Tanja Zerulla, Doctoral (Ph.D.) student at Florida International University (FIU)
Virgil: “Happy the man, who studying nature’s laws, thro’ known effects can trace the secret cause.” My reasons for pursuing a graduate degree lie within this quotation: a passion for discovery.
When I was 14, my family went to Australia and I dove at the Great Barrier Reef. While on my dive, a humphead wrasse nudged us gently with its head and swam playfully around us – just like a pet! I often hear people say fish are boring, but fish like that wrasse can exhibit complex social behaviors. From that moment on, I wanted to understand why fish behave the way they do – and how better to pursue that goal than through research?
I completed a Bachelor’s of Science Honors in Animal Biology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. For the last three years of my undergraduate degree, I had an amazing time researching fish behavior in a lab that specialized in fish physiology and toxicology. During my undergraduate degree, I worked extremely hard, which led to two publications. I thought about staying in my hometown to pursue a Master’s degree in toxicology; however, I decided that I needed to research how a behavior is produced and controlled before I can understand how a toxin affects behavior.
FIU attracted me for a number of reasons. First, my advisor – Dr. Philip Stoddard – approaches the study of behavior from an integrative biology perspective. In our lab, we don’t just focus on one aspect of behavior, but instead look at how genetics, physiology, development, ecology, and evolution all interact to produce behaviors. Second, the department has many scientists at the top of their fields and a very collaborative environment. I wanted a workplace where I could ask for help from the best and the brightest from a wide range of biological fields. Lastly, the weather in Miami is fantastic for studying fish (and living)!
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