Alumni Connection – April
PhD Student at University of Texas at Austin
Graduated from Texas A&M Magna Cum Laude
Even though she envisioned a career working with animals while she was a student at Vanguard, Caitlin Leslie couldn’t possibly have guessed how. Caitlin dreamed of becoming a veterinarian when she graduated in 2010 and started college at Texas A&M. But her path took a different turn which, thanks to Vanguard, she navigated to a successful new adventure in biology.
During her sophomore year at A&M, Caitlin began volunteering with, and was later hired by, a veterinary clinic. In the year she spent working for them, she realized that veterinary medicine was not her calling. While deciding what to do next, she began a study abroad experience in Mongolia.
“I experienced first-hand how amazing and interesting the work of a field biologist could be,” she said. “So I contacted several professors who were doing cool research at A&M, and one of them had an opening for an undergraduate researcher.”
Caitlin spent her senior year studying the behavior of an aggressive species of pipefish (closely related to the seahorse) and discovered that both male and female of this species guard their mates. This research was the basis of her honors thesis. It also prompted her to apply to graduate schools, and eventually chose the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Texas where her research with animals continues to fuel her passion for science.
“I’m researching the neurological basis of animal communication in a neotropical species of frog,” she said. “Specifically, I’m looking at how the frog’s nervous system integrates auditory and visual information that it receives from other members of its species in order to respond appropriately. For example, a female frog sees and hears a male frog calling. How do her eyes, ears and brain react to this? How do these reactions influence her behavior?”
Caitlin’s strong Vanguard foundation allowed her to make the change in her educational plans with confidence. If her undergraduate years had been like the ones some of her classmates experienced, she may not have had the ability to pursue a new path.
“Vanguard prepared me for the hard work and dedication required to excel in college,” she said. “Many of my college classmates struggled their freshman years because they had coasted through high school and made all As. But they were unprepared for the enormous amount of work required to achieve good grades in college. This was less of a shock to me because of the strong work ethic instilled in me by my teachers at Vanguard.”
Caitlin is particularly thankful for Mrs. Johns and Mrs. Ferreter.
“Mrs. Johns prepared me so well for college-level calculus that I ended up teaching it to several of my classmates freshman year when our professor didn’t spend much time explaining differential equations,” she said. “And Mrs. Ferreter’s in-class writing assignments made the essay portions of the SAT and GRE seem like footnotes.”
But there was also a slightly more unconventional learning experience that stands out to Caitlin as a favorite memory, which could have given her insight into dealing with the unexpected.
“One of my favorite memories was getting lost in London with Mr. Perdichi on the trip to England that Vanguard offered my senior year,” she said.
Caitlin said she would encourage current Vanguard students to push themselves and to take chances, like going on the international trips … and enjoying Field Day. But she also has a little bit of personal advice regarding her science teacher mom.
“Don’t try to win an argument with Mrs. Leslie,” she said. “It won’t work. Trust me!”
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