Sorry for not posting for the past couple of weeks!  I had my thesis proposal defense and then the week after that other assorted school work that took priority.  My defense went well, the assorted school work is done for the most part (there’s always more)  and now some time has opened up for me to continue writing.


When I last left off in How I got into birds (Part 1)  I was unaware that I could actually pursue a career working with birds.  That revelation to me came after a mandatory freshmen seminar event.  At this event, all the professors in the biology department were presenting their research interests and projects as well as past and current projects they conducted with undergraduates.  No one caught my interest at first, I’m an organismal/behavioral/ecological kind of gal, and the bulk of biology department at The University of Scranton are of a  micro/cell/molecular/neuro biological persuasion.  Then the man that would eventually be assigned as my academic advisor presented.

Dr. Smith was one of the two bird guys in the biology department (now he’s just the one) but the only one that was accepting research students.  His research interests focused a lot around migration and stop-over ecology, but he also researched Catbirds and had worked with feathers in the past.  His research students were also the ones that prepared bird study skins.  I was sold and would have started to research with him right then and there.  However, I was terrified to talk to Dr. Smith, and it wasn’t until he was assigned to be my academic advisor that my research under him began.

I was most interested in feather coloration so together, we developed a project looking into the coloration of Common Yellowthroat tail feathers  (read about it here).  That study lasted three semesters, and once it was over I had a pseudo study to accompany an independent study course in R I was enrolled in.  The “goal” was to see if there were differences in condition (fat score and mass) by age and sex in fall migrants- if I remember correctly.  The actual goal was to write my own R code and trouble shoot issues on my own and run a successful analysis.  Researching with Dr. Smith also allowed me to assist at his field site- data recording and eventually removing birds from mist nests as well as get a taste for the less than exciting aspects of being a scientist- like data entry and scanning feathers until my eyes bled (though the latter is my own doing).

I came out of the lab know I wanted to research, I wanted to do behavior/ecology, and I probably want to do study birds* for my Master’s degree.  Although it’s different than what I imagined it would be, I don’t regret my decision for a second because the birds make it worth it.





*I had an awesome entomology internship for two summers so I was applying to Master’s programs for bird work or insect work




About Natalia Maass

Current graduate student at Eastern Kentucky University (2017) pursuing a Master's of Science in Biology. Talk nerdy to me.

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