Opportunities at the Pelagicos Lab

The Scoop                                                                                      Last Updated March 2022

I am always looking for students with research interests that match my own and I am happy to receive inquiries about graduate opportunities in my lab. However, like most graduate faculty members at most universities, I receive many inquiries and have few graduate student positions in my lab each year. Thus, please recognize how competitive the graduate school application process is and take the time to prepare a well-organized and complete package when you contact me.

I provide this information to help you prepare an informative packet that will allow me to evaluate your academic and research experience. This evaluation is the first step of the process, and should take place before you apply to work with me at HPU. In fact, because I will need to endorse your application, it only makes sense to apply after we have discussed graduate school opportunities and have envisioned a path for your success.

Because the number of graduate student opportunities in my lab is small, each position is very valuable to me. Consequently, I put a lot of effort into my students and expect a lot of effort in return. In most cases, I have already written a proposal outlining the theme for the MS work or have collected preliminary data, so I am intellectually invested in student projects. However, because I have many teaching, committee and research commitments, I am looking for self-motivated students who can accept guidance but are interested in taking ownership of their research. This entails developing their own ideas and designing their own sampling program.

It is my goal to mentor students through the intellectual process of completing their degree and to prepare them to be successful in their desired careers. I feel that submitting the thesis chapters for publication is an integral part of this process. I will also encourage students to seek small grants and to present their work at scientific meetings. I hope students will evolve to the point where we learn from each other and we continue to interact as colleagues, long after they graduate from our program.

Advice for Prospective Graduate Students

The type of graduate program best suited for individual students depends upon their interests and long-term goals. Each university and marine laboratory has unique areas of specialization based upon the research interests of the faculty, the facilities available at the institution, and the courses taught by the various departments. HPU's Marine Science Masters' Degree seeks to foster a broad understanding of marine systems through an interdisciplinary program of study and a research-based education in areas of marine science, preparing students for a career in research or resource management or for entry into a Ph.D. program in related fields.

Read more about the program's objectives and structure

Download the 2020 - 2022 MSMS graduate student handbook (PDF - 2.0 MB)

I recommend approaching a MS program as an opportunity to gain valuable new skills to go on to a Ph.D., get a research job, or enter the resource management field. Therefore, it is critical to carefully review the resources and opportunities at each program before you apply. I also suggest making a list of the skills / tools you want to learn in graduate school and evaluate how each institution / department / professor will help you reach these goals.

In addition to this background research, talk to all of the professors you are interested in working with, and make sure you talk to their students. Remember that these students are currently going through what you will experience going to graduate school with their professor, so they should have very good insights into the system.

Even though it is not critical to have a research project outlined when you apply to graduate school, the better sense you have of the type of research you want to do, the easier it will be to complete the program in the normative time (approximately 2 years). Access to data sets and monitoring programs, cruise opportunities for piggy-backing your project, or paid field work are great assets for putting together a thesis project. Make sure you discuss these opportunities in your letter of intent and phone calls. Please note that I will not take on a student without having a secure dataset or a field work opportunity available to complete a dissertation, unless he or she can demonstrate the initiative and skills to start a research project from scratch. Nevertheless, bringing some of these research resources to graduate school will expedite the successful completion of the dissertation research and the MS degree.

Funding is another very important aspect of graduate school, which should be discussed up front. Graduate students rely on four funding sources, listed below. Many students develop a portfolio of funding mechanisms to pay for tuition, living expenses and research costs, by bringing together loans, scholarships and research grants:

- Student Loans: Paying tuition and living in Hawai'i is expensive, and scholarships / fellowships are limited in terms of the types of expenses they can cover. Thus, many students opt for student loans.

- Fellowships: Several federal programs and private foundations award merit-based fellowships to cover tuition and living expenses for multiple years. I will work with students to submit fellowship applications to external (e.g., National Science Foundation, NOAA) and internal (e.g., HPU graduate programs) funding sources before they apply to the MSMS program. Students should contact me early enough to ensure that fellowship applications - and the letters of recommendation and supporting documentation - are submitted on time.

