Student opportunities

We are looking for enthusiastic and creative students and postdocs to join the Macaulay Library to pursue questions in behavioral and evolutionary ecology. Are you interested in animal behavior? The evolution of animal signals? The ecological and evolutionary underpinnings of reproductive strategies? The micro- and macroevolutionary consequences of sexual selection? These questions and others can be answered with the archived media in Macaulay Library and other museum collections, and in some cases by field work on birds and other animals. Please see below if you are interested in these topics and would like to join us. We also encourage students interested in curatorial work and public education to join us. Scientific research is increasingly dependent on technology to address these questions, so we encourage engineers and computer scientists to explore these questions with us, too.

We place equal emphasis on doing the research that we love and teaching and training others to become professional scientists and citizens that value science. In addition, students and postdocs in Macaulay Library have opportunities to interact and collaborate with excellent colleagues through our connections to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, as well as good ties to other Cornell Departments such as Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Natural Resources.

Opportunities for Graduate Students and Postdocs

Graduate students and postdocs joining Dr. Mike Webster’s “Weblab” are also part of the Department (or Graduate Field) of Neurobiology and Behavior, and spend time on the main campus as well as at the Lab of Ornithology. Students and postdocs conduct research on a diversity of topics falling within the broad outlines described above. Much of this research is field-based, but some projects rely heavily on using the media specimens and other resources of the Macaulay Library. Although most student projects fall within the major research themes of the Weblab and are focused on birds, we are question-oriented and past student projects have included studies of brood parasitism in ducks, alternative reproductive strategies in sunfish, and even conservation genetics of wild sheep and plants. Contact Mike to learn more.

Opportunities for Undergraduates

We welcome motivated undergraduates interested in obtaining research experience. New students joining the lab are often mentored by a graduate student or postdoc to work on a project. Students often earn course credit for their work. Students who have experience in the lab and show exceptional promise can conduct their own independent research projects. These projects are developed in consultation with the mentor and Mike and often fulfill the requirements of a senior honor’s thesis. Students have also published their work! Contact Eliot Miller to learn more.

Collections-based research

We are seeking undergraduate students who have an interest in animal behavior. Students will have the opportunity to gain skills in data collection and data analysis techniques using the Macaulay Library collection of sound and video recordings of animal behavior. Students will learn how to collect and utilize media in their research, integrate field and lab methods, and develop computational skills for modern, integrative biology research. Research questions could include, but are not limited to, what is the variation in song in house wrens, do ovenbirds incorporate mimicry in their flight calls, does the song of American robins vary in an individual over its lifetime? Do you desire another topic? With a mentor, you can develop your own research question. If interested, contact Eliot Miller explaining your research interests.

Reconstructing the evolution of female and male bird song across songbirds

Bird song is an example of an elaborate trait, like flashy colors and fancy displays of many animals. Such elaborate traits are classically studied in males and are thought to evolve through sexual selection: male songs become more elaborate over evolutionary time to attract females or compete with rival males. But females of many songbird species sing, too! In some songbird species, however, females do not sing. Therefore, a variety of selection pressures (natural, social, and sexual selection) are likely responsible for the evolution of complex songs in females and males. The goal of Karan Odom’s research is to tease apart which of these selection pressures is responsible for elaboration in both male and female song, as well as the loss of female song in certain lineages. Such research helps us understand how the fascinating diversity of life on this planet evolved!

Karan is seeking students to assist in gathering data from bird song recordings to compare female and male songs across many different songbird species. Daily research will involve measuring features of female and male song using song spectrograms, gathering information from the literature about female song, and scoring associated behaviors from species accounts. Training will be provided to use sound analysis software, to objectively score animal behaviors, and to collect and manage large data sets. Opportunities may also be available for statistical analysis, learning phylogenetic comparative methods, and practice presenting scientific research. If interested, contact Karan Odom.

Hybridization in birds

Would you mate with another species? Why do birds sometimes hybridize with other species? 

Drs. Rusty Ligon and Gavin Leighton are searching for an enthusiastic undergraduate researcher to help collect data and compile a database on hybridization in birds. The ultimate goal is to test how sociality and breeding systems influence macroevolutionary patterns of hybridization across birds. The work would entail extracting data from primary and secondary sources of information on birds and learning about macroevolutionary methods. They anticipate that the research would require work for a semester, but could be extended into similar and novel projects. Students working on this project will have the opportunity to receive credit for their participation or apply for supplemental funding (contingent upon a successful, student-written application).