Young Scientist Symposium at the University of Michigan

The last weekend in March, JMM students (and students from the EC Evolutionary Biology class and alum, Nick Pondelis) donned mardi gras beads and set off to attend the Early Carrier Scientist Symposium at the University of Michigan. We extended our trip by a day so we could see the University of Michigan Museum Zoology collections and learn about the graduate program. First, we visited the exhibit museum and gift shop on our own. Then, we went to the Paleo collection where we learned about how paleontologists have adapted dentist’s tools, jeweler’s equipment, or made the equipment themselves to help them prep fossils.

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In the bird collection we saw unique, rare and type specimens. We also inhaled the scent of the Hawaiian honeycreepers and confirmed that they really do smell like a canvas tent! One particularly interesting specimen was a bird prepared in fluid with its bones stained red and its cartilage stained blue. It was then stored in glycerin to help keep the birds shape. The colors were vibrant and at least one of us would like to learn how to perform that kind of a prep!

We had dinner with two current graduate students, Delaney Cargo and Lisa Walsh. We learned about research that they were working on and their paths to graduate school. We especially enjoyed discussing animal behavior and Lisa Walsh’s research about Opossums. We talked about how they were able to get enough specimens for research and all of us had fun Opossum stories to share. We were also able to discuss different research that we had done and found communal interests in ecology and conservation, even though everyone had divergent interests.

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Cindy Carl, the Graduate Program Coordinator of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department (EEB) and Gina Baucom, Assistant Professor, talked to us about applying to graduate school, and specifically EEB. They gave us some tips for getting into graduate school, including contacting specific people in the department before applying and that it is best to have talked to a couple of potential advisors. They also advised us to be question-driven, specific, but not too specific, and enthusiastic when talking with a potential advisor.

Two of the presentations that we listened to on Saturday were Justine Garcia and Georgiana May.

Justine Garcia looked at insects’ symbiosis, specifically the broad-headed bug species, to determine partner specificity. She asked, “do gut microbes live in certain organisms and can they be transferred to other organisms?” Garcia found that microbes can be found in multiple species and can switch between organisms. She also looked to see from where the bugs were getting their microbes and found they were coming from plant leaves, plant nodules, and soil.

As the last presenter on Saturday, Georgiana May was a Keynote presenter. Her presentation was entitled Microbial interactions drive the evolution of virulence in pathogens and was based around an experiment she did on maize and two microbes that lived in it, one being an endophyte, and one being a fungal pathogen. She found that within a maize plant, the endophyte gains a growth benefit from the fungus’ presence, and the fungus gains a reproduction benefit from the endophyte’s presence.


Elisabeth Sorrows

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