research opportunities in the Elphick lab




There are currently no paid positions in the lab. Most paid positions are for ornithological field work during the summer. Preference is usually given to people who already have basic bird identification skills and/or have experience with a range of outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, canoeing, etc.



If you are a work study student, or are interested in gaining research experience for credit (or even fun), then we could use help with any of the projects listed below during the academic year. Students who are interested in developing a project of their own as a part of the research they do in the lab (e.g., for an undergraduate thesis, or through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program) are especially encouraged.


If you are interested in gaining research experience in the lab, please send Chris Elphick a note describing your academic record (a copy of your transcript is best), your reasons for wanting research experience, and SPECIFIC ideas you have about which aspect of our lab's research you would be most interested in and why. If you don't do these things it will tell me that you haven't researched the lab's work very well.


None of the projects listed below require specialized skills. But all of the work in our lab requires a good attitude, a willingness to learn, the initiative to work independently and to develop ideas of your own, a healthy sense of humor, and an ability to put up with Chris's taste in music (if you're not sure on this last point, check out Radio Paradise). If you know something about birds, then that would help, but we'll do our best to indoctrinate you even if you don't. For most projects (except those involving field work) hours are flexible. Everyone doing independent research in the lab is invited to our weekly lab meetings, where we sit around eating stuff filled with fats and sugar and discuss work being conducted by lab members. If you come to lab meetings, however, we expect you to participate rather than to sit quietly in the corner. More on lab meetings, here.


Saltmarsh bird ecology and conservation. For the last few years, we have been studying saltmarsh sparrows and seaside sparrows along the Connecticut coast. Our main goals are to obtain a better understanding of the things that influence the distribution and demographics of these two species, which are both considered high conservation priorities in New England. Currently, we are seeking someone who could help with data management for this project. Working on this study could potentially lead to paid field work during the summer, or to the chance to develop independent field projects. If you are mathematically inclined, we also have several data sets that could be used to do interesting analyses that could form an undergraduate thesis. To learn more about what we are doing, check out the posters on the wall outside the lab (BioPharm 310) or click here.


Importance of rice agriculture for waterbirds. Rice is one of the world's most important crops, and occupies a huge area of land worldwide. Unlike most crops it is grown in flooded conditions, and in some areas has been shown to contribute greatly to waterbird conservation. We are currently compiling a database documenting the use of rice fields by waterbirds globally. Work on this project would involve literature searches and database management. There are also several ways in which the database could be used to develop an undergraduate thesis project (e.g., to look at global patterns of biodiversity, or to look at conservation questions). To read a little about work on birds in California rice fields, click here.


Conservation of birds in agricultural settings. Expanding on our work on birds in rice fields, we have begun reviewing the literature to find out what we know about the value of other crops to wildlife. This work has led to several ideas that could be developed as field projects here in New England. Additional reviews on different crops could also be done as independent projects.


Waterbird monitoring. Monitoring many species of waterbirds (e.g., shorebirds, seabirds, waterfowl) is difficult for many reasons. One of the most fundamental is that it is difficult to count birds when they occur in big flocks. Unfortunately, we don't know very much about how good people are at counting birds in flocks, or about how much mistakes influence our ability to estimate population trends. One solution is to create computer simulations of the counting process to experimental test the effects of different types of errors. This work would make an undergraduate thesis project for someone with basic programming skills and an interest in real-world bird conservation.


Web site development. We are currently (constantly!) in the process of developing several web sites associated with the work being done in the lab. Anyone with web site design skills interested in helping us to do this would be welcomed with open arms (and generous slabs of blackberry pie at lab meetings).