Graduate Student Opportunities

August 2021 Message to Potential Students: I will be recruiting a funded Ph.D. student to work on butterfly ecology and population genetics to start in the summer or fall of 2022. Please contact me if interested (but read the general message below regarding quantitative training). Additionally, I can consider students with their own external funding such as an NSF GRF. I also encourage students to contact me if they have clear ideas for thesis projects, with a good idea funding can sometimes materialize.

General message to prospective graduate students:

In my lab we use mathematical and statistical approaches to understand complex patterns in ecology, with emphasis on animal behavior, population dynamics, movement of individuals and populations, life history theory, and ecosystem structure. Many of the models we use are adapted directly from physics, engineering, and economics. They can be difficult to implement and require good quantitative reasoning and computer programming skills. Knowing a scientific computing language like R, C, or Python will give students a big advantage, and though it is not necessary to be able to program at the outset of a degree, you will need to become proficient in at least one of these languages to succeed. A strong background training in statistics, mathematics, or computing, or a genuine interest to learn them through coursework or experience, should prepare you for the kind of work we do.

In principle, I'm keen to supervise students studying any system they like that focuses on the general ecological questions listed above. In practice, however, over the next few years I'll be trying to get projects in couple of key research areas off the ground. The two general themes are quite disjunct; 1) butterfly ecology, evolution, and metapopulation dynamics in the Arctic and Subarctic, and 2) marine mammal behavior, demography, and life history. Until these projects take root, I will need to take students mostly in these areas. I will post projects as they come available below, keeping in mind that I'm likely to be interested in related projects or ideas.

Of course, if you have your own funding or would like to apply for your own funding (such as NSF graduate research fellowships, EPA Star fellowships, or similar) their are fewer constraints, but these are highly competitive and hardly a sure bet.

Finally, ecology needs people that are literate in both mathematics and the natural history of their system. Although the quantitative aspects of our lab are important, fieldwork can still be a central part of a student's project, and empirical projects will be encouraged so long as students understand that a thorough quantitative analysis will still be expected.

In addition to the butterfly ecology project I am recruiting for, I have applied for funding to generally support the projects below, and can also consider students who have secured fellowship funding.


Potential Thesis Projects in: Grey seal demography, life history or behavior.


The population of grey seals on Sable Island, Nova Scotia, has been uniquely marked through hot-iron branding since the mid 1960's. Beginning in 1984, highly systematic and intense resighting efforts began, and these efforts continue today. In addition to mark-recapture data, a subset of animals have been monitored for their entire lives to understand their reproductive effort, and a large sample of other individuals have been deployed with satellite tracking tags. When monitoring began in the 1960's, the population was very small at around 1000 individuals, but now numbers between 200 and 300 thousand. The population initially grew exponentially, and now is expressing density dependent growth.

This dataset is unparalleled in marine mammals. A wealth of basic life history and behavior questions can be addressed, including temporal changes in foraging patterns as the population expanded, changes in lifetime reproductive success, heterogeneity in lifetime reproductive success, and consequences of foraging strategy to life history and survival. Other questions could be developed depending upon the interests of the student.

Although largely an analytical project, the student would be expected to participate in at least two field seasons (month of January) in the resighting and life history data collection effort on Sable Island. The student would be supported by a TA the first year and as a graduate research assistant thereafter. See the above general guidance for expected qualifications.

Potential Ph. D. project: Matching foraging strategies to life history outcomes in grey seals.


Parallel to the project noted above, I would be interested in a Ph. D. student to examine the relationship between spatial behavior / foraging strategy and life history outcome. For a subset of the marked individuals, we hold data on lifetime reproductive success that is matched with satellite telemetry data of their behavior, and we can also augment this sample by targeting the deployment of tracking tags for individuals that have well documented reproductive histories. The project has some applied aspects, but is mostly a basic investigation of the interplay between behavior and life history in long-lived animals.

This project is not currently funded, but would be available to anyone with external funding such as an NSF graduate research fellowship, and I would be happy to support fellowship applications from strong candidates.

Last update August 2021