Should you read any farther?
Possibly. To maintain high-quality interactions, I prefer to have no more than about 6 graduate students at any one time, and funding is also a consideration. As of Spring 2017, I have 6 active graduate students, 3 of whom are graduating in Summer 2017. Thus, I MIGHT accept a new graduate student or two to start in my lab in 2018, but such students might have to have stipend/fellowship funding from an outside source, such as a National Science Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship.
Should you apply?
Pay careful attention to the research interests of the lab. My own are clearly quite varied, although work in the lab mainly emphasizes ecological, evolutionary, and genetic studies involving reptiles. Current projects with at least partial funding involve:
- long-term research on climate change, nesting behavior, predation, and sex determination in turtle populations along the upper Mississippi River. Check out the lab's prior publications on sex determination.
- observational, experimental, and modeling research in/of field and lab environments to measure geographic variation in, and genetic/genomic/endocrine underpinnings of, nesting behavior and embryonic thermal sensitivity as potential mechanisms used by turtles with temperature-dependent sex determination to adapt to local climates.
- lab and field research on aging in turtle populations in collaboration with Dr. Anne Bronikowski.
Furthermore, the lab will continue to perform additional life-history as well as molecular ecology, evolution, phylogeographic, and phylogenetic studies of reptiles.
Even though most of our research emphasizes reptilian systems, I do not wish to impose any taxonomic limitation; the questions are far more important (note our nematode and beetle research, for example). In fact, the most critical factors I look for in prospective graduate students are conceptual focus and curiosity, quality of prior research experience, and "fire in the belly" (i.e., strong motivation) , rather than just GRE scores, GPA, and other such quantitative indicators. I meet regularly with my graduate students (at least twice weekly) and approach them as intellectual collaborators, so I expect a high level of interaction (i.e., we teach each other).
I strongly encourage M.S. students to undertake projects that are closely linked to my interests and expertise and that can be successfully accomplished within 2-3 years. I am deeply involved with the work of these students and almost invariably co-author thesis papers with them. Ph.D. students are another matter. Although I typically collaborate with such students on side projects, I strongly encourage Ph.D. students to pursue a more independent line of research for their thesis work. Depending on my level of involvement, I may or may not appear as a co-author on papers arising from dissertation research. While M.S. projects are necessarily more limited, in my opinion the best Ph.D. work integrates theory and quantitative analysis with field and/or experimental studies. Moreover, these studies should blaze new trails, open new fields, or otherwise make significant contributions to our conceptual understanding of biology; "fill-in-the-blank" research is strongly discouraged!
I definitely encourage students to pursue independent funding for their research from any of a variety of sources. Although I will help to the best of my ability, obtaining one's own funding is a valuable skill and career asset. In a related note, it is my policy to pay the registration fee for any student from the lab who presents research at a scientific meeting.
The Janzen Lab consists of a large, heterogeneous group of researchers, from high school students to postdocs, from born-and-raised Iowans to citizens of other countries, and those of different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. This mix has worked very well at many levels for many years and thus I expect new students to embrace and fully participate in the social and scientific activities of the lab. In particular, Turtle Camp is (and will remain) a major, central focus of research by the lab and some level of participation in Turtle Camp-related activities (even if just for a few days) is thus expected of ALL students at some point during their affiliation with the lab. If you truly dislike interacting and working extensively with other people, then the Janzen Lab is probably not for you.
What about the applications?
To maximize financial support that you could receive from ISU, you should consider what biological concepts and questions interest you as research topics. For example, indicating what kinds of GENERAL questions/concepts interest you involving, say, the population genetics of imperiled taxa would be great, rather than just saying "I like frogs" or "I like turtles" (not that I think anything's wrong with frogs and turtles, but not everyone might agree!). You should apply to one or more of the interdepartmental graduate programs to which I belong, since the EEOB Department does not run its own graduate program:
- Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB)
- Interdepartmental Genetics and Genomics (IG2)
- Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (BCB).
No matter what, any accepted student will have a "home" and guaranteed TA support in EEOB (up to 3 years for M.S. students and up to 6 years for Ph.D. students). However, if you've got good grades (>3.5/4) and GRE scores (>155+155+4.0), you might very well get a free ride (i.e., a fellowship rather than a TA) at least your first year here. Domestic students with strong genetic/genomic interests and/or mathematical and computational backgrounds should especially consider IG2 and/or BCB because of the financial support available in those programs (not that EEB is bad by any means!). Moreover, as is currently the case, I often have grant and contract funds that can support a limited number of students as RAs.