Alumna Accepted to Ph.D. Program at American Museum of Natural History

By Shannon Gleba, Staff Writer

It has been only two years since Margaret Lazzeroni graduated from Manhattan College. Since then, her post-graduate schooling has taken her to Columbia University and now to the American Museum of Natural History.

During her time at MC, Lazzeroni took advantage of many opportunities offered to her as a biology major, with a minor in chemistry. When asked what some of her favorite memories were during her four years in Riverdale, she cited her research projects and the Green Club.

“I really enjoyed doing research with [professor] Maria Maust-Mohl. We were researching giraffe behavior at the Bronx Zoo, so that was an amazing eye-opening experience,” Lazzeroni said.

Maust-Mohl, of the psychology department, also has very fond memories of the giraffe research at the Bronx Zoo and working with Lazzeroni.

“It was an honor to work with Maggie while she was at Manhattan College and it has been wonderful to watch her grow and establish herself in her career path,” Maust-Mohl said in an email statement to The Quadrangle.

“She always impressed me with her work ethic, intelligence, and thoughtfulness, and I know she has a bright future ahead of her.”

After leaving Manhattan College, the graduate almost immediately started working towards her master’s degree at Columbia University in conservation biology, which she completed in the spring of 2017.

But once again that was not the end of Lazzeroni’s academic career, and she applied to a new program, this time for a doctorate degree in comparative biology at the Richard Gilder Graduate School, located at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

The Richard Gilder Graduate School is a very young institution, only 9 years old, and is the first museum in the Western Hemisphere to be able to grant Ph.D degrees. Impressively, Lazzeroni was one of only four students accepted into the prestigious program this year.

The excitement of receiving her acceptance letter, after a grueling application process, is a memory Lazzeroni will never forget.

“I was skiing with my now wife … she went into the lodge to get some hot cocoa and I looked at my email and I saw that I got the acceptance. So, it was a really nice moment,” Lazzeroni said.

Lazzeroni accredits the role the college’s guidance played in helping her reach the success she has today.

“When I was at Manhattan College, they do this posting for people to apply for an internship called a research experience for undergrad. It’s basically a ten-week program over the summer where you do research, it’s funded by the National Science Foundation. So, I applied for that and I got it, and I came here to the [American Museum of Natural History] where it was being held. I worked with a curator here on a project, and when I was doing that I heard about the graduate program,” Lazzeroni said.

The major draws Lazzeroni felt to the program at the American Museum of Natural History are that her educators are curators at the museum, and there is a wide variety of information being studied.

“[The curators] are so knowledgeable that I feel like a sponge,” she said. “Everyone’s motives are very similar, and everyone just wants to learn more about evolution, but all from very different perspectives. You can get someone using all of these different algorithms to understand how genes evolved as a species, and someone else is looking at theories about what a species is, so it leads to a lot of really great discussions.”

Lazzeroni has already begun her own research of evolution, using the abundance of specimens and resources available to her at the American Museum of Natural History. The project studies “the genetics of reproduction in snakes and lizards” according to Lazzeroni. Her main interest is understanding evolution of complex traits.

“In my dissertation, I’ll be looking at the evolution of reproduction and the genes involved in that. I’m really interested in taking that down to the molecular level and seeing what genes code for different physiological and behavioral traits,” said Lazzeroni.

After graduation from the Richard Gilder Graduate School, Lazzeroni would ideally love to become a curator, or return to the classroom as a professor.

“I really like working with specimens and working with the public to educate people about science, but I would also be happy to be a professor,” said Lazzeroni. She later added, that becoming a curator or professor would come after her post-doctorate studies, where she would complete even more research.

Lazzeroni’s passion for science has led her to many impressive places, and she hopes that others can also become more involved in the field of science as well.

“Don’t be limited by your easiest opportunities,” she said. “Finding your own opportunities, instead of waiting for opportunities to come to you, you can create the most amazing things in your life. Also, don’t be limited by what the world tells you to be. That goes for everybody who doesn’t fit into what they want to be.”

CORRECTION (Sept. 20, 2017, 7:44 p.m.) A previous version of the article misquoted Lazzeroni as saying “When I was at Manhattan College, they do this hosting for people…” The quote has been corrected to “When I was at Manhattan College, they do this posting for people…”

CORRECTION (Sept. 20, 2017, 7:39 p.m.) A previous article referred to Margaret Lazzeroni by her unmarried name, Margaret O’Brien.