Graduate Advisors Graduate School Advice

What do Graduate Advisors Look For in Applicants?

A big part of applying to research-based graduate programs is finding an advisor. This faculty member will impact your overall education experience and play a critical role in the success of your thesis or dissertation work. But identifying potential advisors is not enough. You need to find someone who is willing to take you on as a student. Limits on space and funding make things very competitive, especially when assistantships are on the line. 

So what exactly are advisors looking for when selecting students?

In this article, we review the top 9 qualities and qualifications graduate advisors look for when selecting advisees. Equipped with this knowledge, you can focus on making yourself into a stronger candidate.


Note: Graduate advisors wear many hats. They advise, teach and conduct their own research. When seeking students, they look for dependable individuals with specific skill sets because their choices impact the success of their own projects. 


Strong Introductory Email

Graduate advisors receive hundreds of emails from prospective students. To stand out from the crowd make sure to send a strong introductory email. We consulted with professors in ecology and wildlife science to find out what they look for in emails. Check out the popular answers below.

Advisors look for students who…

  • Ask about availability to take on new students
  • Know the advisors’ area of research
  • Have specific research interests
  • Can explain how their research interests fit with the work of the advisor
  • Express an interest in pursuing grant or funding opportunities with the university (if no assistantship is posted). 


Student sample of an introductory email:

Professor Langdon,

My name is Lindsay Keating and I graduated from Franklin University with a Bachelor’s in Biology and a minor in Anthropology. I am looking to get my Master’s Degree in Wildlife Science this Fall (2021) or Spring (2021). In the interim, I am working full-time as a Lab Technician at Ohio State University, College of Medicine, in their Department of Microbial Infection and Immunity and recently finished working part-time, fully remote with the University of Arkansas assisting one of Dr. Kate Fansler’s Ph.D. students. As a result, I wanted to reach out to professors whose research I felt resonated with my interests. Do you anticipate bringing on students and having funding/space for a Master’s student in the following year? I am also willing to work with you to develop a project, write proposals, and apply for outside sources of funding.

I am interested in actionable conservation, moving between conducting ecological fieldwork and then applying the research to develop sustainable solutions by working with stakeholders. In particular, I enjoy working with vulnerable communities and ecosystems and I believe that your research examining the effects of rangeland management, climate change, and restoration on native bee and invertebrate communities corresponds well with these interests. I am very open to exploring many research options and believe that your work would offer me the opportunity to make a meaningful impact. I would love to speak further about how my skills and experience can benefit your research and I’ve attached my CV, transcript, a statement of interest, and a GRE score report for reference. Thank you for your time and consideration!

Lindsay Keating


Relevant Research Experience

Completing an undergraduate degree is a prerequisite to any graduate program, but advisors also want to see that applicants have experience beyond coursework. Relevant real-world research experience will make you a much stronger graduate candidate, especially if you are applying for an assistantship position. If you want to impress to advisors even more, gain experience in a research leadership role. 

Advisors suggest:

  • Start early in seeking out research experience opportunities
  • Find a graduate student or faculty member who needs help with a research project. 
  • Conduct independent research/study 
  • Work as a seasonal technician or lab tech


Check out Building Your Qualifications for Grad School: How to Stand Out for more advice on research experience.


“Research is the most important thing you can do to prepare yourself for graduate school because it will teach you not only how to do research, but whether you like research and if so, what areas of research you enjoy the most.”

– Walter P. Carson – Associate Professor | Department of Biological Sciences | University of Pittsburgh

Meets Minimum GPA/GRE Scores

Many graduate programs have set GPA and GRE minimums (typically a GPA of 3.0 and GRE scores of 1000 combined verbal and quantitative). Advisors want students who check those required boxes. Check to see if the advisors you reach out to want to see your scores in your introductory email. 


Note: If your GPA is higher for your major classes than your overall score, you may want to emphasize this in your communication with an advisor. It will show your focus and desire to succeed in your field. 


Specific Skill Set(s)

Every research topic benefits from particular skill sets. Figure out which skills are most important in your area of interest and strengthen them through experience and additional training if necessary. Advisors especially appreciate when you have applied these skills in a real-world context.

