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Priscilla Erickson

Priscilla Erickson
Class of 2010
Genetics, Genomics, and Development

While visiting graduate programs, I was especially impressed by the dynamic students I met here at Berkeley. They all seemed to work on fascinating research, lead active lives outside of lab, and truly love being graduate students at Cal…. Berkeley really has it all: world-class science, engaging classmates and faculty, stunning natural surroundings, and a vibrant social scene.

Moving to bustling Berkeley was a huge change from my rural Midwestern upbringing, but I couldn’t be happier that my studies brought me here. I grew up in Indiana and attended Kenyon College in Ohio, where I majored in Molecular Biology. I spent several summers working in biomedical research labs, but after I studied abroad in Ecuador, I became fascinated with field biology and biodiversity. Despite my molecular biology major, I studied physiological ecology for my honors thesis. I spent a summer doing field research on an island in New Brunswick to study the effects of environmental stress on telomere length and cellular oxidative damage in wild birds. Meanwhile, a phenomenal undergraduate course in developmental biology introduced me to the field of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) and the idea that morphological evolution between organisms can be generated by changes to developmental programming. My goal is to link my interests in field biology and genetics to understand how specific molecular changes create the enormous diversity that we see in nature. Thus, I chose Berkeley because it has some of the most outstanding evo-devo labs in the country.

After working in several of these labs during my rotations, I decided to join the Miller lab. We are interested in understanding the genetic changes that underlie phenotypic evolution. Stickleback fish are the Darwin’s finches of the aquatic world: marine fish have undergone many evolutionary adaptations in novel freshwater environments across the northern hemisphere. We focus on evolved changes to the head skeleton that reflect new diets in freshwater: a reduction in the bones used for filter feeding (gill rakers) and an increase in tooth number for a more predatory diet. I am interested in understanding how changes to regulatory regions of the genome can generate this phenotypic diversity. In one of my projects, I am studying cis-regulatory regions that control genes involved in skeletal development. I use transgenic sticklebacks to look for developmental enhancers that drive gene expression in the head skeleton. In a separate project, I am using quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping to locate chromosome regions responsible for evolutionary changes in the length of head skeleton bones involved in feeding. I’m also interested in the skeletal traits of geographically diverse populations of stickles. We’ve collected wild fish from all around the Bay Area, and on a recent vacation to Maine, I spent a day collecting Atlantic fish to compare to our Pacific populations.

While visiting graduate programs, I was especially impressed by the dynamic students I met here at Berkeley. They all seemed to work on fascinating research, lead active lives outside of lab, and truly love being graduate students at Cal. I have found the same to be true for myself. When I’m not in lab, I’m usually out exploring a new part of California. Some favorite recent trips include camping in Death Valley, SCUBA diving in the Monterey Bay, backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and kayaking the Trinity River. I also swim every day with the local Master’s swim team. I am a bit of a foodie -- I enjoy cooking with the abundant and delicious local produce and love trying new restaurants. Berkeley really has it all: world-class science, engaging classmates and faculty, stunning natural surroundings, and a vibrant social scene.

Undergraduate University: Kenyon College