Prospective Students

I am always looking for talented and motivated students to join our research group. We strive to provide a strong educational environment to help  undergraduategraduate, and post-doctoral students to develop their potential and achieve their goals. Below is some information to help you get started.

Undergraduates

Through  funding from the National Science Foundation and the UC-HBCU Initiative, for the past 11 years we have run The Diversity Project, a summer research program for undergraduates designed to increase participation of under represented minority groups in the biological sciences. More information on this undergraduate research opportunity can be found on The Diversity Proejct web site.

In addition to the Diversity Project, also host many students in the lab, both over the summer as well as during the school year. Undergraduates from many different institutions have pursued honors thesis studies in the lab, and we are happy to provide students the opportunity to conduct research with us.

If you are interested in conducting undergraduate research in the lab, please contact me at paulbarber@ucla.edu. Due to the training involved, we ask that student make a minimum commitment of one year to the laboratory. Space in the lab can be limited at times. It pays to be persistent.

Graduate Students

My appointment is in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Within the department, there are multiple specializations, although students are all part of the same department. APPLICATIONS to the EEB program are due on December 15 of each year. You can visit HERE for information on the requirements for application to the EEB program. Students are strongly advised to familiarize themselves with the requirement of the EEB graduate program.

Students in EEB are typically admitted to work with a particular faculty member, although it is possible to change labs. Admissions is influenced by a number of factors, including available space in the lab, grant funding to support new students, and the availability of teaching assistantships. As such, students interested in working with me are encouraged to contact me to tell me about their interests in pursuing graduate studies. Because our lab group is small and funding is always limited, I am very selective about admitting students and competition for available spots can be very tight.

Students are funded through several mechanisms, either teaching assistantships where the student assists with teaching a course, through university wide fellowships, or through research assistantships, where students work on the faculty members’ grant. Students are also encouraged to apply for extramural fellowships such as the National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, Dr. Nancy Foster Fellowship, Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, EPA STAR Fellowship, just to name a few. For more information on funding, look at the EEB graduate student support web site.

Numerous factors will influence whether a student will be accepted into my lab. Beyond the strength of the student’s application I must consider the space available in my lab, the appropriateness for me to mentor a student given their interests, and funding.

Presently, I have funding for new graduate students to participate in work associated with an NSF PIRE grant. Over the next five years, two graduate students will be supported on this project in conjunction with teaching fellowships. This research focuses on using Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures to assess marine biodiversity from microbes to metazoans and look at how anthropogenic stressors may be impacting marine biodiversity. Students will be involved in field work and will have the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time overseas with our collaborators in Indonesia and the Philippines. Students will also be involved in mentoring undergraduate students, both in the lab at UCLA as well as part of The Diversity Project.

To make yourself competitive for admission to UCLA or any other graduate school, you want to show that you are ready and capable of doing the job of “young scientist”. To do this, I suggest the following, largely in the order below:

1. Do well in your classes, especially your biology classes. If you didn’t have a stellar early undergraduate career, concentrate on doing well as a junior or senior. Admissions committees notice the improvement. If you haven’t done well in your undergraduate courses, you may need to spend some time obtaining more experience, either in the workplace (as a technician or research assistant) or through a master’s degree.

2. Get involved in research. Volunteer to do research in a laboratory on your campus. Seek out summer internships and research opportunities. Research experience will prepare you for graduate school and will help focus your interests. Get as much experience as possible. Having many different research experiences is good to help expose you to various fields, shaping your scientific interests. However, it is important that you also have a history of finishing what you start. Present the research you do at local or national meetings. Work with your undergraduate research mentor to publish your research. It is easy to get excited about doing field work on coral reefs. However, to be a good graduate student, you must also put in the time to analyze the data and write up your research. No better way to show you are up to the challenge than by doing this as an undergraduate.

3. Get to know your faculty. When you apply for graduate school, you will need letters of recommendation from several faculty. The better they know you, the better position they are in to write a letter of recommendation. If you did well in a class, keep in contact with that instructor. Tell them about your progress and your research experiences. This will give them something to write about. Nurture these relationships.

4. Develop a clear idea of why you want to go to graduate school. It isn’t necessary that you have a full thesis perspective before applying to graduate school. However, you should have a clear idea of why you want to go to graduate school, and the KIND of work you would like to do there. Your interests will likely change over time. However, if you can’t articulate your scientific interests to a prospective advisor, you will not leave a favorable impression.

5. Apply for fellowships. Part of being a scientist is applying for funding so start early. Applying for fellowships shows that you have initiative and will help you focus on your interests. Prospective faculty advisors are often willing to comment on drafts of fellowship applications. The easiest way to get into graduate school is to get a fellowship, so find them and apply for them. I recommend applying for fellowships PRIOR to contacting faculty members for the simple reason that this excercise will help focus your ideas. Often prospective faculty advisors will be willing to provide some feedback on fellowship proposals. Most common fellowships to apply for in Biology are NSFEPA, and NOAA. Minority students should also look into the Ford Foundation.

6. Contact prospective faculty advisors. The application process is more personal than most students realize. Don’t just send your application in. Contact prospective faculty BEFORE applying. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Know what they do. See if they have space for new students. Visit their labs. Keep in contact during the application process. The more familiar a faculty member is with you, the better your chances of being accepted. We want quality students, but also need to know that they are committed students and that they will get along with the rest of the lab members.

7. Study for and take the GRE. GRE scores may not be a good predictor of success in graduate school, but they are used often in deciding fellowships. If you are competitive for fellowships, you’ve usually got a better chance of getting accepted. Take the GRE early. If you don’t do well, take it again. Despite what ETS says, experience taking the test will help improve your score. If you simply don’t do well on these tests, focus on the other aspects of your application to make them as strong as possible (e.g. research, letters, etc).

8. Don’t give up. Because the application process can be so competitive, you may not be admitted the first time around. If you are truly committed to becoming a research scientist and pursuing a Ph.D., this will not dissuade you. If you don’t get in the first time, contact the faculty member and ask them what you might do to become a more competitive applicant in the future.

Postdocs

If you have or will be completing a Ph.D. and are interested in pursuing research in my lab, I encourage you to contact me. The availability of Postdoc opportunities is highly dependent upon funding, but I am very willing to work with interested students in developing competitive grants and postdoctoral fellowship applications so that they can join our group.