New Grad Students

Open letter to prospective graduate students

Dear Prospective Graduate Student,

Thank you for your interest in my research and in the graduate program in Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Because I have a very full lab, I am not going to be able to admit any new graduate students for the 2018-19 academic year (applications deadline 15 December 2017).  Please check back for next year, and check out the labs of my colleagues Karen Holl, Ingrid Parker, and Kai Zhu, who have similar interests.  I am particularly interested in students who want to explore ways to apply evolutionary ecology to understanding and solving environmental problems.  Be sure to contact me well in advance of the application deadline.

I am best able to support students who work on applied evolutionary ecology of plants and/or fungi. My lab does extensive work in forest ecosystems, as well as in grasslands and highly managed ecosystems, in both tropical (especially Latin America) and California ecosystems. Work in my lab includes observational and manipulative experiments,  blends laboratory and field research, and strives to connect practice to theory.

Although my lab is focused on applied ecology, my students are expected to develop a significant social science component to their dissertation, in addition to an applied ecology focus. I am particularly  interested in supporting students with scholarly interests in inquiry-based and experiential learning as part of their dissertation work.

If you are interested in applying to join the Gilbert Lab, please send me an email ( describing

  1. your research interests,
  2. why you want to do a Ph.D. in my lab and in the Environmental Studies program,
  3. your previous research experiences, and
  4. relevant academic and work background.

Please note that students entering the Environmental Studies doctoral program should be particularly interested in embracing an interdisciplinary program and incorporating both natural and social sciences into their dissertation research.

My students usually develop their own dissertation topics, rather than working directly within my ongoing projects. Nevertheless, I am involved at every stage of dissertation development, and I commonly develop at least one collaborative project with each student. I make every effort to be helpful in developing research projects and in finding funding to support student research.

A common theme running throughout my lab is the effort to find ways to effectively incorporate evolutionary ecology (especially phylogenetic ecology) into the conservation of biological diversity or management of agricultural systems. Most of my personal research is focused on plant disease ecology, but I welcome students interested in related areas.  Students interested in working on the 16-ha UCSC Forest Ecology Research Plot are particularly encouraged. UCSC boasts a rich environment for research in tropical systems through our interdepartmental Center for Tropical Research in Ecology, Agriculture, and Development (CenTREAD). Environmental Studies students are encouraged to build strong links with other faculty from other specialties within the department and across the UCSC campus.

Half of my work is in tropical Latin America (primarily in Panama, but I’ve worked in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia, as well as Australia and Micronesia) and the rest in California ecosystems. Similarly, students in my lab are usually focused either on tropical or California-based systems. I encourage students to choose study sites and systems most appropriate to the overall questions they wish to address. Students wishing to do research in tropical systems should have some previous experience in the tropics, given the many logistical difficulties in working there.

The graduate program in Environmental Studies at UCSC expects students to cross disciplinary boundaries. All graduate students are expected to become literate in environmental policy or political economy in addition to expertise in their major fields; the graduate core curriculum helps ensure this, and advisory committees for natural science students always have at least one member from the social sciences. To be admitted to the program students should have completed courses in ecology, policy, economics, and statistics, although some catch-up is permitted once in the program. In addition, depending on the research interests of the student, I would expect a strong background in either mycology/microbiology, statistics, or ecology. I will only accept students to the Ph.D. program that have some previous experience in independent research.

Specific questions about the admission process should be directed to the Environmental Studies Graduate Program Coordinator  Lisa Birney.  More information about the department and the graduate program is available at


Greg Gilbert