Ecology, Evolution and Behavior Graduate Program

At the EEB graduate program, we work to create a welcoming, collaborative and supportive community. The graduate program strives to and succeeds in providing stable funding to students throughout their PhD. Students develop their own research interests and directions, and freely take input from faculty all across our department and university. Research in ecology spans the theoretical, experimental and applied, across many ecosystems and scales. Below is a quick guide to applying here for graduate school (which also will help you apply to other places), followed by descriptions of some students whose work exemplifies the diversity of people and research interests in our graduate program.

We at the Graduate program in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior are very aware of the serious underrepresentation of many minority groups in our fields. We are committed to doing our part in making our program, and our fields, aware, inclusive and responsive to people of diverse origins and experiences. We have taken this on as a responsibility to our histories, our science, and our communities.

The University of Minnesota also has several excellent resources for supporting students from underrepresented groups through their graduate education. Please take a look at the Community of Scholars Program, Office of Diversity in Graduate Education, various graduate student community organizations, Twin Cities Multicultural Resources and Services, the Office for Equity and Diversity, and specific fellowship programs like the Diversity of Views and Experience fellowships and the Interdisciplinary Center for the study of Global Change. The Boreas Leadership Program also provides graduate students opportunities to build skills and training for public engagement and leadership.


Applying to graduate school in EEB is different than applying to college. While you would usually apply to a program or school for undergrad, for graduate school you often apply to work with a particular faculty member. This requires that you connect with faculty before applying, in order to determine whether they are a good match with your interests as well as funding availability.

Below is a timeline that will help you navigate the process, as well as other resources from students in the program:

Summer (one year before start date): Start looking through the faculty members in the program. Look through their lab or personal websites and think of whose research matches your interest and you find exciting. Keep in mind that faculty members are often associated with multiple programs and departments, so they might advise students in EEB even if their appointment is in a different department.

Late summer/early fall: Contact faculty members you are interested in working with. You can often find instructions in the best way to contact them in their websites. Some prefer a call, while others prefer an email or letter with certain information such as a CV or transcript attached. If they don’t reply or answer the first time, try again, your email might have gotten lost in their inbox!

Faculty will reply back with information on whether they have space and funding to take on a student. If they are not taking students that year, it is fair to ask them if they know of other faculty who they think might be a good match for you.

Fall Semester: Follow up with faculty members who seemed interested in taking you as a student. Set up a phone or Skype interview. This will allow both of you to figure out whether you are a good match for their lab and whether you should apply for the program. You can also contact current or past students in the lab if you have questions for them.

Take your TOEFL (if applicable), and apply for fellowships such as the NSF GRFP. Ask for recommendation letters from previous mentors or professors who can speak to your ability to succeed in graduate school.

Late Fall Semester: Turn in your application and other related materials!

Early Spring: You will be invited for interviews at schools interested in taking you as a student. This will be an opportunity for your potential adviser and the department to get to know you in person, as well as for you to see what the school and students are like. It is also a great opportunity to learn about funding options and other opportunities.

Spring: Admission decisions are made and you will have until April 15 to make a final decision. Don’t be discouraged if your application is not successful. This can be due to limited funding and it is not necessarily indicative of your potential as a student.

Also, here is a document with more information and tips on the application process and graduate school in general.


Cristy Portales Reyes (Community ecologist studying temperate prairies)

EEB Doctoral Candidate, Adviser: Forest Isbell

Cristy Portales Reyes

We know that chronic nitrogen enrichment causes diverse prairies and grasslands to become dominated by only one or two plant species, which are often exotic. These changes in diversity can persist even decades after nitrogen enrichment stops. I am working to understand what mechanisms keep biodiversity from recovering after nutrient enrichment. I am particularly interested in learning how above and below ground processes might interact to stabilize this alternative state in biodiversity. For example, mutualistic microbes might become "cheaters" under elevated nutrient levels, causing them to act more like parasites than mutualists to native plant species. So, how could we revert these grasslands to a high diversity state? We don't entirely know, but I hope that by understanding these stabilizing mechanisms we can find better strategies to help biodiversity recover.

Shanta Hejmadi (Evolutionary ecologist studying community assembly and extinction risk in birds of prey)

EEB Doctoral Student, Adviser: Keith Barker

Shanta Hejmadi

I love birds.  My research focuses on an especially charismatic group of birds, diurnal birds of prey in the orders Accipitriformes (Hawks, Eagles, Vultures) and Falconiformes (Falcons and Caracaras). These amazing birds occur all over the world, and have evolved convergently to their raptorial lifestyle and morphology. I am interested in the evolutionary history of raptors, how that history and their functional ecology have shaped communities of raptors all over the world, and how we can harness such data to predict extinction risk. 

I do most of my data collection in museums, which allows me to collect genome-quality DNA and morphometrics on birds from all over the world, including rare ones that I might never find in the wild. I am deeply committed to mentoring young scientists from diverse backgrounds, and I include undergraduate projects in my research at every opportunity.

Rachel Olzer (Studies behavior in crickets and its rapid evolution)

EEB Doctoral Candidate, Adviser: Marlene Zuk

Rachel Olzer

I am currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior. My research is focused on understanding rapid evolution of alternative mating behaviors in populations of the Pacific field cricket located on the islands of Hawaii.

In addition to my primary research focus, I am interested in understanding diversity and equity in science through the lens of critical race and feminist theory and. Overall, I am interested in understanding the history of race relations in the United States- particularly the history of violence against and disenfranchisement of African Americans. I am currently focusing on the history of scientific racism in the collective fields of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior.

Like many scientists in the fields of EEB, I came to this field through a love of nature. I am interested in how early exposure to the outdoors affects career decisions early in life. Because of the fraught history of racism in the United States, many African Americans, have not had access to spaces where they could freely explore in nature. As such, my outreach focuses on nature-based play and the connection between recreating in the outdoors and developing a critical lens for studying the natural world.

Danielle Drabeck (Evolutionary biologist studying molecular co-evolution between snakes and opossums)

EEB Alumna and Postdoctoral Scholar, Advisers:  Sharon Jansa and Antony Dean

Danielle DrabeckMy research focuses on understanding co-evolution and co-adaptation at the molecular level by studying a tribe of South American opossums on this larger goal by studying a tribe of South American opossums that prey upon Bothrops jararaca, a South American pit viper, and are resistant to their venom. B. jararaca venom is known to contain a C-type-lectin (CTL) protein, Botrocetin, which specifically targets the blood protein vWF (von Willebrand factor), and causes excessive systemic bleeding. Resistant opossums show accelerated evolution at the vWF- botrocetin binding site when compared to non-resistant species, suggesting an adaptation which blocks Botrocetin activity. I use physiological and biochemical assays to understand the potential coevolutionary relationship between these opossums and their venomous prey, by focusing on the interaction between vWF and Botrocetin-type venom components. Utilizing a wide breadth of techniques such as molecular biology, phylogenetics, and biophysics, I aim to understand how these proteins interact, and how coevolution might have shaped their physiological and kinetic properties.