“For genomics/genetics, there are skills sets that are high demand, principally bioinformatics and genomic lab work. These skills were relatively rare at an MS level going into a PhD, so immediately became more impressive”

Liz Kiereplka – Senior Research Biologist/Research Assistant Professor | Department of Natural Sciences |  NC State University & North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences


Concrete Goal/Focus Area

Graduate school is not like undergrad, it’s more specific, and involves self-teaching and learning-by-doing. Advisors want to see focused students who know what they want from the experience. Furthermore, you should know enough about your interests to confirm that they fit well within the realm of the advisor’s work. 

“Really think about potential research questions and if those questions fit with the professor. Engaging with the professor about what they are interested in and gauging if those interests fit yours will get you far.”

Liz Kiereplka – Senior Research Biologist/Research Assistant Professor | Department of Natural Sciences |  NC State University & North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences


Note: It’s easy to become overly taxa-focused in wildlife science and ecology. Think about questions and research interests related to an advisor’s work, not the specific species.


Quality References and Recommendations

When actively seeking new grad students, professors rely heavily on network connections. For advisors, bringing a new student into a lab carries risk. When a colleague can vouch for your ability and dedication, the reassurance is worth its weight in gold. This is why you should focus on building relationships with other professors and professionals – not just inside the classroom but, ideally, also in a research setting where they see your work firsthand. You will want these connections to serve as quality references.

“The natural resource conservation and management field (e.g., Fisheries and Wildlife, Conservation Biology, Ecology, Hydrology) is very small and there are very few degrees of separation among professionals…What this ‘small world’ means to potential graduate students is that the professional that you are working with as an undergraduate definitely knows others in his/her discipline and probably knows researchers/faculty in other disciplines.”

– James Peterson – Professor and Leader USGS Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit–  Department of Fisheries & Wildlife | Oregon State University


Compatible Personality

Advisors assess chemistry in addition to qualifications when interviewing students. Remember, you could end up working together for several years. Use your interview as an opportunity to evaluate personality fit just as you might with a new colleague or boss. Be honest with yourself, if your gut tells you the fit isn’t right. 

Advisors want students to ask:

  • What do work expectations look like?
  • Do you work hands-on or hands-off as an advisor?
  • How often do you meet with students?
  • Do you have an open-door policy or prefer scheduled meetings?

Active Participant 

Graduate advisors love when students are active members of the scientific community. You can participate by attending scientific meetings and conferences. If possible, present research (paper or poster) at an event. Not only do these experiences provide great networking opportunities they’ll expose you to new research in the field, sparking new ideas and ways of thinking. Another way to be involved is to participate in departmental events like socials, clubs or seminar series. 

Willingness to Learn

Graduate school is a wonderful opportunity to advance your education and your graduate advisor is there to guide you. Advisors appreciate when you ask questions rather than pretending to know more than you do. Additionally, recognize that the best advisor/advisee relationships are a two-way street. Open communication with your advisor will help you make the most of your time and efforts. 

“I wish graduate students knew it is fine not to know everything. Admit when you don’t know or understand something. Even the smartest and brightest students have areas in which they are not as smart and bright.” – Graduate Advisor at Lidenwood University


Alyson Morris is the Communications Specialist for CJB Network and writes on environmental career development. She is a graduate student at the University of Oregon and is pursuing her Master’s in Strategic Communication.


Graduate Advisors

What your Graduate School Advisor IS and IS NOT

I’m hesitant to give you the take-home message too soon…but the sooner you hear it the sooner you will have the secret to a positive graduate advisor/student experience. You’ve heard the horror stories of the advisor that is to blame for the delayed graduation, sloppy thesis, 7 – year Master’s degree, and still an unpublishable paper. You’ve also heard the hero stories of the student crediting their advisor for helping them land that dream job, publishing a significant paper, and leading them to the most significant and joyful experiences of their careers. The thing that determines if your graduate school advisor story is either “horror” or “hero” is often just one thing. You. 

I did many things wrong. But I have done enough things right to get me to where I am today. I was a graduate student for 8 years- completing both my Master’s and PhD degrees. And dang- I wish I would have had someone to write this article before those adventures. Frustration, feeling lost, yet determined… sound familiar? I have experienced it all- and it wasn’t because of my advisor. I expected there to be a standard process and I felt that I was the only one left out of the loop. That “standard process” for advisors to guide all students to eliminate the uncertainty? It doesn’t exist. I know that now by having gone through it, talking to hundreds of students and advisors, doing it the hard way when looking back it could have been WAY more enjoyable, and now I have my own graduate students. So here I am to share what I have learned about what TO expect and NOT to expect from your advisor to help overcome the overwhelm.


I have learned that the quality of the advisor is directly related to the efforts of the student.


It seems backwards, I know.  But I also know that graduate advisors are extremely busy while also very caring. Advisors want to see students succeed and to be a part of each journey, but they need students to take initiative and use them as a resource, not a hand-holding graduate school babysitter. 




So, here are my key lessons of what a graduate advisor IS and IS NOT.  

  •  A graduate advisor IS…. knowledgeable about the boring but critical stuff. They know the academic and research requirements at your specific institution for your specific degree program. They know the policies, procedures, and deadlines for all those required forms.  BUT – you need to ask them. You need to schedule a meeting before school starts to ask them for these forms or where to find them. Some of these are due early in your graduate program and need specific signatures. It is up to YOU to ask, make a calendar for the several-year program so you don’t miss a deadline, and return to this calendar with your advisor at meetings (that you arrange) to keep on task. 
  • A graduate advisor IS…. a resource to guide your thesis or dissertation process. I said PROCESS. Your advisor should be able to give you the guidance and advice you need to start the research process and with writing.
    • Who will you be doing research with?
    • How does that start?
    • What’s your specific project?
    • What’s expected for the thesis or dissertation format?

    This varies by institution – but ask the following questions before you start your program, and then check back in every month to give an update on where you are and ask for input on next steps and for critical feedback. It’s up to you to make sure you are on the right path.

  • A graduate advisor IS…. able to provide recommendations on groups to be part of, conferences, and networking opportunities. Again – YOU need to ask! This won’t just be provided to you. But, if you do ask, your advisor will be excited you asked and help guide you to these networking options.  This isn’t assumed and it won’t just be given to you. Ask the specific question. 
  • A graduate advisor IS NOT…. in charge of keeping you accountable. Those forms that are due in one week? Your advisor is not responsible for reminding you. You need a signature but one of the required people are gone? You should have asked one month before a due date.  The point is that you are responsible for keeping track of deadlines and for doing all the things that need to be done well in advance of a deadline.  Crap – I needed 3 copies but only made 1!  Details.  Find out the details.  The sooner you know these – the more peace you will have knowing you are capable of figuring out and doing things on time.
  • A graduate advisor IS NOT… your personal statistician.  You will need to find a statistician even if you are doing your own stats to help you when you’re stuck, need clarification, or someone to check your work. Do not expect your advisor to sit down with you when you’ve collected all your data and tell you what do with it. Your advisor can give you recommendations on who to work with, but do not expect them to know all of the statistics or to do it for you. Again – YOU must do the work.  Do you see a pattern here? 
  • A graduate advisor IS NOT… responsible for what you do after graduate school. It’s very unfair, and common, for students to march into their advisor’s office near the end of their programs expecting them to have defined options for what they do after graduate school. It’s not up to the advisor to find your next step. Advisors are more than happy to help discuss options with students throughout their graduate program. Job? Internship? Additional school? A good advisor will lead you to various doors if you ask. The advisor is not responsible for pushing you through that door.  


My tips are either good news or bad news… no graduate school advisor is the same and there are no set rules on what they do.  Having this knowledge is meant to help push you to take control and action for your unique graduate experience.  If you know what to expect, it removes the fear. There are so many opportunities throughout graduate school if you are willing to put in the extra efforts to use the resources around you. Ask your advisor for guidance, but also offer your help. Showing that you are eager to serve and not just constantly asking to receive is an excellent way to build your “hero” advisor story.  Turns out – the hero has to be you. 

Ask for guidance. Offer your help. Share what you know with others that are lost. Be a leader. Heroes stumble many times because they put themselves out there even when it’s terrifying, but they get back up and move forward. Do that.


Dr. Kari Morfeld is a Wildlife Endocrinologist, Reproductive Physiologist, Teacher, and Mentor. She helps environmental professionals on their career journey at with weekly tips, resources, and motivation direct to your inbox.


Graduate Advisors Marine Science Research Labs

Exploring Marine Science Research Labs for Graduate School

Gain insight into the marine science disciplines available for graduate students. Learn first-hand what graduate advisors are seeking in the applicants to their labs.

If you are considering graduate school in the marine sciences, then you should be exploring the following questions:

  • What research do I want to do in graduate school?
  • Which research labs and advisors could be a good match for me?

