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  • For prospective lab members

Welcome to our lab!


We are a group of ecologists studying behavioral, population, community and ecosystem ecology.


We use a wide range of perspectives, approaches and field systems to learn about species interactions in nature.


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Contact us


  email telephone
Louie H. Yang lhyang@ucdavis.edu (530) 754-3261


Visit us


Our address is:


380K Briggs Hall

Department of Entomology

University of California, Davis

Davis, CA, 95616


You can also find us on a map here.

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FAQs for prospective lab members


1) Are you accepting new graduate students into the lab?


I am aiming to maintain a small and close-knit lab group, and it looks like we will have a full house for a few years. As a result, I am probably not going to accept any additional students this year. However, I may consider a very small number of prospective students this year.


2) Are you accepting new undergraduate students into the lab?


Yes, we welcome inquiries from highly motivated undergraduates with interests in ecology!


Participating in research as an undergraduate student can be a tremendously valuable experience. If you are considering a career in science, gaining research experience early will give you an excellent opportunity to develop your scientific interests and skills. I believe that undergraduates should be full participants in the intellectual community of the lab, with ample opportunities to develop as independent scientists. Undergraduate students will be invited to collaborate on research projects in the lab, and to develop their own research projects as their interests develop. First and second-year students with an interest in insect biology are encouraged to consider the Undergraduate Honors Research Mentorship Program in Insect Biology.


3) Are there opportunities for postdoctoral fellows in your lab?


Yes, I will occasionally consider bringing postdoctoral fellows on board. I would encourage prospective postdoctoral candidates to contact me directly in order to discuss their research interests, and potential avenues for joining the lab.


4) How would you describe your mentorship philosophy?


I believe that each member of our lab should have the opportunity follow their own interests, and to build their own intellectual identity in their chosen field. My role as an advisor is to facilitate their development as independent scientists, and to be available to provide encouragement, advice and feedback throughout the process. Our lab group reflects this philosophy.


I don’t expect all graduate students to arrive on campus with a clear sense of their dissertation topic in mind, and I certainly don’t expect them to work on projects that are related to my research. While some incoming students have a clear idea of what they want to do in graduate school, I would encourage all students to develop and expand their interests while they are here. For most students, deciding on a dissertation topic takes lots of time and more than a few mistakes. That’s fine, expected, and encouraged. I think it is most important for each student to develop a creative and productive research program while they are here.


5) Should I get a master's degree before starting a Ph.D.?


This is a good question that often comes up among thoughtful students. The short answer is that it is up to you; you don't have to get a master's degree before getting a Ph.D., and you don't have to go straight from your undergraduate studies to a Ph.D. either. Deciding what you want to do after you finish your undergraduate degree is a highly individual decision; all of life unfolds, and there are many paths to choose. I've known several people who've considered doing a master's degree before starting their Ph.D.'s, and they report a wide range of experiences. Some folks started a master's degree and learned that a career in research wasn't really for them; they went on to successful, happy lives without a Ph.D. Some folks did a master's degree first, and found that the experience gave them a important head-start on their later Ph.D. research. Some folks went straight to a Ph.D., and later had a sinking feeling that they would have been more prepared for the work and committment required if they had done a master's degree beforehand (but they usually go on to do a successful Ph.D. anyway). But other people are eager to get started on their Ph.D. right away, and they have been successful and creative without spending time and effort on a master's degree first.


As for this lab, while I would consider taking on a master's student under exceptional circumstances, I'm mostly focused on graduate mentorship for Ph.D. students. The reason is that my mentorship philosophy emphasizes giving students the time and freedom to decide on their own creative research projects without the pressure of a 2-year deadline. I'm less comfortable with the shorter timeframe of a master's degree, but recognizing that each student is different, I would also consider applications from exceptional master's students.


6) How do I apply to graduate school at UC Davis?


Graduate studies at UC Davis are structured a little bit differently than at most other universities. Instead of applying directly to a department, you will be applying to a “graduate group”. Graduate groups often include faculty from across multiple departments and colleges. There are several graduate groups on campus. I am currently accepting Ph.D. students in the Entomology Graduate Group , the Graduate Group in Ecology, the Population Biology Graduate Group, and the Animal Behavior Graduate Group. Each of these graduate groups has its own faculty list, graduate students, and culture, and each has a slightly different application process and funding scheme. There is a lot of overlap in these groups, and many faculty members are affiliated with more than one graduate group. Prospective graduate students can apply to multiple graduate groups, but if they are accepted by multiple graduate groups, they can only accept one invitation. Don't worry, it sounds more complicated than it is.


If you are considering applying to join my lab, please send me an email. Also, plan to visit at least once. Many of our graduate groups will invite a select subset of candidates to visit the campus for a few days during a prospective student visit. This organized visit often seems rushed and stressful. If you can, I would encourage you to visit well before then, while you are still thinking about which universities, graduate programs and advisors you are most interested in applying to. Your visit to campus is really important for us to get to know you, but it’s even more important for you to get to know the people and places you are considering working with for your dissertation. Visiting outside of the usual prospective visit makes it easier to spend to meaningful amounts of time with the people you want get to know.


