Otherwise, just submit at any time.
There are various ways to fund your graduate education at USU, and your eventual acceptance to the Watershed Sciences program will be contingent on a funding source being secured for you. Unlike when you were an undergraduate, most graduate students are paid to study and do their research. As far as the University is concerned, there are four primary expenses for you as a graduate student:
The most typical form of funding in Watershed Sciences is through a Research Assistantship. This generally pays you a living stipend, often covers your tuition and fees, and depending on the grant may cover research expenses. Other forms of funding at USU to make up short-falls include: fellowships, S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney Graduate Fellowship, scholarships & grants, tuition awards, residency tuition waivers, and travel awards. In addition, there are a plethora of external sources of funding and grants you can apply for to fully support (e.g. NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program) or augment other funding (e.g. student travel or research grants).
For you, the easiest thing is to be fully supported by funding your Major Professor has secured. However, there are many other possible funding sources and the experience of securing your own funding can be very valuable and look great on a resume.
Your SITUATION & Goals
So you think you want that little piece of paper (graduate diploma) that notionally separates you from the others? Why? What are you going to do with it? Is it worth the investment? Where will it get you?
Everyone has a different personal situation and different career and academic goals. In my opinion, pursuing a graduate degree is not something you should do without clear and realistic expectations of what it is going to take and whether it helps you achieve those goals. The reason is that it is a huge time investment and commitment, and requires personal sacrifice for you and those you share your life with. That's not to say it can't be great.
You should also realize that whatever supervisor and/or institution you might choose to pursue that graduate degree with will have its own selfish (in addition to altruistic) goals and reasons for potentially working with you. You should make sure that your goals and their goals are compatible and complementary.
Make a Deliberate Choice
No matter where you apply or who you choose to pursue working with, make sure your choice to pursue graduate education is a deliberate one. Graduate students are often treated as a disposable source of cheap, exploitable labor in academia. Even a major professor with the best intentions may end up inadvertently placing more emphasis on the products that academia and funders demand, at the expense of what is best for graduate students. Given the potential for these realities, it is essential that you are clear about what you need out of your graduate education so you are not exploited without getting what you need.
Is it merely a stepping stone to prepare you for a specific career track? Is it to prepare you for a career in research? What skills do you need to develop over the course of your graduate education? Do you need to a research graduate degree (i.e. Plan Masters or PhD), or might a taught course (e.g. Plan C Masters) be a better fit? Are you going to be more marketable on the job market with your degree? Clearly articulated answers to the above questions will help you make a deliberate choice about what program is right for you. Such answers will also help you in working with prospective major professors to communicate your expectations, needs and aspirations. It is better to communicate these things up front and find out that a situation won't meet your needs before hand, then to ignore them and assume that your needs will be met and face disappointment two to four years down the road.
These deliberate choices aside, timing and circumstances can trump everything. In a perfect world, you will get multiple offers to choose from, all from your top choices, and when you are ready to pursue your degree. In reality, the graduate student market is highly competitive and you may be faced with the situation in your first attempt of no offers or only one offer from the bottom of your list. This is a great time to pause and reflect on what's best for you. It may be accepting that offer you were not that excited about. Or it may be Is this an opportunity to take more time, be better prepared for the next round of applications and keep pursuing the goal of graduate education? Also, most professors (I myself am terrible) are over-committed and have inboxes overflowing with unanswered emails. Just because someone doesn't respond to your email, don't misinterpret that as something you did wrong. They may not have even seen your email, or they may have read it and started to reply, and then got distracted and its lost in their draft box.
If you are thinking about pursuing a PhD, please carefully read this depressing article in December's Economist on 'The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time'. If despite those odds and challenges, curiosity has the better of you and your willing to make the requisite sacrifices in pursuit of scientific inquiry, then great. Go for it. A career in research and/or academia can be extremely rewarding and offer a tremendous amount of freedom. However, to passively walk into a PhD program without a clear picture of the potential pitfalls ahead and why it is still worth while, can be a very disappointing experience. Masters and PhDs motivated by the prospects of better money and higher paying jobs alone are highly unrealistic. If money is what's important to you, there are much easier and smarter ways to make it ;).
What does a graduate degree @ USU WATS cost?
The better question, is what does a graduate degree cost whom? If we want to know what it costs to fund a graduate student on a Research Assistantship (Plan A Masters or PhD) and who pays that, that is one question. However, if you are going to attempt a self-funded, Plan B, how much does that cost you? If you decide to pursue a professional, Plan C Masters (e.g. Masters of Natural Resources), what does that cost?
The unfortunate reality for us in our Department, is no research, monitoring or graduate research gets done without external funding. The University provides virtually zero financial support for such activities (a few graduate fellowships here and there), though it is one of our primary responsibilities as faculty to do such research and supervise graduate students. I am not complaining, this is just the way it is. The way in which we actually do the research is to go out and secure external grants and contracts from sponsors to do research. On the cheap end, a graduate student goes for a minimum (with reduced F&A, tuition, fringe benefits, and no travel support, and not including funding for field work, lab work, equipment or research) of $40K to $50K per year. Who pays for that? Typically it is the responsibility of the supervisor to have secured through external grants from sponsors the funding to cover that cost. In rare instances, the student comes to the department already having secured their own funding. It is not uncommon for students to start a degree with partial funding (e.g. first year), and work with their supervisor to write grants to secure the remaining funding. However, realistically for you to get a Masters costs somebody at least $80,000 and that typically results in a thesis and hopefully a published paper (or occasionally two) to vet and disseminate that research for others to benefit from.
