Prospective Students

I am always interested in hearing from enthusiastic undergrads, prospective grad students, and postdocs.

Undergraduate students

We are always looking for motivated undergrads to join our group, usually first as volunteers or work-study students with the possibility of paid positions after that. I am also happy to sponsor undergraduate students interested in doing directed studies (BISC 497/498/499) or Independent Study Semester projects leading to an honours degree on a case by case basis, ideally after they have spent at least a semester volunteering in the lab. Undergrads in the group have an excellent record of receiving NSERC USRA awards to do collaborative field projects after volunteering or doing directed studies.

Graduate students

Graduate school provides an opportunity for you to change from being someone who reads to someone who is read.

–Ray Huey

I think Ray sums it up nicely. Graduate school is the beginning of your professional career in science, and you have a tremendous opportunity to develop and pursue your interests and establish yourself as an expert in the field. I would add just one sentiment to the above quote, and that is in my field (applied ecology and conservation biology) I also hope that you aim to make a difference in the way we understand, manage, and conserve natural ecosystems with your contributions. I find that real-world problems, of which there are an endless supply, force us to put research in a broader ecological context, one that increases the work’s relevance to local, regional, or global conservation.

2014 UPDATE: I will be on sabbatical during the 2014/2015 Academic year.

If you are a prospective PhD-track student interested in beginning Fall 2015, and you have excellent academic preparation, I encourage you to contact me (email is fine). I may be a little harder to contact than usual while on sabbatical, so please forgive the slow response. Please also include as much of the following as possible:

• C.V. or summary of your previous research and academic experience

• Copies of your transcripts (unofficial is fine) or list of coursework with grades

• A little about why you are interested in grad school, and how our interests might overlap

• Contact information for two or more academic letters of reference

Graduate support in Biological Sciences at SFU typically comes in the form of a combination of research and teaching assistantships (guaranteed for ~5 years for the PhD program), and in the case of highly-qualified students, in house scholarships from Simon Fraser. Additionally, I expect students who work with me to be extremely competitive candidates for fellowships (NSERC, NSF, etc. see below) and I strongly encourage applications for external funding (often ~12 months prior to your anticipated start date). If awarded, these fellowships provide you with a tremendous amount of freedom.

I also suggest that you familiarize yourself with the SFU-Biology admission process (, and if you still have questions contact the graduate program coordinator Marlene Nguyen (


What I look for in potential students:

I am interested in attracting creative, highly motivated, and independent students who can work and play well with others. In my experience, perhaps the most important traits for a successful graduate experience are a deep-seated intellectual curiosity about the natural world, determination, and a vision for what you want to do with science. I expect that the latter may evolve during your studies, but the first two have to come from you from the beginning. I may be a good fit if you are interested in applied ecology involving field-based studies and quantitative techniques (usually some combination of experiments, observations, surveys, and models), especially in aquatic ecosystems (freshwaters, estuaries, nearshore marine).

What I expect of graduate students:

One of the main reasons I decided to stay in academia is the chance to interact with a diverse group of graduate students and faculty that creates one of the most intellectually stimulating environments around. In the best cases, these interactions push the boundaries of how I think about science and conservation. I am excited to invest a tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources (professional and financial support, space, computers, lab and field equipment) in every student, but in return have high expectations for graduate students. I expect that graduate students will own their education, independently seeking out the interactions they need along the way, and actively participate in our highly collaborative research group. Along with this comes helping fellow lab members in the field, providing constructive feedback on manuscripts, proposals, and talks, joining or starting journal clubs or reading groups, communicating your work and ideas outside of academia, and contributing to an overall positive group environment. I also expect that graduate students will strive to keep all of this in balance with their personal lives, which makes all of us happier people and better scientists.

Other resources:

An amusing exchange in the literature about graduate school advice:

Steve Stearns – Some Modest Advice for Graduate Students

Ray Huey – Reply to Stearns: Some Acynical Advice for Graduate Students

Fellowship opportunities:

I encourage students with excellent preparation for graduate school to apply to any and all fellowship opportunities that are applicable. I would be happy to provide support for your application and offer feedback on the development of the written proposal.

For Canadian citizens:

NSERC – due October


Thanks for your interest in my group!

Feel free to be in touch,

Wendy Palen (wpalen AT


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