Prospective Graduate Students and Postdocs

I am seeking graduate students and postdocs interested in topics related to those outlined on this site. I am particularly looking for students with training in quantitative and computational methods with a sense of adventure and wonder but I’m open to considering anyone with the aforementioned characteristics. If you’re curious what a career in the behavioral sciences or the academy might look like whether in my lab or another, let’s talk.  

I'm also looking for motivated undergraduate students interested in gaining research experience.

If your interests align with what you see here, feel free to send me an email introducing yourself and your research questions.

Applying to Graduate School

With several years of grad school in philosophy under my belt and a lot of uncertainty about my future, through chance I happened upon cognitive science and behavioral ecology and the world never looked the same again. This is just to say that you don’t have to have a traditional background to think about a career in the behavioral sciences. What you do need is a curiosity that keeps you up at night, a modicum of intelligence, and a nose-to-the-ground work ethic. You need to be inspired by the world and driven to understand it, a belief that blank spots on the map still exist--that here be Dragons--and an ability to see them. The rest are just details.

Below you can find information about applying to graduate school based on my own experiences. For a broad overview of applying to graduate school, Casey Dunn has a very helpful article at Medium. Read it if you're thinking about applying.  The Stearns Lab at Yale also has some useful information for once you're in a graduate program, though I'd strongly encourage to you find an adviser who does in fact care about you, and Dorsa Amir has a useful article over at Medium with lots of helpful advice. Once in grad school, MIT has a lot of good information about cover letters, CVs, etc. here, and  Kevin Lafferty has a useful paper on scientific writing I recommend reading.  

Here are a few pieces of advice that I give students interested in the academy:

  • Regardless of whether you apply to work with me or to another program, it’s usually a good idea to identify and contact specific faculty you’re interested in working with before applying. Introduce yourself, show clear familiarity with their research and inquire about what they look for in prospective students. The tone of such contacts should be formal, polite, and respectful of their time demands. “Dear Professor X….”  and close with something else formal. “Thank you for your time. Best regards, X”. 'Hi' is informal. 'Dear' is formal. As a general rule, when interacting with professors, err on the side of being formal and let them initiate a change in tone. 

  • One of the most important factors for success in graduate admissions after a strong academic background is a clear articulation of a research question. It shows you are familiar with current research, you’ve identified a gap in the literature, and you've thought about how you might address it. It shows that you think like a scientist and have your own scientific interests. Successful statements tend to identify key questions you’d like to study, how you might approach them, and some discussion of why the particular program and faculty are right for you. Admissions committees want to see a thoughtful question-driven mind. Show us!

  • Early in my career a very well-established scientist gave me this piece of advice: identify scholars whose careers you want to emulate and look carefully at their body of work. In doing so, try to figure out the steps they took to get there and what parts of their path might work for you. Figure out how they made it happen. Your path will be different from theirs but you might get some direction about what to prioritize and how to shape your place in the field. I’ve found that extremely helpful advice over the years that I still occasionally resort to.

  • Read widely and think broadly. Let me say this again: Read widely and think broadly. You are a scientist before you are a specialist so you should know something about how the world works: biology, history, art, physics, philosophy, culture, political science. Don’t be afraid to follow an idea, even if it leads outside your normal academic boundaries. The key academic innovators are usually not tied to any one tradition but instead work on questions rather than a particular method or within a single academic tradition. If you read something interesting, follow up on it. Go to a range of talks, email people, engage! Successful scientists are those with relentlessly curious minds. Let your questions drive you.

  • Find mentors (both faculty and other graduate students) who are invested in you and don’t be afraid to ask them for advice--whether it's another set of eyes on your statement of purpose or CV, suggestions about how to get involved in research, or someone to come to for input on big decisions. I never send a paper out without at least one extra set of eyes on it. Don’t be afraid to talk to people about their ideas, or ask them for feedback about yours. Be proactive in asking for feedback and, maybe more importantly, offering to give feedback. One of the most important pieces of advice I have is to build a network of people you trust that you can discuss ideas and share manuscripts with. Science is iterative and social. Continue to reshape your ideas through filtering them through others.

  • Finally, advice another mentor gave me: “You are a professional in training. Act like it.” Think hard about what it takes concretely to achieve your goals. What you do today, will affect the opportunities you have years down the road.