Biodiversity Institute Fellows Profiles

Rebecca Pyles


PhD, 1988
Advisors: Linda Trueb, Norm Slade, Hans-Peter Schulte and Carl Gans (University of Michigan)
Home country: United States (currently, Johnson City, Tennessee)
Current position: Associate Professor, Department of Biology, East Tennessee State University

Why did you choose KU?
Linda Trueb was the reason I wanted to attend the University of Kansas. I met her when I was in a class at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, when she was invited to teach a herpetology course there. There weren't a lot of women leading and researching in biology then. Linda Trueb became a life mentor as well as an academic mentor. That mentorship is the reason I've been successful in honors education -- she taught me how to be a good mentor. 

What was the academic culture like for you as a graduate student?
I had fantastic student colleagues. They were so excited about what they were doing and I learned so much from them. But there was also a great culture at KU, where part of our training was training to be a professor. We served on the department graduate student organization. We made money to bring in speakers. We learned what it was like to serve on search committees. We were active and contributing members of the museum and the systematics and ecology department. I’ve always been grateful for that -- learning how to be a professor was one of the things that gave me a foot up and and has always served me well.

Describe your career path, post graduation.
At KU, I taught human anatomy, and then i went to the University of Tulsa for a visiting position for three years. I've been at East Tennessee State University since 1991. My move to Tennessee gave me the chance to work on salamanders.  Soon after arriving, I became involved with teaching in a relatively new honors program. Together with a colleague from the philosophy program, we taught a course called Great Ideas in Science for ten years. When the honors program needed a full-time director, I stepped into that role, and eventually, I designed the honors college and became the inaugural dean of the Honors College at the university. Now I've stepped aside from that and I'm back to teaching comparative anatomy and biology. 

KU did very well by me at the graduate level. I have sent students to KU for graduate school; I consider that there is no better compliment for the program there than to send students I know "home" to KU.