Dear Prospective Graduate Students,

First of all, I thank you for your interest in my research, and the Ph.D. program of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

My research interest spans from root-soil interactions to the effects of global change factors (e.g., elevated CO2, nitrogen deposition, and global warming) on belowground processes, and to global patterns of social-ecological entanglement (e.g., biospheric carrying capacity and ecological foundation of human societies). My lab group engages in research on ecological processes at varying scales from the rhizosphere to the landscape. These processes are integral components in carbon and nitrogen dynamics (e.g., production, respiration, root exudation, root turnover, decomposition, and nitrogen fixation). Our current research projects are taking advantage of recently developed methods such as stable isotope tracing/labeling and minirhizotron root imaging. Please refer to the web page on research for more information about ongoing and previous projects, and see my list of publications for research work.

Currently there are two graduate students in my lab group. Kelsey Forbush is primarily working on the rhizosphere priming effect of woody species in Tallgrass prairie under field conditions as part of the recently NSF-funded project entitled "Rhizosphere priming and C-N dynamics in grassland ecosystems in transition."  Aysha Peterson is interested in rhizosphere ecology, C-N cycling, and ecosystem processes under environmental change. There are also undergraduate students working in my lab group either as research assistants or graduating seniors doing their thesis work.

The Ph.D. program in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz is interdisciplinary by design and in practice. Students applying to this program are expected to have completed courses in ecology, economics, policy, and statistics. Courses and experience in plant and soil sciences are highly desirable if you want to work with me. If you want to apply to the Ph.D. program in Environmental Studies at UCSC under my sponsorship, I will appreciate that you first send me an e-mail ( covering: (1) your academic background (unofficial transcripts, GPA, GRE/TOEFL scores (if available)), and work/research experience; (2) questions or hypotheses you plan to address in your dissertation research; (3) your ultimate career goals; and (4) what attract you to the Environmental Studies Program at UCSC and to my lab group.

I expect to admit 1-2 new Ph.D. students in the coming fall. It is my hope that this letter answers some of your questions regarding your search for a graduate program and a lab group that fits your needs and desire. If you have questions about the admissions procedure, please contact Lisa Birney, our graduate program coordinator, at 831-459-4136 or

Best regards,

Weixin Cheng