Nature and Nurture

If you’ve ever taken a biology class, you’ve probably heard of the nature vs nurture debate that asks what extent of behavior is based on genetics and what extent of behavior is based on experience. This summer, I’ll be working with the Alberts Lab and my mentor Liz Lange to investigate this question in baboons using genetic and social data from the Amboseli Baboon Research Project in southern Kenya.

Papio cynocephalus, the baboon species of the Amboseli Basin. Photo from Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

While this work is incredibly exciting (who wouldn’t love working on a question older than Darwin,) I might be even more thrilled to just learn about what the scientific process is like. Asking (and answering) questions like “What does the life of a research scientist look like?” and “How is research coordinated across continents?” and “What is it like writing and publishing scientific papers?” at the same time that I do research myself is, to quote Camp Rock, too cool. BSURF-learned skills, including our very conveniently-timed “How to read a paper” talk, were also  incredibly useful even in this first week; I was able to apply them to the paper we discussed in our weekly Alberts Lab meeting. 

While researching the root causes of baboon behavior, asking questions about their own social development, I intend to nurture my own understanding of the the research process. Something I want to work on this summer is being comfortable working with people who are so much older and more knowledgeable than me. I’ll admit, it’s a bit intimidating being in a zoom call full of faculty and post-docs and Ph.D. students who have studied baboons for a way longer time than me. Something I realized, though, is that I have access now to an incredible array of resources, including the experiences and knowledge of my lab members, to draw and learn from that might be even larger than the Babase.

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