Sometimes Science is a Circle

Over the course of the summer, we have had the privilege of listening to the work and academic/ life trajectories of some of Duke’s most distinguished faculty. These Faculty Talks have been enlightening as they keep us informed about the scope of incredible research happening at this research powerhouse of a University, and have given us a sense of directions we can take as we journey through science. The path to research is not linear, and this has really been highlighted by the different trajectory of each speaker. In this post I will highlight one talk which I found really interesting.

Dr. Jenny Tung completed her undergrad at Duke, and is now an Associate Professor in the Departments of Evolutionary Anthropology and Biology here. Her work centers on the intersection between genes and ecology, specifically investigating how behaviors and environment impact genetic variation, and how differences in genes impact behavioral outcomes. She studies the evolutionary consequences of social relationships and their causal effects on gene regulation. Her work is untraditional in that she spends her time observing primates in the wild – a model system which, albeit fairly uncommon, displays social behaviors similar to that of humans.

Primates, namely Rhesus monkeys, when organize themselves into social categories of dominance – like in humans, every clique has a leader and follows of differing status. The Tung lab has shown that social status within groups effects stress response to an environmental challenge, which then effects the behavior and cell pathogenic response. Those at a higher social status more effectively respond to challenges and those least social were hit harder with the challenge.

Basically, make friends or you will die. (at this point I began quantifying my own social patterns, making note to keep in touch with all my friends)

Dr. Tung knew she had a calling to research and knew she wanted to lead her life partly doing field work while also looking at data and running a research team. Your work will become your life, so it is important to structure your work in the way that you would like to structure your life. And, sometimes, the place where you start is the place where you will end up – with new perspectives created during the time it took to circle back. Maybe if not linear, the serendipitous nature of science is circular. What these faculty talks have taught me is that everything is connected, and everything will fall into its place.

Thank’s for reading, and stay tuned for the final blog post coming up soon.

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