EEB Insider: Tom Giarla

What made you decide to pursue your Ph.D. in the University of Minnesota's Ecology, Evolution and Behavior program?

I applied to schools all over the country and visited several for interviews. The EEB graduate program stood out from the rest not only because of the top-notch research, but also the collegial nature of both the faculty and grad students. I saw lots of evidence of collaboration, co-advising and cooperation at all levels during my visit. For my research interests (systematics and phylogeography), the U of M especially appealed to me because many professors here are interested in the same topics, and the lab facilities are excellent.

I'm not from Minnesota and I have to ask, “What is a Minnesota winter like?”

I'm not from Minnesota either, and the winters are quite an adventure. It can get absurdly cold here during a few weeks in January and February, but otherwise it's tolerable. Invest in a decent winter coat (or three), and you'll be fine. One under-appreciated fact: The onset of spring is deeply satisfying after a long, cold winter. You learn to appreciate the seasons! 

I don't think of myself as a city person. Is the University of Minnesota really an urban campus and what is that like for someone who likes the outdoors?

The EEB graduate program is based on the St. Paul campus of the U of M, which doesn't seem at all like an urban campus. It's quiet and has the feel of a much smaller school. The Minneapolis campus (which is a 15 minute bus ride away), on the other hand, is huge, bustling, and there’s a ton to do nearby. I like having both settings available. The urban parts of the Twin Cities are great—there's always some festival or restaurant to check out. Luckily, Minnesotans love the outdoors (even during winter), so there are lots of parks just outside the metro area where you can hike, canoe, go rock climbing, or cross-country ski. 

I've heard that some graduate programs are really cutthroat, what is the EEB program like?

It's not cutthroat. The students are friendly and (if I do say so myself) really smart and helpful. If you ever have a question about a statistics program or a certain method you haven't used before, one of your colleagues in the department will surely be happy to help. One thing that helps bind us together, I think, is our weekly Friday happy hour, which is always well attended and is a great time to relax with your peers after a long week.

Once you have your Ph.D., what are you going to do with your degree?

I hope to get a post-doctoral position for a year or two and then apply for faculty positions. 

I've heard that some graduate programs are only interested in students who aspire to be a faculty member at a top research university. Is the EEB program supportive of students interested in careers at other kinds of institutions?

Yes, I think so. A number of my colleagues are focused on teaching and want to work at a small, liberal arts college. Others are interested in policy-oriented work and want jobs with state or federal agencies. I think most advisors are very supportive of whatever career path you ultimately choose, even if you have a change of heart halfway through.