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Study site is all set up!

posted Mar 16, 2015, 8:42 AM by Kristen Covino   [ updated Mar 16, 2015, 8:42 AM ]

We worked hard all weekend to get the site up and running. Now the crew (Keegan, Lauren, and Shawn) are hard at work catching birds. 

See some photos from this weekend here.

Setting up the Study Site

posted Mar 11, 2015, 4:49 PM by Kristen Covino   [ updated Mar 11, 2015, 4:49 PM ]

Tomorrow my lab mates and I are heading down to Cameron Parish, Louisiana to set up our spring migration study site. 
We are at a new site this year at the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge. By 
the end of the weekend, we will (hopefully) have the site up and running smoothly, have trained our field technicians, and will be catching local songbirds and early migrants. Stay tuned for some pictures throughout the weekend.

For now enjoy this lovely White-eyed Vireo.

~Kristen

Genetically Sexing Passerines

posted Feb 4, 2015, 7:19 AM by Kristen Covino   [ updated Feb 4, 2015, 7:28 AM ]

Since two of my dissertation study species are sexually monochromatic I need to determine sex by another means. Although sexing birds genetically is nothing new, getting the protocol optimized and working for my species was still a 2-3 month ordeal that I endured during the early stages of my dissertation research. I recently applied the same lab protocol to samples from several other species (just for fun) and made some minor 
adjustments. I now have it working for eight species of Passerine birds! 

I have posted this protocol on my website because in talking with other researchers at various conferences, the challenge of getting a protocol that works has come up from time to time. I hope that by my posting this, I can help other researchers to genetically sex birds (and possibly get cited in any resulting papers). 

You can download this protocol here.

Happy Sexing!
~Kristen

Grant writing

posted Jan 27, 2015, 6:54 AM by Kristen Covino   [ updated Feb 2, 2015, 3:07 PM ]

As an aspiring ornithologist I think I am pretty lucky that there are so many societies offering small grants to students. On the down side, the fact that I am technically applicable to a dozen or so grants each year can be quite distracting and can sometimes take over all my "research" time in a given week or month. I also consider myself very lucky to have a supportive graduate advisor who will make sure that I have what I need to do my project regardless of my success in obtaining funding myself. There are some grants that I have been successful at getting in just one try. 
There are others that I have failed to get after (not exaggerating) six attempts. (I think I may give up on that one, maybe, after one more attempt. As they say, third fifth sixth seventh time's the charm.) Most of these grants are small, $500 to $1,000, but every little bit is useful and helps to keep the research going.

In one way grant writing is a great motivator for a graduate student. You have a set deadline and a set amount of writing and organizing that you need to get done before then. It can help you to organize your thoughts and ideas about what you are doing. On the flip side, being rejected by dozens of grants over a few years can be a little depressing. I try to focus on those that I have been successful at getting and keep trying to improve my writing in new applications to others that I have failed at in the past. And I suppose this is a good practice to get into during graduate school while I am somewhat sheltered from the realities of the funding world. When my research will be dependent on my ability to obtain funding and when I have others relying on me to ensure their projects are not hampered by their inability to obtain a $500 grant on the first try. 

Some of the grant writing I have been doing over the last few months is to repay my collaborators for things that I have been able to do and use despite not having a direct line of funding to do so. Again, I consider myself lucky to be working with people who are willing and able to do this. Since the fall I have applied to 6 different grants. Here's hoping that I come out with at least two successful applications so that I can repay those who have been so generous in supporting my research!

~Kristen

Assays complete and the writing begins (sort of)

posted Jan 14, 2015, 6:13 AM by Kristen Covino   [ updated Jan 14, 2015, 6:19 AM ]

I am very happy to report that I have (finally) finished all my hormone assays. I was able to complete the last one before the "holiday break" (in quotes because, as all grad students know, school-related breaks are not actually a break for graduate students). But rather they are a time during which we can really focus on our research and accomplish something meaningful. That is, in a perfect world. Because in reality, everything takes two or four times as long and you think it will and that manuscript you were convinced you could write during the 3 weeks between semesters ends up as just methods and results sections. And even those are not quite finished yet. Sigh.

