So you think you might want to join the lab?
Well, read on. Choosing a lab might be the most important decision that you will make during your career. Your choice will directly impact the research that you will conduct and the job that you will obtain. Your success in any lab will depend on how compatible your interests and personality are with those of the lab’s current members. Below, I describe my view of science, my style of mentorship, and my expectations of students. Hopefully, this information will help you to determine whether my lab would provide a productive environment for your graduate education. If, after reading this page, you wish to obtain more information about graduate opportunities, feel free to contact me by e-mail.
Michael J. Angilletta Jr.
Professor of Life Sciences
If you are reading this page, I assume we share an interest in the thermal biology of animals. I also assume you have read some of the lab’s papers and are familiar with the research that we do. If so, an important question remains. Do we share a common worldview? If you don’t know what I mean by a “worldview”, you should read a paper by Joel Brown (1999, Oikos 94: 6-16), titled “Ngongas and ecology: on having a worldview.” My worldview can be summarized as follows:
Knowledge grows from the interplay between theory and experiments. Theoretical models tell us which data we should collect to understand documented phenomena and predict new phenomena. If you are conducting experiments in the absence of theory, you are probably wasting time and money.
Given this worldview, I expect my students to conduct research motivated by concepts and models. You don’t necessarily have to develop your own theory, but you will have to apply one in your research. If you are only considering my lab because you like lizards or flies, you should seek a lab that focuses on specific organisms.
Style of mentoring
Every student in my lab will have a different perspective on what I am like as an advisor, so you should probably discuss this topic with all of them. Still, I think they will all agree on a few elements of my mentoring style.
I emphasize three topics in graduate education: mathematical modeling, experimental design, and scientific writing. In my opinion, knowledge of these subjects will make or break your career as a scientist. Unfortunately, incoming students are generally weak in all three of these areas because of the current structure of undergraduate education. I will push you to overcome weaknesses in these areas through reading, tutorials, and coursework.
I will encourage you to publish early and often. Most students enter the lab with only a vague idea of what research they wish to pursue. During this period of uncertainty, I will encourage you to perform an experiment in collaboration with me and senior members of the lab. Then, I will help you present this research at a national meeting attended by the lab (usually a SICB meeting). Finally, we will work together to publish this research in a peer-reviewed journal. This experience should help you to formulate your own research questions and give you something to show for your first year of graduate school.
I also enjoy socializing with my students. We regularly meet at a local pub to drink beer and discuss life. We get together at my house for barbecues, and we travel to national meetings as a group. You should assess whether you would get along with the current lab members because you will likely spend much time with them in professional and social settings.
Expectations of students
I expect my students to treat graduate education seriously. Put simply, your graduate research should be your top priority if you expect to succeed in academia. The competition for tenure-track positions at respected universities is staggering. My peers and I competed against tens to hundreds of individuals to earn our jobs. You should anticipate similar competition. If you plan to coast through graduate school with less than total commitment, don’t waste your time and everyone else’s time. On the other hand, diligent and efficient work will secure you a great career, which offers benefits such as flexible scheduling, job satisfaction, and travel opportunities. Don’t just take my word for it; read John Thompson’s essay on being a successful graduate student. Besides reinforcing this point, Thompson’s essay contains excellent advice for prospective students.
Additionally, I expect my students to think critically and independently. I am not a hand-holder. I will spend considerable time with you while you are developing your ideas and interpreting your data. But between these periods, I expect you to organize and execute your research without daily interference from me. While you are working on your research, I am helping other students, conducting my research, teaching undergraduate courses, reviewing manuscripts, and serving on committees. These activities require me to spend time away from the lab. Therefore, I appreciate students who can solve minor problems independently and make progress without continuous supervision. These qualities are essential for success in academia because no one will be around to hold your hand after graduation. I will treat you as a colleague from day one because that is what I am training you to become.
That said, don’t get the impression that I won’t be around to help you when you need it. I help all of my students to design experiments, secure funding, collect specimens, analyze data, create presentations, and write manuscripts. I encourage my students to contact me by cell phone at any time. In fact, I frequently talk to my students by phone while I am in the field or on vacation. In the end, I will do what I can to help you succeed, as long as you are equally committed to your own success.