I then attended Indiana University, as a graduate student in IU's Biology Department. I studied animal behavior, and was a member of IU's Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior.
I had the opportunity to spend a few months at the Molecular Genetics Lab of the Smithsonian Institution. The lab is situated right in the National Zoo, a wonderful place to work, where I could eat lunch by the lions and be on display myself in the Amazonia Science Gallery.
I did postdoctoral work at Duke University in the Neurobiology Department, and associated with the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.
As a postdoc, I worked in the Jarvis Laboratory, studying learned vocal communication (song) in birds. Songbirds, the Oscine suborder of the Order Passeriformes, are one of only six known groups of animals which exhibit learned vocal communication. The other groups are: hummingbirds, parrots, cetaceans (whales and dolphins), bats, and humans. Thus, understanding how birds learn song could give insight into how humans learn language. My work was attempting to understand birdsong at multiple levels of organization, from molecules in the brain all the way up to social behavior. I used computational methods to integrate these levels, by building networks connecting many types of observed data. I concentrated on discovering Bayesian networks from data, working closely with Dr. Hartemink in Duke's Department of Computer Science.
My graduate research in the West-King Laboratory involved cowbirds (Molothrus ater), medium-sized black birds most famous for their brood parasitic habits. They lay their eggs in other species' nests, and leave the host parents to raise their chick, often to the deteriment of the hosts' chicks. While cowbirds are often studied from a conservation standpoint, my lab used them as a model system of learning. My focus was on development and social behavior in cowbirds. I used a complex systems approach to studying their behavior, examining emergent properties of large groups of birds and modeling their association patterns with agent-based computer simulations.
BirdsI'm also interested in birds in general. Here are some general resources: