Prior to joining the Holekamp lab, I worked on a wide range of research projects that developed my wet laboratory and field work skills. I learned to formulate strong research questions, conduct independent research, work as a team to complete a project, and address the various challenges along the way.
Primate social behavior
After graduating college, I was a Field Research Assistant for the Primate Reproductive Ecology and Evolution lab (New York University, Department of Anthropology) working for Dr. JP Higham . I collected daily behavioral data (affiliative and agonistic interactions) on rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) living in the free-ranging colony of Cayo Santiago, PR, using Psion handheld computers and a pre-established ethogram. I had 20 focal young-male monkeys that I followed continuously for 30-mins, while recording specific behaviors and interactions. I also collected fecal and urine samples and recorded agonistic interactions between any two males in the social group. The experience drew me to studying complex social behavior and individual variation in social behavior and has shaped the questions I chose to pursue as a graduate student.
Microbial ecology at Wellesley College
As a senior at Wellesley College, I conducted independent research in microbial ecology, working with Dr. V Klepac-Ceraj. In her laboratory, I analyzed the composition and diversity of bacterial assemblages in a stratified lake by high-throughput 16S rRNA gene Illumina sequencing surveys. I was thrilled to explore fundamental questions in ecology in a new system, and mastered techniques such as DNA extraction, PCR, and gel electrophoresis, and analyzed sequences using QIIME bioinformatics software. I was interested in this project because it explored the factors influencing bacterial community assembly, and the functional contributions of microbes to their environment, within the context of biogeochemical cycling.
Bat field research in Costa Rica
Because I found tropical research rewarding, upon returning from studying abroad, I was determined to look for additional field opportunities. The following summer, I participated in the NSF-funded Organization for Tropical Studies Research Experience for Undergraduates program. I spent eight weeks carrying out an independent research project at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica on the effects of secondary metabolite consumption on the ecto- and endo-parasite loads of frugivorous bats (Carollia perspicillata). The field work consisted of setting up mist-nets to capture bats, recording and taking morphometric measurements, and collecting fecal and blood samples for parasite analysis. I was entirely responsible for my project’s progress, dealing with challenges and maintaining a great work ethic in a demanding environment.
Rainforest Ecology in the Wet Tropics of Australia
My first study abroad experience was also my first exposure to independent research and field work. I enrolled in the School for Field Studies (SFS): Tropical Rainforest Studies program . Apart from living and taking courses in the Wet Tropics of Queensland, Australia, I conducted independent research comparing the functional diversity and stability of secondary tropical forests to those of primary forests. I spent rewarding days in the field, surveyed vegetation in transects (dbh, species) and took measurements of the topography (e.g. canopy cover, leaf litter, woody debris). I assessed the functional diversity of rainforest plots along 3 functional traits (wood density, seed size, and type of seed dispersal). After successfully completing the program, I knew that a career in research was a career for me.