Week 3 – How Things Came to Be

This past week I had the pleasure of talking to my PI, Dr. Susan Alberts.

As an undergraduate at Reed College, Dr. Alberts was originally a philosophy major. Her interest in biology began during the second semester of her sophomore year, when she had to take a required biology course taught by Dr. Bert Brehm. The knowledge she gained from this course (including the mutualistic relationship between the fig tree and fig wasp) fascinated her, causing her to change into a biology major. After graduating from Reed College, Dr. Alberts earned the Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowship for Research and Travel Abroad. During this year of research, she began studying baboons. Over 40 years later, Dr. Alberts continues to do so as a co-director to the Amboseli Baboon Research Project.

Dr. Alberts’s favorite aspect of her career is being able to observe the baboons in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya and figure out why they do what they do. The observable behaviors within the study population leads her to ask questions and understand what problems individuals are trying to solve. Additionally, the research in the Alberts Lab is interdisciplinary, allowing for projects that study the entire population of baboons or the molecular differences between individuals.

Since she studies the wild population of baboons living in the Amboseli, Dr. Alberts travels a few times each year to perform on-site research alongside the field team. With no electricity or water on the field, Dr. Alberts can immerse herself in her work. Each day, she would go with the team to three different baboon groups, take a census on who’s present, record the females’ reproductive state, and observe the behaviors and interactions within the group.

Although Dr. Alberts can’t be on-site at Amboseli year-round because of her responsibilities as a PI at Duke and a mother at home, she values each trip to Amboseli. All of her trips have been memorable to her, and she continues to love watching the baboons. Soon she will travel back to Amboseli for the summer and see what new changes there are and find more fuel for her research.

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