Notes to prospective graduate students
Thank you for your interest in our laboratory. Here are some things to think about if you are curious about life in the Edwards lab.
The main things we look for in prospective graduate students are research experience, curiosity and a breadth of interest, from molecules to ecology. Laboratories that study birds tend to attract students interested in ecology and behavior, and we share those interests. However, for better or worse, we tend to see most of biology through the lens of genetics. For this reason, we are particularly excited about prospective lab members with a serious interest in genetics as well as the many other facets of avian biology that deserve study. Although much of the primary data we generate comes from the lab bench, we encourage fieldwork and forging rigorous links between genetics ecology and behavior. We happen also to be part of one of the greatest collections of comparative biology on the planet, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and hence we encourage questions and fieldwork that can augment and benefit from these collections. Parasites, morphological evolution, geographic information data, stable isotopes - you would be amazed what insights dead bird specimens can provide!
In recent years we have placed increased emphasis on field experience and we want to recruit individuals who have a solid basis in field biology and natural history. Much of the whizz-bang of genomics and bioinformatics can be learned in grad school; what is less easily learned in grad school is a willingness and a capability of launching field expeditions, whether in the US or overseas. Increasingly we are looking for individuals who have the drive and wherewithal to place fieldwork at the center of their dissertation studies. In this era of genomics and big data, it is those with critical samples more so than those with previous analysis skills, who can make the biggest discoveries. A good example is former grad student Shane-Campbell-Staton's recent paper in Science on the effect of winter storms on Anolis lizard microevolution. It was really the fieldwork and novel field specimens, collected over more than two field seasons, that really put this work on the map.
One distinguishing feature of our lab is our shared desire to push the boundaries on many different levels. Here at Harvard, with its access to fantastic genomics facilities such as the FAS Center for Systems Biology and the MIT/Harvard Broad Institute, we have great opportunities to embrace genomics technologies and apply them to creatures that are otherwise genetically unknown. We generally look for lab members who have a willingness to take advantage of our great opportunities and go the extra mile with regard to laboratory techniques. For example, many prospective students interested in the lab are attracted to the prospect of addressing behavioral or ecological questions using novel genomic technologies, such as next-generation sequencing or transcriptomics. This is an excellent direction to go for a dissertation, and we encourage you to frame your question in such a way as to embrace emerging genomics technologies. We believe strongly that students of ornithology need to adopt a broad perspective to their work so that when they graduate their research will appeal not only to other ornithologists but also to the many evolutionary and molecular biologists who may not have a primary interest in birds. One of the most effective ways to do this is to adopt cutting-edge molecular or statistical approaches to your problem. Adopting novel genomic or phenomic approaches almost always opens up whole new vistas for exploration. So by all means dive in – we’re here to teach you. The ideal applicant is one who wants to conduct extensive field research, but who is also committed to pushing the boundaries technically and collecting high quality specimen data for genomics and phenomics. We look forward to your application!
Information and Opportunities for Postdoctoral Fellows
Postdoctoral Fellows in the lab pursue a variety of topics and are welcome to plug into any of our current research projects or bring ideas of their own. Support for stipend and research, however, can be difficult to come by. Some postdocs who elect to work on one of our funded projects can get support through available NSF grants that we may have. For example, Bryan Jennings was supported by an NSF grant to study Australian bird phylogeography. Zhenshan Wang was also supported by a NSF grant to construct BAC libraries from 5 Reptilia, including the Tuatara and Emu; he also conducted extensive research on house finch genetics and evolution on our collaborative Integrated Research Challenges in Environmental Biology (IRCEB) grant with Geoff Hill and Sharon Roberts of Auburn University. Liang Liu and Christian Anderson were both supported by a NSF grant to develop statistical models of multilocus species phylogenies.
Although we strive to support postdoctoral fellows on externally-funded research grants, it is increasingly necessary for prospective postdoctoral fellows to gather their own external funds for support. Harvard has a number of fellowships that can support postdoctoral work. Cassie Stoddard and Christie Reihl were both supported by the Harvard Junior Fellows Program (for exceptional candidates with an ability to integrate fields and interact with multiple faculty on campus as well as young scholars from diverse fields). Flavia Termognini is currently supported by a collaborative Fellowship from the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and CONACYT, the major science funding agency in Mexico. Susan Cameron Devitt, for example, was a postdoctoral fellow supported by a two-year fellowship from the Harvard Center for the Environment to develop frameworks under geographic information systems to test the effects of climate change on species distributions, with an emphasis on birds. Patricia Brito, Anna Dubiec, Niclas Backstrom, Frank Rheindt, Clemens Kuepper, Mark Liu, Miguel Alcaide, Kathrin Naepflin and several others were each supported by fellowships from their home countries (Portugal, Poland, Sweden, Germany, Germany, Taiwan, Spain, and Switzerland, respectively).
If you would like to explore postdoctoral opportunities with the Edwards lab, please contact Scott. Both NIH and NSF support postdoctoral research in a variety of areas relevant to our laboratory, but these of course are available only to US citizens. NSF supports many postdoctoral fellowships and we particularly encourage minority PhDs and PhDs with an interest in mathematicsis, biology, museum collections or international studies to apply. These fellowships can creatively be cast in ways that are of interest to the applicant and also are competitive and fulfill the appropriate NSF criteria. For example, Robb Brumfield's work on speciation in neotropical birds and Matt Fujita's work on evolution of isochores in reptiles were both funded by the now defunct NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biological Informatics. Sharon Birks' work was supported by a Alfred P. Sloan/NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Molecular Evolution, a program that has sadly been discontinued. Many other fellowships are available for women and many other communities, particularly in health-related sciences.
We welcome inquiries for postdoctoral research in our laboratory.