I am an evolutionary biologist who integrates molecular, morphological, behavioral, and ecological data into a comparative phylogenetic and systematics framework. I'm also an arachnologist, new lepidopterist, treethinker, Gooner, homebrewer, and dad. But I haven't always been a biologist. In my previous career, I was a freelance photojournalist working for magazines and newspapers. Driven by my passion to tell the stories of our planet, work took me around the world, from big cities to small villages, and into many different cultural and societal settings. Even though I left my previous career as a journalist, I continue to tell stories about our planet, only now I do this by utilizing natural history collections (each sample is an evolutionary snapshot) and the data contained within them, while working collaboratively with other researchers and training future scientists.
My research employs macro- and microevolutionary approaches to address key questions in the evolution of terrestrial arthropod diversity, in particular, how have evolutionary forces shaped diversity and what are the processes driving patterns of biodiversity. I recently completed my Ph.D. in the lab of Dr. Jason Bond at Auburn University and the Auburn University Museum of Natural History (AUMNH), where my dissertation research focused on deciphering the evolutionary relationships, biogeography, and the evolution of miniaturization across North America’s genus of tarantula spider, Aphonopelma, while also building the phylogenomic tools to better understand the spider Tree of Life. Currently, I am an NSF postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Akito Kawahara at the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) and the University of Florida, where I work on Lepidoptera phylogenomics and placing the evolutionary "arms race" between bats and moths into a phylogenetic context.
As a teacher and mentor, I believe my role is to prepare students to interact in an informed, responsible manner with the world around them; a place where critical thinking is paramount to achieving career goals and to making informed decisions as members of their communities. In order to facilitate the development of these skills, I try to encourage students to think their way through problems, drawing upon their own knowledge and experience.
As a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, I also feel an obligation to engage and mentor fellow Native American students. Recently, I began building an educational collaboration with the Chickasaw Nation to involve middle school and high school students into primary research. This interactive experience uses exciting evolutionary questions to engage and interest students in science.
My career aim is to establish a research program that answers evolutionary questions, provides a solid foundation of externally-funded research monies for my students (undergraduate & graduate) to develop and carry out their own projects, and for my lab to serve as a model to increase diversity in the sciences. And finally, with the rapidly dwindling number of taxonomists, I feel it is imperative to continue documenting biodiversity by discovering and describing new species and higher taxa, as well as to train the next generation of systematists.
I've also been a fan of arthropods for a long time...
"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."
- Theodosius Dobzhansky, evolutionary biologist