Undergraduate Interns

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Recent National Science Foundation Research Grants (DEB-0515672 and DEB-1120054), Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Supplements, and the Field Museum's REU program have helped fund research training for ten undergraduate students to study the biology and evolution of birds and their parasites with Jason Weckstein and John Bates.


Chelsea Bueter

Chelsea was an undergraduate student at Lake Forest College interested in studying the evolution of parasitism and disease. Chelsea worked on avian ectoparasites including mites and chewing lice while banding birds as part of Dr. Caleb Gordon's Shaw Woods Avian Monitoring Project. Chelsea worked with us as part of a collaboration between The Field Museum and Dr. Caleb Gordon's Lab at Lake Forest College. Chelsea was an intern with John Bates and myself for over a year and worked on a number of louse population genetics and phylogenetics projects where she learned skills such as collection of louse specimens, louse identification, slide mounting, DNA extraction, PCR, sequencing, and DNA sequence analyses. Chelsea continued on as an intern and collected and analyzed DNA sequence data for her senior thesis, which was on the coevolutionary history of two genera of chewing lice found on Catharus thrushes. She gave a presentation on her senior thesis research at the Seventeenth Annual Argonne Symposium for Undergraduates in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics, which was held in November 2006 at Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Illinois. Chelsea successfully defended her senior thesis in April 2007. She is currently in graduate school working on her Ph.D. in virology at the University of Massachusetts. Chelsea is the first author on a paper based in part on her senior thesis, which was published in the April 2009 issue of Journal of Parasitology.

Chelsea Bueter slide mounting chewing louse voucher specimens after extracting their DNA. - Photo by J. D. Weckstein

Chelsea Bueter banding a Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) at the SWAMP field site at Shaw Woods, Lake Forest, illinois. - Photo by J. D. Weckstein


Kam Sripada

Kam was an undergraduate student at Brown University and worked with with us as an REU intern during summer 2006, after her first year at Brown. Kam learned skills such as collection of chewing louse specimens, louse identification, slide mounting, DNA extraction, PCR, sequencing, and DNA sequence analyses. She primarily collected phylogenetic and population genetic data for our research on Ramphastos toucans and their Austrophilopterus chewing lice.

Kam Sripada studying the morphology of chewing lice. - Photo by J. D. Weckstein

Kam Sripada working in the Field Museum's Prizker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Evolution. - Photo by J. D. Weckstein


Irene Swanenberg

Irene is an undergraduate student at Northwestern University and worked with us during summer 2007 on an independent project isolating microsatellite loci and designing primers for two widespread Amazonian species of Ramphastos toucans, R. vitellinus and R. tucanus. Irene successfully designed primers for 18 microsatellite loci for R. tucanus and 10 microsatellite loci for R. vitellinus and she began testing these at the end of the summer. Each of the toucan species that Irene was working with is geographically variable with morphologically distinct subspecies found in different regions of the Amazon and these subspecies are connected to one another by zones of intergradation. These zones of intergradation form hybrid rings across Amazonia for both of these toucan species. Irene designed these microsatellite primers to ultimately study patterns of gene flow across these hybrid zones.

Irene Swanenberg out in front of the Field Museum of Natural History.


Swati Patel

Swati was an undergraduate student at Northwestern University and worked as an intern with us since the end of summer 2007 on several projects aimed at reconstructing the relationships among Amazonian birds, including projects on Hylexetastes and Campylorhamphus woodcreepers. In addition to finishing data collection for the woodcreeper projects Swati worked on an independent project aimed at reconstructing the phylogeny of the araçaris (Pteroglossus), which are small-bodied toucans.  This project became her senior thesis project.  Swati graduated from Northwestern University in 2009 and won the Emanuel Margoliash Prize in Biological Sciences for her thesis.  She is the first author on a paper, based in part on her senior thesis, published in the January 2011 in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. After graduating Swati participated in a Field Museum Bird Division expedition to Malawi to study the parasites and pathogens of small birds and mammals and then she moved to Belem, Brazil where she was a Fulbright Scholar with collaborator, Alexandre Aleixo, at the Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi.  She is currently in the applied mathematics Ph.D. program at the University of California, Davis where she is studying mathematical models of biology.  We are continuing to collaborate on a manuscript on the phylogeography of the Ivory-billed Araçari (Pteroglossus azara) complex.

