Jasmine Rajbhandary ’10 began her undergraduate studies at Salem College in North Carolina. During her first semester, she discovered she wanted to major in environmental science (ES). Because Salem did not offer an ES major, Rajbhandary transferred to Wesleyan. She was not aware of the undergraduate research opportunities Wesleyan offered until she took her first class with Dr. Jim Ferrari. “I was into macrobiology and conservation. I took a lot of Dr. Ferrari’s classes including ecology, evolution, conservation biology, botany, and eventually my senior thesis.”
With Ferrari’s help, Munroe Scholar Rajbhandary began studying the impact of lead on turtles, which was a good way to integrate her second major, biology. “I measured the lead concentrations in several lakes around Macon as well as the lead bioaccumulation in turtles. Dr. Ferrari built an amazing trap to collect turtles in Foster Lake, and I checked it every day or two to see if we’d caught anything. Over a period of two to three months we only caught eight turtles. It was frustrating because we could see the turtles close to the trap or even on top of the trap, but we didn’t have much luck catching them. That was when I realized doing fieldwork is hard! When we did catch turtles, we took them back to the lab and housed them in aquariums until we were ready to sample their shells to measure lead concentration.”
The research reinforced Rajbhandary’s interest in studying the impact of anthropogenic activities on wildlife and helped prepare her for the future. “Having a research background definitely boosted my application to graduate school and also gave me a jump on my career. I learned how to integrate my interests with current environmental issues to create research questions.”
While earning her master’s degree in sustainable development and conservation biology at the University of Maryland, Rajbhandary interned at the Breeding Bird Survey, a program within the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). She joined USGS colleagues on numerous birding trips and volunteered at the Bird Banding Lab. She worked with expert ornithologists who catch birds in mist nets, put bands on their legs, take various measurements, and then let the birds go free. This internship, she says, changed her life.
Today, Rajbhandary serves as collections manager at the Center for Tropical Research at UCLA. The lab at UCLA holds the nation’s largest collection of bird samples (other than museums). Researchers at UCLA recently launched The Bird Genoscape Project. The project uses the power of genomics to map the population-specific flyways of the migratory birds of North America. The results help to identify areas and populations of steepest decline and to develop effective conservation strategies. It’s a large-scale, multi-species, multi-year, highly-collaborative project. “We work with numerous governmental and nongovernmental agencies and hundreds of volunteers who run bird banding stations. One of my responsibilities is to identify the sampling gaps for our target species and coordinate with our collaborators and volunteers to help fill in those gaps. I also lead and/or assist with our own field trips to collect samples. Once the samples are in the lab, I do extractions and quantifications to get the samples ready for the next steps of the genetic analyses required to build a genoscape (map of genetic variation) for each species.”
Rajbhandary says she would eventually like to work with a United States-based international organization that does bird conservation in her native Nepal. She has already started a Birds of Nepal Facebook group that is geared toward promoting bird photography, awareness, and conservation. The group has almost 15,000 members and has been a great platform for amateur and professional photographers and birders to share their pictures and to learn about and appreciate the birds of Nepal.