Join us

Are you interested in our research? Almost continuously, we are looking for new highly motivated members of our team:

As mentioned above, we are always looking to work with enthusiastic and motivated students! I particularly encourage students to talk to me about potential projects. I look for students who demonstrate commitment, creativity, communication skills, and courage to learn something new. When contacting me via email for the first time, to show that you have read this page, please include the word “courage” in your email title. There are several ways for students to participate in the lab:

Affiliate students (Interns/Erasmus)

Affiliate students are generally interested in a smaller commitment to the lab, such as a summer or a single semester of working together. This must be a formal commitment, such as a directed research class or OON contract, but may be for less than 9 hours per week. Affiliate students are expected to attend the weekly lab meeting (Kokomo room, Tuesday 10:45-11:30 AM) and follow work guidelines are outlined in the lab student guide.

To be accepted as an affiliate student, you should complete the the new student challenge and discuss it with Katka in office hours.

Student researchers (Bachelor/Master)

Student researchers (Bachelor/Master) are expected to commit two or more semesters (with an official commitment for credit) to working in the lab. In addition to all of the points outlined in the Multitrophic-lab student guide, the following behaviors are expected of student researchers:

  • Attend the weekly lab meeting in Kokomo room, Tuesday 10:45-11:30 AM. Attendance is generally expected. Treat it like a class. Some absences are okay, but communicate about them clearly.
  • Commit at least 9 hours per week to your research work (similar to how you would treat a 3-credit course)
  • Attend office hours or meet with your graduate project lead every 2 weeks to communicate your progress. Be clear about skipping the meetings during holiday times.
  • Have your name on a submitted publication by the end of your time in the lab

These guidelines are based on observing the experiences of other students in our and other labs. My goal is to help you succeed as a researcher, and the above are concrete steps to help you get there.

To be accepted as a student researcher, you should complete the the new student challenge (request it in the initial contact email) and discuss it with Katka Sam and the graduate project leader during office hours. Alternatively, you may elect to start as an affiliate student and then decide to transition to the the more substantial “student researcher” commitment by discussing it with Katka Sam at the end of the semester.

We are ready to supervise bachelor or master theses in any of our research topics, just check our Projects. The thesis topics are usually discussed individually based on the interest of individual prospective students, their interests and skills, as well as our running grants. We are supervising various topics in trophic and food-web ecology, and community ecology. Theses supervised in our group can combine field sampling or already collected data processing, depending on the students’ preferences and the team needs. If interested, write to Katerina Sam, ideally with a letter of motivation and CV attached.

Prospective Erasmus Affiliated or Research students

We are ready to host motivated Erasmus interns for practical stays financed by the Erasmus program or other sources. The internships would typically include working on various our projects with the aim to try as many methodological approaches as possible. However, for already skilled and motivated students we can also find some individual project. A typical internship should be planned for at least two months, longer stay are encouraged. If you are coming from the Erasmus included countries write to Katerina Sam, ideally with a letter of motivation and CV attached.

Prospective PhD students

PhD students are generally accepted only for the funded positions, so it depends on our successful grant applications. If there is any position call, it would be announced on top of this page. If you are interested in working in our team and know about some possibilities of external funding, write to Katerina Sam, ideally with a motivation letter and CV attached.

Nature of a Ph.D. Program – If you are considering a Ph.D., chances are you’ve done pretty well so far in your academic endeavors. You’re coming in with some great knowledge and skills and characteristics that have prepared you to succeed in scholarly endeavors! However, there are many aspects of a Ph.D. that are quite different from prior parts of your education. These are important to understand to know whether a Ph.D. is right for your goals. My perspective is that a Ph.D. has a binary nature, as it is both a form of training/education and potentially a paid job.

The primary goal of a Ph.D. is to train (training component of your PhD) you to be an independent researcher and scholar in your field. There are three specific professions for which a Ph.D. prepares you: teaching at the college level, research in an academic institution, and research or development in an industry or government lab. If your goals do not include one or more of these, you should not be getting a Ph.D.

