The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Category Archives: General geekery

The finish line is in sight

Because mole cricket.

Clawing my way to the finish line! (Alternatively titled, “Excuse to post a picture of a mole cricket, which is an awesome animal, period.”)

Fifteen centimeters of snow fell yesterday, we’ve burned through nearly our entire cache of firewood, and there’s not a hint of green life to be found. Nevertheless, it’s just past the first day of spring, and a startlingly short 3 weeks until the last day of classes.

I swear I have not been deliberately neglecting this space, and my extended absence this time ’round is absolutely no cause for alarm.

The simple truth is that I have been having an excellent term and am entirely preoccupied with other things that are firmly at the forefront of my attention as this year rushes by, roaring full-tilt towards what I am grudgingly recognizing as the imminent conclusion of this PhD (*sad face*).

In the last few months I have: a) begun searching, and applying for, postdoctoral positions (another post for another day, but it will probably start with something along the lines of, “womp, womp”); b) started working as an assistant at The University’s teaching and learning services office; c) been blessed with a small army (I’m not exaggerating even a little bit – there are so many) of enthusiastic, intelligent and hard-working undergraduates who are helping me squeeze out the last bit of data for my thesis by volunteering in my lab; and d) having an absolute blast teaching.

Teaching is exhausting. Anyone who says it only takes 3 hours of prep for 1 hour of lecture is a LYING LIE-FACE, at least for the first go-round with a new course. It is challenging as heck: I’m learning/re-learning an awful lot on a daily basis and stepping well outside my comfort zone. It is also enormously humbling. My students are SO FREAKING SMART and I am a flawed human being who sometimes makes dumb mistakes, which they invariably – and delightedly – point out.

Teaching this class has also brought me so much joy I can’t even begin to tell you.

In a few weeks, once the dust has settled and exams are marked and grades are in, I’m going to sit down and write some of my thoughts about this experience, and also about where things stand with my research and “career” progress (and, if this winter ever decides to end, maybe even some new photos of bugs), but in the meantime I just wanted to check in and say, “Hi!”, and “Happy spring!”, and “I’ll see you at the finish line!”

Adventures in manuscript-writing

I’ve been working on a manuscript on and off for a few months, but diligently for the past few weeks.

I enjoy writing, and usually start these things with a positive outlook (“My research is awesomesauce 😀 <3!”), but things go off-kilter when I start to tackle the introduction, and then all hell breaks lose once I get to the discussion.

Usually by the time I hand it in for review, I hate it and wonder why I ever wanted to write the stupid thing in the first place. (In reality, they’re never actually that bad, but I am very supremely excellent at being my own worst critic.)

I got the dratted draft paper off to my advisor mere moments ago.

And then, probably because I’ve been immersed in the creation (and re-creation… and re-re-creation) of figures for days, I felt compelled to share my manuscript-writing experience in the form of a graph (Fig. 1). Behold:

Fig. 1. Writing a Manuscript, by The Geek In Question

Do any of you go through similar cycles when working on papers?  Also. I would be super-entertained if you felt compelled to create your own graph, and share it with me (I’d post it here or share any links!)

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Yay! Easily-entertained grad students with too much time on their hands! 😀

David Winter from The Atavism gives us another take on the manuscript-writing process (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Another take on manuscript-writing, by David Winter from The Atavism

Morgan Jackson at Biodiversity in Focus created this to explain what it’s like Doing Taxonomy (Fig. 3):

Fig. 3. Taxonomic Process Graph, by Morgan Jackson at Biodiversity in Focus

These are great! Any more takers? 😀

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Update #2: Yay! Easily-entertained professional research entomologist with too much time on his hands! 😀

Ted MacRae at Beetles in the Bush shows his version of the ups and downs of entomological research (Fig. 4):

Fig. 4. The ups and downs of bug collecting, by Ted MacRae

What makes a “good” student?

This is something I’ve thought about often, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I found myself thinking about it again recently.  It’s this: what exactly does it mean to be a “good student”?

As an undergrad, we are told that “good student” (GS) = student with high grades. Therefore, to be considered a GS by my instructors, my school, granting/funding agencies, and potential future grad school advisors, I must achieve a certain level of scholastic excellence (say, > 80%) based on grades.

Yes, I know, things like extracurricular activities and hands-on experience can help a bit in some instances, but grades are either exclusively (Dean’s lists) or mostly (some scholarships, possibly future advisors) considered to be the main indicator of GS-ness. As much as I wracked my brain to think of instances where this metric would not be the primary consideration in a practical/applied context at the undergrad level, I couldn’t think of one.

As a graduate student, many of us have little to no course work. There are, therefore, very often few or no grades. There are exams (comprehensives, defenses) and tasks (proposals, reports, oral presentations, publications) that are accomplished along the way which we either pass or  fail, often with no formal recognition of having done so. GS’s at the graduate level are usually judged by whether or not they complete these tasks, but also on accompanying qualitative characteristics including: time management, productivity, interest, communication and interpersonal skills, problem-solving, multitasking, leadership/management, research abilities and contributions, etc.  These things are not graded, but are emphasized when the student’s success is being evaluated by advisors, funding agencies, and employers.

All of this makes me wonder a few things:

1. Why is there such a HUGE gap between how we judge – not just judge but TRAIN – students at the undergrad level, and those at the graduate level?

2. Why does it seem like the default assumption tends to be that one’s being a GS at the undergrad level is a reliable determinate of future GS-ness at the graduate level?

