Student Star: Rebecca Falter

Student studies most diverse mammal group

Name: Rebecca Falter
Major: Biology
Graduation: Spring 2012

“These experiences have given me a broad range of tools to use in my pursuit of scientific discovery.”

From a young age, Rebecca Falter was fascinated by the sciences, particularly biology.

“My parents, both of whom are engineers, raised me to think critically and made sure I had exposure to the sciences,” Falter said. “I was privileged to have science as a constant presence from a young age.”

Today, as Falter prepares to graduate from Florida State University, she has conducted research in the laboratories of three Florida State professors and participated in the university’s inaugural computational science program for undergraduates.

“These experiences have given me a broad range of tools to use in my pursuit of scientific discovery,” she said. “Having knowledge of chemistry and computational science is necessary in the up-and-coming field of genomics, the study of the genetic code, which I hope to do work in following graduation.”

As a member of the FSU Honors Program, Falter spent time during her freshman and sophomore years conducting research in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“I am thankful that the Honors Program makes research opportunities available to undergraduates like me,” she said.

During her junior year, Falter began studying the evolution of rodents in the lab of biological science Professor Scott Steppan. Her research was assisted by a “Research Experience for Undergraduates” grant from the National Science Foundation and a Mentored Research and Creative Endeavors (MRCE) Award from Florida State’s Office of National Fellowships.

“Because of my interest in computational biology, Professor Steppan suggested that I undertake the rodent supertree project, which uses a relatively new method to compile a sort of summary of rodent evolution based on previously published studies,” Falter said.

She presented her research, “Biogeography of Sigmodontine Evolution,” during the university’s fall 2010 Undergraduate Research Symposium.

As a result of her study of the evolution of rodents, Falter received one of the university’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Awards for 2011.

“Bekhi is one of the few undergraduates I know who could take on a project of this conceptual complexity, requiring understanding both computer programming and evolutionary biology to analyze enormous data sets,” Steppan said. “She is very independent, with an unusually clear and personal vision of where she wants to take a project. When published, this project will be of great utility to a large number of other studies around the world.”

In addition to research, Falter has found fulfillment in serving as a teaching assistant in the Department of Biological Science.

“Teaching gives me a lot of opportunity to cultivate interest in research and other intellectual endeavors among younger college students,” she said. “I like to set up an environment that challenges my students to ask how they would approach a specific line of research. It makes learning more fun and the subject matter real to the students.”

What’s more, Falter has been involved with the FSU Women’s Center, an agency of the Student Government Association. She has served a term as the center’s secretary and has had the opportunity to help develop programming that focuses on women’s health awareness for the university’s student body. She also skates with the Tallahassee Rollergirls.

After graduation, Falter plans on pursuing a doctorate in molecular biology with a focus on computational biology.

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