February 7, 2017

Professor Reflects on Undergraduate Ornithology Research at Cornell

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Prof. David Bonter, ornithology, discussed his decade of experience mentoring Cornell undergraduates conducting research on birds at the Isles of Shoals — an archipelago in the Gulf of Maine — in a lecture on Monday.

Bonter said that many of his mentees were inspired by their visit to the island and experiencing its ecosystem firsthand.

“Spending time in the field is an excellent way to develop research questions,” Bonter said. “By watching and observing at Shoals, it’s impossible to not ask questions. All of my students have engaged in original research.”

With the assistance of Bonter, several of his students have continued to conduct research in relevant fields after graduation and have published their works in esteemed academic journals.

Bonter said that one of his mentees published her work in Animal Behavior — a top scientific journal in the field — and is now working on a Ph.D. at Columbia University. In addition, another one of his mentees wrote three scientific papers during her undergraduate career, which helped her gain acceptance into a Ph.D. program at U.C. Berkeley.

One of Bonter’s current mentees Max Witynski ’17, who is studying the winter migration patterns of two different bird populations, said that Bonter played a crucial role in his research projects.

“Dave is a phenomenal motivator,” Witynski said. “He is really interested in working with students and helping them accomplish what they want. Definitely lets you proceed with your idea.”

Witynski added that the close relationship between the mentees within the research group also facilitated research.

“I think it’s really neat to get involved as a freshman or sophomore and actually see the seniors presenting their thesis work, because you can really see what’s possible,” Witynski said.

However, Bonter said the most important factors in producing research were the talented students and their innovative ideas.

“I am amazed by what these students come up with,” Bonter said. “We are indeed fortunate at Cornell — the students are talented. And I realize I am lucky to be working with top notch undergrads.”