Saturday, July 25, 2009

I'm a scientist!

I figured I've been blogging long enough with vague references to lab work and research and biology conferences that I should actually tell you guys what my research is. I'm not going to go super in depth for two reasons: one, if you're not a biologist, you probably wouldn't know what the heck I was talking about, and two, we're still trying to publish my work, so I don't want to give it all away before it's officially out there.

So before I get into specifics, let me give you a little background information about what I do.

My official job title is not "Undergraduate Slave Technician" but a Forestry & Natural Resources Signature Area Fellow in Ecological Genetics (phew, try saying that three times fast). That's really just a fancy way of saying I get paid slightly more because FNR had a special fund for smarty pants undergraduates doing more than one year of lab work. I'm actually a student of the Biology Department, which is in the College of Science, while FNR is part of the College of Agriculture. The only difference? Ag gets better funding at Purdue. Genetics is genetics no matter what department you're in.

The laboratory I work in is pretty diverse as far as projects go. Most of our research is on ecological genetics and using genetics to answer questions about conservation. While a lot of labs have only one or two study organisms, we basically have everything. Birds (a ton of species from Hispanola, Eastern Imperial Eagles from Kazakhstan), amphibians (from Tiger Salamanders to whatever we find squished on the road), fish (Lake Sturgeon, my favorite sexually ambiguous fish), and mammals (hurray for Kangaroo Rats!). And our actual research is just as diverse: investigating long term population histories, genetic diversity and the effects of human structures, noninvasive ways to monitor population densities, discovering the genetic mechanisms for sex determination, the genetic basis for mate choice, dispersal...we've basically done it all.

When I started research, I have to admit that I really didn't see the point of conservation projects. I didn't know much about the fragile nature of ecosystems or why we need to protect our wealth of resources on earth, even at the very least for selfish reasons. After working in the lab for a while, I have a new appreciation for conservation. Personally, it's not the kind of research I want to be doing - I'm still a bit of a cynic about conservation, and I'm not passionate enough to devote my life to it. My cynicism doesn't make my the best spokeswoman for it, either. But regardless, I do appreciate the work done much more than I did before, and I'm glad I got what's going to be a diverse lab experience before I go devoting my life to human genetics or something (or who knows what).

This is post 20 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.


  1. That does sound like a pretty cool deal, there. Though, if 'Undergraduate Slave' was an actual title, that would probably affect the amount of people who go into it.

    Which way? Well, damned if I know.

  2. Undergraduate Slave? Yeah,

    Anyway. It sounds like an interesting project, if not necessary one you are passionate about. I hope you learn tons doing it, and it makes you a better whatever you end up being.

  3. Sounds pretty interesting. If I had been better at math I would have gone into a biology field.