Texas Tech Student of Integrated Scholarship
College of Arts and Sciences
Growing up in rural Iowa, Kendra Phelps imagined she would one day work with animals. Her interest in zoology led her to Auburn University and Oklahoma State University, where she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees, respectively. Now a doctoral candidate at Texas Tech, Phelps has been working with adviser Tigga Kingston, a professor of zoology, and focusing on conservation biology, which strives to preserve wildlife amidst humans' disruption of the environment. Phelps was named a Student Fulbright Fellow, and through funding from the fellowship, she has been based in the Philippines since May to investigate communities of cave-dwelling bats that have had varying degrees of exposure to humans. Her work will be used to develop policies that protect cave-dependent bat populations and their habitats. Back in Lubbock, Phelps has been committed to efforts that serve the university, the local community, and her field. As her department's graduate coordinator, she has arranged for students and faculty to present their research at weekly seminars, and she has contributed to community service projects as a member of the TTU Association of Biologists. Additionally, she has served as a reviewer for scientific journals and reviewed grant applications and awards for scientific societies. After she completes her doctorate, Phelps hopes to continue preserving wildlife species and their habitats as conservation biologist.
Learn more about Student of Integrated Scholarship Kendra Phelps in this question-and-answer session.
What got you interested in your major?
I am a PhD candidate (a doctoral student who has passed their qualifying exams) in the Department of Biological Sciences, my major is zoology.
Since I was a young child, I always dreamed of working with animals in some capacity. At first I wanted to be a veterinarian, but that quickly changed once I "job shadowed" a local veterinarian in high school. I quickly learned that a majority of their time is spent spaying and neutering dogs and cats, or administering vaccinations to livestock. Not my dream job. My back-up plan was to be a biologist; I was very interested in marine biology, but this was probably because I was a farm kid from Iowa who had never experienced any marine systems thus I found it even more intriguing. After completing an associate's degree from a local community college (I was awarded a full scholarship to attend since I was salutatorian of my graduating class), I elected to transfer to Auburn University because they had a stellar program in both biology and marine biology. Ultimately, I ended up majoring in biology, with an emphasis in conservation biology.
What courses are you taking this semester?
I am not taking any courses this semester, only research hours because I'm currently in the Philippines conducting my doctoral research project. I will not be returning from the Philippines until August 2013 (at the earliest); I arrived this past May. My Fulbright Fellowship is from July 9, 2012 to April 23, 2013.
What is the most challenging course you've taken? How has it affected you?
I've always struggled in math-related subjects, particularly statistics; that hasn't improved with many additional years of graduate school. From this I have learned to always consult with those who are wise about the subject so as not to embarrass myself.
Have you completed internships or had other work experience applicable to your field of study?
Internships are not common in the biological sciences; however, I have had work experience that relates to my field of study.
The summer before embarking on my master's degree at Oklahoma State University (2003) and every summer during graduate school (2003 - 2006), I was employed by the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. Examples of the research conducted include surveying caves and cave-roosting bat species in western Oklahoma, determining the status of a federally endangered bat species in eastern Oklahoma, and live-trapping American black bears in southeastern Oklahoma to determine the species' abundance after reintroduction.
After completing my master's degree in 2006 I worked as a research biologist for the Sternberg Museum of Natural History (at Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas) until 2008. Funded by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, the main objective of the statewide project was to update the current distributional status of native mammalian species in Kansas through intensive specimen collecting.
Have you participated in research?
I have been involved in both undergraduate and graduate research projects.
As an undergraduate laboratory technician employed by Dr. James Sartin at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University, I gained experience in domestic animal husbandry in addition to basic laboratory techniques such as RNA/DNA extractions and diagnostic assays. During the two years I was employed as a laboratory technician (2001-2003), I assisted numerous doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows with their research relating to the effects of hormones on disease progression.
My undergraduate adviser and mentor, Dr. Troy Best, opened my eyes to fieldwork. While taking a course under his direction, I spent several weeks in the southwestern United States surveying small mammals (bats and rodents). From this, my interest in bats was piqued, as well as the need to protect and preserve natural environments. Because of this interest, I applied to graduate school with the hope of conducting my thesis research on bats. I was accepted into the graduate program in the Department of Zoology at Oklahoma State University in 2003 under the direction of Dr. Karen McBee. Initially, my thesis research project was to examine the effects of heavy metal contamination on native bat populations inhabiting a superfund site in northeastern Oklahoma. As this project progressed, we realized that the project was not feasible. We changed the subject of my thesis research to rodents but kept the main theme of the project. My thesis research implemented the fields of ecotoxicology, an important component of conservation, and basic ecology to get a better understanding of how heavy metal contamination altered population demographics and community structure of small mammal assemblages inhabiting Tar Creek Superfund Site, Oklahoma.
Currently, I'm undertaking a research project for my doctoral degree at Texas Tech University; I am under the supervision of Dr. Tigga Kingston. My dissertation project aims to compare bat communities among caves subject to differing levels of human disturbance across Bohol Island in the Philippines to assess the status of cave-dependent bats in an increasingly human-dominated landscape. My methods are to quantify levels of human disturbance at caves, and compare with species diversity and composition of bat communities and health status (body condition and ectoparasitism rate) of individual bats. My results will be used to evaluate individual caves for maintaining viable populations of cave-dependent bats, a priority under the Philippine National Caves and Cave Resources Protection Act, and develop effective management policies that protect cave-dependent bats and critical roosting sites—caves.
Moreover, throughout graduate school (both at Oklahoma State University and Texas Tech University) I assisted numerous fellow graduate students with their thesis and doctoral research projects. From this, I learned a variety of field techniques applicable to everything from amphibians to birds to invertebrates.
What service projects (volunteering, community service, etc.) have you been involved in?
As an active member of the Texas Tech University Association of Biologists (TTUAB) I participate in numerous community service projects annually, including raising funds for the Alzheimer's Association, Toys for Tots, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and the Lubbock Memorial Arboretum. In addition to TTUAB activities, I am also involved in my department as the graduate coordinator for a weekly seminar series that encourages graduate students and faculty to present their research findings. In the scientific community I serve as a reviewer for six scientific journals as well as review grant applications and scholarly awards for several scientific societies.
What advice would you give to other students who would like to be a Student of Integrated Scholarship? Students of Integrated Scholarship balance academics with additional activities, such as research, internships, service learning, and study abroad.
It will all pay off in the end…when you are doing something you are passionate about! I often find that when I'm overloaded with many different activities, I am the most productive.
What are your plans after graduation?
Conservation biology, particularly how human manipulation of the environment can impact wildlife species, has always been the driving force behind my academic pursuits. After graduation, my career goal is to be employed as a conservation biologist for an international nongovernment organization (e.g., World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society). In this position I hope to make positive changes toward conserving wildlife species and their critical habitats.
What experiences do you value most as a student at Texas Tech?
The experiences that I value the most at Texas Tech University have been the bonds I have developed with other graduate students in the Department of Biological Sciences as well as the Department of Natural Resource Management. Graduate school can be very stressful (as is life in general!); being able to have peers who understand your situation and can sympathize with you as well as give experienced advice is invaluable.