Teaching & Mentoring

“The questions of the students are often the source of new research. They often ask profound questions that I’ve thought about at times and then given up on, so to speak, for a while. It wouldn’t do me any harm to think about them again and see if I can go any further now. The students may not be able to see the thing I want to answer, or the subtleties I want to think about, but they remind me of a problem by asking questions in the neighborhood of that problem. It’s not so easy to remind yourself of these things.”

Richard Feynman, from ‘Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!’. Adventures of a Curious Character”, 1986.

I believe mentors and students interact in a positive feedback loop – students need energetic and inspiring mentors as much as mentors need to be constantly reminded of  the meaningfulness of primordial scientific questions.

Prospective Students:

Enthusiastic minds are always needed and welcomed. If you are interested in working with me, keep the following in mind:

1) I currently have a position at Saint Louis University, but I’m hosted by Dr. Robert E. Ricklefs Lab at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). Therefore, all lab work will take place at UMSL.

2) You will be reading scientific papers relevant to disease ecology/molecular biology/malaria/parasitology/ornithology on a regular basis.

3) You will be working in a lab. Currently, I have no field research opportunities. Although this may change in the near future, at this point internships do not include field experience.

4) You will be working in a biosafety level 2 lab (please check out this document to understand what this means), and will likely be trained in the following, depending on the length to the internship and how many hours per week you will be working in the lab: DNA extraction from blood samples, PCR, DNA sequencing, using BLAST and other NCBI tools, and analyzing DNA sequences for infection genotyping, phylogenetic analyses, statistical analyses, scientific communication.

5) I highly encourage students that successfully complete one semester/term of internship to apply for research/conference grant opportunities, as well as to participate in undergraduate research symposia/meetings. My undergraduate students in the past have been highly competitive and successful in their grant applications (please check some profiles below)!

6) If you are interested in an internship, please email me with the following information: your major, where you stand in your degree (freshman, sophomore, etc), why you are particularly interested in doing a research internship, when you would be available (summer, fall, etc), and how many hours per week you would be wiling to spare for this internship.

Past Students:

Analea Sterling (undergraduate student, UMSL), Fall 2015 – Fall 2016

IMG_1718For those who never heard of the zen tale about being an empty cup, here is the message the master tells the student: “You are like this cup; you are full of ideas […]. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup“. ‘Empty cups’ make up the best students, and Analea is the true definition of an empty cup. She is absolutely curious and eager to learn about anything out there. She is a Biotechnology major, which combined with her interests in ecology and evolution, makes her a very good fit to collaborate with almost any research project we have in the Ricklefs lab. She is finishing a project using microscopy to find evidence of infection and disease on passerine birds that were detected, through PCR and sequencing, as infected with haemosporidian parasite lineages that are supposed to be dove specialist pathogens. She recently got awarded the Kent A. Tomazi Memorial award to  conduce her undergraduate research thesis on using molecular markers to determine the migratory origins of catbirds and palm warblers that were caught wintering in the Bahamas. Analea was part of my field crew on an expedition to three islands of the Bahamas to collect blood samples from migratory and resident birds. She will continue to work in the Ricklefs lab under my supervision until she graduates, on the Fall semester of 2016.

Briona Perry (undergraduate student, UMSL), Fall 2014 – Spring 2015

Dr. Ricperry_briona_495_330klefs introduced Briona to me back on the Fall semester of 2014. I remember him first saying that she was a highly motivated and interesting student. He was right. Briona
and I worked through avian blood slides for one semester. Smears are extremely interesting, there’s so much one can answer just with a thin layer of blood!! However, I won’t lie here, reading slides is a very…[pause here to select words in order not to make future students give up on microscopy work]…lets say: sometimes, it is a not so exciting process – some slides reserve almost a new universe in it, but many times you must to have the patience to go through thousands of red blood cells without seeing anything mind blowing. After making progress with the slide work, she switched to doing molecular work on the Spring of 2015 – and totally rocked at it! She had taken the Biotechnology Lab course at UMSL, which made her learning curve in the lab very, very steep! Also, I can’t count how many off-campus jobs she had while working in the lab and keeping up with high grades. On August 2015, she started Pharmacy school, at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago! Hooray for future Dr Perry!

Lindsey Gray (undergraduate student, UMSL), Spring 2014 – Spring 2015

IMG_0595I met Lindsey on the Spring semester of 2014, when I was her T.A. in the Vertebrate Physiology Lab at UMSL. During her internship in the Ricklefs Lab she worked towards describing the malaria parasites found infecting avian populations in Cuba. She was awarded by the College of Arts in Sciences to present the results of her research during the 2015 Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference. She was also awarded with Kranzberg Undergraduate Research Award from the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center to fund the laboratory expenses of her project. What I find more amazing about Lindsey is that although her internship in the Ricklefs Lab was working on projects about avian malaria parasites, primates are her actual passion. We are always driven by what fascinates us, but a trait of a good student and scientist is to be able to get involved and show the same commitment to other fields, even if it involves not working with what mostly fascinates you. Lindsey graduated on the Spring/2015, and now she works as a zookeeper in the Primate House of the St. Louis Zoo.


Victor Penha (CAPES/Brazil), Summer 2013

IMG_8685Victor was my first undergraduate student. His internship in the Ricklefs Lab started in order to fulfill a requirement of the Science Without Borders program, of which he was a scholar at the time. He got training on the basic molecular techniques in the lab and little he knew at the beginning that a field expedition to the Caribbean was about to come real! We went to Carriacou, the largest islet of the Grenadines (Lesser Antilles), for some bird mist netting and blood sampling. The Malaria Research Network supported his hard training work in the Caribbean. Back in Brazil, Victor worked on his undergraduate thesis investigating the effects of avian haemosporidian parasites on the parental care of a common ovenbird of the Brazilian Cerrado: rufous hornero (Furnarius rufus). Thought he did not find a relationship between parental effort and parasitism, he did find a negative relationship between body condition and number of red blood cells infected with the parasites. His undergrad thesis was advised by Dr Kleber Del Claro (Universidade Federal de Uberlândia) and co-advised by myself. He also received a research scholarship to conduce his undergrad thesis (FAPEMG/Brazil)! Victor recently received a Masters degree through the University of Uberlândia working with the effects of haemosporidian parasites on plumage coloration. He is now at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, modeling spatial distribution of mosquito vectors.

Other students that worked under my supervision were:

  • Josh Robertson (undergraduate student, University of South Whales), Fall 2015.
  • Reama Darwish (undergraduate student, UMSL), Spring through Fall 2015.
  • DeMarko Timmons (undergraduate student, UMSL), Spring throughSummer 2015.
  • Carolina Schuch (graduate student, National Institute for Amazonian Research), Fall 2014.
  • Jared Preiss (undergraduate student, UMSL), Fall 2013.