Federico Sánchez Vargas

Undergraduate Student, The Uy Lab

You work in a laboratory.  What are you currently researching?

I am currently working in the Biro and Mitchell labs in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science, where I am studying social cognition in marmoset monkeys (Callithrix jacchus). My work there involves training an AI neural network to analyze videos of monkeys performing a joint-foraging task. The idea is to ask how much time monkeys look at the task versus observing each other, to attempt to understand how they are using social information to solve the problem at hand ­– a good model to probe at the evolution of our own cooperative abilities! I have also worked at the Uy lab in the Department of Biology for almost three years. My work with Dr. Floria Uy has me investigating the behavioral outcomes of parasitic manipulation of a wasp host. How has the parasite evolved to meet its reproductive and survival goals while hiding inside a host? How does it evade detection and change the wasps’ behavior to succeed? How does the parasite choose between many potential hosts? By using this system, we hope to peek through a window into complex evolutionary processes.

What was it that originally sparked your interest in biology?

I was originally interested in biology from a medical/therapeutic perspective. However, starting my undergrad studies, I soon realized that growing up in a tropical town with complex terrestrial and marine ecologies had left a lasting impact on me and drew my heart and mind to want to understand the tremendous diversity of the living world that evolution has shaped. I also want to better understand nature so I can become an effective advocate for its protection and appreciation.

What do you enjoy most about working here at the U of R?

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities the U of R provides its undergrads in terms of research, and for all the professors that have gifted me their time and resources to help me develop as a young scientist. What I most enjoy is the ability to quickly become a part of a research team, where I have been both mentored closely while also given the freedom to research independently. I also greatly enjoy the fact that my peers have always been supportive, and that even when everyone is striving to meet their own goals, they are often willing to help out and share resources.

What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned working here and/or studying biology?

I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that the vastness of the living world is matched by the field that studies it – and that any question you might have can be researched if you know who to talk to. I’ve learnt that genuine curiosity and a willingness to be mentored opens tons of doors! 

How do you unwind when you’re not in the lab?

I love hiking, painting, reading, and exploring around town.