Education and outreach

My academic career was always intrinsically tied to teaching and mentoring, and helping students to develop understanding and appreciation for scientific knowledge is a passion of mine. Over the course of the years, I have worked in education and outreach targeting publics ranging from middle schoolers to graduate students, in settings as diverse as formal lectures to undergraduates and dinners with museum board members.

Teaching in higher education

As an educator, I have led lectures, discussions, lab practice sessions, developed teaching materials, designed and graded exams for early and advanced undergraduate students. I have acted as teaching assistant for Invertebrate Zoology courses multiple times. After finishing my M.Sc. degree, I was employed as Lecturer in the University’s Department of Biological Sciences, teaching multiple courses on subjects as varied as Cell Biology and Paleontology.

Hunting fossils with undergraduate students for the Paleontology course

Mentoring high school students

During my time at the American Museum of Natural History, I was a mentor for the Science Research Mentorship Program, an ambitious initiative to involve high school students in research. I worked with two students for a whole academic year in a project of species delimitation in a widespread Andean lineages of wasps (see the Research page). In developing the project, students learned a broad set of skills, including DNA sequencing, data capture for morphometrics, bioinformatics, phylogenetics and scientific writing. The experience was clearly successful: my student Bayle Smith-Salzberg has won a Second Award in the New York City Science and Engineering Fair for the results of our project!


With high school students Andriy and Bayle working in the molecular biology lab

Mentoring undergraduate students

At the National Museum of Natural History, I have mentored two undergraduate students in research projects, as part of the museum’s prestigious internship programs.

Callie Levigne from Marymount University worked part-time for a whole school semester mounting, labeling and sorting specimens of Cryptinae collected at Powdermill Nature Reserve. The long-term goal of this project is to compare the biodiversity of wasps collected with two different sampling methods: Malaise traps and yellow pan traps. The idea is to compare the relative performance of both traps in tropical and temperate ecosystems, with collaborators in Brazil inputting data from long-term sampling in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. I have a strong suspicion that sampling biases may account for at least part of the perceived reduced diversity of ichneumonids in the tropics. Almost all comparisons between tropical and temperate faunas was done using exclusively material from Malaise traps – but what if other methods of sampling tell a different story?

Marissa Sandoval from UC Berkeley worked full-time for the summer of 2019 sponsored by the NSF-sponsored program Natural History Research Experiences. Her project focused on the phylogeny and biogeography of the very cool subfamily Labeninae. This group of ichneumonids is known for having an essentially “Gondwanan” distribution, with almost all species found only in the Neotropical and Australian Regions. This have led authors to hypothesize that the group originated before the split of these two landmasses, and that the current patterns are explained by vicariance biogeohraphy. To test that hypothesis, Marissa generated a full-fledged UCE dataset for labenines, going through all steps from specimen selection and DNA extraction to targeted enrichment and next-generation sequencing. She then generated the first time-calibrated phylogenetic tree for Labeninae. We were also able to identify a new species of the labenine genus Grotea from the Dominican Republic, which she is are now describing. We hope to have both project published very soon, and Marissa will present the results of her research at the 2019 meeting of the Entomological Society of America!

Marissa Sandoval, Sean Brady, & Bernardo Santos
Marissa inspects the Labeninae collection with co-mentor Seán Brady and myself.

Outreach and press

Working in institutions with a strong tradition in outreach and scientific education, I was fortunate enough to participate in multiple initiatives aiming to educate the general public on science and biodiversity. My work was also featured in the news media a few times, most prominently when I enlisted sixth grade students to help me name a new species of wasp from the Dominican Republic, now named Nesolinoceras laluzbrillante, “the bright light”.