- Assistantships: Students who do not have their own funding - through fellowships or loans - can be supported, in part through competitive graduate research assistantships at two levels of support: 25% or 50 % tuition waivers for two years. These competitive awards are awarded by the college, on the basis of the students' GPA and GRE scores. Additional assistantships, consisting of research - related employment opportunities during the school year and summer, may be available through grant-funded projects. While these assistantships can complement other funding sources, they alone will not suffice to cover all of the tuition and living expenses. Furthermore, students employed as R.A.s will develop a dissertation project, dictated by the goals of the funded grant. In the past, I have applied for grants with students in order to fund their assistantships at HPU. However, it is critical to discuss these funding and research opportunities before applying to the MSMS program.

- Grants & Scholarships: In addition to the tuition and living expenses, funds are often required to cover various research costs (supplies, travel, equipment). I will help students admitted into the MSMS program to fund their dissertation projects through proposals to federal and private funding sources and scholarships.

In summary - my ability to take on students depends on the availability of funding (including grants to the lab and fellowships to the students). While I will not take on students without having the necessary resources to complete their dissertation projects, I will work with qualified applicants to secure funding. Thus, I encourage potential applicants to contact me early enough, so we can develop research grants and fellowships.

Admission into HPU MSMS Program

Because I receive more inquiries into the possibility of graduate work in my lab that I can accommodate, I only agree to advise students who contact me before they apply to the graduate program. Currently, I advise 2 MSMS-Thesis and 2 MSMS-A graduate students: Alondra Islas (2020 cohort),  Sarah Hutchinson (2020 cohort), Sydney Luitgaarden (2021 cohort), and Zak Bramble (2021 cohort). I anticipate taking 1 or 2 students in the fall of 2022.

I am looking for self-motivated students interested in conservation and management. Ultimately, my goal is to help students gain new skills so they can pursue their career goals - whether this means doing a Ph.D. or getting job with a resource management agency or NGO. I will work to help students finish their degrees in 2 - 2.5 years. Because this requires lots of hard work and dedication, I take on few students each year.

Please note that I will not take on students without the necessary financial support to complete their thesis projects. The required support to cover the cost of tuition and living expenses can come from three sources: (i) fellowships / scholarships awarded to the student, (ii) salary provided to the student through a grant awarded to the lab, and (iii) personal funding from the student.

The support required for the research will come from a combination of existing resources (already available at the lab), augmented with internal / external grants. Thus, I encourage students to rely - to the fullest extent possible - on existing datasets and ongoing projects for their dissertation research (see list below), and to participate in the lab's research and projects as research assistants (if funding is available). However, because these funding sources are often fairly limited, students often take a job of a loan. I will help students to obtain fellowships and research funding in special cases: (i) for highly-qualified applicants with independent project ideas, and (ii) for students interested in working on priority lab projects.

If you are interested, the first step involves sending me the following materials via email (bundled in a single pdf):

1) A cover letter that outlines your research interests, personal background, and career goals. Include a brief description of the kind of research project you would like to undertake and its relevance (if any) to conservation

2) A sample of your writing, so I can assess your writing ability: a term paper, a project report or a publication

3) Curriculum vitae (resume) summarizing your work, research, and academic experience

4) Names, addresses, telephone numbers, and emails of 3 references

5) Unofficial copy of your undergraduate transcript - if you have not yet finished your undergraduate degree, please let me know what other classes you are planning to take before you graduate

Please combine items 1-4 into a single PDF file; official copies of transcripts and GRE scores are not needed for a first inquiry (your GRE scores could simply be reported on your resume). If you have not yet finished your undergraduate degree, send me your most recent transcripts. I keep all inquiries for at least one year, so combining everything into a single file makes archiving and retrieving the information easier for me.

