Jeremy Fox seeking grad students for Fall 2017

I’m currently seeking 2-3 graduate students (M.Sc. or Ph.D.) to start in Fall 2017!

My work addresses fundamental questions in ecology and evolution, ranging from population ecology to macroevolution and using different approaches depending on the question (theory, experiments, comparative analyses). I’m open to inquiries from students with a broad range of interests, but I’m particularly keen to hear from students interested in the following ongoing projects:

  • Causes and consequences of spatial synchrony. This project is a long-term collaboration with David Vasseur at Yale. Spatial synchrony is a common and striking natural phenomenon, whereby spatially-separated populations of the same species exhibit correlated fluctuations in abundance. Even across entire continents! This project uses protist microcosms to conduct experiments that would be impossible to conduct in nature at the relevant spatial and temporal scales. My lab has gotten what we think are very cool results on this in the past (e.g., Vasseur & Fox 2009 Nature), and we just got more that we’re really excited about and that can be built on in many different ways. Lots of low-hanging fruit here, both modeling and experimental. And if you like the sound of getting hundreds of generations of population dynamic data in a single summer, this is the model system for you.
  • Local adaptation in space and time. This project involves using a -80 C freezer as a ‘time machine’ to reciprocally transplant lake bacteria forwards and backwards in time (as well as in space) to test for local adaptation to spatial and temporal environmental variation. One big question is whether temporal or spatial variation is more effective at generating local adaptation and so maintaining diversity. The simplest theory says that spatial variation should be much more effective, but nature may not be that simple. I recently published promising preliminary results on this project (Fox & Harder 2015 Evolution), it’s just waiting for a grad student to take it on, scale it up, and run with it.
  • Using the Price equation to quantify species selection in macroevolution. Species selection is non-random speciation and extinction with respect to species’ traits (e.g., body size). It’s potentially a key driver of macroevolutionary trends, and has long been of huge interest to evolutionary biologists because it’s not just the cumulative effect of microevolution (at least, not necessarily). But it’s proven very hard to detect and quantify in real data such as data from the fossil record, because microevolutionary forces can produce similar trends. In collaboration with my paleontological colleague Jessica Theodor and her group, I’ve used a powerful quantitative tool–the Price equation–to detect and quantify species selection and other macroevolutionary forces in a high-quality fossil dataset (Rankin et al. 2015 Proceedings B). I’m looking for a graduate student to build on this work by applying the approach to other suitable fossil datasets (probably invertebrates, though there may be suitable vertebrate datasets as well; identifying suitable datasets would be the first task). The ideal candidate would have an interest in big, conceptual, quantitative questions (like “how strong is species selection?”), and would already have experience working with fossils and data derived from fossils.
  • Other creative uses of microcosms. Microcosms are the study system in which I have the most experience, so if you have a cool idea for a question that could be addressed in microcosms, I’d love to hear from you. I’m currently toying with some ideas for “macroecology in microcosms”…

For more on my lab, please visit my (shiny new!) homepage.

The University of Calgary is one of Canada’s top research universities. The Dept. of Biological Sciences has ~55 faculty. We have ~180 graduate students, of whom ~1/3 are in ecology and evolution.

Guaranteed funding of at least $21,000/year (more than that in practice) is available for 2 years (M.Sc.) or 4 years (Ph.D.). Note that Canadian graduate programs are a bit shorter than in the US. Funding is provided through a combination of TAships, RAships, and scholarships. Applications are evaluated as they’re received.

Calgary is a safe, vibrant city of over 1 million people, located close to the Canadian Rockies with all the opportunities for research and recreation that implies.

If you are interested, please email me an introductory note, along with a cv, transcripts (unofficial is fine), and contact details for 3 references.

-Jeremy Fox (

18 thoughts on “Jeremy Fox seeking grad students for Fall 2017

  1. Sometimes I wish I was starting out all over again…. Loving the “time machine” idea! Presumably that could be done with seeds too? Maybe even pollen? The times between transplants would have to be longer of course.

    • “Resurrection ecology” is the term of art for germinating ancient seeds from permafrost, ancient Daphnia resting eggs, etc, and growing them in a common garden with contemporary genotypes. The main limitation is that it’s one way. You can’t transplant contemporary seeds or eggs back into past environments.

      OTOH freezing at -80 only preserves bulk water chemistry. Not other aspects of past environments. So my approach has its own limitations.

    • Don’t know.

      UK grad programs are even shorter. 1 year MSc, 3 years PhD, I believe. Though I believe that’s at least in part because British undergrads specialize more than their North American counterparts. They generally enter grad school with more courses in their chosen field. Jeff Ollerton or another British reader can correct me if I’m wrong on this.

