Applying for Graduate Studies at the University of Michigan

Opportunities in the Laboratory of George Kling

I am currently accepting new Ph.D. students interested in ecosystem ecology.  If you are interested in becoming a student in my lab, please contact me ( and send a statement about your research interests, information about your research experience, and a current copy of your CV (resume).  Below is a set of replies to commonly asked questions about my mentoring style for graduate students.  We also have wonderful facilities and a great group of people here at Michigan studying aquatic ecology and biogeochemistry, and even though faculty are in different departments we regularly interact through our joint research or teaching, and especially through our students.

The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology offers Ph.D. students five years of guaranteed funding, including a mix of fellowships, Graduate Student Instructorships (GSIs), and Graduate Student Research Assistantships (GSRAs).  You can receive further information about applying to our graduate program in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary at the University of Michigan through our EEB Department website. and by contacting our graduate coordinator, Julia Eussen (

Statements on Student Mentoring  –  George W. Kling

Answers to Questions that prospective students often ask:

  1. How specific of an idea regarding a thesis do you expect your students to have upon entering the Ph.D. program?  Do you have a specific project that you would like to see a new graduate student working on?

I have found that very few incoming Ph.D. students, unless they are continuing in the same direction as their masters research, have a really good idea about a thesis topic when they arrive.  That is OK with me, and probably best in the end, within some limits.  For example, if a person is trying to choose between arachnid phylogenetics, fish thermal physiology, or aquatic biogeochemistry, then there could be problems.  However, if a student is trying to decide between studying nitrogen-carbon interactions, or spatial effects on land-water linkages, or microbial dynamics and ecosystem function, then things will work out fine.  Obviously, the further a field someone’s thesis is to my grants or interests, the more independent they need to be in terms of getting funding, finding and talking to experts, and so on.

  1. What is your mentoring style?  Do you like to be directly involved in the thesis or more hands off?

I usually have several Ph.D. students in my laboratory (see the EEB Department website).  At the moment they all are working in close association with my funded research grants.  However, I have broad interests in ecology and in the past my students have successfully completed dissertations that were not closely related to the research grants that I had at the time.  Both situations seem to work well, although there is more creativity required in finding research support as the projects drift away from my core, funded research.  There is usually a broad mix of graduate students, technicians, and undergrads in the lab, which results in great opportunities for impromptu discussions about science or more formal presentations during our lab meetings.  I have an open-door policy for meeting with people in the lab, and although I am away on travel a fair bit I can always schedule an appointment or be reached by email.  I tend to allow my students the freedom to make (and learn from) their own mistakes, except if some path will really set them back in their research.  But, perhaps the most useful information on my mentoring style for prospective graduate students will emerge in talking with my current or former students.

  1. Do you have any future research projects that are not mentioned on your web site?

I have several NSF research projects, mostly focused on ecology and biogeochemistry at the NSF LTER site in arctic Alaska (Toolik Lake).  I also just received a new NSF grant for Long-Term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB) with Dr. Byron Crump (at the University of Maryland), which is a 5 year project to work in the Arctic on microbial dynamics and species composition as they relate to metacommunity theory and to ecosystem function.  These projects keep me pretty busy, but I am always looking forward to the next interesting topic or issue, and so chances are there is a new proposal in the works right now that is not on the web page.

  1. Do you expect your students to obtain further funding from NSF/NASA/EPA?

We have an excellent package of support for our graduate students in EEB, and students are not required to ‘find their own money’ during their careers here.  However, all of my students do apply for NSF or EPA funding while they are in my lab, which is an invaluable experience in terms of learning how to write proposals.  I have never had a student fail to finish or delay their finish due to a lack of funding (and, all my students have finished their degree).

  1. Do you plan on remaining at the University of Michigan for the next 4-6 years?

Who knows — I have no plans right now to leave, but, I could die tomorrow, or in 40 more years.  Although an advisor, and to a lesser extent a place (institution), are important for a graduate education, you yourself are the single most important determinant of your career.  Many students change advisors, some change schools to follow their advisors (and some don’t), and it all seems to work out in the end if the student wants it to.

  1. How are the final decisions made on acceptance to the program?

In terms of your graduate application, our procedure is to have all files reviewed by a standing admissions committee and several ad hoc faculty members from 6-8 total faculty members review each file.  The committee then ranks all the files and we invite a number of the top people to visit our Department before making a final choice.  The final choice is made by all the faculty together, and we start with the top-ranked students and work our way through until we have exhausted our fellowships (usually 8-12 students total per year – our package is quite competitive).  Although it is not necessary that a student knows who they want to work with, it is helpful, and you should mention in your application materials which faculty members you have contacted.

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