Newsletter Article

Diversity Fellowship Supports Research into the Social Life of Crows

Photo: Exu Anton Mates
Photo: Exu Anton Mates

Exu Anton Mates is a 6th year Animal Behavior student working with Jim and Renee Ha. When he was admitted to the Psychology Graduate Program in 2009, he received a fellowship award from the University of Washington Graduate School Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP). During admissions season, GO-MAP solicits nominations of outstanding candidates for their diversity fellowships from departments all across the campus. The Psychology Graduate Program nominated Anton for this special award based on his exceptional merits and qualifications. The Bank of America fellowship provides support for a student's first and last years of study. Anton is finishing up his program with us and is currently supported on the dissertation year of the fellowship! We asked him for his experience while on this award and being involved with the GO-MAP community.

Let's start with the basics, where are you from and where did you complete undergrad/masters?

I grew up in Berkeley, California, completed my undergrad in mathematics and physics at the University of California at Berkeley, and got a master's in mathematics from the Ohio State University.

How did you wind up at UW/why did you apply here? What do you think about living in Seattle?

I applied at UW in order to work with James Ha, because I wanted to study crow behavior and there are only a few labs in the country that focus on that.  I love living in Seattle, mostly because of all the opportunities to get into the wilderness and onto the water.  Having two hours of daylight in the winter is kind of annoying though.

What is your research interest and how did you get into it (what inspires/motivates you)?

I love the mathematics associated with bioacoustics; resolving and decomposing signals is very aesthetically satisfying.  I also find crows fascinating and emotionally engaging animals, and it's exciting to decode the social life of a creature that constantly hangs out with humans but doesn't actually like us that much.

How did you learn about your funding opportunity and tell us about the application/waiting process?

My potential advisor, and my program head, informed me about the GO-MAP Diversity Fellowship while I was applying to graduate school.  There was very little I had to do to apply; the department simply nominated me and sent my file to GO-MAP.  And I hardly noticed the waiting process, since I was more focused on just being accepted into the department!

How did you feel when you learned that your application was accepted and that you will receive funding?

Very relieved.  The dissertation-year funding has benefited me as well as the animal behavior training area since it freed up department funding for other grad students.  And, although I didn't know this until I actually hit my last year, the fellowship comes with the requirement that you register for a seminar in which you discuss your progress on your thesis, and sets up a "buddy system" to assure that progress is being made.  That's very helpful for keeping you on track to meet your deadlines.

Do you have any advice/tips/suggestions for others who may apply to this opportunity? About graduate study in general?

Ask your potential advisor about GO-MAP when you're applying.  If you're worrying whether you're sufficiently representative of a minority or marginalized population to "deserve" financial support from GO-MAP, don't.  Just apply, be honest about your background and let them decide whether you're the right person to fund.

Even if you don't end up being financially supported by GO-MAP, they offer a lot of information and practical assistance for networking with faculty and other students.  This can be extremely useful if you're new to the Seattle area, and feeling isolated or disoriented after your move.

What do you hope to accomplish with the funding and/or while in the UW Psychology graduate program?

I'm interested in determining how crows use alarm calls to assess potential threats. I'm currently presenting crows with ambiguous visual stimuli and various alarm call combinations, to see whether they will choose to mob the stimuli or not.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

Biking, kayaking, dancing and teaching my dog water ballet.

The last book and/or movie you saw and enjoyed?

Arthur Machen's The House of Souls and Tommy Wiseau's The Room, I'm afraid.

What you plan to do once you complete your PhD?

Look for a research postdoc, a state/federal position in wildlife management, or a quantitative analysis job in the private sector.  Depends which one lets me pay my loans off the fastest!

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