3.  How many intelligent, hard-working, keen students fall through the cracks because they are “bad” at school in the traditional, structured/formal sense; i.e., they are not so great at exams or memorization, but are able to demonstrate a good grasp of the material in less structured settings. Put another way, how many students are lost because their individual learning styles are not compatible with traditional institutional styles of instruction, when they might actually have the potential to be really, really great researchers?

4. On what criteria do people (I’m thinking grad student advisors) primarily base their decisions in terms of who to take on as students in their lab? If funding (which is obviously linked to grades, at least at the M.Sc. level) was not an issue, what kind of student would you choose to work with – the one with the 4.0 GPA or the one who was able to demonstrate more practical (i.e., grad-student-like) abilities, attributes and interests?

This is a fairly personal subject for me, since, as you know, I have been told that I was “not good” at science. Based on grades alone, this assessment could be considered correct. I was also not a very strong student during the first few years of my undergrad, which should have been an additional indicator that I was not a GS.

For some reason, I wouldn’t take the hint (yeah, I’m stubborn like that).

What I know about myself now is that the way I work and learn best is not very compatible with the traditional teaching methods used in post-secondary institutions (talking head at the front of the class, scores of memorization, big exam/paper that tests everything, the end). I am, however, (close your eyes, I’m about to toot my own horn) intelligent, hard-working, creative, persistent, and excited about learning – and I know that, someday, I’ll be a good scientist, even if I was not a GS.

As a teacher, I often see students who remind me of myself, and I worry that we’ll lose them.

So, what do you think makes a good student? Your thoughts?

*swoon*

A screenshot from Myrmecos, taken five seconds ago:

This is very possibly my favourite post EVER. Of all time.

THAT IS TOTALLY ONE OF MY MUGS. IN ALEX WILD’S (well-caffeinated) HAND.

If you want to be one of the cool kids (and help this Bug Geek get to BugShot 2012), get your own mug here: http://www.zazzle.com/thebuggeek

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And then, an hour later….

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Stop the presses! This Bug Geek is seriously feeling the love today! Morgan at Biodiversity in Focus has declared today Bug Geek Pride Day, and is wearing his inner geek on his sleeve – literally!

Morgan makes entomology look good. 😀

Thanks for the support, guys!

Happy Third Blogiversary to me!

I opted out of doing a year-in-review-type post in January, deciding to celebrate my blog’s anniversary instead!

This third “instar” feels great.

I think I have finally found a comfortable niche in the big wide world of invertebrate blogs.  I’m enjoying the new weekly”long-form” posts in which I explore different aspects of my life as grad student. I’m think I’m making good progress with my photography.  I’ve reached out to G+, Twitter, Facebook, Research Blogging and a few other spaces in new ways and, as a result, have expanded my readership, as well as my own exposure to great new things to read and learn from.  These three-year-old digs have a new name and a new focus, and gosh, it feels fine.

The cherry on top, of course, is you. Yes YOU. So many great people who I’ve come to know and appreciate. I’ve even met some of you in person, and look forward to expanding my IRL list even further at different events this year. You quiet ones, the ones who show up but don’t comment – I appreciate you too, and I hope you’ve been enjoying this space as much as I do.

Anyhoo, I should probably do at least a little re-cap of the past year’s stuff, eh?  Shall we? I’ve decided to highlight the features that were most often viewed by you, the readers.

Most popular image of the year:

Acorn weevil taking off (Curculio sp.)

Acorn weevil taking off (Curculio sp.)

Hands down, “The Flying Weevil” has to be the winner. It’s been viewed on Flickr almost 800  times, it won me first prize in the Ontario Entomological Society Bug Eye photo contest, it was featured on Scientific American blogs not once but TWICE, and it recently showed up here too. And now I have it on t-shirts and mugs. Oh, also, it is my new header. I love this image, but I also hate it, because I’ll likely never get one this good again. *sigh*

Most-read posts of the year:

These received the most page hits of all the posts I wrote in the past year. I love these top three posts. They manage to span some of my own most important areas of personal interest (my research, my photography, and my online communication activities). In fact, I think they represent some of the highlights of my year.

#1: Why I Spend So Much Time on the Internet

I’m actually pretty tickled that this was the winner – no small feat, either, considering it only went up two months ago! Communicating about science is something I’m rather passionate about (duh) and I love the many ways that online social media facilitate this process! I am thrilled by all the recent buzz about this subject.

#2: BugShot 2011 = Awesome

Alex showing us the diffusion ropesThe photography workshop headed by Alex, Thomas and John was AMAZING. I had way too much fun, took many pictures that I’m proud of, learned millions and met many awesome people.  If you haven’t heard, BugShot 2012 is coming soon to a Florida research/conservation area near you.  Since my student budget is not conducive to traveling to Florida, I am currently crowd-sourcing and selling buggy swag to raise funds to help me get there (I’m already 1/4 of the way to my goal, thanks to many awesome people!).  I really hope to see some of you there!

#3: Mind-controlling beetle parasite

A beetle infested with a Gordian Worm/Hairworm 2This post spread like wildfire and earned me an “Editor’s Selection” nod on Research Blogging. I should have known – people LOVE parasites! They’re so disgusting and so amazing all at the same time! This beautiful beetle (and its little friend) came from my trap collections from Iqaluit, Nunavut, and will play a role in my PhD research.
I’m looking forward to many more fun posts and great photos in the year to come!

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