Cara with a house wrenI'm a behavioral ecologist and educator interested in how ecology, evolution, physiology, and neurobiology shape behavior.   I'm fascinated by female traits scientists don't expect under the classic sexual selection framework.  I study the ecological, evolutionary, and physiological dimensions of female song and female-female aggression in a wild house wren population.  I'm currently a postdoctoral research associate in Dr. Juli Wade's laboratory studying the neural basis of female house wren song.  To learn more about my work, check out the Research section.

I'm passionate about providing science education that includes authentic research experiences.  Science is increasingly part of daily decisions and political discourse.  As an educator, I hope each student leaves my class with a better understanding of uncertainty, an appreciation for how science actually works, and the skills to use the scientific process to address the questions they have tomorrow.  In my classroom I embrace an active learning, learner-centered model.  To learn more about my teaching philosophy and experience, check out the Teaching section.

I am also committed to involving undergraduates in my own research.  For students interested in a career in science, these research experiences can be transformative.  My work is designed to incorporate undergrads at all levels.  To learn more about my mentoring experiences, check out the Mentoring section. 

Recent developments...
  • A paper co-authored with my undergraduate mentee, Allie Burnett, appeared in the February 2017 edition of Ethology. Click here to learn about vocal signals used during female aggression
  • A paper on the function of song in female house wrens appeared in the March 2016 edition of Animal Behaviour. For press coverage of this article, check out this short piece on Science AAAS
  • My research was featured in MSU's 'grad-at-a-glance'
  • I was featured, along with my advisor and partner teacher, in an article on the GK-12 teaching program in the Kalamazoo Gazette
  • To read stories from my 2014 field season, check out my blog

Why I do it...

My research has important implications beyond the science for both the general public and the scientific community.  Nature is often used to justify culturally constructed gender roles as "natural".  I think it's important for students to see that, while our species may display particular behavioral norms, nature shows a whole range of variation.

I think work like mine also highlights the importance of perspective in science.  Although scientists like to think of ourselves as completely unbiased observers in search of the truth, the questions we ask, the things that catch our eye, and even how we explain our results can be heavily influenced by what we expect.  Each scientist's unique perspective shapes what they see as an important, interesting scientific question.  Females have been showing these behaviors for a long time, but in many cases they were only just noticed, possibly because we never expected them.  I think this highlights the enormous benefit the scientific community gets from involving many different kinds of researchers with many different perspectives in the scientific process. 

On a more personal note, I've always loved the outdoors and I've been obsessed with animals for as long as I can remember.  Field work gives me a chance to really get to know my organism and teaching gives me a chance to pass on this sense of wonder to others!

Left: Waiting for a female house wren to fly into a mist net at my field site; Right: Enjoying the great outdoors in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness             

watching wrens fly the mist net   boundary waters