Introduction

Welcome! You are here because you are interested in joining the Eckert lab in Department of Biology located at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). I am an evolutionary biologist, with broad interests in evolutionary genetics, phylogenetics and phylogeography. You can read more about my research interests here. The goal of this site is to introduce you to my philosophy as a mentor and my expectations for students.

I am looking for students who are passionate about studying evolution. Whether you are an empiricist who works in the field or a theoretician who works through simulations, you will need to be a curious and passionate researcher to join my lab. It would also be valuable to have prior research experience, but this is not a requirement. As with most labs in the life sciences, there are only so many spots, so that open positions for students can be quite competitive. You should have good grades in relevant coursework as an undergraduate along with strong GRE scores, as these metrics help obtain funding, as well as strong analytical skills.

If you are still interested in joining my lab, the best thing for you to do is to read my papers, read the information below and then to set up a time to talk over the phone. Prior to contacting me, please think about why my lab would help you to become a better scientist.

Below you will find a description of my philosophy of mentoring and my expectations. If after the reading the following you are still interested, please contact me (aeckert2@vcu.edu) or the Department of Biology at VCU for more information.
My Philosophy of Mentoring

There are many important things to learn as a scientist, two of which I think are the most important being: (1) how to think critically and (2) how to be creative. These are crucial as you will be confronted with ever increasing amounts of data that challenge existing computational resources as well as prevailing theories (see Eckert 2011 for an example). It is all too easy to get lost and overwhelmed in the details that cloud the relevance to broader evolutionary and biological questions. These enormous data sets, however, also offer enormous creative potential with which to validate and create new knowledge about evolutionary patterns and processes.

My philosophy of mentoring is one where I will do my best to help you develop these skills. Everybody learns differently, and, as such, there is room to tailor experiences that are unique to you. The goal is for you to develop and hone the aforementioned skills, not to be a source of cheap labor. Of course, there are time constraints dependent upon funding, and program requirements, but the goal is for you to develop into an independent scientist.

If you are interested in this type of graduate school experience, please contact me (aeckert2@vcu.edu) so we can discuss your interests, your expectations and needs as a student, and what you want to get out of graduate school.
My Expectations for Students

Transitioning from undergraduate to graduate school can be difficult, as the focus changes from demonstration of knowledge (i.e. taking and passing tests) to generation of knowledge (i.e. generating and testing hypotheses). As such, the following gives my expectations for graduate students.

I expect that students participate in the creation and dissemination of knowledge about evolution. This means that you will be expected to think critically about evolutionary problems and express your thoughts through publications, presentations and teaching. You will also be expected to actively participate in laboratory activities such as weekly reading groups and lab meetings. The goal of these expectations is for them to help you to develop into an independent and productive scientist.

I expect the following from all of my students:

(1) I expect all students to publish, or at least prepare for publication, a minimum of one paper from their research during their tenure in my lab.

(2) I expect students to attend and present at regional and national scientific conferences.

(3) I expect students to gain teaching experience. More often than not, this will also be a source of funding, but should also be viewed as a wonderful opportunity to develop necessary skills to become a productive academic.

(4) I expect students to actively read and summarize relevant literature and to maintain active interests in all aspects of science.

(5) I expect students to actively apply for funding, especially students in the Integrative Life Sciences Ph.D. program.


There are also expectations relevant to whether you join my lab for a Master's degree in Biology or a Ph.D. in Integrative Life Sciences. These, however, can be discussed later.

Helpful and interesting references:

On Becoming a Biologist

Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences

Advice for a Young Investigator

Scientific Method in Practice

Strong Inference

Here is the evidence, now what is the hypothesis? The complementary roles of inductive and hypothesis-driven science in the post-genomic era


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