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July 24, 2006
Contact: Christie Appelhanz, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, (785) 864-3516.

KU doctoral student survives near-death experience to complete dissertation

LAWRENCE — Edwin Scholes, a student at the University of Kansas, will receive his doctoral degree from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in August and feels lucky to have survived his dissertation. Literally.

Since 1999, Scholes has been traveling to New Guinea to study the courtship behaviors of Birds of Paradise. Scholes’ dissertation, “The Evolution of the Courtship Phenotype in the Bird of Paradise Genus Parotia,” examines the group of birds found only in New Guinea.

While performing field studies in a remote area of the country, Scholes’ appendix burst. He was on the opposite side of the mountain, a full day’s hike and a boat ride from the nearest airstrip where he could receive attention. He used a satellite phone at the field site to contact team members in the United States and New Guinea to arrange for medical evacuation. It took four days for a helicopter to arrive to transport Scholes to the nearest town. In the meantime, Scholes began a strong course of antibiotics, which prevented the infection from spreading. Scholes finally received a life-saving operation in Cairns, Australia, five days and three flights later.

The near-fatal experience didn’t deter Scholes from pursuing his passion. He is currently continuing his research on Birds of Paradise in New Guinea with a post doc at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

“Ed epitomizes, in many ways, the type of graduate student we all want to work with as professors,” said Craig Martin, professor and chair of the ecology and evolutionary biology. “He is intensely motivated, amazingly persistent, bright and imaginative. In addition, he is as colorful as the feathers of the birds he studies. Ed’s future is very bright indeed.”

After receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona, Scholes was looking for a first-rate ecology and evolutionary graduate program. He found one at KU. Scholes, who is originally from Ithaca, N.Y., was attracted to the ornithology opportunities KU presented and the thriving activity at the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center.

“I spent most of my time at KU in ornithology at the Natural History Museum,” Scholes said. “I was attracted to the great opportunities there. Only a couple other places in the country have ornithology programs or a Natural History Museum, especially one that is so active where people get to spend a lot of time in the field.”

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