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Fish-Watchers Wanted

Fish-Watchers Wanted
fish-watchers2Search the Eureka! database, which was created to help students find the right research opportunities, and you’ll find two openings posted by Ryan Wong, a graduate student in the labs of biologists Dr. Hans Hoffman and Dr. Molly Cummings: “Learning and Memory in Fish,” and “Male Interaction Effect on Female Choice in Fish.”

The projects, which require four- and two-semester commitments, respectively, are typical of the kinds of positions that are advertised through the database (which include, at the moment, opportunities to study fungus-farming ants with Dr. Ulrich Mueller, the evolution of duplicated genes with Dr. Sara Sawyer, or the transition to young adulthood in Chinese-American and Mexican-American adolescents with Dr. Su Yeong Kim).

Students spend a semester acting as general research assistants in the lab, learning lab techniques and research methods. After that, says Wong, they embark on the independent project under his supervision, with the ultimate goal of getting their data, and their name, in a published paper in a scientific journal.

A lot of the time, in the case of Wong’s projects, will be spent watching and describing how fish behave under different experimental conditions. The data is then analyzed and integrated into a broader matrix that connects up the observable behavior with knowledge of the fish genome and analsyis of different regions of the brain that are activated under different circumstances.

“I’m looking at the relationship between genes, neural expression and female mate choice behavior in swordtail fish,” says Wong. "What that means, in this case, is asking questions like: 'What are the brain regions and genes involved in mediating female mate choice behavior? Relatedly, can female swordtails remember what particular males looks like, and if so, for how long?'"

For Wong, who was inspired to go to graduate school by his own experience as an undergraduate researcher at Cornell, the benefits of doing research extend beyond publication, recommendation letters, and credit.

“It’s an intellectual quest,” he says. “I’ve always wondered about why things are the way they are. When you’re doing research, it’s not just wondering anymore. Each step gets you closer to finding answers.”
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Sunday, 26 September 2021

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