Prof. Rosana Zenil-Ferguson

Check out the interview with one of our newest faculty members!
Headshot of Professor Rosana Zenil-Ferguson
Professor Rosana Zenil-Ferguson

1. Where were you working before joining the University of Hawai'i at Manoa Biology Department?
I was a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at Univerisity of Minnesota. I worked with Dr. Emma Goldberg studying breeding systems for the nightshade family.

2.  Can you explain your new job in the Biology department? What are your roles?
I am a new assistant professor in the Department of Biology. My job here has three important axes that interact and support each other: research, teaching, and service. 

3.  What has been your research focus leading up to this point in your career?
I develop new mathematical models and statistical tools to understand how plant species appear or go extinct. My main focus is to understand which plant traits make it more likely for species to survive millions of years and whether those traits are evolving.

4.  What brought you to the field of Biology? What is your favorite part about your job?
I have an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and I always thought I would teach algebra or statistics. However, I was lucky enough to meet Dr. Jose Miguel Ponciano (University of Florida) who challenged my math knowledge with biological questions. I quickly realized that being "good at math" wasn't enough, so I started teaching myself evolution and later botany.
I have two different favorite parts of my job, first, the moment when I discover something no one else in the world knows and I look forward to telling others so they can feel that same excitement. The second is working with incredibly talented and hardworking people, students and colleagues inspire me every day with their intelligence and their human quality.

5.  What type of things are you looking forward to being a new part of the UH Mānoa faculty?
Learning from the great diversity at UH both biological and human. I look forward to respectfully learn from Hawai'i as an indigenous space and do science in a culturally inclusive manner.

6.  Any closing thoughts? Plans for new research? Projects?
I have three key upcoming projects in my lab. The first is investigating traits that are historically harder to evolve across the tree of life and what their impact is on speciation and extinction. 
The second project is developing models of extreme genome size evolution and integrating them to metabolic theory  (in collaboration with Dr. Josef Uyeda from Virginia Tech and Dr. Martha Munoz from Yale University). 
Third, I am working with Dr. Jake Ferguson (UH Manoa) and Dr. Mario Vallejo Marin (University of Stirling, Scotland)  on the establishment of plant polyploids in fluctuating environments. 
I am looking for graduate students for the Fall of 2020. Please contact me if you are interested in any of these topics (