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Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program

Amy Toth

  What Summer did you participate in the K-State REU Program: 1999

Highest Degree Earned: PhD, University of Illinois, 2006

Current Position: Assistant Professor, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University

Website

Photos: Then (well in graduate school; left), Now (ISU Faculty Photo; right),

Briefly describe your REU research project.
Under the mentorship of Eva Horne, I examined the foraging behavior of the elusive Western slender glass lizard.  We spent most of the summer trying to trap lizards using drift fences on Konza.  We caught lots of snakes, but very few lizards!  Nonetheless, we turned it into an interesting project, investigating assessing the foraging strategy (sit and wait vs active) and prey detection method (chemical vs visual) of this little studied species. We found (preliminary) evidence that the lizards show a classic pattern of correlated evolution between a sit and wait foraging strategy along with visual detection of prey.  

What did you learn from this REU project?
 
I learned the importance of several virtues in conducting scientific research: independence (in coming up with new project ideas), creativity (in changing the experiment to adjust to the limitations of the biological system) and perseverance (in that a successful experiment often involves several attempts and trying multiple different approaches).

What was the best thing you remember about your summer in Manhattan, KS? 
There were several highlights-- spending time on beautiful Konza and learning about grassland ecology, getting to see new parts of the country as we traveled to the Ecological Society meetings, and making some close and long-lasting friendships with fellow REUers.

Briefly describe how the REU influenced your development as biologist
This was the first independent research project I ever conducted.  It was a real thrill to devise an experiment for the first time, collect my own data, and learn something that no one knew before.  Generating new knowledge was very exhilarating, and I was hooked on research after this!

Did your experience in the REU significantly influence your career goals?  If so, how? 
Yes, this was one of the most important experiences in convincing me that I wanted to go into academia and research.  I also learned that I wanted to work on an organism that was a bit easier to find and work with than the endearing but elusive glass lizards.  This influenced my future decision to work on the behavior of social insects.

Did you publish or present your REU research?  If so please provide the details.  
Although our data were suggestive of some very interesting trends, they weren't quite statistically significant, so I didn't publish the work.   I bet someone could, though, with a few follow-up experiments!