I’m not actively recruiting students right now, but there are always grants in the pipeline, and I’m always on the lookout for exceptional students & postdocs as they make themselves known. If you love agricultural biodiversity, cover crops, organic fertility, and biological pest control, let’s chat! I’m happy to help prospective students develop NSF or USDA fellowship proposals to support exciting research.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a CV and describe your interest, experience and knowledge of sustainable agriculture and insect ecology. I require previous experience with field work in graduate school candidates (field work in crop systems is not for the faint of heart!), and strongly recommend working on a farm before applying for graduate school in agroecology. Check out Good Food Jobs for numerous opportunities for seasonal farm employment.
Below is some helpful info on finding your way through grad school, and what life is like as a member of the Blubaugh lab. First of all, please read these two papers for some life-changing advice on ‘how to grad student’: (don’t read one without the other!)
Scientist-training is a sacred responsibility to me, so I’ve composed a list of expectations for students and mentors that I hope will facilitate excellent advising relationships and mutual success. If you apply to work in my lab, read this carefully and prepare to have an in-depth discussion about your career goals and how we might work together to achieve them. If you eventually join the lab, we will refine this contract together so that it works for your unique strengths and challenges.
Blubaugh Lab Mentoring Contract
We study diverse blend of basic and applied research questions related to the trophic ecology of insects. As agroecologists, our goals are to address pest problems in crop production and provide management tools that reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. As basic ecologists, we seek to understand and predict some of the numerous ecological factors that control predator-prey dynamics. To do this well, we need to be curious, ambitious, adaptive, collaborative, communicative, brave, and extremely hard-working. Remember, my investment in you will be proportionate to the effort and depth of thought that you put into your work.
I expect students to:
Be excited about ecology. Graduate research is challenging and not financially rewarding, but it is an incredible opportunity to explore your curiosity about the natural world. If this drives you, you will do well. This means you should be excited to read the literature deeply, watch countless research seminars about multi-trophic interactions, and dig into work in the lab and the field. If these things don’t appeal to you, the many challenges of grad school may not feel worth it. Please make sure this is a path you are passionate about before diving in.
Work smart and work hard. Grad school demands a huge investment of both time and mental energy. While scheduling time off is important, research projects and study will often stretch your schedule outside of a traditional 9-5, and your work hours may be hard to predict. Regardless of what your assistantship specifies, being a graduate student is way more than a full-time job if you’re doing it right. Moonlighting elsewhere is not compatible with success in academic research.
Communicate regularly, and ask for the help you need. I expect to see you regularly and discuss updates in research and professional development. Weekly individual meetings can be scheduled formally if preferred, but I maintain an open door policy. To prepare for constructive meetings, I ask students to use this template to compose agendas:
- How did you do with accomplishing your goals from our last meeting?
- What are your logistical needs?
- What are you struggling with or confused by?
- Tell me about a cool paper you’ve read this week.
After we meet, please send me an email with the following:
- What are your goals for the next week? (make them reasonable and specific, and rank them in order of priority)
- Things Carmen should follow up on:
Be respectful of my time. My door is always open, but also remember that being your advisor is just one of my many jobs. I’m teaching a hundred undergrads, planning outreach programs, forging relationships with collaborators and community partners, and writing grants and papers. My investment in you will be vast and profound, but I cannot be responsible for the day-to-day logistics of your project or help with easily-googled minutia. Always try to solve problems first yourself before bringing them to me. Tap into the brain trust of your brilliant labmates, and please get peer feedback on your writing before you send it to me.
Be an active member of the lab, department, and academic community. I expect students to work regularly in our office on campus, attend seminars, attend bi-weekly lab meetings, and actively participate in group research and professional development activities. Lab meetings are dedicated to discussing logistics, practicing presentations, reviewing manuscripts (ours and others), and fellowship.
Become an expert in your field. This requires a lot of reading, and deep thinking. I will help you identify a preliminary reading list and develop ideas for achievable research objectives, but it’s ultimately your responsibility to be familiar with emerging work in your field, identify a worthy question, identify the best system for answering it, and execute the work. I expect you to understand and articulate the applied implications of your work for sustainable agriculture, as well as its basic importance within the context of the current body of knowledge.
Be adaptive. If there is one thing I can guarantee, it’s that you won’t be lucky enough to propose and execute field experiments without unexpected delays, hiccups, or giant catastrophes. Weather can always be relied on to blow up your plans. You must respond to such disasters by being resilient, adjusting quickly, rapidly rearranging work schedules, and preparing multiple contingency plans to ensure that you are ready to make data out of misfortune.
Be proactive. Outstanding research requires great initiative and creativity on the part of the student. If you are not comfortable thinking independently and identifying your own lists of papers to read and action items to pursue, I will not be a good fit as an advisor for you. I will, of course, send you resources and help you troubleshoot, but I expect students to take primary ownership of the over the logistics of their projects. Don’t wait for prescribed instructions on how to complete your experiments. Your job as a graduate student is to learn how to design and execute your research yourself, and I expect that you will become independent in doing so within the first year. I will be happy (and expect) to give you guidance on a protocol that you draft.
