To do so in an international context would be my dream job. I am interested in both teaching abroad and in providing U.S. students with a global perspective through study-abroad and other cross-cultural opportunities.
My research focuses on the fitness implications of individual variation in body condition among crimson finches (Neochmia phaeton).
I am also a birder, a sometime vagabond, and a connoisseur of fine pastries.
Olga Milenkaya, Ph.D. (please call me Olya)
My Ph.D. research was a joint project between Virginia Tech and Australian Wildlife Conservancy, conducted from 2007–2013. See the project’s archive for details:Project archive
Milenkaya, O., Legge, S., & J.R. Walters. In press 2014. Condition indices are repeatable across short, but not long, time periods in crimson finches, Neochmia phaeton. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology.
Milenkaya, O., Weinstein, N., Legge, S., & J.R. Walters. 2013. Variation in body condition indices of crimson finches by sex, breeding stage, age, time of day, and year. Conservation Physiology 1: doi: 10.1093/conphys/cot020.View publication View publication
Hall, M.L., Murphy, S.A., Churchwell, R., & Milenkaya, O., 2010. Interspecific feeding across feeding guilds — male purple-crowned fairy-wren feeds nestling crimson finches. Corella 34: 49–50.
Doody, J.S., Milenkaya, O., Rhind, D., Eastley, T., & K. Penrose. 2010. Varanus mitchelli (Mitchell’s Water Monitor) diet and foraging behavior. Herpetological Review 41: 233–234.
Milenkaya, O. & J.R. Walters. 2013. Testing the condition-quality hypothesis: is body condition a meaningful proxy for individual quality? Radford University, Radford, Virginia, USA
* Milenkaya, O. & J.R. Walters. 2013. Testing the condition-quality hypothesis: condition indices are repeatable but do not predict reproductive success or survival. Oral presentation, Wilson Ornithological Society Meeting,
Williamsburg, Virginia, USA.
* Awarded best student oral presentation
Milenkaya, O. & J.R. Walters. 2012. Condition indices among Crimson Finches are repeatable but do not predict reproductive success or survival. Oral presentation, North American Ornithological Conference, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Milenkaya, O. & J.R. Walters. 2012. Interpreting condition indices as individual quality: a cautionary tale. Poster presentation, Virginia Tech Research Day, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.
Milenkaya, O. & J.R. Walters. 2012. Condition indices do not predict survival in a wild passerine. Poster presentation, Society for Integrated and Comparative Biology Annual Meeting, Charleston, South Carolina, USA.
Milenkaya, O. & J.R. Walters. 2011. Variation in avian health parameters across age, sex, year and breeding stage. Poster presentation, Virginia Tech Research Day, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.
Milenkaya, O., Legge, S., & J.R. Walters. 2010. Life history and the evolution of clutch size in a tropical granivore. Poster presentation, International Ornithological Congress, Campos do Jordão, São Paulo, Brazil.
Milenkaya, O., Legge, S., & J.R. Walters. 2009. Breeding biology and life history traits of a tropical granivore, the Crimson Finch. Oral presentation, Australasian Ornithological Conference, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia.
2 sections, 20 students each
2011, 2012, 2013
Under the supervision of a professor, this class was cooperatively designed and taught among four and two teaching assistants in 2011 and 2012, respectively. We collaboratively designed the curriculum, syllabus, activities, lectures, assignments, and exams. The course objectives were to use hands-on field and laboratory experience to learn avian anatomy, phylogenetics, natural history, and field identification in order to achieve an integrated understanding of avian biology, ecology, physiology, and evolution. To this end, we used museum specimens, almost-weekly field trips including a mist-netting demonstration, lectures, and a research project.
3 sections, 24 students each
I designed a syllabus around predetermined laboratory activities, wrote lectures and exams, and taught a broad range of biological topics including the scientific method, evolution, pH and buffers, cell membranes, photosynthesis, and mitosis and meiosis.
“[Olga] made the class relevant.”
“This is by far one of my favourite classes…fantastic!”
“[Olga] has been a great TA. She keeps energy high at 7:00 A.M. and keeps students engaged. She is a fair grader and has a lot of concern for students.”
My goal as an educator is that learners master the following three criteria, (1) to have a solid foundation of the discipline, (2) to critically interpret science, and (3) to understand how we know what we know in science, that is, to experience the scientific method.
Students who have a sense of ownership of their education are more likely to master the content because they are engaged and invested in the learning process. One way that I create this environment is by having students communicate with me anonymously about concepts they may be struggling with and by dedicating class time to addressing these needs. For example, in a Population and Community Ecology course that I have developed, students will submit anonymous questions they have about the upcoming lab or their assigned readings from the previous week. Anonymity is important because it gives students the opportunity to be honest about what they need. At the beginning of each weekly lab session, I will answer these questions with the students. They will thereby be directing me in reviewing the content that they find most challenging, while not wasting class time on rehashing the same basic content that is in the textbook. We will then have more time to build on that material with additional examples and a deeper inquiry. I have successfully implemented this strategy in my introductory biology lab at Virginia Tech and know that it (a) encourages learners to take ownership of their education, and (b) focuses my attention on their needs so that together we build a solid foundation of the discipline.
Deep understanding of science requires not only acquiring content, but also the mastery of skills including the interpretation of data, graphs, and scientific writing. In a Behavioral Ecology course that I have developed, students will read primary literature that builds upon the core content. Reading peer-reviewed journal articles is a great way for students to see science in action, and to also learn to interpret the science on their own. Students will then discuss these articles in small groups that will be led by one of the students. They will focus on how the scientific method was followed, on how to interpret the graphs, and on making logical conclusions based on the results. The class will then reconvene and together review each group’s main questions and conclusions. In this way, I aim to not only reinforce content but to develop skills necessary for the critical interpretation of science.
The best way to learn about science is to do it. In an upper level ornithology lab that I have taught several times, my co-instructor and I assigned group research projects for which the students followed the entire scientific process from brainstorming questions, to forming a hypothesis, testing the predictions, communicating their findings in the form of a scientific talk in front of their peers, and finally, to answering questions posed by their peers. Having done this with approximately 140 students over three semesters, I have learned that this capstone project is an exceptionally challenging, but also rewarding, endeavor as each student must not only develop a hypothesis and design their research, but also explain and defend it to their peers.
Teaching is most effective when learners are engaged through ownership of their education, and are challenged by high standards and expectations. My goal is that students will be able to answer the big questions in ecology by having a solid foundation of the core content, the skills to interpret science through their own critical thinking, and the understanding of how knowledge is formed through the scientific method.