Ecologgers, this topic seems to come up several times a year. Here's a
short article on how to choose a major professor that was published in
Fisheries in 1998. It is as relevant now as it was then.

Notes from the Blackboard

Choosing the right graduate school and getting the job
you've always wanted

By Gary D. Grossman

The recent sustained
growth of the U.S. economy
has directly affected
the field of fisheries as
more and more individuals have
become interested in both revenue producing
and recreational activities
involving fish. Concomitant with this
growth is an apparent proliferation of
education opportunities in our field.
Although probably more jobs are
available in fisheries today than ever
before, a surfeit of well-qualified
graduates has made competition for
these jobs particularly intense. Consequently,
it is not uncommon for highly
trained fisheries graduates to have
difficulty obtaining employment in
the field. These circumstances necessitate
that future graduates be highly
prepared if they hope to find a job as
a fisheries manager or researcher. In
fact, most professional positions in
fisheries now require at least a master's

Given that graduate training is an
essential credential for the prospective
fisheries biologist, I want to share
some pointers I have learned during
the 16 years I have been training
graduate students, although I suspect
that these suggestions will benefit a
wider audience than just students
alone. Of necessity, I am writing in
generalities, and I am well aware that
not every strategy works every time or
for every person. In addition, although
I recognize that Fisheries has
an international readership, my comments
probably will be most relevant
to U.S. residents. I begin with suggestions
for how you can choose a major
professor or graduate program and
end with strategic hints for current
graduate students interested in improving
their potential employability.

First, your choice of graduate program
and major professor probably
will have a greater impact on future
employment than any other education
decision you will make. Consequently,
before deciding to join a faculty
member's research group, inquire
about the placement rate of graduates
from his or her lab. Like most activities
that engage a variety of people,
you will find that some faculty have
high placement rates, whereas other
professors have no idea of the number
of former students currently working
in the field. The same can be said for
graduate programs: Some have very
high placement rates of their students
(this tends to be most true at the state
biologist level), and others have poor
records. Despite the importance of
these factors, in my years of interviewing
prospective graduate students,
rarely have I been asked about the
placement rates of either former students
or our graduate program. My
point is that students must recognize
that both graduate programs and
major professors vary in quality, and
if a choice is made without evaluating
the relative merits of a given major
professor or program, then you may
be substantially handicapped.

Second, one of the best ways to
evaluate professors or graduate programs
is by talking to former students.
Although discussions with current
students can be helpful, of
necessity these students may be less
candid than former students are. As
with most discussions of important
personnel matters, it probably is just
as important to register what is not
said as to note what is said. Finally, try
to match your strengths and weaknesses
as a student to your major professor's
style of supervision. If you
function best independently, do not
choose a major professor who thinks
graduate students are incapable of
washing their hands by themselves.
Alternatively, if you require occasional
prodding to complete tasks, then
working with a more-interactive major
professor may be best for you. Like all
bosses or mentors, major professors
come in a wide variety of flavors and
sizes, and you need to choose one
who will best complement your abilities
and needs as a graduate student.

Third, ask for a copy of your
potential major professor's resume,
then examine it carefully. Determine
whether or not this professor is actively
publishing and, if so, whether she or
he is publishing in first-rank journals.
Does the person have a good record of
grant support? Does he or she regularly
attend professional meetings and
give invited papers and seminars?
Has the person ever won teaching
awards? Does she or he have strong
contacts at other universities and/or
federal and state agencies? Although
few professors can meet all of these
criteria, a strong major professor will
meet most of them.

Gary D. Grossman is professor of
animal ecology at Warnell School of Forest
Resources, University of Georgia,
Athens, GA 30602.

On Wed, May 27, 2015 at 11:11 PM, Nathalie Arnone <>

> > Emily,
> >
> > As someone who is still looking for a graduate research position, I have
> found that keeping eyes open on jobs and graduate opportunities is
> important. I really wanted to keep my momentum after graduating and get an
> MS or PhD. I was communicating with a professor that told me that I'd be
> perfect for their lab and the research project etc etc (I thought I had it,
> despite not directly hearing it or getting it in writing). I applied. I
> waited quite a while, reaching out to the potential advisor every couple of
> weeks or so to maintain interest as well as a mutual respect and patience
> (although I recall being stressed at times). This took place from Feb of
> this year to just last week, receiving a measly piece of paper saying I
> wasn't accepted. Could I have gotten a courtesy email? Maybe. Were there
> most likely circumstances that justified it? Absolutely. Maybe the funding
> didn't go through. Maybe someone better came along (my guess). Who knows.
> More importantly, who cares! Not even 48 hours later I got a call for an
> interview for a job I applied for a week prior. I interviewed the next day.
> >
> > Keep your options open! I'm going to get my graduate degree I just don't
> know in what order. I thought I did all the right things, reaching out and
> being myself. I hope this helps you. There's wonderful advice coming your
> way. Find published works and research in the area you want. Email PIs from
> those and ask them about what they're doing now. It's great that you have
> your own questions. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but a mentor in your
> field of interest should be lucky to have someone driven and independent
> (isn't that the point?)
> >
> > The first email was fascinating to me in that it was blunt and satirical
> (and potentially offensive to the "bosses" of academia). Listen, there's a
> lot of jaded individuals out there who didn't get chosen for a position
> (ding ding ding). There's a chance that you're not going to get a couple
> opportunities! I hope that you stay on the path that YOU choose and don't
> become negative or have any regrets. Go for it.
> >
> > Kindest,
> >
> > Nathalie Arnone
> > On May 27, 2015, at 14:21, Emily Mydlowski <>
> wrote:
> >
> > Hello all,
> >
> > I'm delving into the graduate school search (MS and PhD programs) quite
> > heavily and am seeking advice regarding approaching faculty with a
> research
> > project. The system I'm interested in working on is that which has many
> > unanswered, interesting questions I would love to pursue. From a faculty
> > perspective, is proposing a project topic (too) bold of a move to a
> > potential advisor?
> >
> > Any advice would be much appreciated.
> >
> > All the best,
> >
> > Emily Mydlowski
> > Northern Michigan University

Gary D. Grossman, PhD

Professor of Animal Ecology
Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources
University of Georgia
Athens, GA, USA 30602 <>

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