Grad and post-doc opportunities: an overview

I am interested in almost anything to do with the long-term effects of barren versus enriched housing conditions; in understanding why some animals adapt more readily than others to being caged (e.g. because of their temperament, species or early life experiences); and in validating indicators of welfare (by which I mean how animals feel: their conscious emotional states). I welcome any suggested projects fitting within these broad topics (for some some ideas, see Specific projects 2015-’17). If you enjoy travel, your research could involve working overseas for a few months with some of my collaborators (e.g. in South Africa, the UK, the US and Denmark).

I am looking for grad students with high GPAs — typically 85%+ — aiming to win their own scholarships (possible funding sources are listed below). I am happy to help with scholarship applications, and would fund the full research, travel, conference, publishing and computing costs of scholarship winners. I also very much welcome thesis students from other labs seeking short-term internships (to date I’ve hosted terrific grad students from France, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland for 3-6 month-long research visits). Finally, I am very keen to host good post-docs — either those winning their own fellowships (same deal as for grad students) or ones I work with to win grant money from OMAFRA (see ‘Funding’ section).

For my general advice about thesis versus coursework degrees, please read this.

For the other welfare labs in Guelph, please go to the UoG Animal Behaviour and Welfare page.

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How to win a salary

STIPENDS FOR GRADUATE STUDIES

You must have good grades — typically an 85%+ GPA in your last two years  — to have a chance of winning a grad scholarship. If you’re seeking funding for a Masters, previous research experience is useful, while actual authorship on a peer-reviewed publication will put you ahead of the pack (so try and make yourself indispensible to a PI!). If you’re an MSc student looking for doctoral funding, publications are not just helpful, they are essential: you need at least one to be in with a chance (while two or more means you’re likely to do well).

CANADIAN STUDENTS

The most likely sources of funding for you are NSERC, followed by provincial scholarships (e.g. an Ontario Graduate Studentship [OGS]). These have September deadlines for PhDs, December deadlines for MScs, and are awarded the following Mar-April, typically for a start date in the fall (thus for PhDs you’re typically applying a year in advance). War Memorial scholarships are another possibility, though very competitive.

For farm animal projects (in my case this typically means mink), OMAFRA HQP studentships are a great source of funding, with year round deadlines.

NON-CANADIAN STUDENTS

OMAFRA HQP studentships (see above) are potentially open to non-Canadians too (although if you’re here on a visa rather than as a landed immigrant, you’ll be stung for international fees). Trillium awards are offered annually (March). They are lucrative… but highly competitive. Guelph also offers one Nora Cebotarev scholarship a year, to an outstanding woman from a developing country. Potential candidates should contact me by Feb. NSERC Vaniers are another great scholarship, but again very competitive (deadline: Sept. each year). For other Canadian and Commonwealth scholarships (including ones for short visits), see https://w01.scholarships-bourses.gc.ca/scholarshipnoncdn-boursenoncdn.aspx?lang=eng

Your own country may well have its own scholarships for international grad studies too (e.g. NSF and other US agencies for American students; Canadian Rhodes scholarships for Oxford graduates; and La Caixa scholarships in Spain). But be warned: all these programmes are fiercely competitive …

POST-DOCS

I welcome visiting fellows (e.g. Canadian holders of NSERC PDFs; and non-Canadian holders of Banting awards or Fyssen Fellowships). I am happy to help you write a fellowship application, and would support all your research and conference costs while in my lab.

For applied projects working with mink, NSERC industrial fellowships are a possibility because the Canada Mink Breeders Assoc. is a recognised NSERC industrial partner. OMAFRA also funds grants (with calls for ‘Letters of Intent’ coming out annually each fall, so please contact me by the summer if interested).MITACS schemes are a great additional way to make any funds won go further.

The animals we use: mink, mice and ethical issues

Tens of millions of mice are kept in labs around the world, and tens of millions of mink are farmed for their fur.  One reason so much of our experimental work uses these animals is to improve conditions in these systems in an evidence-based way.  However, mink and mice are great model animals too, allowing the test of hypotheses that are relevant to a wide range of other species.

I work with mice because it’s easy to create diverse housing conditions for them, there are tonnes of pre-existing data on their neuroanatomy and physiology, and they are naturally short-lived, making it relatively feasible to collect data from birth into senescence.  My NSERC Discovery grant is therefore based upon using mice as model to investigate a number of fundamental questions about environmental enrichment. However, buying mice from commercial breeders and killing them some time later obviously raises ethical questions. We rehome mice where we can. Where we need to kill them for their brains, we do our best to do so as humanely as possible (I pay for expert cervical dislocation, rather than using the cheap default of CO2 which is not humane). We also do not waste the bodies (they are fed to snakes), and we do our best to share mice in overlapping complementary projects so as to use as few as possible. There are also some housing conditions I simply will not use or study: even our least enriched animals always have bedding, nesting and social contact (grid floors and social isolation may still be common practice, and nesting sometimes regarded as a luxury, but for us they represent the bare essentials that all mice should have).

Working with mink allows us to capitalize on animals that are already housed on local farms. Our mink studies thus don’t increase the total numbers of animals in cages (unlike our mice work).  They also allow us to make a real impact on how mink are housed in practice (the Canada Mink Breeders Association has a genuine interest in welfare, and environmental enrichment is becoming standard practice on Canadian farms, largely thanks to the work of my group). Uncomfortable with the idea of using animals for their fur? Fur is an unnecessary, luxury product, yes, but no part of the mink is wasted (bodies are typically composted); it is hard to argue that keeping horses, or pets, or even farming animals for protein is really any more essential; and the mink themselves don’t know or care why they are caged. Fur farming is just another form of intensive animal production, and is likely here to stay. We are therefore keen to improve it. Working with mink has some major scientific benefits too. They allow us to collect data from thousands of animals (giving us incredible statistical power). Mink are also great ‘model carnivores’, relevant to endangered mustelids like black footed ferrets, and also displaying pre-feeding pacing just like tigers, polar bears and other Carnivora in zoos.