Dr. Heidi Lyn

Asst. Professor - Psychology

  • When was your aha moment? 

There were two. The first was when I was an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania. I was a linguistics and

computer science major. I was in a linguistics class and they were talking about the sign language work with

chimpanzees in the 1960's. I couldn't believe that that had happened and that it wasn't something that everybody in

the world knew about. About a year later, my mom was taking my sister on a graduation trip to Hawaii. My sister called

me and asked if I wanted to come watch humpback whales in Hawaii. I said, "Yes, of course!" While I was there, the

staff at the Dolphin Institute found out I was in computers and linguistics. They told me to go their dolphin lab in

Honolulu and they set it up for us. I went to visit and applied for an internship the next year. I ended up spending the

next four years there doing language work with dolphins. From that point on, my course was set.

  • What projects are you currently working on? 

We are constantly working with a lot of animals. We are at the humane society three to four days a week. I have two

post-docs, three students, an intern, and undergraduates working there to gather data. You need someone holding the

dog, someone manipulating, someone record keeping, and someone there to be a backup. We just finished a project at

the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies with sea lions, and we are going to be proposing a new one there. One of my

students is working with the bush babies, which are small primates, in Hattiesburg. We have ongoing projects at ACCI

(Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative) in Des Moines, IA. The bonobos that I worked with through grad school are

there. We are going to start crowdfunding for that soon. 

  • What Prompted you to crowdfund?

We are having a remarkably difficult time getting standard scientific funding. We fall into this crack between animal

behavior and biological anthropology at NSF. Because we are cognitive, animal behavior is really very biological in

nature, and because we don't work with people, the current partnering officer at biological anthropology wasn't

interested in the questions we were asking. The people at NSF said there's really no mechanism that covers what we

do. There's a research crowdfunder called The first project we put forward was to fund the humane

society work. Here is the video we created to generate interest in the project:

  • What is your biggest passion? 

The evolution of language is my main interest and always has been. I have been on the organizing committee for the

Evolution of Language Conference for a while.  It is a biannual conference. The first one I attended was in 1998 in

London. I have only missed one since then.  I put a bid in for the conference two years ago and we are going to bring it

to Tulane University in New Orleans, March 21-24th, 2016. I am the chair of the local organizing committee and we

have several neuro people coming to talk about the location of communication and language in the brain. We have

people who are going to talk about birds, dolphins, and apes as well. This is the first time the conference has been in

the U.S. in twelve's usually a European conference with 300-350 attendees. All of my grad students are on the

committee with me. They are planning the reception, banquet, etc. My students are amazing. I could not have made

this happen without them!

  • What Is the ratio of males/females in your field?

The majority of my peer group was female, but the professors were male when I worked with dolphins. In the U.K., it

was 90% female students and about 20% female professors. There is clearly something problematic going on. I am

hoping that the trend will continue to shift, but it is clear to me that there is still some system-wide sexism. There is

plenty of research showing us that's true...females are less likely to get hired, female authored papers are less likely to

get published, and female driven grants are less likely to get funded. I hope we will continue chipping away at that bias.

I have almost all female students. My goal is to support them in the ways that I did not feel supported, and be as

flexible as possible to allow for real life. For example, one of my grad students had a baby last year. Since the day the 

baby was born, the baby stays in the office while she's doing work, and comes to our lab meeting every week. I have

been really impressed with the college. Most of us have kids and many of them have been in our offices at one time or

another. There's acceptance that we all need that level of support. It's a nice community.

  • What are your goals for the future?

My original dream was to have a research facility with both dolphins and apes, and to run comparative testing

with both of them. Also, trying to work with a doggie day care so we have a group of dogs we can work with for a long

period of time. Lastly, I am planning on writing a book titled "Crazy Monkey Stories" or "Tales of a Vegetarian Scientist".

My plan is to have slivers, or chapters, on how the animal mind works and use my personal stories along with them.

  • If You Could "Pick The Brain" Of Anyone Living Or Dead Who Would It Be?

Jane Goodall. She has talked a lot about the details of her chimpanzee group, but I would try to get a real panorama of

the personalities that she doesn't get to talk about as much. You always hear so much about the big personalities, the

pearls of the group. I want to know about some of those in the group that are normal and more quiet. 

  • What do you do in your spare time?

I attend sci-fi conventions and enjoy costume making. [SEE PHOTO BELOW]








Dr. Lyn's children, Halloween 2015.


- Dr. heidi lyn