Aspiring Climate Change Ecology Graduate Student

I need some advice since I’m to the point of nausea thinking about applying to graduate schools which I worry I won’t be accepted by.

I’m an undergraduate environmental engineering major with a wildlife ecology & conservation minor. My GPA is right at a 3.0 and I have decent GRE scores (163 verbal, 159 quant). I hope/assume the engineering major will make up for the lower GPA, although I have some documented health issues which can explain my spotty semesters. I’ve been involved with many clubs (multiple in leadership roles) across the spectrum (ecological/political), regularly attend visiting lectures, and have helped with local invasive/exotic species removals and long term study sites among other things. I also have multiple previous internships in my engineering field, although I consider those irrelevant.

I’ve taken a slew of ecology courses as electives for my major as well as fulfilling the requirements of my minor, including but not limited to climate change ecology, wetland ecology (multiple), ecological engineering (systems ecology for engineering students), and two otherwise graduate level classes, one on biodiversity patterns/processes & another on ecosystem engineers/facilitation/keystone species, which I was able to take after speaking to the professors. I’ve made connections with most of my professors and shouldn’t have a problem getting letters of recommendation since I’m always coming prepared and do heavy background research to make up for my ‘shortcomings’ as an engineer.

I’m in the process of working on two papers I hope to publish, one to present at a conference in an interdisciplinary field on the topic of climate change ecology. At the same time I haven’t really had much hands on/field research which I worry detracts from my heavy personal research & what I feel is an advanced theoretical understanding for an undergraduate. I’m also reading upwards of 8 papers a week, some for my grad level ecology courses and some for my own research, which I’ve heard is the point I should be at.

My predominant interest is in climate change ecology, particularly from a complex systems approach for understanding ecosystem structure/function/shifts, with further interests in restoration ecology, biogeochemical cycling, and physical ecosystem engineers. I really can’t see myself working in any other area at this point but I’m horribly worried that my engineering background may make me less competitive.

Am I being overly anxious? How should I go about reaching out to specific labs?

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