Graduate Studies at the CWE

General Overview of the CWE

How to Apply

Are you interested in graduate studies in the Centre for Wildlife Ecology? If so, you should peruse this website for an introduction to us and our group. Here you’ll find our Mission Statement, history, Annual Reports, descriptions of our projects, a list of our publications etc. All of this will help you decide if Simon Fraser University might be the place for your graduate studies.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch: the CWE is a research organization housed in the Department of Biological Sciences at SFU. We have three faculty members in the department (Ron Ydenberg - Director; David Green, Tony Williams), and one Research Associate, Dov Lank. In addition, several Research Scientists of Environment Canada are members of the CWE and Adjunct Professors in the Department of Biological Sciences. All these people bring in research funds and supervise graduate students, of whom there are at any one time about 25, pursuing either PhD or MSc degrees. Some visitors and post-doctoral fellows round out the group. Two staff members look after the day to day functions and administration (Connie Smith and Kathryn Coukell). An up-to-date listing is found here.

We work with a wide variety of partners, including other faculty at SFU such as those in the Behavioral Ecology Research Group (BERG), other universities in Canada and abroad, Canadian and US government agencies, amateurs and volunteers, and private sector groups. CWE members are engaged in many research projects, but most fall into one of the major categories aimed at priority areas of our main partner agency, Environment Canada.

We’re always interested in new students, and would like to encourage your interest. You may already have corresponded with a potential supervisor and launched a dialogue, but if not the place to start is here. We’ve arranged this by trying to answer the questions you’re likely to ask.


There are generally a number of possibilities (~ 2 - 6) for new graduate students each year. We always have many more inquiries than we can possibly accept. Typically, a potential student inquiries in the course of the academic year (October to January or so), and we then correspond a bit to determine if there might be a place. We select from among these applications in March as we finalize budgets and planning for the next academic year. Students then make their official applications to the University in April or May, and begin in September. We stress that this schedule is very flexible, and can be altered as either the project or the student demands. Students may begin enroll in January, May or September.

Students who applying to NSERC for a PGS (Post Graduate Scholarship) or CGS (Canada Graduate Scholarship) in tandem with their CWE inquiry should carefully peruse the relevant NSERC webpages. It currently (March 2015) appears that you must have completed an application to the university or universities of your choice to be considered by those institutions in their rankings for NSERC graduate scholarships. For PhDs, this now takes place in the fall (15 October), with adjudication by SFU taking place by the end of the year. For MSc, students need to apply to NSERC by Dec 1 but then need to get their application to SFU completed by mid-Feb at the latest (and earlier is better). Further, be aware that these procedures change from time to time: hence, you should make sure that you are dealing with the most recent information. An additional hazard is that NSERC's website could be more user friendly! All of this will take time, and so you should initiate the process earlier rather than later.


We encourage potential students to contact and talk with any of our
current graduate students to see what the CWE graduate experience is like. They have been told to expect that potential students might contact them with questions, and they are prepared to help. Interactions between you and them are not reported to potential supervisors, nor do graduate students make assessments that might influence your acceptance. Thus, you are free to speak openly with them, and they with you.


We’re looking for potential in research, which is difficult because this is not necessarily measured well with grades, nor can it be represented directly in any application. We have to do the best we can with this material to make fair and good choices! We try to select a mix of students, matching them to projects as best we can. Funding is certainly an asset, but is NOT make or break. Experience helps, but of course we understand that many students embarking on a MSc have little or no experience. We look at your transcripts and especially at letters of reference. If at all possible, we like to meet with applicants in person, as this gives an invaluable opportunity for both of us to decide whether the CWE is the right place for you.


To pursue an application, compile the following:

  1. a transcript (unofficial copy OK at this point);
  2. copies of any reports, published papers, technical reports, or class research projects that you feel demonstrate your ability to assimilate complex information and research into a well-written product;
  3. a curriculum vitae (resume) summarizing your work and academic experience;
  4. a brief description of the kind of research project you would like to undertake. If you’re open to anything: that’s OK, just tell us.
  5. Names, addresses, telephone, and email of 3 references.

If at all possible, put this into electronic format and send it to Kathryn Coukell
( with the subject line YOUR NAME - GRADUATE STUDIES INQUIRY. Kathryn is the CWE’s administrator, and will keep track of your application.

If you need to send a hardcopy send it to:
CWE, Attn: Kathryn Coukell
Dept. of Biological Science
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC


Don’t let the lack of assured funding dissuade you from making an inquiry. Many students come with support of one sort or another in hand, but just as many have been able to find the necessary support after their applications were accepted, in the form of SFU scholarships or fellowships, teaching assistantships, or other sources. As stated above, funding is certainly an asset, but it is not a precondition. In fact, it is usually the last of the issues we consider before accepting a student. We do plan carefully for this, as we are committed to making sure that all our students are fully funded through the tenure of their programs.


We’ll acknowledge your application as soon as we receive it, so if you’ve heard nothing in a week, send a follow-up email. (Things sometimes go astray in the ether, or may not make it past SFU’s electronic firewall.) We deal with inquiries on an ongoing basis, and try to be prompt, but it can sometimes take time while we do some due diligence, fund-seeking or careful contemplation, so be patient. Don’t be shy about following up if you have heard nothing for a while. Our policy is to be honest with you about your chances, and we do our best to keep you updated on just where you stand. On occasion we keep applications ‘active’ if we are awaiting a funding decision, or until there is an opening that seems to suit a student particularly well.


Please keep in mind that you will also have to go through the formal process of applying to the University, with all its requirements. However, it’s a time saver for both of us and a money saver for you to make formal application only after getting an expression of interest from us. If we want you, and you meet the requirements, the University will likely admit you.

Thanks for your interest in the CWE! We look forward to hearing from you.