Why are these questions important? Before you can apply and get into most programs, you first need to find a professor who shares your interests and is willing to accept you into the research lab. 

Typically, graduate advisors seek students with a clear understanding of the type of work they want to pursue and the expectations of the marine research lab for which they are applying.

And of course, you want to make sure you will truly enjoy (and benefit from) your years of graduate research work.

But prospective students face a vast array of marine science research topics, labs, and graduate programs (over 150 programs in just the U.S). Simply put, the search process can be daunting.

Learning About Marine Research Labs and Graduate Advisors

In this article, we navigate the world of marine science research to help you explore your interests and learn more about graduate school labs and advisors.

We present 12 labs across a diverse range of marine science research topics to help you answer the following questions:

  • What types of research are marine science labs conducting?
  • What work can I expect to do as a marine science graduate student?
  • What do graduate advisors look for in their applicants?

Hopefully, this will expand your understanding of the possibilities for graduate experiences in the marine sciences. And maybe you will even find that one of these labs is a great match for you!


1. The Kudela Lab


Who: Dr. Raphael Kudela
Research Area: Phytoplankton Ecology & Remote Sensing
Related Programs: Ocean Sciences MS | Ocean Sciences PhD

Lab Description:

Dr. Kudela’s lab employs satellite data, remote sensing imagery, and in situ data to study and model phytoplankton dynamics in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

Currently, he and his students are expanding on the use of the Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB). The IFCB is an automated underwater submersible that collects images of phytoplankton and other particles in the water column. This instrument is useful for studying coastal ecology and harmful algal blooms.

The Kudela Lab is also using drones and satellite data to map Northern California kelp forests. 

What do advisors look for in prospective graduate students?

“First, can they articulate why they want an MS or PhD? This is particularly useful for PhD, to make sure they’ve thought about their career path and what they hope to accomplish with a degree.

Second, research experience is always helpful…doesn’t have to be in something directly related to my lab, but it helps to know that they understand what research is about. 

Third, a strong STEM background. Again, I don’t disqualify students that are missing something (like statistics), but for oceanography you need a good background if you are going to finish the degree in a reasonable amount of time.” 

Lastly, when we get to the point of meeting the prospective student, I always encourage them to meet my other students and the faculty to make sure it’s a good fit in terms of personalities, school size, areas of research, etc.”


This marine research lab could be a good fit if:

  1. You are interested in phytoplankton ecology.
  2. You want to enhance your skills in processing satellite data.



2. Cnidarian Immunity Laboratory 


Who: Dr. Nikki Traylor-Knowles
Research Area: Coral/Cnidarian Immunity & Conservation
Related Programs: Marine Biology & Ecology MS | Marine Biology & Ecology PhD

Lab Description:

Dr. Traylor-Knowles’s lab currently focuses on six areas of cnidarian research:

  •  Stem cells in corals and sea anemones: The goal of this research is to understand the underlying mechanisms of stress tolerance in corals by transferring stem cells from resilient corals to vulnerable corals.
  • Cellular immunity of corals and sea anemones: The goal of this research is to understand the underlying cellular functions that occur during heat stress-induced coral bleaching.
  • Ctenophore immunity: This research area studies the evolution of immunity in Mnemiopsis leidyi, a species of comb jelly (a.k.a sea walnut).
  • Coral disease and immunity
  • Environmental interactions and coral immunity
  • Coral holobiont immunity

What do advisors look for in prospective graduate students?

“I look for students that are driven and excited to work independently. They are organized and can take direction. They are excited at taking risks and using innovative techniques to answer impactful questions about coral immunity.”


This marine research lab could be a good fit if:

  1. You are interested in coral conservation.
  2. You would like to spend most of your time in a laboratory.
  3. You want to contribute to new advancements in coral research.



3. Aaron B. Carlisle


Who: Dr. Aaron Carlisle
Research Area: Ecology of Marine & Estuarine Organisms
Related Programs: Marine Studies MS 

Lab Description: 

Dr. Carlisle’s lab studies the behavior, geographical distributions, life history, and ecology of fishes and elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays). 

He and his students observe the interactions between the environment, ecology, and physiology to better understand these organisms’ roles in the ecosystem. The exciting part of this work is the application of this research to conservation efforts. 

His research combines a healthy mix of lab-based, field-based, and computational strategies, i.e. stable isotope analysis, satellite or acoustic tagging, and habitat/biophysical modeling.

What do advisors look for in prospective graduate students?

“In general, I look for students that have enthusiasm, curiosity, and experience. Strong analytical, computational (i.e. computer programming), and writing skills are definitely a strong plus, but experience, whether from having a Master’s degree (if pursuing a PhD), undergraduate research experience, volunteer/work experience in science/research, etc. is probably one of the most important things I look for in a graduate student.”


This marine research lab could be a good fit if:

  1. You are interested in multidisciplinary research.
  2. You are interested in marine conservation.
  3. You want to do fieldwork with sharks and rays.
  4. You want to enhance your technical skills.  



4. Cetacean Conservation & Genomics Laboratory 


Who: Dr. Scott Baker
Research Area: Marine Mammals
Related Programs: Wildlife Science MS | Wildlife PhD

Lab Description:

Dr. Scott Baker’s lab researches whales, dolphins, and porpoises to support marine mammal conservation efforts. Primarily, his lab studies the changes in great whale populations through time and in response to human activities. 

His lab’s current focus is on the endangered New Zealand Maui dolphin and beaked whales.

In a collaborative study from 2004 to 2006, his team collected data on humpback whales in the North Pacific to understand changes in their population. In a project known as gene SPLASH, his team conducted genetic analyses of skin biopsy samples to better understand these population structures.

Students in the Cetacean Conservation and Genomics Laboratory can also become involved in marine policy. The lab is affiliated with the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission and the Cetacean Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

What do advisors look for in prospective graduate students?

“I look for good academic performance and driving curiosity, hopefully with a congenial temperament.”


This marine research lab could be a good fit if:

  1. You are interested in marine mammals.
  2. You are interested in conservation and marine policy. 



5. Hunt Lab


Who: Dr. Dana Hunt
Research Area: Marine Microbial Ecology
Related Programs: Marine Science & Conservation PhD

Lab Description:

The Hunt Lab aims to understand the factors that influence bacterial diversity and dynamics in marine ecosystems. Dr. Hunt and her students also study bacterial responses to pollutants. 

There are currently three main areas of research conducted in the Hunt Lab:

  •  Marine bacterioplankton diversity and dynamics
  •  Interactions between marine bacterioplankton and marine microenvironments
  •  Responses of microbes to pollutants 

Dr. Hunt and her students also study how marine bacterioplankton respond to larger environmental changes, like ocean acidification.

The effects of ocean acidification are better understood with the help of a collaborative local time series, known as the Pivers Island Coastal Observatory,  that is continually expanded upon by new students.

What do advisors look for in prospective graduate students?

“The ideal student has some research experience in the area I study (microbial ecology) so they know what research is like.  While specific skills (especially being comfortable with programming) is valuable, something more difficult to teach is resilience, which is critical to overcoming the challenges of research where things rarely turn out as planned!”


This marine research lab could be a good fit if:

  1. You are interested in microbes.
  2. You are interested in large-scale environmental changes.
  3. You are interested in marine pollutants.



6. Dr. Marta Gomez-Chiarri


Who: Dr. Marta Gomez-Chiarri
Research Area: Aquaculture & Infectious Diseases
Related Programs: Biological & Environmental Sciences MS, PhD

Lab Description:

Dr. Gomez-Chiarri’s lab studies infectious diseases of shellfish and finfish in marine ecosystems and aquaculture facilities. The research lab’s primary goal is to both prevent and manage these diseases. 

Dr. Gomez-Chiarri and her students use molecular tools to develop new methods of disease prevention. They analyze disease distribution patterns, disease resistance, and host-pathogen relationships.

Currently, her lab is using two methods of research to manage infectious disease in oysters:

  • Utilizing probiotics for disease management in oyster hatcheries 
  • Studying how genetics/genomics can help breed oysters with stronger disease resistance

What do advisors look for in prospective graduate students?

“I look for interest and passion for the subject of diseases of aquatic organisms (from the basic science to the applied aspects), fit of the research interests of the students with currently funded research projects, or with projects I would be interested in working and we would be able to secure funding for, and a solid background (skills and knowledge) that would allow the students to succeed in graduate school.

I also consider how those students would fit into the existing team in the lab (the incoming students are also interviewed by students currently in the lab).”


This marine research lab could be a good fit if:

  1. You are interested in safe and sustainable aquaculture practices.
  2. You are interested in infectious disease.
  3. You are interested in molecular analysis.



