Prospective Students

An open letter to prospective graduate students

Thank you for your interest in my research program. As you probably imagine, I receive many e-mails each year from prospective students such as yourself inquiring about opportunities to work in our research group. This letter is intended to answer frequently asked questions. Students who wish to pursue opportunities in my research group should send me a: (1) C.V.; (2) copies of transcripts; (3) a statement of research interest and career goals; and (4) a technical writing sample. If you still have questions, please feel free to contact me or the SAFS graduate program advisor.

Are you accepting graduate students for the following fall?

This is always difficult to predict.  The answer is usually “maybe” depending on how various grants fare in the review process.

How does the admissions process at SAFS work?

Good question! The most important component of the application process is identifying a faculty member who will sponsor your application: this is the person who will ultimately be responsible for providing you an offer (given that you meet certain admission qualifications). SAFS requires all incoming students have at least 4 quarters of funding guaranteed, but I typically will not accept any student unless I have at least 8 quarters of support arranged. This support comes from my own research grants, or any fellowship that you might have been awarded (e.g., EPA, NSF). A select number of the highest ranking applicants are typically offered scholarships/fellowships lasting two years.

What are my chances of getting accepted?

SAFS receives far more qualified applications than we can possibly hope to admit, which makes the application process exceptionally competitive. In recent years, we’ve been able to accept approximately 10-15% of all qualified applications.

How can I improve my chances?

Another good question! Obviously, good grades, previous research experience, and strong test scores will help your standing considerably. Also, students who have managed to secure their own funding through a fellowship or scholarship are much more likely to be granted an offer, because the funding hurdle has been cleared.  It’s also a very good idea to contact several SAFS faculty to find out what opportunities exist in other lab groups. Students interested in joining my lab group might also be interested in the research programs of Trevor Branch, David Beauchamp, Ray Hilborn, Daniel Schindler, or Si Simenstad.

When will I know if I got in?

Decisions are typically made in early March. It’s impossible for me to make any promises until I know the status of research grants and until I see all of the incoming graduate applications

I want a Ph.D., but SAFS requires that all students obtain a M.S. degree first. What’s up with that?

You’re asking all sorts of excellent questions. Kudos to you for thinking this through. The reason that we require students to obtain their M.S. degree is to give new graduate students a win-win situation. Suppose that you are an eager first year graduate student enrolled in a 5 year Ph.D. program. Straight out of an undergraduate program, you’re convinced that you know what you want to study for the rest of your life. After a year or so, you find yourself saying one of the following: (1) Geeze, I hate my faculty advisor. (2) Geeze, I hate my research project. (3) Geeze, I really hate living in Seattle. (4) Geeze, my research interests have changed a lot, and Jane Smith at Altered State University (ASU) has a top notch program that is much better suited to my new interests. Stuck in a Ph.D. program, you would have two choices: tough out your remaining time at SAFS and hope for the best or drop out of the program and chalk up the past two years as a ‘learning experience’. Pretty lousy, eh? What if instead, you were enrolled in a M.S. program? You would be free to finish up your M.S., have a nice shiny diploma to show for your efforts, and then enter into the perfect Ph.D. program. If you’re happy at SAFS, then you can simply stay on for your Ph.D., confident that you’ve made a reasoned, well thought-out decision.

Yeah, but I’m really sure I want a Ph.D. from SAFS. Isn’t getting a M.S. degree really going to slow me down?

Not really. If it’s clear that you’re as happy as a hagfish in mud, then there are a few painless procedures that allow you to switch your program status from M.S. to Ph.D.

So what you’re saying is that it’s a win-win situation for the student

Didn’t I already say that? Pay attention, will ya?!?

What is the typically graduate school experience like at SAFS?

Beats me. I didn’t go to school here. Oh sure, I could make some stuff up that would largely be an unrealistic idealization about the program ( e.g., one big happy family, sitting around the campfire singing ‘Kumbayah’), but that wouldn’t be terribly useful for you as a prospective student. The best way to really find out is to go right to the source and contact a few graduate students. They should be more than happy to give you a fair, accurate representation of graduate school life. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that they were in your shoes.

I think it would be great if we meet face to face so that I can introduce myself. Then you would see how great I am in person! How should I arrange that?

Unfortunately, I receive far too many requests for individual meetings to accommodate them.   Just sit tight and I’ll review your materials and let you know how things are progressing.

If I come up with more questions, who should I ask?

The most knowledgeable person is our SAFS graduate program advisor.

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