Evolutionary variation in genes, brains and behaviors

This project is ongoing.

The Phelps lab is broadly interested in animal social behavior, its brain mechanisms, and how those mechanisms evolve. We do a variety of work ranging from mechanisms of gene regulation to the fitness consequences of social behaviors in natural settings. Our work generally involves the social behavior on two species: the monogamous prairie vole, a North American rodent known for forming enduring pair-bonds; and the singing mouse, a Costa Rican species that makes elaborate vocalizations to attract mates and repel rival males. Our immediate needs are for students to help us examine how variation in spatial memory and its genetic underpinnings contributes to variation in sexual fidelity. Student volunteers will gain exposure to a variety of approaches, ranging from cutting edge molecular methods to studies of behavior in natural environments. Lastly, the Phelps lab is a dynamic environment that allows exposure to an unusually broad range of biology.


We are looking for students who have successfully completed courses with lab components in biology or chemistry. (Students who have participated in the Freshman Research Initiative are particularly encouraged to apply.) Because of the diversity of approaches in the lab, we are looking for students with very broad interests in biology.

Project Timeline

This is an ongoing project. We are looking for students with 2 or more years to spend working in the lab. We will accept applications until September 1 or until positions are filled.


We are looking for ambitious, motivated volunteers who want to assist with one of several tasks: slicing brains for analysis of natural variation in brain function; isolating DNA and performing PCR to perform paternity analysis; and conducting behavioral tests in the lab. There are also occasionally openings for work at one of our field sites in southern Illinois and Costa Rica. Initial tasks will be focused on helping with existing projects and basic lab maintenance. As students become more skilled and have demonstrated commitment and conscientiousness, independent projects will be available in later semesters. In order to have a meaningful experience, we require that students have 20hrs per week to spend in the lab and are able to attend lab meetings on Friday afternoons (3:30-5:00pm).


The Office of Undergraduate Research recommends that you attend an info session or advising before contacting faculty members or project contacts about research opportunities. We'll cover the steps to get involved, tips for contacting faculty, funding possibilities, and options for course credit. Once you have attended an Office of Undergraduate Research info session or spoken to an advisor, you can use the "Who to contact" details for this project to get in touch with the project leader and express your interest in getting involved.

Have you tried contacting professors and need more help? Schedule an appointment for additional support.