opportunities for graduate students

UPDATED: April 2, 2023

***Please check back on September 1, 2023 when I’ll have a better idea of whether I will be accepting graduate students for the Fall 2023 admissions cycle (to start Fall 2024). 

***Graduate students from groups that are historically underrepresented in the sciences are also encouraged to apply! You may be eligible for a STEM Diversity Fellowship through UMass Amherst. Please contact me if you have questions or interest in this program. 

Nuts and Bolts

I accept graduate students through 2 programs at UMass Amherst.

Each program is geared towards a slightly different student and each varies in course requirements and funding frameworks. Logistically, OEB students begin in the fall semester. ECO students may begin in fall (Feb 1 deadline) or spring semester (Oct 1 deadline). Please look at the programs and think about which might be a good fit for your interests. After looking, we can have some follow up conversations about matching the program to your career and training goals.

Lab Philosophy

Bodega Marine Lab, Point Reyes Kayak Camping 2014

Graduate school is a wonderful time to grow as a scientist, yet it is also a sacrifice of time and effort. Choose wisely! Perhaps one of the most important elements in a graduate school experience is the fit between the advisor and student. In mentoring, I favor a holistic approach that fosters the growth of the student as an independent scientist and your development of skills. I wish for my students to go forth and be productive citizens in academia, management, conservation, or elsewhere. We also have an interest in STEM diversity and inclusion. We value effective science communication (example 1, 2, 3). Engaging with stakeholders, the mass media, and other scientists is important to me and I encourage lab members to hone their ‘scicomm’ skills as well.

Our research interests are generally focused on both applied and fundamental questions in marine ecology and global change biology. Brian’s interests are centered on climate change, species interactions (especially predator-prey), organismal physiology, and biological invasions. Increasingly, I am involved in research synthesis via meta-analysis. However, I am more than happy to advise students who have interests in general questions in marine ecology and global change (provided there is reasonable overlap in my expertise and the research). This is particularly the case for PhD students who have a bit more time to develop ideas in areas distinct from my own.


We expect lab members to abide by our principles of community and to conduct themselves in a manner that is respectful of labmates and the broader scientific community.

We expect lab members to be a part of the vibrant academic community within the Department of ECo, UMass, and the community at large. I do not wish to micro-manage your schedule, but I do expect lab members to contribute and be present. This could mean: helping your lab mates do field work, process samples, sharing/blogging your statistical scripts, or other creative/productive endeavors.

Oyster growing experts: Jill, Charlie, and Chris!

We expect graduate students to publish their research. Even if you intend to pursue a career path outside of academia, publishing is a valuable experience that demonstrates your ability to manage projects, write well, and get stuff done! Publishing your research also means that you have contributed to the collective knowledge of humankind. Isn’t that reason enough?

We expect graduate students to lead a healthy life that balances hard work with the joy and sadness of life.

For my part, you can expect Brian to:

  • Be an engaged mentor who will offer guidance and expertise where and when needed
  • Support your productive activities inside and outside of academia
  • Provide timely, constructive feedback on proposals, theses, manuscripts (given sufficient lead time)
  • Have a vested interest in your success as a scientist and citizen

Why us?

This is a fantastic time to join us. The possibilities for exciting applied and basic marine research are numerous. Lab members have many opportunities to interact and collaborate with faculty in the Department of Environmental Conservation, Biology, the Five Colleges Consortium, and governmental partners. UMass Amherst is also the flagship school within the University of Massachusetts system, offering a superb educational experience. Our undergraduate and graduate students experience extremely high job placement rates in academia, management, conservation, and the private sector.

Brian, Shrimpie, Jori, Aly, and Drew, spring 2019

In collaboration with the Headwaters to Oceans Group (Jordaan Lab), the Danylchuk Lab, and the Komoroske Lab, our marine ecology lab group will play a large role in building marine science at UMass. In particular, we will expand our usage of the Gloucester Marine Station, a 3,000 square foot facility that will house a newly installed flow-through seawater system in addition to our research vessels. There may be additional opportunities to utilize field stations and sites both near and far, such as: Shoals Marine Laboratory, Smithsonian Institution (e.g. Bocas del Toro, Carrie Bow Cay, SMS Fort Pierce, SERC), and the Bodega Marine Laboratory.


The Pioneer Valley is also a great place to live! Amherst was recently ranked #6 in Small Towns of the United States and Northampton was ranked one of the best small cities to live in. The region has a high density of organic farms, local breweries, and is within striking distance of the Berkshire Mountains (west), the White Mountains (north), Boston (east), and New York City (south).

The explosion of colors during a New England autumn.

What now?

Interested in joining us? Great! Please send the following to bscheng@umass.edu

  1. Brief statement highlighting your research interests. In other words, what kind of research do you want to do here and why? (~2 paragraphs within the email is fine)
  2. CV
  3. Writing sample (thesis, paper, or other representative work)
  4. Names and contact information for 2 references
  5. Undergrad/grad GPA and coursework***

Around admissions time, I receive a lot of inquiry emails about graduate school. It may take me a little bit of time for me to respond. Don’t be shy, feel free to send me a reminder email if you haven’t heard from me. PhD students should contact me no later than November 15.

***GPA scores can be useful in determining how competitive your application may be for the various graduate programs. However, I personally view prior research experience, letters of recommendation, and inter-personal skills as better indicators of graduate student success.

Wilson approves this message.