Some departments have the luxury of having teaching assistantships they can offer students and this can be a mechanism to get research done for much cheaper. We do not. All our graduate students are on research assistantships (i.e. from grant money we secure ahead of time) or rarely on fellowships they earn themselves. In my lab, we have a number of full-time staff and seasonal and part-time technicians as well. They are also all soft-money funded. I find that for many sponsors, research and deliverables can be more efficiently and cheaply delivered without relying on a graduate student as the primary labor source. I also find that sometimes what the sponsor wants and needs is not whats in the best educational interests of the student. For these reasons, I'm very careful about which of my research endeavors I choose to staff with graduate students.
If I am ON a Research Assistantship, How much will I get paid?
In Watershed Sciences, we set minimum stipends associated with your research assistantship that are competitive with national standards, and enough to live comfortably and modestly in Logan ,Utah. However, some supervisors and sponsors of research pay more to the extent the budgets from their sponsors permit it. Although it may cost $40K to $60K a year to fund your graduate education, what you would see is:
I have a good job, I want to keep it while I do my Masters or PhD
If you yourself are looking to do a Masters without leaving your current job, it can be done, but is difficult. For a research, plan A Masters, you need to physically be in Logan for at least two semesters. Sometimes, employers are willing to support you doing this (particularly if while making progress on course work, you can also get 'research' done that qualifies as your 'work' work). I have supervised students in the past in this situation, but it is something I now only agree to doing if:
We do have a Masters of Natural Resources program, that is better suited to facilitating working professionals earning a non-research Masters remotely. This is a 'taught' (translation: you pay for it) program. There is also nothing to prevent you from collaborating to do the research and publish it, without all the headaches of a Masters.
What if I don't accept you?
Please don't take it personally if I don't accept you as a graduate student. Most of my colleagues and myself get way more inquiries and applications from qualified students than we can even respond to emails for (much less accept as students). I, of course, wish you all the best of luck in all your academic endeavors. With a limited number of students I can invest in, I have to make tough choices and judgements about who I perceive at the time as the best fit to the specific opportunities and circumstances I have. I don't always get those judgements right. Moreover, you may be the perfect fit, but the stars of funding and timing just don't align. Just remember, in addition to hard work and persistence, dumb luck and timing matter too. There are lots of opportunities out there to chase, and numerous ways to find success and a gratifying graduate student experience.
What to Expect
What I Expect From You
If I accept you as a graduate student, my expectations of you are pretty simple. Fundamentally, I expect you to do what it takes to transition from a student to a professional researcher. I expect you to approach your graduate education and research as a professional. You need to treat it as a job, but one that you have tremendous freedom to shape to your liking and interests. Although you will be pushed and have to work hard, I expect you to have fun and chase your curiosities. Otherwise, what's the point?
Some students prefer lots of hands-on guidance and structure from their Major Professor whereas others prefer to work much more independently. I am willing to work by either model so long as your work is done rigorously, you make your deadlines and you behave collegiately (interact with others in lab, department and university). I will not micro-manage you, but I will let you know both when I think you're doing great or when you need to step it up. In the beginning we will work together to identify what works best for you and what type of tools and training you will need to pursue your program of study and research. We will meet regularly throughout your program of study to keep the lines of communication open and make sure you are getting what you need. No Masters or PhD ever unfolds exactly as originally conceived (especially when modeling and/or field work is involved), so you and I will have to adapt as necessary to make sure you get the most out of it.
Working Environment & Facilities
You will be provided a comfortable working space in my lab in the recently refurbished Janet Quinney Lawson building. The lab is part of the College of Natural Resources' Spatial Modeling and Analysis Center, which includes our lab, the RS/GIS Laboratory (Doug Ramsey), the Utah Climate Center, Tom Edward's BIOD Lab, and Eric Gese's Lab. The lab is centrally located on campus directly across from the Natural Resources Building, which is home to the College of Natural Resources, the Ecology Center, Watershed Sciences Department, Environment & Society Department, the Wildland Resources Department, and my office.
Living, Working & Playing in Logan
Logan is a great place to live and if you are into outdoor sports the mountains are hard to beat. On your doorstep are not only some fantastic field-work opportunities and potential study sites, but also a great playground for outdoor pursuits. This can be quite an important counter balance to your research and education. If you're scoping out places to live and trying to figure out neighborhoods, you may find this neighborhood map helpful.
Don't just take my word for it. Ask existing graduate students what they think of Logan and their program.
I will provide you with a workstation or laptop for your research and studies. You will have access to further state of the art computing facilities, IT support and an arsenal of field equipment through my lab, ICRRR and the department. You will find we are pretty well equipped for the type of research we do. We have an assortment of Leica survey equipment (multiple rtkGPS rovers and bases, robotic total stations & a ground based LiDAR). We also have multiple drones, blimps, field tablets , camping, boating and safety gear. Colleagues have other UAVs, boats, ADCPs, SONAR, sediment sampling equipment, etc.
In the event we don't have something, it is likely someone else on campus does.
We tend to put our students and staff through Swiftwater Rescue Training as appropriate to their field work and experience.
Some Helpful Links on Logan
Some helpful links:
NOTE & DISCLAIMER:
The information on this page is intended to help you understand the process and pull-together various details that might influence your decision about where to study and who to study under. I've done my best to make sure the information is accurate and up to date, but this is not an official USU-maintained page. You should refer to the official Utah State University School of Graduate Studies web pages for the most up to date and official information. If you find any mistakes, please let me know. Otherwise, best of luck!