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So ye wish to join my crew, eh?
Alas, the captain is now full-time at Esri,
and thus no new students or interns will be taken onboard.
However, the essay below provides general advice that may still be helpful.


Thank you for your interest in the Davey Jones' Locker Seafloor Mapping/Marine & Coastal GIS Laboratory, as well as graduate study in geography at Oregon State University (OSU). Deciding on what graduate school to attend can be quite a difficult decision. Therefore, I'd like to give you some information about my research, my lab, my philosophy, and the program options here at OSU. In this way, you as a prospective graduate student can decide whether or not my lab is likely to be a good fit for you. If after reading this, you still think that you might want to "join my crew," then please get in touch with me by email so that we can discuss options further.

First of all, my appointment at OSU is in the Geography, Environmental Sciences, and Marine Resource Management discipline group within the the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences here at OSU. I have taken students seeking the M.S. or Ph.D. in geography. Many of the students in my lab have combined their major in geography with the graduate certificate in Marine Resource Management within COAS. Anyone interested in my lab should also take a close look at the graduate certificate in geographic information science (GIScience), our comprehensive GIS@OSU site. Students sharing my research interests will benefit from participation and interactions in these related programs.

In terms of my background and research, I hold an individual interdisciplinary Ph.D. in physical geography and marine geology from the University of California at Santa Barbara. My research interests over the years have been in marine geographic information systems, marine data modeling and cyberinfrastructure, and hydrothermal activity and tectonics of mid-ocean ridges. Over the years I have participated in over 20 oceanographic research expeditions worldwide, including 10 legs of the Ocean Drilling Program and 3 dives in the Alvin submersible. My research currently focuses on:

My work also involves quite a bit of national and international academic service these days. For example, in the past I have served on the National Academy of Sciences' Committee on National Needs for Coastal Mapping and Charting, the Committee on an Ocean Infrastructure Strategy for U.S. Ocean Research in 2030, and the Committee on Geophysical and Environmental Data. I am also the co-leader of the new International Coastal Atlas Network in collaboration with colleagues in Europe, Africa, and across the U.S.

My students have had interesting projects to pursue in the lab to be sure, but given the availability of funding, I try to get students involved in field work at sea, or in national and international workshops where possible. Research proposals to fund my research and my students have been submitted to several programs at NSF and NOAA. On rarer, occasions I've been involved in proposals to the Office of Naval Research and agencies within the Department of the Interior.

Application Basics

With regard to applying, you'll need to send your application to the OSU Graduate School, which will then determine your eligibility for admission and forward the application to our department. Please see the helpful information on our web site, in order to get started. Applications indicating an interest in working with me are routed to me for consideration, along with at least 2 other faculty members. Your application therefore must include a compelling statement of purpose. This is an extremely important part of your application, so I encourage you to download this brief guide to writing an effective statement of purpose. It is very simple and may help you to develop a better application package to our competitive program. And, of course, you should peruse the rest of my Davey Jones' Locker web site, if you haven't done so already.

We encourage students to apply one month before the annual application deadline, if possible. This gives our faculty and staff more time for the most effective processing of your application, before the frenzy leading up to the ultimate deadline. The application deadline is particularly important for students who wish to be considered for financial assistance. And my own preference has been to accept students who can start at the beginning of academic year, in the fall term, as there are so many key courses and orientation activities in the fall.

Life in Davey Jones' Locker

In terms of additional specific considerations for my lab, I do expect a few things. First of all, it is important to me that everyone in my lab is able to get along. You don't have to become best friends with everyone you meet, but students in my lab MUST be able to show courtesy and respect to fellow students and colleagues, and to keep their workspace neat and tidy. A research lab works or fails based on how the lab functions as a whole, rather than the individual efforts of anyone in the lab (including me). Therefore, I expect you to be a good colleague to others by helping to maintain lab morale, lab organization and lab cleanliness, and to contribute intellectually to the projects of your lab mates. We run a tight but happy ship!

This also plays heavily into my advising style, which is to meet with each and every one of my students one-on-one, once per week to track their progress, advise them, and support them in any way that I can. We do these weekly meetings throughout the fall and winter terms. Then in the spring term, we meet once a week as a lab group, where everyone is together and can share more readily with each other what they are up to, or in what direction they'd like to go. By that time, the first-year students have been through two of the key required courses in our program, and should have their graduate program of study form completed, as well as a first draft of a thesis proposal. They can help each other further in the lab meetings, as well as receive advice from the older students. And we have SNACKS every week too!

I am excited about interesting marine GIScience and marine geomorphology questions and applications, and I want to accept students who will strive to broaden my horizons as well as their own. I favor students who are extremely self-sufficient, motivated and willing to work very hard to excel in their field. I am looking for students who have a solid background in geography, GIS, marine science, and even computer science (see below). I am looking for students to display a high degree of creativity, integrity, independence, and self-motivation. I expect my students to read broadly in the current literature and on the web, to attend and present at departmental seminars and scientific meetings, and to devote themselves to learning the techniques and analyses required to conduct and publish a good scientific or a good resource management study.

