Graduate Students





Thanks for visiting our lab page. I occasionally accept graduate students who have strong quantitative and programming skills. Please note that at present, I am only accepting graduate students that come with their own funding (see below).

This page will help explain in more detail the type of graduate student who will fit well with the lab, what my general expectations are for graduate students, and how the application process works. Please read this page carefully before contacting me.

Research Interests


Do the kinds of things we do in our lab excite you? That is perhaps the most important place to start. 

To answer this question, start by reading some of my papers, especially Madin et al. (2016), Madin et al. (2011), Madin et al. (2010a) and (2010b). This will give you an idea of what we've done in the past, but should not limit you to thinking of questions only in these areas. I encourage students to come up with their own areas of interest and research questions that align to a greater or lesser extent with my own skills and interests. For example, you will not be 'given' a Ph.D. topic in my lab; coming up with the question is one of the key parts of learning to be a scientist. I'm willing to supervise students who want to work either within the areas in which we're already working or in related areas that are exciting to me and have potential for informing marine science and conservation. 


Before contacting me, it's also important to ask yourself whether you will likely be a good fit for our lab. 

Some key characteristics that I look for in graduate students are: 

  • Strong written and oral communiation skills (I recommend that students take at least one scientific writing class before starting graduate school, if possible)

  • Strong quantitative skills, e.g., the ability/willingness to think mathematically and program in R (preferably) or Matlab

  • A strong sense of self-sufficiency, innate motivation and willingness to work hard to excel

  • An ability to think outside the box, e.g., to come up with novel questions, tackle problems in novel ways, etc.

  • A willingness to sometimes venture outside of their comfort zone (safely!) to get the job done - whether that be in doing field work, learning a new programming language, in engaging public speaking, and so on

  • Integrity, passion, kindness and humour: I aim to fill our lab with quality human beings who get along well with others

Once in the lab, I expect that students will read broadly in the current literature; attend, engage, and present at lab meetings, departmental seminars & scientific meetings; and devote themselves to learning the scientific techniques and analyses that are required to conduct and publish a high-quality scientific study. I also expect my students to be good colleagues to others in the lab by helping to maintain lab morale, lab organization & cleanliness, and to contribute to the projects of lab mates in the same way that they will help others.


The Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) is not an academic department, so prospective students wanting to pursue a graduate degree in my lab will need to apply to one of the graduate programs here at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  The three most common programs for students at HIMB include the Marine Biology Graduate Program, the Department of Oceanography or the Zoology Graduate Program through the Department of Biology.  Also, many HIMB students also participate in the interdisciplinary graduate specialization in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology (EECB); students interested in the sorts of research that I do will benefit from interacting with the other members of EECB as well.  Looking through the links above are the best way for prospective students to decide which path is likely to be the best fit and should be done before contacting me.

Each of these departments accepts students once a year and their graduate programs are extremely competitive. Because of this, students with funding sources already secured (see below) are usually ranked higher in the review process. Applications are generally due in December, admissions are announced around April, and graduate school starts in August.  Please check each website for specific dates.  

I also encourage you to read this brief guide to writing an effective Statement of Interest from the ToBo Lab for your graduate application.  It is very simple and may help you to develop a better application package regardless of which program you choose.


Students in my lab may be funded in a variety of ways, including from their own grants/fellowships (see examples below), university fellowships, teaching assistantships, and my research grants. I expect that any student applying to work in my lab will also plan to apply for nationally competitive graduate fellowships such as the NSF GRFP, NDSEG, NOAA Nancy Foster, NASA FINESST, and NMFS-Sea Grant Joint Fellowship Program that would enable them to be self-supported during at least part of graduate school. A good list of possible funding sources is maintained by the Baskett Lab at UC-Davis. In addition to being potential funding sources, these applications offer students the opportunity to hone potential research ideas, ensure applications to the UH graduate program are clear and concise, and demonstrate a true interest in joining the lab.

Because these fellowships rarely cover the duration of a student’s graduate career, students will generally work some semesters part-time as a teaching assistant (TA) or research assistant (RA). Both RA and TA may or may not be related to your area of research. These two options require 20 hours weekly workload and provide a tuition waiver and health insurance.


If, after reading and considering the information above, you believe you are a) a good fit for my lab and vice-versa and b) a strong candidate for acceptance into the graduate program, feel free to email me ( to introduce yourself. In your email, please include: 

  1. A written statement (~1 page) that details a) your research interests/ideas, b) your past research experience, c) your idealized goal after completing a graduate degree, and d) why you want to work in my lab;

  2. A CV (including GPA and unofficial GRE scores); and

  3. Names and contact information of three references.

Please note that at present, I am only able to accept graduate students that come with their own funding (e.g., such as one of the nationally competitive graduate fellowships listed above). For candidates whose interests, skills, and background are a very good fit with the lab, I may be able to work with you to help you prepare one or more of these fellowship applications. In general, I suggest getting in touch in ~Aug/Sept/Oct for entry into grad school the following year, however you may contact me at any time of year.

If you have already been awarded a nationally competitive graduate fellowship, the UH Biology Department has a process to consider accepting funded students, so you can contact me to see if there is space in the lab for you to join.