Research

June 15, 2020 at 3:20 pm

Undergraduates Get Research Experience Studying Songbird Reproduction

As a Biological Sciences undergraduate student, Rachel Anderson presenting her research at the Ohio University student Expo in 2017. Her work provided the foundation for the current publication.

As a Biological Sciences undergraduate student, Rachel Anderson presenting her research at the Ohio University student Expo in 2017. Her work provided the foundation for the current publication.

As Biological Sciences undergraduate students, Madeline Sudnick (Honor’s Tutorial College) and Rachel Anderson (Biological Sciences Wildlife and Conservation B.S. 2017) gained experience in scientific research and publishing while studying the role maternal age plays in songbird reproduction.

They worked with their mentor Dr. Kelly Williams and graduate student Meredith Fitschen-Brown to publish a research paper in the Journal of Avian Biology on Experience counts: The role of female age in morning incubation and brooding behavior in relation to temperature.

Experience matters. Experience provides practice, builds confidence, and equips you with skills needed for future success. Students in the Williams lab in the Biological Sciences Department gain experience in a wide range of research techniques used in avian ecology then select a research area that interests them.

Williams studies the breeding ecology of songbirds and is interested in how parental care behavior and the environment influence offspring development and survival. Students work in the field to collect data during the spring and summer then, during the academic year, work in the lab to process data. The latter means spending a lot of time at the computer collecting behavior data from video recordings, using GIS to map nests and territories, or using temperature data collected at the nests.

Anderson, a 2017 OHIO University alumnus, began working in the Williams lab in the fall of 2015.

Anderson came to Williams’ office one day really excited and said, “I think there’s something going on! Females are leaving the nest at different times each morning.”

She wanted to understand the variation in behavior that she had observed and asked if this could be her research project. Anderson worked diligently to collect data, learned to analyze her data, and learned to communicate her research. In 2016, she presented her work on the effects of ambient temperature on morning incubation behavior of Hooded Warblers at the Ohio University Student Expo, the Ohio Avian Research Conference, and the North American Ornithologists Council in Washington, D.C.

Sudnick came into the lab as a freshman in 2017 and started working on parental care in hooded warblers. Williams wanted to continue Anderson’s work and expand it to examine the role female experience played in incubation behavior. Sudnick worked on literature review to shape the work into a publishable project, and Williams brought on Fitschen-Brown (a graduate student in the Molly Morris Lab and teaching assistant for Williams’ Field Ecology course) to help guide Sudnick.

Undergraduate Honor’s Tutorial College Student, Madeline Sudnick, weighs a nestling bird as part of her thesis research during the 2019 field season.

Undergraduate Honor’s Tutorial College Student, Madeline Sudnick, weighs a nestling bird as part of her thesis research during the 2019 field season.

Fitschen-Brown said, “Writing this manuscript has made me realize how important the development of scientific writing skills is for early career undergraduates. It can be a difficult transition to learn a new and more appropriate style of writing than is taught in high school or early college and this process has shown me how crucial we as mentors can be in helping to develop these new skill sets.”

There is a lot more to publishing a paper than just writing the manuscript. Students must learn how to format the manuscript and figures according to the journal’s style requirements, write cover letters to the editor, select appropriate reviewers and respond to reviewer comments during the revision process.

“I learned so much about the process behind writing and submitting a scientific manuscript through my work on this paper” Sudnick said. “Working with my mentor, Dr. Williams, on this research has helped me to understand the final steps in the research and dissemination process. Reading comments made by reviewers helped me refine my scientific writing. I feel much more knowledgeable about the publication process than I was before this experience, and I therefore feel prepared to contribute to scientific literature through my senior thesis and graduate research. Gaining this experience as an undergrad is especially invaluable and shows how undergraduates are given the chance to thrive and contribute to research at Ohio University.”

Experience does count. It is important that undergraduate students at OHIO are given the opportunity to gain experience in both their classes and in faculty research labs.

Paper citation: Williams, K., Sudnick, M., Anderson, R., & Fitschen–Brown, M. (2020). Experience counts: The role of female age in morning incubation and brooding behavior in relation to temperature. Journal of Avian Biology.

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