During my first year as a Graduate Research Fellow, I began my coursework and research projects, advised by Dr. Jessica Yorzinski. My research focuses on the effects of headlights on avian survival and reproduction . While constant sources of artificial light at night have been frequently studied, there are relatively few studies examining flashing sources of artificial light at night (such as headlights). Artificial light can affect the body’s biological clocks and can lead to a mismatch in the body’s timing to the natural day/night cycle. I am currently working on two projects related to artificial light pollution from headlights. First, I am currently collecting data on the effects of headlights on sleep and nocturnal vigilance in Indian peafowl (Pavo crisatus), a species that is commonly found in urban areas. Second, I am designing a field study examining the effects of headlights on reproductive success in white-eyed vireos (Vireo griseus), a common songbird often found nesting near roads. I have applied for a Sigma Xi Grant in Aid of Research to fund this white-eyed vireo project.
I have participated in many outreach projects throughout this first year as a Graduate Research Fellow. First, I acted as a mentor with Texas A&M University’s Project VICTORY (Virtually-Infused Collaborations for Teaching and Learning Opportunities for Rural Youth: Implementation and Evaluation of Online and Face-to-Face Delivery in High-Needs Schools), a program bringing earth science education to rural Texas elementary students. I interacted with the students virtually, connecting in-class lessons to real-world scientific work. It was rewarding to hear the students get excited about science and think about science as a career. Second, I participated as a junior division judge at the Texas Science and Engineering Fair. As a judge, I interacted with ten middle school students presenting their research. I encouraged each student to consider a career in science and continue engaging with scientists. Third, I assisted in an outreach project teaching students from a low-income high school about animal behavior where they had the opportunity to practice observing animal behavior at the Houston Zoo. Many expressed an increased interest in science as a career. Fourth, I am mentoring several undergraduate students who are assisting me in my research. They are gaining hands-on skills working with live animals and cutting-edge technology, which are necessary for their diverse career goals in wildlife and animal behavior. Finally, I volunteer with the non-profit organization Birdability, an organization aimed at improving accessibility in outdoor spaces for birdwatching. I helped organize an accessible Christmas Bird Count, a community science project organized by the Audubon Society. As a disabled person myself, I want to improve equity and access for people of all abilities to participate in outdoor activities and community science projects.