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Letter to Prospective Students

I know that deciding where you want to go for graduate school can be a difficult decision. So, I want to give you a little bit of information about my lab and my philosophy so that you can decide whether or not my lab is likely to be a good fit for you.

Before you can even be considered for acceptance to the lab, you have to qualify to be accepted to graduate school by the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. Please be sure to read more about the graduate program in CEOAS.

In terms of specific considerations for my lab, I expect you to be a good colleague to others in the lab by helping to maintain lab morale and organization and by contributing both intellectually and occasionally with labor to the projects of your lab mates. Ecological studies are inherently interdisciplinary and require collaboration with your lab mates and with other colleagues in COAS and at other institutions. I will encourage you to build these relationships to strengthen your research both in the short and long term.

I want students that will strive to broaden my horizons as well as their own. I do not want to create “mini-me’s” so I will encourage you to pursue your own research questions and ideas. However, I will only accept students that I feel that I can provide proper resources for in terms of intellectual stimulation, supplies and equipment, and funding.

I want students in my lab who are relatively self-sufficient, motivated, and willing to work hard to excel in their field. I anticipate that my students will apply for funding during their graduate program, both from resources dedicated to students and as part of larger proposal efforts. Ultimately, success in graduate school is gauged by whether you become an independent scientist. I want you to leave the lab with a thorough understanding of how the scientific process works and a toolbox of skills you can use to answer your own questions. That means the ability to acquire resources to address your questions. It also means that you must work constantly on improving your ability to present your work in proposals, presentations, and papers. Although oral and written communication is frequently overlooked in undergraduate education, and almost always underappreciated by applicants to graduate school, it is a critical component of becoming a successful scientist. Regardless of your field or laboratory skills and accomplishments, you only get professional credit when you are able to write successful proposals, present your work clearly at professional meetings, and publish research papers in high-quality journals. As a first step, take writing your research statement for OSU as an opportunity to express your scientific objectives clearly. For guidance, read helpful suggestions on writing a statement of interest.

So, I am looking for students who have a solid background in biology and physics, and display a high degree of creativity, integrity, and self-motivation. I expect that you will read broadly in the literature, attend and present at COAS seminars and scientific meetings, and devote yourself to learning the techniques and skills that are required to conduct and publish a good scientific study.

The last thing that I’ll tell you is that I get several messages from potential students each month that do not include any personal information (the key information I expect is educational history, previous experience, and research interests) or any indication that they know who I am or what I do.  Please take the time to write me a detailed letter that outlines your educational background and any relevant previous experience in science (or include a CV with your Email).  Finally, include a very brief research proposal outline to explain what sort of research you would like to do as a graduate student.  

So, after reading through this, if you think that you are a strong candidate for acceptance to graduate school, and you might like to work in my lab, I encourage you to contact me.  As I mentioned above, I think that it is important that everyone in the lab get along, and so I would also encourage you to try to arrange a visit to the lab if possible.  Meeting face-to-face is the best way to decide whether you will enjoy working together with the people in the lab for your graduate career. Graduate school is a long and difficult road, so you’d better like the lab and the people that you work with, or it’s likely to move from hard to unbearable. Therefore, I would really encourage a personal meeting for anyone seriously interested in my lab to help everyone involved in deciding whether you, I and COAS  will be a good match to give you every opportunity to excel in your graduate education.

Kelly Benoit-Bird
Associate Professor
College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
Oregon State University