SRI Stories: Of Bees & Pigeons

May 29, 2024

“We were given the opportunity to ask novel questions,” Parker Guzman says of the Science Research Initiative (SRI) in the College of Science, “as well as the methods and process of experiments. That’s lacking in undergraduate research a lot of the time.”

Parker worked in the Briggs/Steffen SRI stream, which focuses on pollination biology. The lab, in which students actively participate in field research and molecular protocols, studies native bees and their molecular structure in order to better understand the plants they pollinate and how to help native bees in the environment.

Parker is majoring in biology, with an emphasis in ecology and evolution with a minor in integrative human biology.

“After I leave the U,” Parker says, “I want to work in the field and then apply for a PhD program in ecology and evolution. I could see myself staying in academia, I enjoy teaching or doing research.”

In 2023, Parker won the Department of Chemistry’s Kodak Educational Service Fellow Award for mentorship. He works as a teaching assistant for organic chemistry classes.

“A professional hero of mine is Hank Green,” Parker says. “He’s an author and science communicator and has done a lot of work on platforms like YouTube to make science more accessible.”

Parker is the president of the undergraduate chapter of SACNAS at the U, a club that promotes and supports diversity in STEM. SACNAS often attends conferences, such as the one in Portland, Oregon last year. Parker also organized a smaller, local conference at the U in April, where around one hundred people participated. SACNAS won the Recognized Student Organization award for belonging from the University of Utah.

Along with SACNAS, Guzman works in the Clayton/Bush lab in the School of Biological Sciences. He became interested in their research after attending a lecture on parasitology. Focusing on host-parasite coadaptation and diversification, the Clayton/Bush lab works with birds, using captive birds as well as field work to research these mechanisms.

Guzman’s research within the Clayton/Bush lab is on the relationship between molt and preening behavior in captive pigeons.

“Molt is a huge but necessary energy investment for pigeons,” explains Parker. “So we expect them to downregulate other behaviors. But preening may not be downregulated due to the role it plays in maintaining plumage health.”

“Despite what most people think,” adds Parker Guzman, “pigeons are one of the smartest animals in the world.”


by CJ SIebeneck