In an attempt to look positively on the work I have done over the last month I made a list of all the little bits and pieces of things that I was actually able to complete. Entering all my hormone assay results into my major Excel file. Check. Correcting hormone values for inter-assay variation. Check. Doing random other data sorting and cleaning of the files. Check. Discovering that somehow I completely skipped over a group of 12 birds that I should have genetically sexed two years ago. (How in the world did I manage...??) Figuring out that regardless of how good my lab notes are I will never understand what thoughts go through my head years later. (No, seriously, why would I ever do that. I must have had a reason. Because that is just....stupid.) Sigh.

So I make a list of the things I need to do when I return to campus. This now includes doing a bit of lab work so that I can determine the sex of the birds I somehow skipped (still cannot figure out how I did that) in addition to the Swainson's Thrushes I sampled this past fall. It shouldn't take too long but not having those few birds is holding up my final analyses for the paper I was working on. (And seriously, why oh why did I do that??)

I have also been assigned to teach a lab that I haven't taught before, which I am actually very excited about because it's Zoology and who wouldn't be excited. But I haven't done anything with a Zoology course since I was an undergrad myself and while I do know some of the groups of animals fairly well, others will require a bit of review on my part. So fun and learning will be had.

Other things I have been occupying myself with: grant writing (later post), beginning to organize a field crew for a new spring site my lab will be running (another later post), and working feverishly with collaborators on our Blackpoll Warbler project (see Blackpoll Migration Research). 

Signing off now so that I can actually accomplish something today.
~Kristen

Please pass the...testosterone

posted Nov 19, 2014, 7:04 AM by Kristen Covino   [ updated Nov 19, 2014, 8:31 AM ]

While work is being done to finish entering and then to proof the data from the fall 2014 field seasons (plural because my lab was working at 3 different sites this fall), I have gone full throttle into my lab work. I have been focusing on organizing my samples from last spring and running assays to quantify testosterone levels. Over the summer I was able to get one set of testosterone assays done in addition to completing the genetic sexing for all spring samples. But with over 250 samples to determine testosterone on, I had a lot of work ahead of me. 

Now I bore you with general info about the assays. Each assay can run 32 samples and I run two assays at a time (because...talent. Well, not really, that's pretty standard). So 64 samples at a time thus needing 4 runs total. Each assay takes 4 days to complete and 3 of these must be sequential. Oh, and also, in addition to the 250 samples that I need testosterone on, I also need to run about 60 samples for another hormone, corticosterone. So add on another assay run. Quick math results in the conclusion that this is going to take me several weeks to complete. 

With some hard work and long hours and weekends in the lab I have been able to get 3 of my 5 runs done in the last few weeks. Yay for data!! Now, this last testosterone assay that I run will be (with any luck) my LAST TESTOSTERONE ASSAY. Like for     my entire dissertation. Which is in one way very, very exciting but in another, very,
Extraction of hormonesvery nerve-racking. Throughout most of my field work I have been relatively lucky in getting more samples than I actually need and since these assays run about $300 each, I am not analyzing everything. So my point is (yes, please, get to the point) I have some decisions to make. This is it. No going back. If I don't include a sample on this last set of assays there is no next assay.  

My plan over the next couple weeks is to get everything from my last three sets of assays into my master Excel file (and then back it up). Then I need to re-evaluate the sample sizes that I have for each of the various questions/tests I have going on and decide which are good enough and which need more samples. The 8 Swainson's Thrushes that I sampled this fall will be included so with two samples from each bird (pre- and post-experiment) that's 16 of 64 available slots. With 48 slots left, I have some decisions to make. 

Off to enter data now.
~Kristen

Word Cloud

posted Nov 12, 2014, 5:31 AM by Kristen Covino   [ updated Nov 12, 2014, 5:31 AM ]

What should my first post from the new blog format be about? Well, short but sweet: Just for fun (and another means of procrastination of the lab work I need to get to today) I made a word cloud of the site. And of course had to make it in the shape of a bird! 
Okay, off to work now.


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