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Biodiversity Blog

 

A student experience of the InSTInCT program

frog
Quang and a preserved frog at the Herpetology Collection.

My name is Quang Pham. I originally come from Vietnam but I am currently a senior at Soka University of America. This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the Inclusive Student Training in Collections and field-based Topics (InSTInCT) REU Program at the University of Texas at Austin. 

I love frogs, specifically the gorgeous poison frogs. Therefore, I worked with Dr. David Cannatella to investigate the evolution of conspicuous warning coloration in these frogs of the family Dendrobatidae. My research questions the involvement of “hidden signals,” character states in which the frogs have hidden bright color patches, in the transition from crypsis to conspicuousness. I collected color information for species from published studies, classified them into different character states, proposed and tested biologically plausible models for the transitions among color states in R. I then selected the best supported model based on the AIC criterion and measured the ancestral color state. 

spider
 InSTInCT students with fish specimens at the Ichthology Collection.

I had little background in computational biology before coming to InSTInCT. Therefore, I found it challenging but also exciting to learn techniques in statistical and bioinformatic analyses and then applied them to solve real-life biological questions. As a student from a small liberal arts college, I found the collaborative research environment at a big institution like UT Austin really fascinating and eye-opening. Besides working on my main project on the weekdays, I was also able to visit affiliated research facilities and participated in other collaborative projects with other students. 

It was bittersweet to leave InSTInCT at the end. But overall, I had a wonderful summertime at UT Austin and I look forward to whatever that comes next in my journey! 

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