This is a reply for anyone wishing to know more about graduate studies with the Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute. There are three faculty who accept graduate students, including Scott Baker and Markus Horning. I accept graduate students who wish to pursue a doctoral degree in Fisheries and Wildlife (College of Agriculture). Past students have studied such diverse topics as gray whale energetics, pinniped feeding habits, marine mammal/fisheries competition, reproductive physiology, cetacean behavior, acoustics, and diving habits. Almost all of my efforts in the last 15 years have focused on identifying the migrations and seasonal distributions (habitats) used by endangered large whales.
Many students seek to pursue their graduate studies at the OSU Marine Mammal Institute. Personally, I am only looking for exceptional students, with a good letter of intent, useful and relevant experience, and good recommendations (especially in statistics, GIS, or the marine mammal field).
OSU is ranked #1 in conservation biology, although we have no such department. There are relevant courses in a variety of departments (Fisheries and Wildlife, Computer Science, Forestry, Oceanography, and Zoology). Most of my students minor in statistics. Students should graduate well versed in an identifiable discipline (e.g. anatomy, behavior, physiology, genetics), which will make them broadly qualified for a wider variety of job opportunities.
The Hatfield Marine Science Center does not have a certified facility to hold pinnipeds or cetaceans, so experiments with pinnipeds or cetaceans are either field studies or completed at captive facilties elsewhere.
Graduate students often create research opportunities by developing their own proposals, and I help them find funds to carry out practical studies. On some occasions, students develop portions of on-going projects for thesis research. Few marine mammal projects that involve field work can be accomplished without formal funding. Federal budgets are all in decline, and priorities vary from year to year. Consequently, funding can be difficult to find, even for the most interesting projects, and especially for the first year. One of the ways in which I evaluate students applying for graduate work is to look for students who have an advanced concept of what they want to do, and then determine whether I think we can find funds to get the work done. The three most important components of a successful application are:
We have used satellite-monitored radio tags to track whales, including advanced GPS tags with time-depth recorders and 3-axis accelerometers. We hope to collect and correlate movements and behavior with environmental variables to explain why certain habitats are critical for their preferred prey. Merely tagging animals and writing up where they go is not Ph.D. worthy, so for tracking projects I look for applicants who are skilled at using habitat assessment tools, such as interpretation of GIS, satellite imagery, and advanced statistical treatments.
I look for students who are self-motivated and can carry on a research protocol largely on their own. I am not a person who will be with you every day. Committee members are chosen to give broader support in the student's areas of interest. Students usually spend a year on campus doing course work and then move to Newport, where they get more research experience within the Marine Mammal Institute.
Please include a letter of intent with your application, giving an overview of your preferred research area and career goals. Money for research and scholarships is a limiting factor in the opportunities we can offer at OSU. I wish there were enough openings for all of the talented students who apply, but there are not. I hope you find success in your academic development and career, whether at OSU or another university, and that you find the right program to meet your needs.
Bruce R. Mate,
Ph.D. Professor, Fisheries and Wildlife