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Ph.D. Assistantship – Plant Systematics

Research Opportunity for students seeking a Ph.D. in Plant Systematics Field

Start Date

As early as January 2020 – application deadline October 30, 2019 or August 2020 – application deadline January 15, 2020.


External grant funding for 3 years with a 4th year possible on University teaching assistantship.


Phylogenetics and systematics of the North American Perennial Endemic (PENA) clade of Apiaceae.  This clade currently consists of 19 genera and ca. 200 species.  This project will aim to resolve a species level phylogeny using next-generation sequencing methods that employ the Angiosperm 353 baits (Johnson et al. 2018).  Species boundaries are uncertain in many of the widespread species and intensive sampling is planned to resolve these boundaries.   The resulting phylogenetic framework can be used to understand biogeography, character evolution, and processes of evolution in this group.

Current knowledge of the phylogenetic relationships among these species implies rampant convergent evolution and most of the taxa (including the 3 largest genera Lomatium, Cymopterus, and Tauschia) are para- or polyphyletic (Smith et al. 2018; George et al. 2014).

The PENA clade represents one of the largest radiations in western North America. Many of its species are well adapted to harsh environments and grow in arid and semi-arid habitats, often in alpine communities. The group also includes many rare and narrowly endemic species, often restricted to particular edaphic conditions or habitats (e.g. ultramafic, basaltic, or volcanic substrates). Despite its size and importance in the western flora, the evolution of this group is poorly understood, a fact reflected in the artificiality of its genera.  The group has important evolutionary, ecological, and cultural implications as many of the species were important food sources for North American Indian people.


Preference is for students who already have a MS in a related field, but highly motivated students that will have completed their undergraduate degree by the start date should apply.  The successful student will engage in fieldwork during spring and early summer to sample plant material for DNA extraction and prepare herbarium specimens, gather vegetation data on species that are sampled, as well as soil samples for better understanding of ecological analyses.  Labwork will consist of DNA extraction, library preparation, hybridization of baits, and preparing samples for sequencing.  Bioinformatics will include data assembly and analyses using concatenated and coalescent phylogenetic methods as well as further downstream analyses for biogeography and character evolution.

Boise State University has been awarded an LSAMP Bridge to Doctorate program with the goal of bringing in 12 doctoral students from Under-represented groups in fall 2020.  To see if you qualify, visit  for more information.

About the program and Boise

The Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior Ph.D. is a new and modern graduate program at Boise State University. This program brings together faculty from across multiple academic departments including biological sciences, geosciences, anthropology, and the human-environment systems group to offer relevant courses and provide unique mentorship and training opportunities.  Further, we have created a network of valuable connections in academia, local relationships with federal and state agencies, nonprofits and NGOs, as well as partnerships with international organizations all dedicated to providing students with transformative research and educational experiences for diverse career opportunities. Students in this program enjoy living in the beautiful city of Boise, which strikes a perfect balance with close-by outdoor recreational activities as well as a vibrant downtown life. To learn more, please visit:

Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the capital of the State of Idaho, Boise is frequently featured as a top-ranked metropolis. The city has ample opportunities for world-class outdoor activities year round and a thriving arts and entertainment culture. In 2017, US News and World report ranked Boise the 12th best city to live in the United States.

To Apply

Applicants should first contact Dr. James Smith in the Department of Biological Sciences in advance of submitting an application:

Applications and required application materials must be submitted by either October 30, 2019 for January entry or January 15, 2020 for August entry. Applicants applying to the program are required to submit a cover letter that states qualifications and career goals, a CV, the names and contact information for three references. As well as official university transcripts and GRE test scores. More information about these requirements and the application process may be found at:

Boise State University embraces and welcomes diversity in its faculty, student body, and staff. Accordingly, applicants who would add to the diversity and excellence of our academic community are encouraged to apply.