7. Amon Laboratory 


Who: Dr. Rainer M.W. Amon & Dr. Karl Kaiser
Research Area: Biogeochemistry & Arctic Oceanography
Related Programs: Oceanography MS, PhD

Lab Description:

The Amon Laboratory aims to understand how climate change influences the global carbon cycle (extending from the Siberian watersheds to the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico). 

The lab’s overarching focus is understanding how rapid climate changes in higher latitude regions are influencing lower latitudes. 

The lab collaborates with several international institutions to study dissolved organic matter in the Arctic Ocean. Through an NSF-funded project, Dr. Amon and his students study how dissolved organic matter plays a role in the carbon cycle, the transport of trace elements, and in indicating changes in the environment. 

What do advisors look for in prospective graduate students?

“Because I have international research projects it helps if the students have experience in foreign countries and are not afraid to travel and work under very basic conditions in the field. 

Increasingly, I am looking for numerical skills that allow students to work with big data sets – knowledge of MatLab or even better, Python would be a real asset – this is one reason my students go through oceanography, where courses are offered to learn the skills needed for a successful Ph.D. in my lab.” 


This marine research lab could be a good fit if:

  1. You are interested in the mechanisms of climate change.
  2. You want to pursue a program with frequent travel opportunities.
  3. You are interested in enhancing your technical skills.



8. Pitt Wolfe Group


Who: Dr. Christopher L. Pitt Wolfe
Research Area: Physical Oceanography
Related Programs: Marine & Atmospheric Sciences MS, PhD

Lab Description: 

The Pitt Wolfe group studies the impacts of ocean circulation on multiple factors:

  • Climate
  • Large-scale ocean circulation
  • Interactions between large-scale circulation and eddies and/or boundary currents
  • Geophysical flows 

Currently, his lab is studying the roles tropical cyclones play in global thermodynamical cycles.

What does this mean, exactly?

Tropical cyclones can include hurricanes and typhoons. In collaboration with another laboratory at Stony Brook University, the Pitt Wolfe group is trying to figure out how climate impacts tropical cyclones and how these cyclones impact the redistribution of heat in the atmosphere and oceans. The lab is developing unique climate models to study these interactions. These models include scenarios such as:

  • an entire planet covered by ocean
  • a continent stretching pole-to-pole

Students in his lab benefit from a research track heavy in modeling and statistical analysis.

What do advisors look for in prospective graduate students?

“I do fairly technical work in theoretical physical oceanography, so I usually look for students with a solid foundation of mathematics and physics. Some programming experience is also very helpful. Beyond adequate preparation, the most important personality factor I look for is a certain hunger to figure out how things work—I want someone who looks at a physical phenomenon and can’t help asking Why does it do that?”


This marine research lab could be a good fit if:

  1. You are interested in marine physics.
  2. You are interested in enhancing your technical skills.



9. Brooke Laboratory 


Who: Dr. Sandra D. Brooke
Research Area: Shallow to Deep-Sea Invertebrate Ecology
Related Programs: Biology MS | Biology PhD

Lab Description:

Dr. Brooke’s lab studies benthic marine organisms (i.e. corals, echinoderms, and mollusks) in chemosynthetic habitats. Her research also extends to estuaries and shallow reef ecosystems. 

While her research is expansive, her lab primarily studies deep-sea corals’ reproductive biology, geographic distribution, and physiology. 

She and her students also study the reproductive strategies and biology of resident fauna of hydrothermal vents and cold seeps. Through this research, they aim to better understand complex relationships between different marine populations. 

While much of her lab’s research has focused on deep-sea ecosystems, future students can expect to conduct research in collaboration with the Apalachicola Bay System Initiative. Her lab is venturing into the use of 3-D structural modeling and machine learning tools to study the complexities of marine habitats.

What do advisors look for in prospective graduate students?

“Good academic record, indication of independent thought and critical thinking skills, indications that the student is engaged in activities outside of academia, some previous research experience, especially for PhD students, and the desire or ability to Scuba dive is a bonus.


This marine research lab could be a good fit if:

  1. You are interested in the connections between deep-sea and shallow marine ecosystems.
  2.  You are interested in corals.
  3. You are interested in enhancing your technical skills.



10. Tjeerdema Aquatic Toxicology & Environmental Chemistry Lab


Who: Dr. Ron Tjeerdema
Research Area: Marine/Environmental Toxicology
Related Programs: Department of Environmental Toxicology

Lab Description:

Dr. Ron Tjeerdema’s lab studies the interactions of environmental toxins (i.e. pesticides or oil dispersants) with marine and freshwater ecosystems.

