A season of transitions

  • October 1, 2012
A season of transitions

This is the time of year when birds change their plumage: they lose their old feathers, which are tattered from defending their nests and young during the previous few months, and they grow new ones. This year, I am going through a moulting season as well: I finished my PhD and will begin a post-doctoral fellowship in California in the fall.

Doing my PhD at the University of Cambridge as a Gates Scholar was even more extraordinary than I had imagined. I discovered what birds in the crow family do after they fight: rooks and jackdaws sit near their partners for support after fighting with someone else. Mates have extremely strong bonds year-round, rarely leaving each other’s side, and often intervening in conflicts on behalf of their partner. During my time at Cambridge, some of my strongest social bonds were with Gates Scholars, and the exchange of social support has led to timely collaborations. I attended the Gates Scholar/Alumni trip to the US Ambassador’s residence in London in 2012 and started chatting with the Gates Scholar sitting next to me on the bus. By the time we returned to Cambridge we discovered that I had the resources she was looking for to expand her project and vice versa, and we are now enjoying the benefits of our chance meeting on the Gates bus.

I consider myself fortunate to be going from one outstanding and interdisciplinary community to another. I will become a Junior Research Fellow at the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara this fall where I will study wild bird cognition. The Sage Center investigates the brain and mind by engaging as many disciplines as possible, and the fellowship will allow me to carry out my dream project: to investigate whether sophisticated cognition exists outside of large-brained birds using great-tailed grackles as a model system.

As we all know, Bill Gates Sr. is also transitioning from the Gates community, having stepped down from a twelve-year Trusteeship in June 2012. On his last trip to Cambridge as a Trustee, my PhD supervisor, Nicky Clayton, and I had the pleasure of giving him, Mimi Gardiner Gates, and other Trustees a tour of the aviaries where I did my PhD research. Nicky has developed a leading animal cognition lab so the tour included footage of the birds solving complicated tasks, meeting the stars of the show to feed them peanuts and larvae, and discussing the work that has come from the lab over the last 15 years. It was a memorable occasion to send us off to our next adventures.

*Corina Logan[2008] did a PhD in Experimental Psychology. Photo caption: Corina feeding Rome, a Eurasian jay, one of the species she studied during her PhD. Photo credit: Julia Leijola.

 

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