• Northern Michigan University
  • NMU

Ricki Oldenkamp's summer research at the Duke Lemur Center

Ricki Oldenkamp, a senior biology major and psychology minor from Newaygo, learned through last summer's internship that the only way to experience what you want is to ask for it. If she hadn't asked to study with Brian Hare, a leading professor for evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, she never would have gotten the opportunity to not only study at the Duke Lemurs Center but also to play a crucial role in setting up the research and, in the end, help write the potential journal article.

"It was really interesting to go and be involved in the lab; I got to see how the grad students work, how students in general work in the lab, and I was involved with starting out the project to completing it," Oldenkamp said.

Oldenkamp said it was with the help of Northern faculty and staff members that she was able to feel confident enough to even apply for the research opportunity. One of her biology professors, Mary Martin, has been a sounding board for her ideas and NMU staff member, Megan DelBello, supported her goals and never told her "you should consider playing it safe."

Oldenkamp found this opportunity by researching what she knew she was interested in: evolutionary anthropology. She learned Hare was an important player in studying the similarities between lemurs and humans, and contacted him about what she felt she could add to the program.  

The research she and others conducted involved learning what kind of cues lemurs used to make decisions. Specifically, they tried to find out if lemurs used such cues in retrieving food from a potential competitor – the researchers. She said how the lemurs made decisions helped the researchers understand their cognitive abilities.

"I was interested in doing primate research before, and now I know that's definitely what I want to do in graduate school," Oldenkamp said.

Oldenkamp, who plans to graduate in May 2013, has used her experiences this past summer to inspire her to research opportunities elsewhere, and she already has plans to study orangutans next summer in the Indonesian jungle. After that, she hopes to go to graduate school and study evolutionary anthropology on a larger scale.

You can view her blog, where she tracked her summer research.