This also means that you must work on honing your oral and written communications skills. Although oral and written communication is frequently overlooked in undergraduate science education, and almost always under-appreciated by applicants to graduate school, it is a critical component of becoming a successful scientist. Regardless of your field or laboratory skills and accomplishments, you really only receive professional credit when you are able to write successful proposals and publish research papers in high-quality journals. Therefore, I cannot overemphasize how important it is to take every opportunity to improve your oral and written communication skills. I would recommend that every student take at least one scientific writing class before starting graduate school.

Computer Geeks Welcome!

I also cannot overemphasize the importance of good computer skills. I am becoming increasingly involved in research collaborations with computer scientists, and am therefore looking for students these days who have some background in computer programming or scripting, OR who are not afraid to learn this as a new skill. This is in the realm of moving beyond just using GIS to look at data or make a map, to actually developing and customizing GIS, as well as new GIS analysis models. If you do have experience with Python scripting, Java or Java scripting, VBA for ArcGIS, VB.NET for ArcObjects, ASP.NET, or even mashups with Google Maps, with ArcGIS Server or with open source mapping applications, this is a special plus. Again, if you are willing to enthusiastically learn one or two of these while in my lab as a student, that is terrific as well. Scripting and programming are becoming increasingly important to learn for the current generation of GIS specialists and GIScientists.

Some of The Necessities of the Academic Life

The graduate students in Davey Jones' Locker have traditionally been a close-knit group with whom I interact regularly both professionally and socially (see the Rogues page). Students have found the facilities and intellectual climate of Oregon State University, the Department of Geosciences, the Hatfield Marine Science Center on the Oregon coast, COAS, and Davey Jones' Locker to be exceptionally favorable to their growth and development as scientists. I, in turn, consider the graduate program to be an integral and necessary part of my own continued professional and personal growth. As mentioned above, I expect and encourage considerable independence in each student's research activities. My students are supported during their graduate careers by a combination of teaching assistantships (TAs), research assistantships (RAs) and scholarships, including over the summer term. Most of my students have been funded for a good portion of their time here as research assistants on my grants. I am always working on new proposals, and in the interim, try to get my students funded on teaching assistantships. More information about assistantships in our college can by found on our research opportunities page and information about graduate funding at OSU in general is available from the OSU graduate school.

Final Words of Advice

If you are really interested in being considered as a member of my lab, then I hope that you'll take the time to look through the rest of the lab web site to understand better what sort of research we do. After that, if you are interested in the same sorts of things that my students and I are interested in, I would welcome a very brief research proposal outline to explain what research you would like to do as a graduate student, along with your educational background and any relevant previous experience in science (e.g., it's always a good idea to include a resume or CV with your email). You will need these items for virtually any graduate school application anyway, so it will save you some time later on. It should also greatly improve your chances with any potential advisers when contacting them with this information, even if my lab ends up not being a good fit for you.

When seeking to select a graduate program in general, the bottom line is to ask yourself several questions: Where are you likely to get the best opportunity to gain the background necessary to excel in whatever career you choose (whether that be an academic position, a government position or in private industry)? Will you get the educational opportunities and guidance that you need? Will you have the resources and equipment necessary to complete your research? Will you have enough support to live comfortably during your time in graduate school? These are the sorts of questions that you need to consider before making your decision. Graduate school is often stressful, and I don't know of any students who have not questioned their decision to go to graduate school at some point during their studies. If seriously considering OSU, you should definitely try to contact the graduate students in my lab to find out more about their experiences and views of the program as well. They are in the exact position that you will find yourself in a few years, if you are accepted to our program.


So having read this far, if you think you would be a strong candidate for acceptance to graduate school at OSU, as well as graduate student research in Davey Jones' Locker, I would definitely encourage you to contact me and to apply. By way of a new policy, I am more likely to admit students after I have met them, so if you rank high on the list of applicants (as determined by the Graduate Admissions Committee in January/February), I will encourage a visit. This is indeed the best way to learn about us here at OSU, and to decide whether OSU and my lab environment will give you the best opportunity to excel in your graduate career. Some students wait until after they have been accepted in the spring to visit; others (usually who are closer, or who are visiting several west coast schools) come in late February to early March. Unfortunately, students must visit at their own expense, but if you decide to visit, please send an email to our graduate applications coordinator, Stacey Schulte, with a cc to me. Stacey can help you plan your visit.

All best wishes for smooth sailing,

Dr. Dawn Wright
Captain of Davey Jones' Locker
Professor of Geography and Oceanography

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Last updated: July 8, 2016

With many thanks to Rob Toonen, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology
and the Lubchenco/Menge Lab, OSU Zoology, for helpful ideas and text.


"If I might lend a machete to your intellectual thicket...."
-- Jack Sparrow to Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End