Biology professor Becky Fox won’t be offended if you call her a bird brain.
That’s because she’s spent more than 10 years studying the physiological underpinnings of personality traits in birds and other animals, as well as the impact of those personality traits on social relationships.
Fox usually has at least one Transylvania student working with her. “They help with all aspects of my research, including trapping and caring for birds, collecting behavioral data, and running hormone assays.”
Fox and her students have researched the relationship among behavioral traits, hormone levels, and “badges of status” in house sparrows. Another project examined how seasonal changes in hormone levels may relate to personality traits in birds.
Some of Fox’s students choose to pursue independent research projects under her guidance. For example, two of them looked at the effect of short-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation on stress hormone levels and metabolic rates in bullfrog tadpoles.
“I think students learn best when they’re engaged with the course material and have a chance to take ownership of it,” says Fox. “That’s why I bring current research into my lectures and require students to interact with the primary literature. It’s also why most of my courses include a substantial hands-on component, such as learning about mist netting, transect counting, and other field techniques in an ornithology class.”
Fox points out that every Transylvania biology class includes a laboratory component, which isn’t the case at many universities. “Most students won’t learn cell culture techniques until graduate school, but cell culture is a major component of our sophomore-level cell biology course.”
The broad knowledge that Transylvania students gain in the liberal arts also gives them an upper hand, according to Fox. “Transylvania teaches students to think creatively and to critically evaluate information and arguments,” she says. “I love having the chance to form close relationships with my students and watch them grow over their time at Transylvania.”
A true animal lover, Fox spends her spare time raising parrots and riding horses. She’s also an avid baker.
Ph.D., University of California at Davis, 2007
M.S., University of California at Davis, 2002
B.S., Arizona State University, 2000
Courses Taught at Transy
Cell and Molecular Biology
Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy
Senior Seminar in Biology
Areas of Specialization
Skeletal muscle metabolism
Alcoholic beverages and glucose metabolism
Interactions of exercise and diet on health and disease
Jones Grant for Temperament in House Sparrows (Passer domesticus): Relationship Between Behavioral Type, Plumage Characteristics, and Hormone Levels, 2011
University of California Dissertation Year Fellowship, 2006
Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid-of-Research, 2005
American Ornithologists Union Van Tyne Award, 2004
National Science Foundation Pre-doctoral Fellowship, 2001
Fox, R.A., Williams, R.N. “Badges of personality? Corticosterone, bib size, and neophobia in house sparrows (Passer domesticus). Presented at Society For Integrative and Comparative Biology Annual Meeting, Charleston, S.C., January 2012.
Fox, R.A., Roth, T.C. II, LaDage, L.D., Pravosudov. V.V. “No effect of social group composition on hippocampal formation morphology and neurogenesis in mountain chickadees (Poecile gambeli).” Developmental Neurobiology, 2010.
Fox, R.A. , Millam, J.R. “The use of ratings and direct behavioral observation to measure temperament traits in cockatiels.” Ethology, 2010.
Fox, R.A., LaDage, L.D., Roth T.C. II, Pravosudov, V.V. “Behavioural profile predicts dominance status in mountain chickadees, Poecile gambeli.” Animal Behaviour, 2009.
Fox, R.A., Millam, J.R. “Novelty and individual differences influence neophobia in orange-winged Amazon parrots (Amazona amazonica).” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 2006.