Basic orientation Some specifics What to do if interested The bottom line!

I have retired to concentrate on finishing several projects of my own and, as a result,
I do not have opportunities for undergraduate research in my lab.

Biology Department advisors can help to find opportunities for undergraduate research in other labs.

Also keep in mind that undergraduate research experience includes

  • summer courses at biological field stations (throughtout the US) and
  • internships with research projects (anywhere in the world).  
Contacts and experience from your summers are important when exploring opportunities for graduate school or jobs.

See my webpage with some suggestions for finding internships or summer courses ...

... or contact me for more information.

Because I no longer have opportunities for undergraduate research,
the following sections mostly have archival interest ...

but they might help you to think about how to approach undergraduate research.  


Research is not for everybody.   But, for some people, it comes naturally.   If you are full of questions about how the world works (or sometimes doesn't work) and really want to answer some of them ... then you are one of those interested in research.

If your questions are about how animals and plants work ... and especially how animals behave ... and specifically how they communicate ... then my research group may be able to help.

My group is interested in big issues.   After all, almost all social interactions -- and many ecological interactions -- and indeed most molecular interactions within and between cells -- and even the interactions of people that result in political decisions -- are nothing more than communication.   So we like to think that an understanding of communication is pretty basic understanding.

Of course, any research must nevertheless focus on something specific.   We focus on vocal communication in birds, frogs, and primates.   We are especially interested in how signal detection theory can provide a fundamental way to understand how and why communication occurs the way it does.

Our objective is to understand limitations on the information animals convey in their signals.   Signal detection theory leads us then to focus on the possibilities for errors in communication.

For instance, we do experiments on how individuals recognize each other as individuals (it affects their possibilities for cooperation).   We also explore how individuals choose appropriate mates (it affects the process of speciation).

We are particularly interested in how animals do these tasks in difficult situations.   Difficult situations for communication often involve lots of background noise, either as a result of other animals nearby (such as in a frog chorus or a seabird colony) or as a result of long-range communciation (such as birds in forests, especially tropical forests).

This research often gets us involved in other issues too.   People in my research group have worked on all sorts of questions about social behavior, communication, ecology, and conservation biology of birds (usually), mammals (especially primates), and frogs.

If any of this interests you, read on ...



Research involves a lot of low-level decisions.   Our group focuses almost entirely on field work.   We think a good study starts with careful observations in the field, with a number of hypotheses in mind, and leads to careful experiments in the field, often to discriminate between a couple of these hypotheses.

People who like doing this sort of research like to be outdoors early in the morning or late at night and like to work independently, even sometimes solitarily.   Lots of moving and talking don't help when you want to study animal communication in the field.

Because we work in the field with animals' sounds, we all have to become both proficient field biologists (including identifying animals and plants) and basic electronics geeks (to keep our equipment running).

For undergraduates, there is another problem.   During the regular academic semesters, September to March, in North Carolina, most animals are in basic-survival mode.   The interesting communciation by animals occurs mostly in spring and summer.

My lab thus spends most of the regular academic year analyzing data collected during the previous spring and summer.   Few projects collect data or run experiments in the fall or winter (there have been exceptions though).   There are thus few opportunities for apprenticing with an ongoing project.



How can an undergraduate do research in my lab on this schedule?   There are several possibilities . . .

(1) We can figure out a project to do during the winter (a challenge but not impossible if the motivation is there).
(2) Qualified students can often obtain funds to conduct research during the summer ... even in exotic places.   We can work together on this process provided we leave ourselves enough time (proposals usually must be submitted 6 months or more in advance).
(3) A mathematically inclined student might develop a simulation of an interesting issue in communication (theoretical biology helps experimental biologists sharpen their hypotheses).

Undergraduates who would like to work in my research group should ...

take some relevant courses as soon as possible (especially courses that include some field work ... for instance, BIOL 201, 277/277L, 278/278L, or upper-level courses in ecology, evolution, or behavior).
try reading a paper or two from our group (or at least check the titles to see what might interest you) -- see the link on my homepage for selected publications (with links to pdf files).
visit our lab meetings (Wednesdays, 4:00-5:00 or 6:00, Wilson 321, very informal) and other departmental seminars.
allow time for a period of reading and brain-storming while developing a project.
allow time for doing a project twice or more ... the first time serves to identify the problems!



If you would like to try research ...

if you like animals outdoors ...

if you like to see the sun or the moon rise ...

if you can be happy when it rains and nothing happens except you get wet
(if you think this would be a good time to contemplate the big issues!) ...

if you like electronic gadgets or computers as well as animals ...

if you have the motivation to work around some of the constraints of the academic schedule

... my group would be glad to help out.


If you would just like to stop by for a talk about the future ... we can do that too.

For starters, you can send me an email (send an email now!).  

Be sure to tell me a bit about yourself ... your interests, your plans, a few relevant courses you've taken, any relevant experience, your GPA, the possibility for honors in Biology or another department ... anything else you'd like me to know.

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