Once you have sent this material, it's a good idea to check back with me via email.

If your application is competitive and there are funds to support a student, the next step involves meeting face-to-face or via skype. A visit to campus is not required, but I definitely recommend it. You don't want to commit yourself to 2 years in my lab without some feeling that we can get along; just because I can write scientific papers doesn't mean I'm a good guy! This will allow us to meet, allow you to meet my current students, and visit with other faculty in the department. However, please note that an invitation to visit the university is not an offer of a position. Moreover, keep in mind that a visit would be an"unofficial" way of getting to know you, and you will still have to go through the formal process of applying through the University.

The final step entails applying to HPU. Please note that you may also attend HPU under a "special status", which allows students to take up to 12 course credits without having to commit to the graduate program. This could be a possible venue for potential applicants who wish to check out the MSMS program and HPU for 6 - 12 months. If you have any questions, consult the HPU MSMS Graduate Program - Admission Requirements.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Time-line for Application

Here is a tentative schedule outlining the application process and deadlines:

- July - August:

Contact me to see if I will be taking any students next year

- August - September:

Once you have heard back from me, e-mail the information package described above

If relevant, submit EPA graduate fellowships

- October:

If relevant, submit National Science Foundation graduate fellowship

- November:

If relevant - submit NOAA Nancy Foster graduate fellowship

- January:

Apply to HPU graduate program; submit a HPU graduate scholarship

- March:

Find out decision concerning HPU application and scholarship

- May:

Find out decision concerning NSF graduate fellowship

- June - July:

Once you are accepted into the program for the fall semester, we may decide to start your research over summer. You may consider moving to O'ahu in June or July.

Research Opportunities - Check for updates periodically

* Project topics available for graduate student theses (last updated: January 2022)


Seabird Biogeography:

CPR Cruises - analysis of multi-year seabird surveys, GIS, habitat models, remote sensing

SEA Cruises - analysis of seabird distributionsd, GIS, habitat models, remote sensing

Pelagic Food-Webs:

Isotopic Studies of Hawaiian Seabirds - necropsies, prey analyses, lab processing

Isotopic Studies of Hawaiian Predatory Fishes - necropsies, prey analyses, lab processing

Seabirds as Oceanographic Indicators:

Foraging Ecology of Hawaiian Seabirds - colony work, time-depth recorders, dive data analysis

Seabird and Predatory Fish Diets and Plastic INgestion:

Diet of Hawaiian Seabirds - prey analyses, lab processing of ingested plastic, e-DNA

Diet of Hawaiian Predatory Fishes - prey analyses, lab processing of ingested plastic, e-DNA


* Independent research opportunities for undergraduate students (starting August 2022)

Fall 2018: NSCI 3950 / 4950: Analysis of seabird trophic position with stable isotopes - AVAILABLE

Fall 2018: NSCI 3950 / 4950: Analysis of tuna diet and plastic ingestion - AVAILABLE


* Work-study research positions for undergraduate students (starting August 2022)

Fall 2019 - Spring 2020: Seabird Ecology Lab Assistant - Apply via HPU Financiual Aid

Fall 2019 - Spring 2020: Pelagic Food Web Lab Assistant - Apply via HPU Financiual Aid

Scholarship Opportunities - Check for updates periodically

Relevant HPU Web Pages

* Graduate Scholarships

* Online Application

Fellowships and Scholarships

* Graduate Funding Opportunities

* Graduate Funding

* Scholarships for Women

* Financial Aid for Women

* NOAA - coastal programs

* NOAA - office of education

* NOAA - Sea Grant

* NOAA - Nancy Foster Scholarship

* U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

* International Women's Fishing Association

* Steven Berkeley Marine Conservation Fellowship

Small Grants - For Supplies / Equipment

* Sigma Delta Epsilon - Women in Science

* Natural History Museum- Marine Science

* Natural History Museum- Ornithology


Back to Home


Back to HPU