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Applications are accepted at any time; however, to receive full consideration for fellowships and financial aid, students should apply by December 15 for admission in the following fall semester.

To apply to the Ecology graduate program, students should first contact program faculty members with whom they are interested in working to find out if they have space in their laboratories. If you would like us to help you contact faculty members, please fill out our online pre-application form. Once an appropriate match between student and faculty member has been made, students should review the admission requirements of the Penn State Graduate School.

The following documents will be required as part of the Graduate School application process: 

  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement of motivations and goals
  • Curriculum vitae/resume
  • Transcript(s)

The graduate programs and Penn State Graduate School are committed to verification of application materials; therefore, please ensure that all of your documents can be readily verified as being accurate and authentic.

Admission is granted jointly by the Penn State Graduate School and the Ecology graduate program.

Apply to the Graduate School at Penn State

The diversity of our program is at the core of our innovation and strengthens our excellence. We seek to recruit diverse scholars from all backgrounds; including but not limited to diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and socio-economic background. In recruiting graduate students, we value both their research potential and the potential for students to contribute to our program’s diversity, equity, and inclusion through scholarship, outreach, and/or service to the institution.

Current Opportunities

1. Climate change impacts on soil microbiomes

The Couradeau lab is seeking a Ph.D. student with interest in understanding the impact of climate change on soil microbial communities. The project will aim at linking microbial function to emergent soil properties and will be co-crafted by the successful candidate and the PI based on interests. Model soil systems could include agricultural soils under various management regimes or environmental samples from arid lands. The student will have the opportunity to learn approaches in molecular ecology, microscopy, soil science, and bioinformatics, and will join lively community of the Microbiome Center. 

Contact Estelle Couradeau

2. Decision support modeling for wild turkey

Management of wild species often involves competing objectives that make it difficult to identify preferred management actions. In addition, uncertainty and timing of decisions can reduce the ability to maximize benefits of management actions. We are seeking a Ph.D. student interested in developing a decision model as part of a large-scale study of wild turkeys in Pennsylvania. The project provides an opportunity to combine field data with computer modeling to inform a decision model for managing wild turkey.

Contact Duane Diefenbach or Franny Buderman

3. Ecosystem ecology of forests or agricultural fields

We are conducting a variety of experiments that assess nitrogen and carbon cycling in local forests and agroecosystems.  In forests, we work in interdisciplinary teams using a “Critical Zone Science” approach and much of our research takes place in an intensively monitored long-term observatory watershed.  We also study a forest that receives wastewater irrigation  to evaluate the forest as a living filter for wastewater and use the irrigation system as an analogue for precipitation change.  In agroecosystems, our research applies biodiversity-ecosystem function theory to design systems that have high yields and low nitrogen pollution.  We also work on interdisciplinary teams through the “Thriving Ag in Urbanizing Landscapes” project.  Students in our group often participate in the LandscapeU training grant and the dual-title degree program in biogeochemistry.

Contact Jason Kaye

4. Ecological theory

Recruiting students interested in plant invasions (a mix of theory and empirical work) or epidemiologically-interested students (theory only).

Contact Katriona Shea

5. Harnessing the microbiome to mitigate drought impact in agriculture

Plants recruit and nurture a diverse community of microbes — the microbiome. In natural and man-made ecosystems, root-associated microbiomes considerably expand the plant’s genomic and metabolic capabilities, providing essential life-support functions such as nutrient acquisition, modulation of immune responses and (a)biotic stress tolerance. The overall aim of this project is to investigate the effects of plant genotype on root microbiome assembly and function, with a specific focus on microbial functions enhancing plant tolerance to drought. The student will have the possibility to use various tools, including molecular biology, bioinformatics, statistical and simulation modeling, and laboratory experiments. The overall goal is to better understand the impact of drought on plant microbiomes and harness the potential of specific microbial functions that help the plant to cope with such stress in natural and agricultural settings.

Contact Francisco Dini-Andreote

6. Pollinators and invasive insects

Multiple faculty are potentially recruiting students with interest in applications of data science tools and approaches to studying, modeling and predicting the distribution of beneficial (pollinators and predators), pest (agricultural and human health), and invasive insect species.

Contact Christina Grozinger or Natalie Boyle

7. Conservation & restoration of freshwater ecosystems 

The Cardinale lab is seeking a Ph.D. student interested in working on the conservation or restoration of freshwater streams, wetlands, or lakes. Students working on conservation will perform fundamental research that aims to protect biodiversity and preserve the goods and services that freshwater ecosystems provide to people. Those working on restoration will focus on enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem services by examining how to restore ecosystems to a better state. 

Contact Bradley Cardinale 

8. Weed ecology under climate change

The Lowry Weed Ecology and Management Lab is seeking a PhD student to be involved with an exciting multi-state project evaluating climate change and crop management effects on perennial forage crops and weed community dynamics. Students will have the opportunity to conduct field and/or greenhouse experiments, as well as receive training in weed and agricultural ecology, as well as statistics.  Opportunities are also available for the student to participate in extension events, as well as to present findings at academic meetings.  

Contact Carolyn Lowry

9. Quantitative forest ecology/adaptation to climate in forest tree species/modeling forest regeneration 

The Leites lab is recruiting a PhD student interested in working on ecological genetics and modeling population responses to climate in forest tree species, and a MS student interested in modeling natural regeneration after disturbance in mixed oak forests. Our lab provides an intellectually rigorous and stimulating environment where we strive to be inclusive and welcoming so that all members can achieve their academic and professional goals.  

Contact Laura Leites

10. Impact of grazing and environment on understory communities

Seeking a Master's student to be co-advised by Drs. Autumn Sabo and Marc McDill, with an anticipated start date of Fall 2022. Project will focus on how understory communities shift when deer pressure, soil acidity and competing vegetation is reduced. Summer start as deer-forest study vegetation crew member preferred in order to develop familiarity with field protocols.

Contact Autumn Sabo 

*Note that unlisted opportunities are available with other Ecology faculty. The postings above only indicate some of the available projects in the program. Please contact the listed faculty members for more details about each of these projects.