This month’s Graduate Student Spotlight highlights Gaston Jofre. A Ph.D. Candidate in the Rosenthal Lab, Gaston uses swordtail fish to detect selection in natural hybrid populations.
Being originally from the biggest city of Mexico, I received in the summer of 2012 my B.S. degree in Biology, in the Faculty of Sciences of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Working with Dr. Guillermina Alcaraz, the main focus of my undergraduate thesis was the study of behavior, specifically aggression, between two types of males from a marine hermit crab species.
The fall of 2012 I joined the Rosenthal Lab interested in the study of mate-choice in swordtail hybrid populations. Throughout the process of my graduate studies I have acquired an accruing interest in the evolutionary dynamics in hybrid zones, specifically how natural and sexual selection plays a key role in these populations along altitudinal clines. I am currently working on detecting parts of the hybrid genome under selection in the natural Xiphophorus malinche-X. birchmanni hybrid zones. Doing research with these endemic Mexican fish also allows me to do something I enjoy, travel and admire the nature of my beautiful country, Mexico.
What projects are you currently working on?
The main one is detecting selection in natural hybrid populations of swordtail fish. A secondary project aims to understand the role of a female-like trait in male-male aggression.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
Put the same importance to your hobbies as you do to your research. Grad school has been stressful, but taking a mental break with a hobby decreases that stress. I found that in climbing. As I hang from a handhold, trying to decide where is the next best place to move, everything else disappears. Climbing is a great mental break.
What is on your bookshelf?
On the top shelf I have novels in Spanish. Then I have novels in English. I also have science books, Darwin’s “The Origin of Species”, Stephen Hawkins’s “A Brief History of Time”, Gil Rosenthal’s “Mate Choice and its Consequences”, etc. Then I have photography handbooks, guides and collections. And finally, I have a small collection of art books, from Salvador Dali, MC Escher, Santiago Carbonell, Frida Kahlo, Anish Kapoor, etc.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I never learned to ride a bicycle until I was accepted in the PhD program here in Texas A&M University. A month before leaving Mexico City I started learning with a borrowed bike, falling and getting up and falling again until I fully got control of it. I got my first bike my first month here in College Station.
What is your favorite word?
Alluring.- Powerfully and mysteriously attractive or fascinating; seductive.
Describe someone outside your field of interest who inspires you and why?
May sound cliché, but it is my mother. Most of my childhood she was a housewife, until we had a rough economic moment. She went outside her comfort zone and found a job as a secretary in a Pharmaceutical Company. Her diligence made her keep her job when Pfizer absorbed that company. However, her new employer was in another city. It was a difficult time, being away from family. Until a year later, when she got an offer from an important director at the headquarters of Pfizer in Mexico City, she finally came back with us. Her personal growth through those years was remarkable.
What do you think are your greatest strengths as an instructor?
What characteristics do you prize most in a colleague?
Optimism, communication, empathy, dedication.
What strategies did you use to be successful as a graduate student?
Having a structured daily schedule. Having between 7-8 hours of sleep.
What was a memorable experience at A&M?
When I got second place in the “Sex in the Post-genome Era” symposium by The Texas A&M Institute for Genome Science and Society. It was totally unexpected but highly gratifying.
Describe the course that has had the greatest impact on your thinking.
It was simply called Evolution, but it covered the fundamentals of evolutionary biology, with an emphasis on evolutionary theory. We had to calculate and understand many models of population genetics. It was a tough class but getting those equations right was quite satisfying.
Give us 5 adjectives that describe you as a scientist.
Persistent, patient, curious, cooperative, dedicated.