Coursework: To develop the breadth and depth of understanding necessary to begin research, Ph.D. students are expected to take at least 3 recommended graduate-level courses. This is likely a component of scholarly education that is familiar to you and you already know how to succeed in these. However, this is the least important component of your training.

Research Apprenticeship: Research independence is the ability to articulate compelling research directions, plan and carry out the work, and present your work through academic writing and presentations. Thus, research apprenticeship is the most important part of your Ph.D. education and will constitute the majority of our direct contact in our advisor-advisee relationship. My role is to model research practices, connect you with resources (e.g., collaborators, prior work, sometimes funding, etc.), and provide direct on-going feedback in this process. We achieve this through regular (typically every two weeks) one-on-one advising meetings, group guidance in lab meetings (Tuesday lab meetings), and my feedback on your drafts (according to needs). Throughout the course of your Ph.D., these scaffolds fade and my support becomes more hands-off so that you have a chance to demonstrate your independence. You have chances to demonstrate your research abilities by planning independent research projects which you will submit to me orally or in written, or in form of grant proposal for discussion and approval of fiances for it. You will have chance to demonstrate your ability to discuss your research at a seminar once a year. I appreciate if you send me your presentation in advance before such seminars or presentations but it is not strictly required.  In your thesis writing and defense, you are demonstrating all three components of your research independence, with little or no hands-on support from me.

Leadership Apprenticeship: Leadership is an important component of scholarly Ph.D. independence and it includes knowing how to attract others to your broader research agenda and managing others’ divergent goals/projects to contribute to your own research goals. The first way we operationalize this is by training Ph.D. students as mentors. I maintain and handle the logistics of a vibrant student pipeline, so that all Ph.D. students who are past their first year have the opportunity to attract and advise undergraduate and Masters students, and assist other Ph.D. students to contribute to their projects. All Ph.D. students have the opportunity to lead lab meetings and otherwise experiment with lab leadership to develop experience. Second, I support students in taking significant service responsibilities to the larger academic community, starting with reviewing papers (recommended activity) and eventually helping organize workshops and conferences. This includes recommending students for these opportunities and in some cases funding travel to make this kind of involvement possible. Lastly, an aspect of leadership in research is the ability to attract funding to support your work. This is not required but can be a very strong component of a job application if you do choose to take this on. For students who head in this direction, I provide guidance and significant hands-on help articulating grant ideas and applying for grants.

Generally, you can expect to spend about 20 hours/week participating in the training / education components of your Ph.D. In the first two years, this might be dominated by courses, but afterwards, apprenticeships become (should become) a more primary part of this process.

PhD is also a job (job component of your PhD) – In our lab and at our department we are fortunate that most Ph.D. students are “funded,” meaning that there are opportunities to have your tuition paid and receive a stipend and health benefits during your Ph.D. program. You should plan to spend about 20 hours/week participating in the “job” components of your Ph.D. (or the total of 40 hours per week by “job” and “training” components of your Ph.D. together). The job component includes – field work (which might be temporarily intense, running of experiments, logistics of experiment, cleaning after experiments!, analyses, identifications of organisms, molecular lab-wrok, writing of manuscripts.

Advisor-advisee relationship

The advisor-advisee relationship is a critical component of a Ph.D. program. Your advisor guides the 20-hours per week that pertain to the training / education components of your Ph.D. and the 20-hours per week that pertain to the “job” components of your Ph.D. The advisor-advisee relationship is a mutual agreement that can be dissolved by either party at any time for a variety of reasons including compatibility of intellectual interests, progress through projects or Ph.D. program, benefit to long-term goals, and personality fit. While it may feel like ending such a relationship is a terrible thing, it’s much better to have a good working advisor-advisee relationship than suffer through a bad situation. Different advisors have different advising practices and finding somebody who is a good match for your needs is really important. Finally, I want to add that an advisor doesn’t need to be and is not meant to be your only mentor and confidant during your Ph.D. I want you to have a strong and robust mentorship network in which I will certainly have a place and role, but that will include many others.

