Prospective students

PhD Student Opportunities

There will be opportunities for graduate students to work on our NSF-funded project, The Development of Adaptive Embryo Behavior. More broadly, we will consider highly motivated, intellectually strong students with interests in the integrative biology of early life stages and excellent potential for funding their own research.

Overview of “The Development of Adaptive Embryo Behavior” project

When to hatch is an essential decision embryos make, based on environmental cues. Hatching is also a physical feat that embryos perform. The ability to assess cues, exit the egg, and survive outside the egg all change as embryos develop. Thus, under the same external conditions, both what embryos can do and what they should do to survive change developmentally. The overall project examines the development and regulation of environmentally cued hatching in red-eyed treefrogs, Agalychnis callidryas. These embryos hatch up to 40% prematurely to escape from threats to the egg, using cues in at least two sensory modalities, and multiple selective trade-offs shaping hatching timing are known. The project integrates work on hatching mechanisms and performance, sensory system development, and hatching decision rules for responses to simple hypoxia cues and complex mechanosensory cues, to examine why and how development changes behavior. It will improve our understanding of embryo lives, behavioral development, and how animals use different kinds of information to make decisions.

Position Description

Students will participate in multiple aspects of the project, including field research at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. They will be mentored to develop a dissertation that addresses some component of the funded project, then builds on and extends it to address independent questions. Students with strong interests in mechanosensory cues and vibrations as an information channel may be co-mentored by mechanical engineer Greg McDaniel. Student may join the lab in May, with a field season in Panama, or in September.

For more information

For some background reading related to the project, I suggest starting with my two 2011 review papers from the  “Environmentally Cued Hatching Across Taxa” symposium (overview, amphibians), the Warkentin and Caldwell 2009 chapter in Cognitive Ecology II, and my 2007 review “Oxygen, gills and embryo behavior: mechanisms of adaptive plasticity in hatching.”

For graduate student perspectives on the Warkentin Lab, contact Kristina Cohen or Jesse Delia.

For specific inquiries about the lab and potential positions, email Prof. Karen Warkentin ( Include your CV, transcript, and tell me why you are interested in working in my lab and how it relates to your overall goals and prior experience. I suggest you contact me directly, for an initial assessment of your fit for the lab and the lab’s fit for you, before submitting a formal application to the graduate program.

For more general information on our graduate program see

To apply, see