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Undergraduate Research on Degu Sociality in Chile
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Chile and Tennessee
Students receive $4000 (pre-tax) stipend for June-August. Additionally, the program covers round trip airfare (up to $2000), housing, truck rental and gas, travel health insurance (up to $250), and international driver’s permit. We also have a supply budget for student projects.
Last Date to Apply
We seek a highly motivated undergraduate student to work on a long-term study of Octodon degus (a social rodent) sociality during the period of June-August 2020. The prospective student will assist with field and lab projects in Chile and possibly, lead an independent project. We seek a student with interests in animal behavior and physiology. The student’s project will need to fit into a broader project aimed at determining how ecology shapes the physiological and reproductive consequences of communal breeding.
Potential project themes for 2020 include:
Determining how ecological conditions influence the HPA axis and oxidative stress
Monitoring dispersal patterns
Examining links between social networks and ecological conditions
Costs of group-living
The prospective student will participate in a National Science Foundation International Research for Students (IRES) program led by Hayes and Bauer (please see summary below). The students will work with 3-4 other students and are expected to emerge as leaders of a team and write papers for publication in scientific journals. The student will collaborate with researchers at one or more institutions in Chile. Announcements for the current IRES program are posted at the following websites:
Time commitment: IRES undergraduate students work in Chile for up to 2.5 months (June-August) in 2020. Prior to IRES, students must complete training and develop a project plan (in consultation with senior researchers on this project).
Overview: The scientific objective of this IRES is to determine how ecology shapes the reproductive consequences of communal breeding, a social strategy in which multiple mothers nurse offspring communally. The overarching experiment is a manipulative field study to determine how low food abundance influences the endocrine and oxidative stress of communally breeding Octodon degus, a social rodent endemic to Chile. Students will conduct independent projects within the framework of this study and analyze a long-term dataset (15 years). This program supports 5-6 students per year (2 undergrad, 3-4 graduate; 15 individuals over a three-year period). Students will engage in year-long collaborations with the following researchers: (i) Dr. Luis Ebensperger (P. Univ. Católica de Chile), (ii) Dr. Rodrigo Vásquez (Univ. de Chile), (iii) Dr. Veronica Quirici (Univ.Andrés Bello), and (iv) Dr. Sebastian Abades (Univ. Mayor). Students interested in studying how social interactions impact stress physiology will consult with Dr. Tina Wey (Université de Sherbrooke), an expert in social network theory. Prior to IRES, international collaborators will provide feedback on project designs and grant proposals. IRES will last 8-10 weeks (June-August) for undergraduate students and 18-20 weeks (June-October) for graduate students. Post-IRES, international collaborators will provide feedback on analyses, presentations, and manuscripts, increasing the likelihood of student productivity and success. Program outcomes, student perceptions of the program and science, and student progression in STEM will be assessed annually during and up to 3 years beyond the proposed program.
Intellectual Merit: The proposed experiment explores how communal care may mitigate physiological costs to mothers and offspring during challenging years, building on our previous observation that females benefit the most from communal breeding when food abundance is low. The independent projects of students will complement this study and contribute unique insights into related theory (e.g., animal personality, social networks). In addition to field and lab work, students will also use our 15-year dataset to track how inter-annual and annual environmental variation influences degu social organization, stress physiology, and reproductive success. In this way, IRES projects will contribute to an integrative theory for communal breeding and other forms of cooperation. In terms of training, the program has a transformative ‘generational’ advising structure that promotes collaborations within and between IRES cohorts. IRES students will benefit from the insights of Hayes and his long-term collaborators (Abades, Ebensperger, Vásquez) as well as those from former IRES students and collaborator’s students (Bauer, Wey, Quirici). Training by collaborators will give students multiple skills including biostatistics and modeling (Abades), field and lab research (Ebensperger), behavioral quantification (Vásquez), oxidative stress laboratory techniques (Quirici), and social network analyses (Wey).
United States citizen
Sophomore, Junior, or Senior (enrolled in classes in Fall 2020)
Relevant coursework completed (at least 3 of the following): Ecology, Evolution, Physiology, Statistics
Previous research experience
Able to work long hours in challenging environmental conditions
Able to start work in June 2020, committed to working on projects in Chile through early August 2020
Excellent cooperation skills, experience collaborating with peers
Experience working with animals in laboratory or natural settings
Spanish language proficiency
Relevant coursework completed: Animal Behavior (or Behavioral Ecology)
Please email an application to the co-program leaders, Loren Hayes (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Carolyn Bauer (email@example.com). The application includes a SINGLE pdf with the following documents: i) cover letter indicating your research experience, interest in this IRES, and career plans, ii) unofficial transcripts, and iii) resume with contact information for two academic references. Strong cover letters will tie student interests into previous research on degus by Hayes and Bauer and current project aims. The pdf name should be IRES2020_lastname_firstname.pdf. Please include ‘IRES2020’ in the email heading. Applications received by October 10, 2019 will be given priority review. Please include ‘IRES2020’ in the header of email inquiries about this opportunity