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The Carletonian

Julia Greenberg earns Fulbright to study cognition and behavior of primates

<rking with cotton-top tamarins has been a large part of senior Julia Greenberg’s life at Carleton. Next year, thanks to a Fulbright fellowship, Greenberg will be conducting research on a greater variety of primates in one of the world’s pre-eminent cognitive and behavioral research labs.

This spring Greenberg found herself in the rather rare situation of being offered two separate grants to pursue research at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. She ultimately turned down her award from the German Academic Exchange Service in favor of the U.S. State Department’s Fulbright fellowship.

“I was very surprised to get both,” Greenberg said. “The Fulbright feels more special, and it seems they really make an effort to connect you with other Fulbrighters in Germany.”

Greenberg’s project is entitled “The Evolution of Cooperation: a Comparative Study of Great Apes.” It is based on her Carleton comps research on cooperation between cotton-top tamarins and will entail study of the large social groups of all four great ape species.

“Fellowships like to see some connection with something you’ve done,” Greenberg noted. “I’ll be expanding what I’ve been doing here; I’ll look at differences in abilities across species, the role of competition and social tolerance in these abilities.”

In addition to her experience at the Carleton primates lab, Greenberg also worked at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo for a year before she transferred from Columbia University to Carleton. One of the draws of the Max Planck Institute for her is the chance to study in Leipzig’s public zoo.

“It’s exciting to be doing research in such a public setting,” she said. “When I worked at the Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the things I realized was how the research we were doing became an education resource for visitors. Visitors would ask me what I was doing and it would sometimes change their perspective of the animals they were watching.”

Besides using the zoo as a research facility, the Institute performs psychology studies involving humans. While Greenberg will be working in the department of developmental and comparative psychology, she said the interdisciplinary nature of the Institute means she’ll be interacting with other departments.

Greenberg’s adviser will be Department Director Dr. Michael Tomasello, an American whom she was fortunate enough to meet at a conference last year. She originally stumbled across Tomasello’s work in a psychology course reading at Carleton and began to develop an interest in going to the Max Planck Institute after graduation. Upon learning that Tomasello would be at the conference she was attending, she emailed him and he responded immediately.

“One of the things this has taught me is that it never hurts to email someone you admire and dream of working with,” Greenberg said. “He was so helpful and enthusiastic, and I emailed him the proposal to see what he thought. I think it will be exciting to be in such a high-powered setting with people who are doing so much in their areas. It will be very stimulating.”

Greenberg said she has been interested in animal behavior and cognition since she was very young. She plans to pursue research in this field – specifically applications to conservation and animal welfare – in the future, likely in a psychology graduate program.

Greenberg will begin work in Germany in September and will be in Leipzig for an academic year.

-The Carletonian will continue to feature honored students. Please contact crowleye, caffreyj with suggestions.

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