One goal of his lab is to protect marine ecosystems from harmful contaminants by creating a novel identification method for pesticide sediment quality. 

His lab also studies the comparison of chemically-dispersed versus physically-dispersed oil and their impacts on fishes. He and his students are analyzing the metabolic responses and cells of these fishes to determine how toxins interact with them. This study will aid in future initiatives toward responsible use of chemical dispersants in the environment.


This marine research lab could be a good fit if:

  1. You are interested in environmental/marine toxicology.
  2. You are interested in oil spills.
  3. You are interested in both marine and freshwater systems.
  4. You are interested in cellular biology.



11. Ocean Optics Lab, Scripps Institution of Oceanography 


Who: Dr. Dariusz Stramski
Research Area: Ocean Optics
Related Programs: Climate – Ocean – Atmosphere PhD

Lab Description:

Dr. Stramski’s lab studies the interactions between light and the properties of seawater. His lab also aims to advance research in climate change, coastal habitats, and ocean biogeochemistry by contributing to satellite remote sensing. 

His team is developing a spectral radiometer to collect data in marine environments with low light availability. Through a NASA-funded project, they are also enhancing satellite-acquired climate data. Dr. Stramski’s lab supports NASA’s MODIS-Terra, MODIS-Aqua, and PACE missions.

His lab also studies:

  • Scattering and absorption of light by marine particles
  • Modeling of optical properties
  • The passing of light across air and sea

Students in his lab can expect a multi-disciplinary approach to their research, encompassing lab and fieldwork, theoretical modeling, satellite remote sensing, and development of oceanographic instruments.

Most recently, Dr. Stramski’s team has focused their optically-based research efforts in the Arctic seas.

What do advisors look for in prospective graduate students?

“Typically, research in my lab requires background in physics and mathematics; however, because research in ocean optics and applications of optics in oceanography is interdisciplinary, suitable background may also include engineering or environmental sciences.

Interest and motivation to conduct research at frontiers of ocean optics, optical and bio-optical oceanography, and applications of optical measurements and technologies in the study of the ocean, including optical observations of the ocean from satellites.

Skillset, motivation, and passion to conduct experimental work in the lab and/or at sea, oceanographic data analysis, and/or theoretical work including modeling.

The scope of research activities in my lab is broad, so students have the opportunity to be involved in experimental or modeling-oriented projects, or both types of activities.”


This marine research lab could be a good fit if:

  1. You are interested in a multi-disciplinary research experience.
  2. You are interested in ocean optics.
  3. You are interested in enhancing your technical skills.
  4. You are interested in remote sensing.



12. Dr. William Wilcock


Who: Dr. William Wilcock
Research Area: Marine Geology/Geophysics
Related Programs: Oceanography PhD

Lab Description:

Dr. Wilcock’s lab is unique for its diversity of research topics, including:

The lab recently received funding for a collaborative research study of the Axial Volcano in the northeast Pacific Ocean. He and his students will be deploying autonomous seafloor seismometers to record earthquakes and tremors resulting from the next eruption of the volcano, predicted to take place around 2023.  

Students in Dr. Wilcock’s lab invest much of their time analyzing data from a computer, which they acquire through oceanographic instruments aboard research cruises.

What do advisors look for in prospective graduate students?

“I think the most important characteristic of prospective students is that they are highly motivated because a PhD requires a sustained effort.  As a geophysicist, the students in my lab need a strong quantitative background.  Since a PhD program is all about research, I primarily recruit students who have had prior research experience either as an undergraduate or in an MS program although I recognize that some applicants may not have had those opportunities.” 


This marine research lab could be a good fit if:

  1. You are interested in marine geology or geophysics.
  2. You are interested in enhancing your technical skills.
  3. You are interested in research cruises.


Interested in learning more about marine science graduate programs? 

Graduate-level work is an investment in your future as a marine scientist. There are many variables to consider when choosing the right path – taking into account the team, the technical demands, and the focus of the research. Marine science can be a rewarding field when you are passionate about the work you are doing. This is why it’s important to choose the best marine science graduate program for you.

CJB Network’s marine biology listings provide a break-down of  PhD and Master’s programs across the United States. Each program listing links to a corresponding faculty page where you can explore labs and learn more about their research.