Pearson Lab FAQ



Who or what is the “group”?

The core of our group is Prof. Ann Pearson and group manager Susie Carter. We also generally have 2-5 post-docs, 1-3 graduate students, an undergraduate or two, and sometimes another technical staff member.  The average size of the group is 10, although in recent years we have been slightly smaller.


Will you be taking any new undergraduate students next year?

Yes. We always have at least some opportunities for undergraduates to get involved in research, so please do reach out!


Will you be taking any new graduate students next year?

A direct inquiry is the best way to get an answer to this question. The answer changes annually, depending on funding, lab density, and other factors. Our typical frequency is one student every 2-3 years, but please do reach out – we want to get to know you, regardless.


Will you be taking any new post-doctoral students next year?

Here the answer is almost always yes. Post-docs often can secure independent or external funding and come to the lab with a project already in mind. Please reach out so we can point you to fellowship opportunities.


I don't have Earth sciences or geology in my background. Is that a problem?

Not necessarily. Our group works on problems in the Earth sciences, but our research discipline is a combination of applied or analytical chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, and a bit of evolution and ecology. Notice that chemistry comes first on that list! We will expect all students to have a good foundation in chemistry and be interested in hands-on work; we can teach you the rest.


Do I need any programming or other specialized experience?

No, but somewhere along the way you probably will be asked to learn Matlab or another language. It is more helpful if you understand a bit (or are curious about) about how mechanical things work, like to fix things that are broken, or are fascinated by the idea of building machines. (Do you know what it means to “MacGyver” something?  You’ll fit right in!)


Do you welcome international students?  What about other types of diversity?

Yes, certainly! Most of our international students have come from Germany and China, but we are eager to host people from all backgrounds. Our group also is committed to promoting and sustaining all types of diversity in the sciences – you will be welcome here.


What kind of research projects can I get involved in?

PhD students generally have some latitude over their first two years to develop a project of interest, as long as it falls under the general research directions of the lab.  Nearly all projects include some aspects of stable isotope geochemistry, organic geochemistry, and (geo)biology. Recently we have been working at the intersection of paleoecology and paleoclimate.  Looking through the publications on Google Scholar is the best way to get a general picture of the group’s research interests, but it should not be viewed too restrictively – creative new directions are always possible. 


Do you take students for summer research projects?

We do!  Undergraduate students can apply for research support from many different sources, including but not limited to the Microbial Sciences Initiative (MSI), the Origins of Life Initiative, HUCE, or directly through the EPS department.  We also engage with campus REU programs to bring students to campus from other undergraduate institutions.  And finally, sometimes we simply have funds to pay undergraduates directly from research grants.  Undergraduates generally will work under the mentorship of a post-doc or advanced graduate student, although in rare occasions an experienced undergraduate may have an independent project. 


What financial support can I expect?

All Ph.D. students are guaranteed tuition and stipend for the normal duration of their time at Harvard. During the first academic year the funding comes from Harvard, and after that it comes either from my research grants or from external fellowships. You are encouraged to apply for these fellowships, not only for the funding benefits, but because they also look good on your CV. You also must work as a teaching assistant for two terms as part of your educational program, and this work will pay for part of your stipend.


Is there a qualifying exam on the road to the Ph.D.? When can I expect to graduate?

You will take a qualifying exam in the spring of your second year, at which point you'll typically have completed all or almost all of your coursework. This exam consists of both general knowledge and an oral presentation of your Ph.D. research proposal. The duration of the Ph.D. is typically 5-6 years. Because of the intensive laboratory component of our research, nearly all students in the group require 6 years.


What is the typical career path of alumni?

Most alumni from the group have remained in academia, while a few have instead become research scientists in either biotech or the energy industry.  


Whom can I contact for more information?

Contact information for everyone is on the People pages of the group web site.