Lab Specialist Abigail Gutierrez in the lab biology

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Abigail Gutierrez. I am from Washington Heights, NYC and I am a Barnard alumna Class of 2020. I began my research journey in Spring of 2018 in the Pischedda Lab as a sophomore and completed my senior thesis studying the effects of sexual selection on male fitness in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. This will be my fourth year and third summer as part of the Pischedda Lab as I am honored to return to Barnard's Department of Biological Sciences as a Laboratory Specialist. Shortly after graduation, I began the position of Lab Specialist which allows me to continue my research interests over the summer. There are several things I like to do during my free time; explore new coffee spots in NYC, listen to podcasts while I walk Riverside Park, and spend time with my family, especially the newest member of my family: Max, our German Shepherd.

As a former student and now a new staff member, you've been a research assistant under the mentorship of Professor Alison Pischedda for a few years. What sorts of research projects have you worked on during that time? What are some of the methodologies that you've used and what have been the goals of your research?

Working in the Pischedda Lab allows me to help with different projects. Therefore I get to see a glimpse of the other lab member’s projects while focusing on one particular project. I currently work with Olivia Eliopolous, a current Biology major, to study the effects of Intralocus Sexual Conflict (IASC) on precopulatory components (mating success) or postcopulatory components (fertilization success). We use cytogenetic cloning, also known as hemiclonal analysis, to isolate and replicate haploid genomes from the LHM population (a large outbred laboratory population of D. melanogaster). For experiments, we can use hemiclonal analysis as a genetic tool to insert the same genome in both males and females. Consequently inserting these genes into males and females helps us to understand which set of genes are in conflict and where the conflict is located—are they located in mating success or fertilization success or both?

I had the pleasure of working with Professor Pischedda’s Animal Behavior Course as a TA where students get to do a lot of the same lab work in class. In this course, students can observe courting behavior and learn the different skills needed to work with the model organism the fruit fly.

Lab Specialist Abigail Gutierrez at the bench biology
Abigail Gutierrez (BC '20) sorts flies at the bench.

What are some important implications of your work?

Sexual selection theory helps us interpret the broad patterns of sex differences we see across the different animal groups. Males and females of the same species often look and behave differently because they maximize their fitness in different ways. However, both males and females share largely the same genome, so each sex cannot independently evolve a particular trait to better their fitness. This means that an allele that makes a male successful in achieving high fitness may not always be beneficial to female fitness and vice versa. This phenomenon, known as Intralocus Sexual Conflict (IASC), is known to be composed of mating success and fertilization success. As described above, in the lab, we use hemiclonal analysis to investigate the genes that contribute to this genomic tug of war to be the best male or the best female using largely the same set of genes.

Pischedda with students in lab

How did you approach Professor Pischedda to conduct research in her lab? Did you have prior research experience?

In the Fall of 2017 my advisor mentioned that it would be smart to think about research for the summer. I did not know an imaginary timeline of securing a summer research internship existed and I was completely lost. Luckily, my advisor mentioned Professor Pischedda as a new Barnard Professor who might need help setting up her lab. I emailed her asking her if she needed any help and a week later I met up with her and chatted. I had zero research experience when I started but I slowly began adding skills. I also want to add that I was also willing to do the busy work that is needed to run a lab when I started—which meant cleaning the benches or setting up boxes—and I think this openness to work allowed me to spend more time in the lab and show my commitment to research.

I did not know an imaginary timeline of securing a summer research internship existed and I was completely lost. Luckily, my advisor mentioned Professor Pischedda as a new Barnard Professor who might need help setting up her lab.

— Abigail Gutierrez
Abigail Gutierrez in the lab - biology

Lastly, what would you tell 'first-year you' today when it comes to your research and academic journey as a biology major? Would you have done anything differently? What resources were vital to your success?

I would tell Abby that we rise by lifting others. Find your community within the Barnumbia bubble and take care of each other. Trust me, studying with friends/classmates is 100x better than doing it alone—they can hold your spot at the library if you need a break too. You’ll figure it out later, but having a dancing party 30 minutes before the exam will calm you down. Go on that walk when you are overwhelmed, go to Trader Joe's and get snacks—and if you do get enough for your friends too. Cry it out, but make sure to go to Furman Counseling and figure it out. Take a break. Do not do three jobs simultaneously—you will exhaust yourself; schedule your study time and keep to it. Sleep!

Find a mentor—it can be someone who is a year above you so that they can advise you on what worked for them and what did not; maybe they can also guide you in the right direction for a research opportunity or an internship. When you believe to be wise enough, find a mentee and help them navigate through their college choices. Find your resource—for me it was the Higher Education opportunity Progtam (HEOP) office now known as the Access Barnard office. Be vocal, they will listen to your needs and help you find them.

Lastly, have fun. Do not get caught up in just your studies and due dates. You want to leave college with memories of Bacchanal, Midnight Breakfast, the Big Sub, the Tree Lighting Festival, the dance shows. Plan your time to be there with friends and de-stress.

If students have questions about your research/the Pischedda Lab, can they contact you, and if so how?

If students have any questions please reach out to me

Abigail Gutierrez in the lab - biology