Background

Please note that I only supervise graduate students seeking either a M.Sc. or Ph.D. I do not, under normal circumstances, supervise students seeking a 1-year M.A. Why? Because I want my students to conduct field research and then publish their work in a peer-reviewed journal. Graduate students wanting to work with me should ideally have research projects focusing on the ecology, biogeography, and/or conservation biology of extant, nonhuman primates. Although my research focus is on lemurs in Madagascar, I may consider students with research interests similar to my own but with a focus on other primate taxa in different parts of the world (e.g., effects of deforestation processes on South American monkeys). I recommend looking at my TREE web site as it describes some of the main research projects we are working on in Madagascar. I also recommend that you click on the following link to read specifics about applying for:

Graduate Work in the Department of Anthropology.

Please note that applications are typically due by mid-December!

Coursework and Preparation

Although I welcome applicants with a strong background in biology, ecology, or zoology, I prefer applicants who have at least either a major or minor in anthropology. If you do not have the minimum necessary GPA or anthropology classes, it is possible in some cases for you to still apply to work with me if you have other compelling experiences of an anthropological nature. I also strongly encourage all potential students to apply for either a NSERC PGS-M (Master's students) or NSERC PGS-D (Doctoral students). I cannot stress how nice it is to have Federal funding when it comes time to conduct your field work.

Field Experience

I consider it a personal requirement that potential graduate students have field experience in primate habitats. Although some of my fieldwork has a laboratory component, I am primarily interested in the biogeography of tropical plants and animals. As such, I need to know that any incoming graduate student has determined for his/herself that fieldwork is something that they can do and enjoy. And that fact is that there is only one way to determine this ability: by going to the field and trying it out for yourself. Although many people love to read about primates in nature, it can be a very different thing to experience living in a field setting. My field sites are remote, primitive, and simple, although our new site in Ankarafantsika is relatively cushy, as it has showers, electricity, and access to cold beer (a Canadian thing!).  Nonetheless, you will likely have a monotonous diet composed largely of rice and beans, and you will sleep in a tent throughout your time in the field.  As we expand our research to include more work on nocturnal lemurs, you also need to ensure you are comfortable walking and working at night in the forest.  Therefore, my preference is for students to have had experiences in the tropics, most preferably in Madagascar, and also to have had the experience of collecting data on animal behavior and ecology in the wild.

I fully realize that student experience difficulties gaining field experience in the first place. In many regards, this conundrum seems somewhat of a "catch-22": how can you get field experience if no one will give you opportunities to gain field experience!? Fortunately, there are several excellent primatology field schools that can provide you with training in data collection on wild primates. There are often primate-related field opportunities available to students on the Jobs page of the Primate Information Network. Here is a list of just a few:

Madagascar Study Abroad Program (SUNY-Stony Brook)

University of Calgary Primatological Field Schools

The Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS)

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI)

Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation

All of these organizations and institutes offer field courses of varying description, focus, and length and can provide you with rigorous training in field methods. Once you have some field methods and experience under your belt you are in an excellent position for competing for coveted tropical field research assistant positions.

Other important considerations

It is important that you determine if I am actually someone you want to work with! In other words, you should determine if we have shared research interests, such that both of us achieve professional benefits from your attaining a graduate degree under my supervision. The best way of doing this is to take a look at my research interests and publications. Once you have done this, AND you have decided that you are interested in this kind of research, I encourage you to then get in touch with me - email works great. Introduce yourself, and give me a strong sense of what your goals are in contacting me and why you are considering applying to the University of Toronto.

Your Application

Once the application time arrives, please take care in the writing of your graduate statement of intent. I read these very closely. They should not be too broad (e.g., I love lemurs! I want to study primate behavior and ecology). A well-written statement spends only a short time explaining past experiences (that's what your CV is for), and instead indicates potential future research areas. It is critical that you indicate why you chose University of Toronto, and why you chose me as someone you want to work with. I strongly suggest you avoid the production of 'form statements' as they are easily noticed and do little to support your application.

Finally, I strongly advise that you please consider visiting me on campus sometime just before or after applying. This visit can have a significant impact on admission decisions if the student applicant is a "known quantity". Plus, you will get a good sense of whether the program feels like a good "fit" for you.

Good luck and I look forward to reading your application!

Shawn Lehman


Last update April 4, 2015