Jenny Ouyang started research during her freshman year, and has continued throughout her undergraduate studies. Her work on gulls and zebra finches has prepared the way for her to pursue her next goal of a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology. Jenny also serves on the UROP Student Editorial Board. Well done, Jenny!

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

I am conducting research, in Dr. Nancy Burley’s lab, on parental care in Zebra Finches. Avian parents sometimes show preferential treatment toward offspring of one sex. They may, for example, feed offspring of one sex more, or even selectively evict certain young from their nest. The basis of recognition of offspring sex is not well understood and I am examining whether there is a difference between male and female chick begging calls in Zebra Finches. A follow-up experiment is underway to further investigate parental feeding behavior in relation to offspring begging behavior when food quality varies.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

I approached my first adviser (Dr. George Hunt, Jr.) in my freshmen year and started research at Santa Barbara Island, working on the diet differences between chick and adult Western Gulls. I looked through the faculty profiles and read the research articles by professors with research projects that I found interesting. I then emailed two professors with whom I wanted to work and interviewed with both of them. I decided to work with Dr. Hunt, even though he was retiring, because he was the only faculty working on marine birds. Dr. Hunt recommended that I work with Dr. Burley after he left for the University of Washington.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

I cannot stress how important research has been to me. Everything I learn about in class is reinforced through research. Learning how to do a PCR or extract DNA is much more helpful than reading about it from lecture notes. Discussing articles in journal clubs helps me to be up to date on current literature, and provides insight into my own project. Because of the many abstracts, proposals, and papers that I have written, I feel that my writing skills have improved dramatically. Most of all, participating in research has given me opportunities to communicate, on a one-on-one basis, with faculty members. Dr. Burley is more than just a research adviser, she is a mentor and a friend. Without her help, I would not be where I am now.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

Before my talk for Excellence in Research, I was speaking in a very soft voice. Dr. Hunt led me into the lab to hear my talk and after commenting on some technical issues, he had me stand there and yell at him. So for fifteen minutes, we yelled back and forth greetings and silly comments. My talk went really well, and after this experience, I have never had any more problems projecting my voice during talks.

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

I am going to attend Princeton University for a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology, and hope to become a research professor in animal behavior. Without a doubt, research is an integral part of what I want to do in the future. Without the research experience that I have had as an undergraduate, I would not have developed specific interests to pursue in graduate school.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

Do not be afraid to approach faculty. It may seem very intimidating at first, but they are very friendly and always want to talk with interested and motivated students. Do your homework and read some of their work before you approach them. Most of all, during the research process, do not get discouraged. Although there have been many times when my projects did not go as I had planned, things will always turn out fine if you just keep at it.

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '07 Michelle Tu
Nov. '07 Brett Reid
Oct. '07 Marlen Kanagui
Sep. '07 Yekaterina Pavlova
Aug. '07 Amanda Janesick
Jul. '07 Lauren Bloom
Jun. '07 Ismael Diaz Herrera
May. '07 Sarah Pauly
Apr. '07 Jenny Ouyang
Mar. '07 Valerie Dao
Feb. '07 Abraham Qavi
Jan. '07 Rachel Bell