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Tracy Heath visits BYU Biology dept ... and more

Tracy Heath w Darwin

Tracy Heath poses with Charles Darwin.

This past week, the BYU Department of Biology had the distinct pleasure of welcoming Tracy Heath for a seminar.  Tracy was chosen by the graduate students as a key speaker for our seminar series this semester, and was brought in to visit with the entire department, in addition to delivering a talk at our regular Thursday meeting.

For those that may not be familiar with her work, Tracy is a Postdoc in John Huelsenbeck’s laboratory at the Center for Theoretical Evolutionary Genomics (CTEG) at UC Berkeley.  You can find out more about Tracy at her Berkeley-CTEG website, here.

Tracy gave an awesome talk on her latest bioinformatics research, which has generated a cutting edge ‘fossilized birth-death’ process model for calibrating molecular DNA-inferred divergence times using fossil data.  She showed through simulation that her new method, which permits inclusion of all available fossils, yields robust estimates of divergence times while overcoming limitations of previous methods, i.e. parametric node-age prior distributions that are arbitrarily chosen by investigators (e.g. in BEAST).  Another exciting development she talked about was that she is currently working with the BEAST development team in New Zealand to implement her model in BEAST2.

Aside from her talk, I think I speak for all of the people who met her at BYU when I say that Tracy was really great to meet and have around.  She is very bright, down-to-earth, and approachable.  She showed that she is an excellent communicator of her science in the professional setting, but she was also fun to talk to about broader issues in our field (e.g. including advice about finishing one’s Ph.D., applying for postdocs, parsimony versus model-based phylogenetics, conservation, and on and on).  Thanks Tracy!!

If you want to hear Tracy give a talk on her research, presumably one similar to the talk she gave at BYU but more informal and interactive, then plan to attend her phyloseminar online later this week.  Find out more at http://phyloseminar.org/, but here’s the title of her talk and scheduled time:

Tracy Heath The Fossilized Birth-Death Process: A Coherent Model of Fossil Calibration for Divergence Time Estimation November 14, 2013 10:00 AM PT

~ J