Megan Best

cynthia lakin award

This award, given to graduating seniors majoring in anthropology, recognizes the recipient's sustained contributions to anthropology at ASU. It was established by the parents of Cynthia Lakin, an undergraduate major in anthropology, in her memory.

undergraduate research award

Every spring and fall semester, the School of Human Evolution and Social Change bestows research awards on select students in its undergraduate degree programs. These awards provide a $1,000 stipend and the opportunity for students to carry out their own research while working with the school's world-renowned faculty.


Megan Best began college intending to become a marine biologist. As she moved through her coursework, she realized the fit wasn’t right. Though she felt a calling to work with animals, she was also drawn to sociocultural anthropology.

During the two-week primatology segment of an evolutionary anthropology course, Best decided that was the field for her.

To create a solid academic foundation, the undergrad, who will graduate from ASU in May, took on a double major: anthropology and biological sciences with a concentration in animal physiology and behavior.

Beginning her freshman year, Best dove into research. She has studied chameleon color change, primate dentition, even education and radicalization in Islamic communities.

For her School of Human Evolution and Social Change research award, she was teamed with noted primatologist Joan Silk, well known for researching the evolution of social behavior in primates.

Under Silk’s direction, Best was given access to seven years’ worth of data on a group of female baboons’ grooming behavior.

She was charged with applying mathematical modeling – organizing the data into a matrix showing who interacts with whom and how often – and constructing graphs illustrating social bonds among group members. Her goal was to determine if individual attributes, like age, rank and kinship, consistently affect social dynamics, as well as which other factors might be influential.

Recently, Best defended her honors thesis, “Social Network Dynamics of Female Chacma Baboons,” which is based on one aspect of her work with Silk. She hopes to build out her thesis and publish it in a primatology journal.

In July, Best will travel to Kenya with Silk to research female baboon sociology in the field. It will be Best’s first trip abroad and will last a year.

After Kenya, Best is considering going on to the Max Planck Institute in Germany so that she can compare lab work and field work to decide where she wants to place her focus. Whatever she decides, she is certain that she wants to continue learning and being around animals.

Read more about Best's research >

 

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