What qualities are we looking for in prospective students?
Research-based graduate degrees are very individual, which means there's no cookie-cutter mold for my group. But that's not very helpful! In general, I'm looking for some combination of the following aspects of your background and interests (listed in no particular order of priority). I'm not expecting perfection or necessarily strength in every single category, but I do look for at least evidence of potential in every category.
- Academic preparation: you need a background in STEM to be prepared for a graduate program in GEOL at CU Boulder, but this doesn't necessarily mean your undergraduate major has to be the same as the field you intend to pursue as a graduate student - it is not uncommon for students to shift fields in graduate school and GEOL has a broad suite of graduate coursework available to fill any gaps in your previous training. Academic preparation can be demonstrated by completion / grades in coursework from your undergraduate major and other core STEM disciplines. At the same time, I recognize that grades don't define you as a student or a scientist; pursuing a research degree is more about application of concepts than memorization, which is not necessarily aligned with grading schemes.
- Research aptitude: conducting original research requires a combination of independence, curiosity, and creativity. Research aptitude can be demonstrated by your successful participation in previous research projects where you had substantial intellectual ownership over the project, including any products of that project (e.g. an honors thesis, a conference presentation, or a paper). However, I also recognize that there are systemic inequities in access to research experiences as an undergraduate. Other types of experiences can also demonstrate aptitude, including course-based projects, independent-study projects, outreach, creative work, etc.
- Grit: completing a graduate degree (and, in particular, a PhD) will be a challenging and time-consuming journey. It's not like an undergrad program: there is no answer sheet and there will likely be some dead ends, wild goose chases, and other frustrating experiences. While it's my goal as an advisor to support you through these challenges, you'll need to bring some of your own grit to meet the challenge. Evidence of grit can come from any parts of your life experience, both academic (overcoming barriers to your success) and non-academic (think community involvement, athletics, creative pursuits - what are you passionate about outside of science and how has pursuing that passion provided you opportunities to develop your personal strength and perspective?).
- Alignment of research interests: in order for us to develop a successful advising/mentoring relationship, there needs to be a reasonable degree of alignment in our research interests. I don't want to admit students for whom I won't be able to be an effective advisor because of poor interest alignment. My interests are pretty broad (see the rest of the site for some examples), spanning Archean to modern time and a venn diagram of sedimentology, geobiology, geochemistry, and geomorphology. The best way for both you and I to assess this alignment is to have a conversation! I typically have a variety of potential project ideas that I can pitch to you, but I am also excited to hear your ideas. That said, most students don't have a fully developed vision of project ideas or research agendas when they apply to graduate school and that is totally normal!