Accept and implement guidance. Advising relationships don’t work unless you trust your mentor and heed their advice. Remember that all the papers I send, seminars I refer, and suggestions for your research I make are for your benefit. Please read my emails and utilize the resources I share with you. Excellent work requires tons of revision and begins with a lot of mistakes and iterative corrections. Prepare to respond to feedback with grace and hard work.
Prioritize research, presentation, and writing. Especially writing. Coursework is necessary for getting a degree and useful for developing skills, but your career ultimately depends on what you produce for the academic community and for farmers. (read: when you finish graduate school, almost no one will care what courses you took or what grades you received. Instead, they will focus on your practical accomplishments and your ability to think deeply and work independently.) I’m not at all worried if you earn B’s in courses if your research is on track and you’re becoming an expert in your field. Except statistics courses. Do well in your statistics courses, and take as many as you can.
Send quality material for review in advance. To help you prepare excellent work, I need at least one week of lead time on slides for conference presentations and two weeks for papers and proposals ahead of committee meetings. Any content you would like to discuss in an individual meeting must be ready 24 hrs in advance if you would like my feedback.
Apply for external funding. Grantmaking is a key skill for careers in academics and extension. I promise to provide financial support as long as you meet the expectations of this contract, but composing grant proposals will enhance your training and allow you to expand your research. I will help you identify good resources for seeking funding, and guide you as you develop proposals. Please share drafts at least two weeks ahead of deadlines.
Document your work. Keep physical copies of datasheets organized and identifiable in a known location, and photograph them before they’re deposited. For each project, I recommend updating a shared google doc regularly with precise details about all activities related to data collection. Please composing and sharing your methods sections in real time as you complete your experiments. This allows you to notice any details necessary for manuscript preparation that are missing from your log, and makes assessment of progress easy. Finally, deposit electronic data as it’s entered in a shared lab folder on google drive.
Help each other. Someday you will be in over your head, and you’ll depend on friends and labmates to help you with fieldwork emergencies or review your writing. There are several days a year when we experience “all hands on deck” situations, and I expect you to participate joyfully and move as a team. If you’re on the receiving end of help, prepare a clear plan for group work to avoid wasting your labmates’ time. Remember to be gracious, and make sure you’re the hardest working team member on your own project.
Take care of your business. Students are responsible for paperwork related to payroll, ordering supplies, and degree progress. I’ll provide guidance on useful coursework and selecting committee members, but keeping track of other logistical details and making sure you meet graduate program requirements is your responsibility.
As your advisor, I promise to:
Treat you like a colleague. I will welcome and carefully consider your feedback about your mentoring experience, co-authorship, the direction of research, and even my own writing. Hold me accountable if I’m failing to meet the expectations described below. I value your perspective and depend on input from students to help me do excellent work as a scholar, teacher, and mentor. Students will be included as stakeholders in decisions about the direction of our research program, laboratory facilities, and recruitment of graduate students and undergraduate research assistants.
Guide and challenge you as you develop a powerful research program. I train students to be independent and productive scientists. That means that instead of delivering a prescribed research project to my students, I will consider you a part of a collaborative research team. I will leverage my experience and knowledge in our field to help you refine your ideas into interesting, achievable, and valuable projects to jumpstart your career. Sometimes that means I will push you towards a more ambitious question, and sometimes I will help you simplify an unfeasible goal. Masters students can expect a more prescriptive structure from me in project development, whereas PhD students will have an opportunity for more ownership over the process.
Answer your questions. Sometimes I accidentally bury emails on my phone, but I never intend to leave questions dangling with my students. If you don’t hear from me in 48 hours during the week, send another message; I won’t take it personally! However, if your question is easily googled, I will politely remind you to be resourceful. I don’t respond to text messages during weekends.
Help you find the help you need. No advisor can be an expert in every area, and there will come times when you need to seek outside advice and collaboration. I will provide guidance on who to contact for help, and help introduce you to leaders in your field that you can consult for supplementary mentorship.
Provide financial and logistical support for your work. As long as you meet the expectations described above, I will make sure you have the resources you need to execute your research. Although I expect students to take ownership over logistics of their own projects, I will help navigate administrative challenges of acquiring space and materials for your work.
Review your writing promptly. Unless I’m at a meeting or approaching a grant deadline, I plan to provide feedback on writing within at least two weeks. A specific timeline will be determined when work is submitted.
Prepare you for a productive career. Your professional success is inextricably linked to mine. I will challenge you to make specific career goals as early as possible so that I can help you prepare yourself for academia or extension– Unfortunately, I don’t have the experience to guide students interested in industry careers. Specifically, I will connect you with opportunities for conferences, workshops, and extension/outreach projects that will beef up your CV. (and I will help you articulate them effectively on your CV!) At the end of a successful graduate program, I will help you find job opportunities, prepare application materials, and provide strong advocacy through reference letters and personal recommendations to my network of colleagues.
Special thanks to three amazing grad students (Katie Holmes, Lauren Brzozowski, and Grace Freundlich) for feedback on my mentoring philosophy and for helping me refine this contract.