      • Yes, that’s pretty much standard, though there are exceptions. Quite a number of postgrads go straight from BSc to PhD without getting an MSc, for instance. And it is possible sometimes to get some discretionary funding from a department for a fourth year of PhD study, though it depends on availability of funds.

      • There are North Americans who go straight from a bachelor’s to a PhD too (I did). But I don’t know the percentage; it would be interesting to know how it compares to the UK.

      • I’ve got some stats… of the 27 ESA Early Career Fellows (proxy for young successful ecologists), all of them did their PhDs in the U.S. and 12 got a Masters along the way. Of these 12, 7 were done at the bachelors’ (3) or PhD (4) institution, and so these might represent 5-year BS-MS programs and/or MS degrees conferred “on the way” to a PhD.

        Overall, these number match my general impression that a (weak) majority of ecology PhDs go directly from undergraduate.

      • Cheers for this Margaret. Though I wonder how representative ESA ECFs are of ecology PhDs generally when it comes to going straight from a bachelor’s to a PhD without getting an MSc first. I could imagine reasons why they’d be biased high, and biased low. Could be that ESA ECFs are more likely than the average ecology PhD to be bachelor’s degree holders who were very well-prepared for grad school and very sure they wanted to go on in academia–hence very likely to go straight for a PhD. On the other hand, maybe ESA ECFs are more likely than the average ecology PhD to have done both an MSc and a PhD, because resulting longer record of grad school achievements improves your odds of becoming a successful young academic ecology prof.

      • Having been faculty in Canada and the US in the last ten years, my sense pretty much matches ATMs

        Canadian PhDs are definitely shorter. This is in part because they assume a masters first, much rarer to go straight to a PhD w/o MSc in Canada – and most who do it start as an MSc and then convert to a PhD mid course. This is also in part because most PhDs in Canada only require 1-2 classes.

        That said ATM is also right that the mismatch in expectations is greater in Canada. It seems to me in Canada that most people expect people to finish in 3-4 years (vs 5.9 actual) (and if I recall NSERC only funds 2 years PHD if you already had MSc funding – although this has changed a lot recently). In the US people expect more like 5 years (vs 6.7 actual).

      • “Canadian PhDs are definitely shorter. This is in part because they assume a masters first, much rarer to go straight to a PhD w/o MSc in Canada – and most who do it start as an MSc and then convert to a PhD mid course. This is also in part because most PhDs in Canada only require 1-2 classes.”

        Yes to all of this.

    • I can’t find the stats now but I believe Canadian students actually take longer than US students to finish their grad degrees, but the funding is for shorter times. Most everyone in my cohort had to ‘self-fund’ at least a couple semesters because their funding ran out. (Calgary is likely to be an exception to this.) Also the tuition+fees/semester in Canada was less than the fees/semester at my US PhD institution.

      • Huh, I’ve never heard that, would be very interested to see the data. It would surprise me greatly if it were true.

        It’s certainly a contrast to my experience at Calgary. Our PhD students average a bit more than 4 years, but they never have to self-fund. They ordinarily can get funding for a term or two beyond the guaranteed funding period if needs be.

        At Calgary in my dept., it’s our master’s degrees that tend to run long–often 3 years rather than 2, though again without students ordinarily having to self-fund. But the dept. is aware of the problem and is recalibrating expectations for master’s students so that nobody ends up doing a “mini-PhD” any more. I’m optimistic that we’ll soon get the length of our master’s degrees down to where they should be.

      • Time to completion is higher in the US (6.7 years) vs. Canada (5.9 years) if you just count the PhD and ignore that Canada apparently hasn’t studied this in almost 10 years.
        Canada (not less than 5 years for biology although the figure is missing)

        Looking around, the data is bad enough in Canada that I’d really take ‘should take 5 years for a biology PhD’ with a big grain of salt.

      • Cheers for this, that broadly jives with my anecdotal experience though I’m 99% sure our own dept. average for PhDs is a bit shorter than 5.9 years.

    • Postdocs aren’t any shorter in Canada, but I think it’s fair to say there are fewer sources of them than in the US. That’s in part because NSERC Discovery Grants are smaller than NSF grants–usually too small to pay for a postdoc.

      Whether they’re “harder to get” is another question, since that depends on demand for postdoctoral positions as well as the supply of positions. I don’t know of data on this.

  2. Pingback: Jeremy Fox seeking grad students for Fall 2017 — Dynamic Ecology –

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