Letter to Prospective
Graduate Students

This letter contains a detailed description of our research program and graduate studies. I hope you find it informative! tct

7 April 2023

Dear Potential Graduate Students,

Thank you for your inquiry about research opportunities in my lab and the graduate program at the University of Hawai'i. My lab is engaged in some exciting research that involves serious, highly motivated and hard working students. Below is information about our working environment in hopes that it will help in the decision process for your graduate career.

My area of specialization is the study of fish behavior and sensory biology from ecological and evolutionary perspectives. Research in our lab is broadly focused on questions of how fish produce signals and cues, how the brain processes biologically relevant information, how sensory systems enhance fitness, and why sensory systems have evolved to their current configurations and functions.  Our field studies use of snorkeling, scuba or rebreathers for observations and experiments on fish in their natural environment. Our lab tools include behavior experiments, gross anatomy, neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. We primarily study sensory stimuli and perception in the auditory, lateral line, olfactory, electrosense, and visual systems. We often fabricate our own devices or customize instruments for our investigations in the lab and field, so this is an opportunity to expand your technical skills if desired.

We are currently focused on understanding the use of sounds and other signals for social communication by coral reef fishes. This work involves the recording of fish sounds in the field and lab, identifying the mechanisms of sound production and hearing, and phylogenetic studies to address questions on the evolution of sound production. We are also investigating the use of parrotfish sounds on coral reefs as an environmental monitoring tool for coral reef health. You can review our recent and past research productivity at Tricas Lab Publications.

Our lab has a weekly journal club meeting to discuss lab issues, student research progress, and research papers in many areas of fish behavioral ecology and sensory biology.  See Lab Members for a more detailed look at present and past student researchers in the lab.

I am a faculty member in the School of Life Sciences which is located on the UH Manoa campus in Honolulu. I teach undergraduate courses each year in Introductory Biology (evolution), Ethology and undergrraduate seminar.  My two primary graduate courses are Principles of Animal Behavior, and Behavior and Sensory Biology of Fishes, as well as other topics courses of interest to graduate students.  I also teach a graduate Seminar in Animal Behavior in which we discuss current topics in behavior (see the NEAR SIDE). My philosophy for graduate courses is to promote student self-study and independent thinking. It is my opinion that professional development is best met in graduate courses through research projects, scientific writing, oral presentations and class participation by everyone.

I sponsor graduate students in the Zoology and Marine Biology Graduate Programs at UH Manoa. Admission to these graduate programs is quite competitive.  In order for students to gain admission, the application received by the program must be supported by a graduate faculty member (usually decided upon by January or February if not earlier).  The sponsored students are then evaluated by the Graduate Admissions Committee, which places high value on undergraduate acadenuc performance, research experience and productivity, and letters of recommendation.  The final number of admitted students varies from year to year, and depends upon many factors such as available space, assistantships, number of applicants, etc.

Your graduate school expenses can be supported in a number of ways. The ideal situation would be for you to receive a fellowship from one of many extramural agencies or foundations (NSF GRFP, NIH, Fullbright, etc.). With a fellowship award you would be able to devote your full time to research for at least part of your graduate studies. I often have funds for student assistantships, but these vary in availability. The School of Life Sciences also offers competitive teaching assistantships that provide a stipend and tuition waiver, so you should also apply for one if needed when you apply to the program. The bottom line is to first know WHY you NEED to go to graduate school, next find a sponsor and get accepted into the graduate program, and finally go full blast for your degree so you can get to your NEXT CAREER GOAL.  In recent years, every student in our lab made a prior trip to Honolulu for us to meet, see the lab, learn about grad school at UH, and get a feel for living in Hawai'i.  It would be best if you could do that too if things move forward after we discuss your specific interests and potential research project.

Please remember that graduate school is not a full-time job for employment, rather it is full-time training in the scientific method and how to create (not only gain) knowledge. Thus your primary goals in graduate school should be to develop your skills in the formation of scientific hypotheses, the design and execution of experiments that will test the predictions of a hypothesis, and the dissemination of your results and conclusion in a thesis/dissertation, scientific papers, and oral presentations to the scientific and public communities. Students in my lab understand that the most important thing they can do is to publish their research in the primary literature. Since each student represents serious time, space and support from the lab, most research is published in joint authorship with me (in most cases the student is senior author). I strongly encourage students to join professional societies such as the Animal Behavior Society, American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, Sigma Xi, Society of Comparative and Integrative Biology, and/or Society for Neuroscience and to present their research at the national meetings. These meeting are memorable, introduce students to future colleagues, and are a great professional experience.

I hope that you have found this information useful. If you are still interested in graduate work in my lab, please email me with any questions. If you are serious about being considered for my lab, you must also send me a detailed letter of introduction by email that includes:


     1) a letter that states your career goals, graduate program(s) of interest, previous research experience, and specific research interests in my lab,

     2) your CV (that includes name and phone numbers of at least 3 references who can comment on your research potential),

     3) unofficial college transcripts and GRE scores.

Please be advised that to gain admission to the Zoology Graduate Program or the Marine Biology Graduate Program you must apply to the UH Graduate Division, and also apply to the specific Graduate Program separately by their deadlines.  Please do not hesitate to contact me for further discussion or arrange to meet if you visit Hawai'i.

Aloha and I hope to hear from you soon,

Timothy C. Tricas, Professor
School of Life Sciences

2538 The Mall, Edmondson Hall
University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822


tricas @ hawaii.edu

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