Texas Tech visit

Thanks to the generosity of Robert Baker, I was invited to visit with faculty and students at Texas Tech University and give 3 talks– a biology seminar, a family-friendly outreach talk, and a brief show-n-tell to a introductory biology class regarding my work with vampire bats.

Thank you to everyone who met with me and showed me around. I had some really interesting discussions with faculty and graduate students. It makes me realize I should put more time and effort into having these kinds of informal but stimulating conversations with people at my own school.

Texas Tech now probably has the largest collection of bat-focused faculty researchers of any school I’ve visited, with Tigga Kingston, Robert Baker, Richard Stevens, and now Liam McGuire. Liam (who I’ve known since 2007) studies links between physiology, ecology, and behavior in bats, with a focus on migration and hibernation. He has just set up his new lab and has a really, really cool research program planned. Although while looking for a link, I see that he needs to make a lab website though! I look forward to some amazing work coming out of his lab in the future! Also, his kids are adorable.

I had an interesting discussion about transposable elements and gene duplication with David Ray and Neal Platt.

Tigga Kingston is a conservation biologist who has conducted long-term ecological studies of bats in Southeast Asia. She has a terrific group of graduate students doing a remarkably wide variety of conservation-relevant projects around the world. I was particularly excited about Marina’s work on the SEABCRU online bat database. These kinds of scientific contributions (where are a huge amount of data is made available to many people) are not given the due academic credit that they deserve– they are way more important than a single paper. I’m glad many people in science are creating incentives for sharing data and not simply papers. I was also really impressed by the work of Kendra Phelps, Joe Huang, and Julie Senawi.

In the bat world, Texas Tech is synonymous with Robert Baker, who has been there for 46 years– more than half of the duration of the school’s existence. He has mentored about 100 graduate students in that time. Baker has spent much of his career studying the diversity and evolution of the phyllostomid bats, and as early as the 1960s he understood the importance of using genes and chromosomes (rather than just morphology) for constructing phylogenetic trees. In 2003, he published an influential phyllostomid phylogeny that assessed 48 of the 53 identified genera. I enjoyed talking systematics and phylogenetics with his graduate students Julie Parlos, Howie Huynh, and Cibele Caio. Julie was an extremely generous (and organized) host.

Julie and Kendra took me along for their acoustic survey spent listening for bats along a transect, driving around Lubbock at 20 mph. We heard no bats. But it made me realize that simply cruising around, hanging out, and chatting about science– could provide some useful data if you make it a recurring event and attach a bat detector to the roof of your car. Why didn’t I think of that? Also, I wish I lived someplace that had a “prairie dog town” as part of the local park.

It was the most enjoyable time I’ve had visiting a university.


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