Dr. Jessica Light is no stranger to UMBS. As an undergraduate, she spent two memorable summers on the shores of Douglas Lake, including study under Mammalogy legend Dr. Phil Myers. This summer, she is completing the circle and returning in an exciting new capacity: Field Mammalogy instructor.
UMBS Outreach Coordinator Jenny Kalejs asked Light some questions about her journey from student to faculty, and what to expect from her field course.
Tell me a bit about your education, including your U-M undergraduate career, field experience at UMBS, work with Phil Myers, and doctoral research at Louisiana State.
I got my undergraduate degrees in Biology and Resource Ecology and Management in August 1998 from the University of Michigan. Yes, I did go to UMBS - two times! The first time was the summer of 1996 where I took field Mammalogy and Habitats and Organisms. My second summer was 1998 and I took Parasitology and an independent study on mammal parasites with Dr. Phil Myers. After a year off from school, I started my PhD in Zoology at Louisiana State University, graduating in December 2005. My graduate research followed up from my last summer at UMBS, examining the evolutionary history of host-parasite associations. After LSU, I worked primarily with head lice as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida and I've been at Texas A&M University since January of 2009 (I am currently an Associate Professor).
What are your current research interests?
Per my lab’s webpage - our work is focused broadly in evolutionary biology with an emphasis on systematics, population genetics, and coevolutionary associations between distantly related organisms, particularly mammals and their parasites. In general, our research relies on field work and Museum specimens, and we use molecular and morphological data from recently collected and ancient specimens to help elucidate broad evolutionary processes operating in distantly related taxa.
Why are you excited about teaching at UMBS? What makes it a good place to study mammals?
I'm excited for a variety of reasons. One, I think it will be fun to teach a field course focused on natural history of mammals. Although I currently teach a Mammalogy course at Texas A&M and we do some field work, it's not as much as I would like. And we don't currently have the option for students to get research experience in the course. Field Mammalogy at UMBS will allow me to do some things I've been wishing I could do in my current courses. And northern Michigan has a great diversity of mammal species; it will be fun to expose my students to all of these different species in the wild as they are learning about them.
Secondly, as a native Michigander, I do love Michigan. I've only been able to visit in the summer for short periods. An entire summer in northern Michigan will be truly enjoyable.
Lastly, although my current research is focused more in the southern United States and Mexico, I have been wanting to expand my research to focus on other North American mammals, including some that occur in northern Michigan. A summer in Michigan could help me get these projects started.
Thanks, Jessica! See you north of the 45th parallel this summer.
The application for Field Mammalogy (and all our spring/summer 2020 courses) is currently open.