Swati Patel working in the Field Museum's Pritzker Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution. - Photo by J. D. Weckstein


Valerie Morley

Valerie was an undergraduate student at Oberlin College and worked with us as an intern during her January 2008 winter term. Valerie conducted a project on the faunistics, seasonality, and prevalence of chewing lice from North American migratory songbirds which we've been collecting in conjunction with Dr. David Willard's long term project on Chicago lake front bird migration. This work involved the identification of louse specimens collected from salvaged migratory birds and quantification of prevalence (number of hosts infected) and intensity (number of parasites on each host) of parasites.

Valerie Morley identifying and counting parasites found on migratory birds from Chicago. - Photo by J. D. Weckstein


Holly Lutz

Holly was an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago and has been working with us since summer 2008. Holly has been helping us to collect data for various chewing louse population genetics projects. For her independant project she worked on a phylogeny of the lowland toucanets (genus Selenidera) and the mountain toucans (genus Andigena) to test various biogeographic hypotheses and reconstruct the history and timing of speciation in these groups.  We are currently working on a final draft of this manuscript for submission.  After graduating from U of C, Holly participated in a Field Museum Bird Division expedition to Malawi to study the parasites and pathogens of small birds and mammals and then was hired on to work on the museum's Emerging Pathogens Project.  She lead the study of avian blood parasites for that project and in Fall 2011 started in the EEB Ph.D. program at Cornell University, where she is continuing to collaborate with us and is studying avian haemosporidian parasites for her dissertation research.  See http://vimeo.com/49323192 for the "Science at FMNH-Can working at The Field Museum change your life?" a video about how Holly's internship at The Field Museum helped her to discover her love for biology.

Holly Lutz cutting bands from an Agarose gel in the Field Museum's Pritzker Lab for Molecular Systematics and Evolution.


Joseph Cacioppo

Joe was an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago and has been working with us since Summer 2009.  Joe has worked on a variety of projects ranging from a comparative phylogeography project on two lineages of chewing lice (Brueelia and Colpocephalum) from Madagascan couas (Cuculiformes) to several woodcreeper phylogeography projects.  Joe's independant project, and the focus of his senior thesis, is aimed at reconstructing the phylogenetic history of Myrsidea, the most diverse chewing louse genus.  Myrsidea (Phthiraptera: Amblycera) parasitize toucans, barbets, and most lineages of perching birds.  Joe is now in the DVM/Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Based on Joe's senior thesis work, we are currently working on a manuscript which aims to assess (1) patterns of host specificity within the genus (Are Myrsidea chewing lice parasitizing the same host families closely related?) and (2) which song bird hosted Myrsidea are closely related to Myrsidea found on toucans (How did toucans aquire their Myrsidea?).

Joe working on a figure for his large phylogeny of the chewing louse genus Myrsidea for his senior thesis. - Photo by J. D. Weckstein


Ari Rice

Ari Rice is an undergraduate Biology major at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.  During high school he was a volunteer intern in the Museum's bird division.  He is now working with us as an undergraduate intern on our National Science Foundation funded project "Southern Amazonian birds and their symbionts: Biodiversity and endemicity of parasites from the most diverse avifauna on Earth."  He is identifying and databasing and has also been helping to collect parasites from local birds specimens salvaged here in Chicago.

Ari Rice looking at a Catharus thrush that he is about to ruffle for chewing lice. - Photo by J. M. Bates


Jennie Lee

Jennie Lee is an undergraduate Biology student at the University of Chicago and was a summer intern in the Field Museum's 2012 REU summer intern program and worked on a project entitled "Amazonian speciation in a ring: phylogeographic history of the Channel-billed and White-throated toucans."  Jennie gave a talk in the Field Museum's 2012 REU intern symposium.  She is continuing on part time as an intern during the school year and will use the project that she started to complete a senior thesis at the University of Chicago.

Jennie Lee working the the Prizker Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution. - Photo by J. D. Weckstein


Nathan Trautenberg

Nathan Trautenberg is an undergraduate student at the Northwestern University was a summer intern sponsored by an REU supplement to our National Science Foundation funded project "Southern Amazonian birds and their symbionts: Biodiversity and endemicity of parasites from the most diverse avifauna on Earth."  He has been collecting molecular data to construct a phylogeny of a widespread songbird louse genus Ricinus to examine patterns of host specifity, with the ultimate goal of comparing those patterns to three other genera of songbird associated chewing lice.  Nate has learned a variety of laboratory skills including collection of ectoparasite specimens, louse identification, slide mounting, DNA extraction, PCR, sequencing, DNA sequence analyses, and phylogenetic methods.  Nate gave a talk in the Field Museum's 2012 REU intern symposium.  He is continuing on part time as an intern during the school year.

Nathan Trautenberg working the the Prizker Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution. - Photo by J. D. Weckstein


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