Students must learn to push past the frustration and know that they won't get rewarded every step of the way. That's science.

Morgan Benowitz-Fredericks

"You can't not like biology," says Professor Morgan Benowitz-Fredericks, biology. What she loves most about her chosen science is that any question asked can be answered at molecular, whole organismal and evolutionary levels — and she integrates all three into her teaching and research.

In her lab at Bucknell, she's been studying ways in which the environment can permanently shape animals. In her current research, she manipulates the developmental environment of eggs or young birds and investigates how that changes physiology and behavior at molecular and organismal levels.

During the summer of 2016, she took her research outside the lab to perform field work in Alaska at a colony of kittiwakes, a type of gull. To understand how early experiences might shape the physiology of animals at the molecular level, Benowitz-Fredericks and her research partners fed small doses of a stress hormone to young chicks. Then they measured, among other things, changes in gene expression by taking small tissue samples that will not harm the bird.

Research in the field or in the lab can be challenging for students. Benowitz-Fredericks explains that there is a "huge amount of tedious, frustrating work that happens before you get the rush" that comes with actually acquiring data. "Students must learn to push past the frustration and know that they won't get rewarded every step of the way. That's science."

When the data are there, that's when students have the thrill of knowing they are the first in the whole world to know the answer to the question they posed. That excitement is what Benowitz-Fredericks tries to help her students find in their research.

She strives to create a lab dynamic where students from different social groups come together in an intellectual space, and loves it when her students text each other to share when something goes well. "Many of our undergraduate students behave like master's students," she says.

Updated Sept. 30, 2016


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