This is what I commit to doing as your advisor:

  • I will meet with you regularly. This includes weekly 30-minute 1-on-1s, an 1-3 hour-long bi-weekly meeting, and a 45-min lab meeting. Summers/field season may be more ad-hoc but still include opportunities for at least bi-weekly check-ins. I expect you to initiate the meetings. If you do not initiate, I expect you are doing well on your own and do not need my help. In that case, I will call a meeting if I do not hear from you after a month (except remote field work)
  • I will offer additional time if you seek out my help. This might not need immediately, and do not expect to seek my help after 5PM with a request to help you until morning.
  • I will spend up to an hour daily reading and offering feedback on outlines and drafts of papers and presentations you are writing. If multiple students request feedback at the same time, I will increase my time commitment to ensure at most a 3-business-day turn-around (usually less than that). The granularity of that feedback will vary depending on the context (e.g., if I’m a coauthor of the paper, I may write / rewrite sentences and sections; if it’s supposed to be an independent piece of work like your PhD thesis, I will give only high-level advice/feedback).
  • If there are exceptions to the above time commitments (e.g., travel, leave), I will communicate them with enough of a heads-up for us to make alternate plans.
  • I will formally evaluate you annually and providing a written report about your progress.
  • I will submit paperwork that relies on me, such as approving committees, your grant reports, providing progress reports for fellowships, etc. in a timely manner (i.e., two business-day turn-around if no modifications are needed to your work).

All students can expect the following resources:

  • A desk in the lab and a computer / monitor(s).
  • Advice and recommendations regarding courses to take, committee composition, and specific steps towards your broader goals.
  • Recommending you for relevant opportunities including academic leadership (e.g. reviewing papers), awards / fellowships, TAships, and internships. I will also provide recommendation letters if given advanced notice (1 week is best, but 1 day is the absolute minimum).
  • Maintaining and connecting you with other students, allowing you to recruit and supervise students both to gain mentorship experience and to accelerate your research work.
  • Travel funding to present our work at conferences, if we have discussed ahead of time and agreed to make an archival submission to that conference.
  • Comments on drafts of applications for fellowship, scholarship, and grants if you choose to seek your own or additional funding.
  • Connections to relevant collaborators
  • In many cases, I may also be able to offer the following resources (don’t assume that I have these available for your project, rather these constitute a case-by-case discussion):
  • Additional and specialized hardware or lab access
  • Access to large datasets through partnerships with local collaborators.
  • Funding for travel, equipment, participant recruitment, and hiring undergraduates.
  • Pointers to specific books, papers, and research labs that describe work relevant to your project.

In being advised by me, you commit to the following:

  • You will maintain high standards of professional conduct, research ethics, and fiscal responsibility as a representative of the university and my lab. You will ask someone (e.g., accountant for fiscal stuff, administrator for logistical stuff, me) first if you’re unsure about something.
  • You will come on time and be prepared for 1-on-1s, lab meetings, and office hours. You will request other help (e.g., rec letters, writing feedback) in a timely manner consistent with the points above.
  • You will prepare and discuss all training / education components of your Ph.D. with me before making specific decisions. This includes informing yourself (e.g., finding out the requirements and deadlines) and then discussing with me issues like class registration, milestone timelines, summer break plans, and apprenticeship opportunities. You will not make significant external commitments that will interfere with the 40 hours per week of your Ph.D. education / training without discussing it with me prior to the commitment.
  • You will demonstrate intellectual independence by trying to find answers to questions before asking me. This may include seeking help from others, doing initial literature searches on your own, and being ready to discuss your own thoughts or solutions to your problems in our meetings.
  • You will be a good citizen of the lab, department, and university by actively participating in at least two activities (e.g., regularly attending the lab meetings, departmental meetings, safety workshops etc.) and taking on at least one service responsibility every year (e.g., helping with field work to other student, providing feedback to one colleague’s manuscript free of charge and without request for co-authorship)
  • You will create and maintain a professional webpage (Research ID and Google Scholar) with updated publication list.

What do successful Ph.D. students have in common?

There are three characteristics that most successful Ph.D. students seem to have in common:

Resilience – being in academia involves rejection and failure. Every person will have papers rejected, internship interviews failed, and job offers not gotten and generally most of us will have more rejections than successes. It’s okay to take some time to feel big feelings about these things happening, but in the end, success is conditional on your ability to pick yourself up, move on, and keep trying. True resilience is also about being able to learn from the rejection or failure rather than getting bitter or fixating on it.

Persistence and consistency90% of success in academia is just “showing up” persistently and consistently, even for difficult or unpleasant tasks. Most successful students have a regular schedule (and frequently spend that scheduled time in the lab). Most successful students make consistent progress daily (no matter how small) on the tasks that matter, rather than trying to “binge” work right before a deadline. This consistency allows these students to get more of my time and feedback (e.g., because they are able to get more in-progress feedback on their writing by sending small portions daily), as well as get to deeper results just by allowing their mind some background cycles to think through results, readings, etc.

Joy – nobody is expected to like all aspects of their job or school, but there should be at least some things about it that really get you excited and fired up. There should be at least once each week during your Ph.D. where you find yourself in the timeless state of “flow,” completely absorbed and engaged with your task. Whether it’s when you’re writing code, plugging away at some analysis, or brainstorming with teammates, it’s these moments that tell you that a Ph.D. is right for you. Taking joy in your work also helps you recruit and retain collaborators to your research agenda. In the end, it’s seeking these moments that leads researchers to do the above-and-beyond work that actually helps them be successful on a global stage. 

What does “acceptable progress” mean? What is expected of me every year?

My expectations for Ph.D. students are as follows:

Year 1:

  • Acclimate to the university and lab culture (including participating in lab activities).
  • Collaborate with a more senior researcher on a research (or lab-joint) project they are leading, submitting a co-authored paper to a major conference or to a journal.
  • Complete about half of the courses for your Ph.D. requirements OR focus on the field work first and complete substantial part of it

Year 2:

  • Initiate and lead work on your own research project with a goal of a complete paper draft by the end of the academic year.
  • Submit your complete paper draft as.
  • Finish your Ph.D. coursework.
  • Begin working with undergraduate researchers,
  • Finalize major part of your field work which will be involved in the second manuscript
  • An industry/academical internship (2nd or 3rd year).
  • Attend a conference (2nd or 3rd year).
  • Write a grant proposal (2nd or 3rd year).

Year 3:

  • Take all of your “thesis course” credits (and no other classes, unless they are critical to your thesis work).
  • Continue leading research projects, establishing a cadence of two paper submissions per year (e.g., core work + collaboration, resubmission + new submission, side project + thesis work paper).
  • Lead an undergraduate researcher.
  • An industry/academical internship (2nd or 3rd year).
  • Write a grant proposal (2nd or 3rd year).

Year 4:

  • You should not be signed up for any real courses, fully focus on the research work and manuscript preparation
  • Continue leading research projects with a cadence of two or more paper submissions per year. 
  • Draft your proposal and complete the proposal defense before the end of the year (ideally after the first semester of 4th year).
  • Continue leading an undergraduate researcher, help mentor a junior Ph.D. student.
  • Apply and interview for jobs, investigate deadlines for coming job opportunities

Year 5:

  • Complete the research effort on your last piece of your Ph.D. work.
  • Apply and interview for jobs.
  • Write your dissertation.
  • Defend your dissertation no later than by the end of the 5th year of your Ph.D. but keep in mind that your stipend and scholarships finished in 4.5 years.