A Model Mentor

Ryan Earley
Ryan Earley

From the October 2015 Desktop News | Few people would look for a “family feeling” in a scientific laboratory, but that is what most students immediately notice in the lab of Dr. Ryan Earley.

For his work in mentoring student researchers, Earley, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, has been awarded the Chenault Research Fund Award for undergraduate research support through UA’s Honors College.

This fund, created by Dr. Alice Chenault, a retired psychiatrist from Huntsville, Alabama, supports undergraduate research and recognizes UA faculty members who have encouraged undergraduate researchers to pursue independent investigations using the process of scientific inquiry. The $3,000 award can be used for support for an undergraduate student or for materials needed for their research.

Earley’s research focuses on animal behavior, and he studies aggression, social dominance, sexual plasticity, social eavesdropping and mating behavior in a variety of freshwater, brackish and marine fishes. He created The Earley Lab on campus where undergraduate and graduate students can work together and with other laboratories in the United States and internationally towards the end of linking pieces of the behavioral jigsaw puzzle.

Earley actively recruits students, often freshman and sophomores, to his research laboratory and promotes an atmosphere that fosters creativity, independent thinking, collaboration, resilience in the face of inevitable “bumps in the road” and acceptance of both failures and successes.

“I enjoy building a ‘family’ of intellectuals who bring to the table, every single day, a passion for discovery,” Earley said. “I have recruited brilliant graduate students who also are committed to developing young minds. As a team, my graduate students and I invest significant time and energy into this endeavor. We all find it remarkably gratifying to have some impact, however small, on the ways in which students approach science.”

At any given time, approximately 15 projects will be running in the lab, many of which are led by undergraduate and graduate students. Many students feel that their experience in the lab launched their professional careers, assisted in interviews for post-graduate positions or propelled them along different career paths that they had not considered before, Earley said.

“I am so very grateful and honored to have been selected for this award because it will provide the financial flexibility to have undergraduate students pursue research that I otherwise could not have supported,” he said. “This award will give us the opportunity to investigate questions that deviate a bit from our research program, lifting a financial constraint and allowing undergraduate students to tackle some incredibly interesting hypotheses that they developed.”

Earley received his doctorate in biology from the University of Louisville. His research has been published in the Journal of Fish Biology and Journal of Experimental Biology, and he has written several book chapters over the past year. He has served on editorial boards for Frontiers in Behavioral and Evolutionary Ecology, Frontiers in Aquatic Physiology and Behaviour.