What is your Job description?
What do you study now?
Here in Costa Rica, I am studying the sensory biology of amblypygids ("whip spiders"). Little is known about how these animals navigate, locate prey and evade predators, or communicate with conspecifics (other members of their species). Back home in Nebraska, I am also involved in studies of small mammals living in high- elevation habitats, and in a study of the evolution of bird malaria.
What's the best thing about your job?
Making new discoveries, being exposed to new ideas from my friends and colleagues, sharing my excitement for biology with students and non-scientists.
What is the worst thing about your job?
Time away from friends and family, and the stress of meeting the many challenges of teaching and research simultaneously.
What inspired you to first study science?
I had many different kinds of pets as a kid: fish, toads, newts, anoles, etc. I was fascinated by the variation between these animals - what they looked like, how they moved, what they ate and where they lived.
The concepts I learned in my undergraduate evolution course really challenged my imagination and deepened my appreciation for nature. I realized that a career in science would be a source of continuing illumination, and would keep my imagination alive.
What do you do in a typical day?
I wake up at 3:00pm, organize my notes and materials, and head into the jungle at sundown. I mark amblypygids as they emerge from tree crevices, and then return every few hours to record their movement patterns and behaviors. Between these field observations, I run experiments in the lab to determine how amblypygids locate and communicate with each other. I make a last trip into the jungle at dawn, eat breakfast, and go to sleep around 8am.
What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a biologist?
Don't let people or setbacks discourage you - as long as you're working hard, thinking critically and communicating your ideas and findings, you are a biologist!
Try to learn as much as you can about everything, because knowing math, chemistry, literature, art, history etc. will give you a unique perspective from which to approach your own research.
Get research experience with practicing biologists. The skills you'll get from hands-on research will open many doors. If no one is advertising for assistance, locate scientists in your area who are working on topics that interest you, and volunteer to help.
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