Jennifer Li. biology major. hometown: croften, md
Jennifer Li Jennifer Li's NSF-funded research has taken her from TU's biology labs to the romote Peruvian rainforest.

Jennifer Li and Professor Harald Beck

Speaker graphic Hear more about the research project

Have you always been interested in biology?

“Yes, ever since I was little. I’ve always liked being outside and I love animals. As a kid, I thought I wanted to be a medical doctor but then realized I was less interested in humans and more interested in wildlife. So when I came to TU, I took some great classes in subjects like ecology, limnology and mammalogy that really helped narrow my focus.” 

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  Ecosystem engineers? These pig-like peccaries   

  play a major role in Jennifer's genetic research.

Have you been able to take part in any interesting research?

“Over the summer I was selected for a National Science Foundation-funded project in the Peruvian Amazon. It was a 10-week program in which we researched the effects of peccaries on the genetic diversity of frog populations.” 

First of all, what is a peccary? And what were your findings?

“Peccaries are pig-like creatures that form wallows in the forest. These wallows become habitats for certain species of frogs. We wanted to see if there were genetic differences between frogs that inhabited wallows in close proximity to one another versus ones that were more isolated, thus suggesting that peccaries are closely tied to maintenance and diversity of the forest.


“The genetic research itself is ongoing, but it’s a perfect example of one species affecting the livelihood of another. That’s ecology in a broad sense, and that’s why it’s been so interesting for me.”

Jennifer in the field labWhat was an average day like for you in Peru?

“We’d usually be up by 6 a.m. for a breakfast of granola, powdered milk and hot water. Then we’d grab our gear and our machetes and head out into the forest to monitor the wallows we had already discovered, search for new ones, collect tissue samples, and the like. We were definitely there to work, but we’d occasionally take little vacations to a nearby beach. I also got a chance to check out the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu when I first arrived—it was incredible.” 

Besides your experience abroad, what aspects of college have been most important?

“The opportunity to live on campus has been really eye-opening for me and it’s something that I

Machu Picchu
Jennifer visits the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu before beginning her fieldwork.

encourage everyone to do. College is the time to start taking responsibility for yourself, and moving out on your own is a big step. It gives you the freedom to really start to figure out who you are, and it provides you with some of the responsibilities of the real world. It also helps you stay more connected with your professors and other students. And it really cuts down on the commute!”


You’re also a transfer student.  How was the transition from community college to TU?

“It was pretty easy for me. Most of my transfer credits were accepted and I didn’t have to jump through any hoops during the application process. I was assigned a transfer adviser who was charged with helping me set up my schedule. I’ve felt like any other TU student ever since.”


Related links


Undergraduate Research

Department of Biological Sciences

Professor Harald Beck

• Learn more about the Peruvian Amazon Study



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