When University of Arkansas Fort Smith student Richard Sample of Winslow changed majors from biology education to biology, he was asked if he had a specific professor he would like as an adviser.
Having heard about Dr. Ragupathy Kannan’s reputation as a prestigious wildlife biologist that worked to place students in graduate school, Sample requested the biology professor.
Two years later, Sample and Kannan’s relationship has blossomed into a partnership that led to the recent publication of a monograph on the royal flycatcher in Cornell’s Neotropical Birds database.
Sample wrote and published the monograph – an authoritative article detailing all the information available on a specific bird species – with the assistance of Kannan, UAFS graduate Bradley Shackelford, and Dr. Tom Schulenberg, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The entries are commonly used as reference by wildlife biologists and conservationists and also expose gaps in knowledge on specific species in order to prioritize future research.
“If we are to preserve the species that are vulnerable, the number one thing we need to do is get all the information that is already known and look for gaps in our knowledge,” Kannan said. “We need to not just get this knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but apply it to the purpose of conserving biodiversity.”
The collaboration was mutually beneficial for both professor and student. Last spring, Sample asked Kannan about research projects in which Sample could participate to satisfy the research requirements of his undergraduate research course. Kannan had been working on several monographs for Cornell’s database and offered Sample the opportunity to assist him.
Sample, who plans to pursue a graduate degree dealing with wildlife conservation, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to conduct peer-reviewed research that would prepare him for graduate school.
"Not only would I get to learn everything about this species, I would be able to learn how to write articles like this before I got to graduate school,” Sample said. “Not many people get a chance to get published as an undergraduate, and especially from a university as prestigious as Cornell. It was a no-brainer.”
But writing a monograph was a daunting task. To truly write an authoritative document on the royal flycatcher, Sample had to read all the previously published journal articles and books on the species, work he completed over several months last spring with the help of Kannan, who directed him to various literature on the bird and helped write the article.
The monograph was published in early March, and Sample and Kannan are working on a second entry on the Montezuma oropendola that they plan to submit by the end of the semester.
“If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be going to graduate school,” Sample said. “He has pushed me to continue my career, and I will forever be thankful for that.”
For Kannan, it was another opportunity to help a talented student reach his goals.
“I live for these moments where my students are successful – it’s my calling,” Kannan said. “I may be his professor and adviser, but essentially we are colleagues and collaborators with a single vision.”