Prospective Students

Dr. Stocker is looking for Masters and PhD applicants to join the lab in 2020. Keep reading to learn more about how to apply, expectations of lab members, and general advice for prospective graduate students.


Are you interested in joining the Paleobiology Research Group with Dr. Stocker? If so, please read on.


  • Ask yourself the right questions about graduate school before reaching out to a prospective advisor. "Why do I need a graduate degree? What will I do with it? What goals will it help me achieve?" You're the only person who can answer these questions, and if you don't have good answers yet, you may not be ready to pursue graduate education. There is often a lot of flexibility with graduate projects. Options can be a good thing; they can also be overwhelming. Without a clear vision of your goals you may find yourself struggling to complete projects or even to stay motivated. If you start graduate school with a clear idea of the goals your graduate work will help you achieve, you are setting yourself up for success. If you have a general interest in research but haven't quite dialed in your interests to a specific area, take some time to work in a lab, work with field crews, or gain other experience (that may not even be research!) to help answer these questions. Seasonal job openings are regularly posted through professional societies and list-servs. Working a few jobs can help sharpen your focus and identify your interests through hard work and hands-on experience.

  • Find an advisor who is a good fit for you. Advisors come in all personality types and utilize a wide range of strategies, communication styles, and tools to advise their students. Finding the right advisor for you is critical to your success as a graduate student and is often considered as important as finding the right project or department. In general, my goal is to tailor my advising style to the goals of my students and to their progress through a graduate degree (e.g., more advising at the start of a project, tapering to less over time). However, I have some expectations of all students, outlined below.

  • Overview of my expectations for graduate students:

    • You are expected to be self-motivated and take responsibility for your successes and failures. In research, is critical to be able to push yourself to set specific goals, make progress, evaluate failures and learn from them, and ultimately complete projects all the way through to dissemination of results (papers, science communication). I am here to advise you through that process, provide help when needed, and advocate for you. This means that I will hold you accountable to the goals you set for yourself.

    • You are expected to communicate openly, honestly, and respectfully with me (your major advisor) as well as your peers and community members. Communication is the most important factor in my ability to help you achieve your goals. Open, honest, and respectful communication is also critical to productive collaborations and a functioning laboratory environment. All lab members are expected to follow the Virginia Tech Principles of Community

    • You are expected to be organized. This includes familiarizing yourself with the requirements of your degree, establishing a timeline for completion of the degree, organizing regular meetings with me, and adhering to lab policies on data management. Lab policies also require respect for equipment and the laboratory space, and all lab members are responsible for keeping work spaces clean, organized, and safe. This may mean that as a member of the lab, you are held to stricter standards regarding organization and tidiness than those you might set for yourself independently; it is important to consider whether you will be comfortable with that before joining the lab.

      • You are expected to publish your research. Peer-reviewed publications remain the primary pathway for scientific advancement, and they are almost always a required product of funded research. I expect all of my graduate students to publish research in a timely fashion.

      • You are expected to be an involved, contributing member of the lab and department. This means at minimum attending (and being prepared for) lab meetings, collaborative multi-lab discussions, student defenses, and departmental seminars.

      • Smart work is as important as hard work, and you are expected to "work smart." This means figuring out how (and where, and when) you work best to meet your goals. The number of hours in the lab or office that you need to invest to achieve your goals is flexible, and I will help you gauge your progress. Research is a competitive field, and sometimes you'll need to work long hours in the field, odd hours in the lab, or work a long day (or week, or weekend) to meet a deadline. Plan ahead so you know what you'll need to do. It is important to be honest with yourself about what it will take to meet the goals you set for yourself. I don’t want you to be busy; I want you to be productive.

  • If you are interested in joining the Stocker Lab as a graduate student, reach out. If you feel ready for graduate work and are interested in joining me in the Paleobiology Research Group at VT, please send the following to me ( your CV, and a description of your research interests and reasons for wanting to pursue a graduate degree. I expect incoming Masters students to exhibit a demonstrated interest in research (e.g., some familiarity with the literature) as well as some experience relevant to the proposed project. My expectations of incoming PhD students include demonstrated self-motivation, strong potential for project leadership, and some track record of research (peer-review publications are great). I strongly encourage all eligible graduate students to apply for the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

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