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About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2017 Awardees 2017 (Estes Memorial Grant) Krista Koeller

I have always defined myself by my creativity and curiosity, and growing up, I was convinced I would apply these attributes to a career in music or art. It was not until my sophomore year of college that I realized I could apply those attributes to what I had perceived until that point to be the dry and dull practice of scientific research. At the College of Wooster I encountered professors that ditched the textbooks and taught us important concepts through class discussions on scientific papers. Through these discussions, I came to realize that science is not a list of useless facts to memorize, but it is a process by which you use creative problem solving to answer a question about which you are curious. I had so many questions about the natural world and realized that I could find my own answers and make a career out of it. I declared a biology major and, in my senior year, conducted my own research project on the molecular systematics of a genus of parrot snakes in Trinidad and Tobago. The summer after I graduated, I began a nearly three-year internship in the geosciences department at the Field Museum in my hometown of Chicago. There, I was involved in several projects that helped me organize my questions into themes. I found my main interest in morphological variation, particularly the phenomenon of convergent evolution. I am currently a first year Master’s student at Virginia Tech working on questions related to the convergent evolution of limblessness in squamates. This fall, I am applying to Ph.D. programs in the hopes of continuing my research on convergent evolution, focusing on the genetic and developmental causes behind the similar body forms we see. This will allow us to make predictions about the genomic-level processes behind the convergence we see time and time again in post-extinction radiations and better understand why we see the diversity of forms we do. After I graduate, I intend to become a professor. I very nearly did not become a scientist because of the poor quality science education I received before college, a fact which has made me determined to help guide other creative and curious people to the path I almost missed. I believe that this attitude towards teaching and the process of scientific research would make me an effective mentor, instructor, and independent researcher. I intend to continue following my curiosity wherever it leads and help the next generation of scientists do the same.