I should say a few words about working at UC Davis and living in Davis, CA. The University of California, Davis is located in California's Central Valley. We're a land-grant university with remarkably strong programs in ecology and entomology. This is a fantastic place to be an ecologist; there are really excellent ecologists all over campus. Actually, Davis is full of creative and smart people; according to one survey, Davis is the second most highly educated city in America! I'm not sure what that means, but I think Davis is a quirky and fun college town. I'll admit that some folks find it too hot, boring and flat; personally, I don't seem to mind those things. Here in Davis, we often ride bicycles, we built a tunnel for toads, and we have our own wiki. We're about two hours from the Pacific Ocean, and about two hours from the Sierra Nevada mountains. We're about 20 minutes from Sacramento, and a couple hours from San Francisco.


7) Do you have any general advice for students considering graduate school in ecology?


Yes!


The decision to enter graduate school is a big one, and one that deserves some real reflection. Most Ph.D. students in ecology spend 5-7 years in graduate school, and if graduate school is not right for you, that can seem like a very long and difficult time. In fact, no one makes it though graduate school without some long and difficult stretches of some kind or another. Graduate school can be really enjoyable – these are years when you will truly become an independent scientist. You will be among curious and clever like-minded individuals, and you will be immersed in the process of science. But graduate school should not be your final goal; graduate school is a means to an end. Having a clear sense of purpose helps tremendously. This doesn’t mean you need to know exactly what you want to do after graduate school, but you should have a pretty clear-eyed understanding of why you want to be a graduate student. Don’t fool yourself into going to graduate school just because you can, or as a holding position until opportunity knocks. Grad school is a journey, not a destination. The students that are happiest in graduate school know why they are there, and that knowledge puts the challenges of graduate school in perspective.


Finding the right lab and advisor is one of the first and most important decisions you will make in your graduate career. You want to find colleagues and mentors that will understand your goals, and help you realize them. It is essential that you find a mentorship environment that you feel comfortable in – if you get along with your advisor and you are able to communicate easily with him or her, you stand a much better chance of becoming a truly creative and independent scientist. Look for advisors that have your best interests at heart, and consider the bigger mentorship environment of the university as well, including your potential lab mates, co-advisors, other faculty on campus, and graduate student colleagues. As I said before, plan to visit each lab you are seriously considering at least once.


Regardless of where you decide to go for your graduate studies, I would encourage you to consider applying for an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship if you are more interested in basic questions, or an EPA STAR if your research interests tend towards more applied questions. You have a limited number of opportunities to apply for these fellowships after you begin graduate school, but you are also eligible to apply before you begin graduate school. If you receive funding, these awards give you tremendous intellectual freedom, more financial resources, and less stress about your future funding. Even if you don’t receive an award, applying for these fellowships is a really good opportunity to delve deeply into a question, and practice designing a project. This project could become your dissertation, but it doesn’t have to.


The process of finding a dissertation is different for each student. While some students may arrive with a clear idea of the questions they want to ask, most do not. Either way, I think there should be a sense of expansive possibility at the beginning of your dissertation. You should focus on the questions that you really care about, and spend plenty of time deciding what those questions are. Don’t worry about what other people think, or what you’ve done before, and don’t feel pressured to commit to a dissertation topic before you are ready. For prospective students, knowing which project you will begin studying during your first year in graduate school is useful, but not essential. It’s a little bit like having a very good local map at the start of a cross-country road trip – it might help you get on the highway a little quicker, but sooner or later, you’ll need to pull over and ask for directions anyway.


A large part of graduate school (and science) is learning to make mistakes. No matter what, you are going to make heaps of mistakes in your graduate career. My advice would be to try to make them as quickly as possible, and learn something from each one. Developing a strong research program usually requires determination, imagination, and a willingness to learn from failure. Few people will remember the mistakes you make at the beginning of your graduate career, but people will remember your acheivements at the end of it. At the beginning, I think it’s often a good idea to try out several projects, knowing that some of them aren’t going to work out like you planned. There will be plenty of time to focus later. And you will need to focus much more down the road; for better or worse, your research publication record will be used as the ultimate currency of your academic acheivements. But early in the process, I think a good strategy for success is to go out into the field inviting failure. Many of your projects might not work, but some of the projects you try may become part of your dissertation, while others may become interesting side projects. Oftentimes, you will have a chance to learn something about nature.


There are lots of excellent sources of advice about graduate school. Talking to graduate students or professors that you know well is probably the best way to understand what grad school is all about. I would particularly recommend these excellent collections of advice:


  • George Bartholomew’s wonderful essay on creativity and innovation in biology
  • John Thompson’s thoughtful advice about succeeding in graduate school
  • Stephen Stearns’ and Ray Huey’s classic exchange about graduate school
  • PLoS’s "10 Simple Rules for Graduate Students"
  • A short primer for getting into grad school by Walter Carson.
  • Mohamed Noor's excellent compilation "Graduate School 101"
  • Robert Peter’s no-nonsense book Getting What You Came For
  • Rick Karban and Mikaela Huntzinger’s concise handbook How to Do Ecology
  • A data-driven analysis of the academic job market in ecology by Marshall et al.

  • Thanks for your interest in our lab!


    Louie H. Yang

    Davis, CA