Naomi Hollifield Ondrasek ’06 spends much of her day in a laboratory as a Ph.D. student in integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley. Her research focuses on behavioral neuroendocrinology, specifically how physical environments affect bonding between female meadow voles—small rodents that resemble field mice.
But her search for knowledge goes far beyond her lab work.
“Anybody Out There?” detailed the astronomical research being conducted by Berkeley scientists for signs of extraterrestrial life. She later completed a second article for the Review that covered a range of approaches from the brain and social sciences to sleep and dream research.
The articles helped Ondrasek apply the writing skills she developed in high school and nurtured during her time at the College. It also gave her the opportunity to conduct a different type of research from what she was used to with her long-term lab studies.
“It’s easy in science to become extremely focused on your own research,” Ondrasek said. “But as a scientist, I want to continue learning across many different fields and have my hands in as many cookie jars as possible.”
That desire for a broad range of knowledge was a catalyst for her interest in integrative biology, which incorporates an array of biology-related disciplines.
“It’s an effort to form bridges across different realms of biology, something I find extremely attractive,” Ondrasek said.
Making connections between different disciplines is nothing new for Ondrasek. She came to the College thinking she might major in English because she loved to write. But her focus switched to biology after taking a zoology course taught by Doug Shedd,Randolph’s Thoresen Professor of Biology.
“It was one of those ‘aha’ moments,” Ondrasek said. Though biology became her major, she continued to take English courses.
“At a small liberal arts school like Randolph, it was really easy to dabble in a lot of different disciplines, not just in the biology department, but across departments like English and the social sciences,” said Ondrasek, who was a Gottwald Scholar, a Udall Scholar her sophomore year, and a co-winner of the Maude Huff Fife Award, which is given to seniors with the highest cumulative grade-point ratio.
“I left Randolph with this love for finding bridges across disciplines that most people find pretty disparate.”