The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Tag Archives: life in a cubicle

Yay, I get to teach!!!

I’ve been awarded a teaching assistant position, woot!

I suspect the selection process was quite competitive; on a campus where the grad student:undergrad ratio is 1:3, and the total student population is approximately 1500, there aren’t that many TA jobs to go around.  I was a little worried that, because I’m a new kid on campus and haven’t taken any courses there, I would be overlooked.   I’m a good and experienced teacher, though…which seems to have been recognized.  I’m very thankful for this opportunity, and am totes looking forward to it (even the marking!!!)


I’ll be assisting with an introductory (second-year) zoology lab.   Yay for zoology!!!

I love being “that person”

You know: “The Person In The Office Who Knows About Bugs And Stuff”.  People tend to bring/show/tell you about buggy, geekly goodness, which provides a welcome distraction from boring shit work.

I entered a co-worker’s office this morning to find her fretting over one of her potted plants: a lovely pale pink Amaryllis.   “I saw a bug in here,” she stated accusatorily.  “I think it’s killing my plant!”    Indeed, one of the blooming stems had sagged overnight, and a second had an inch long indentation, surrounded by bright reddish flecks, running up one side.

I peered at the plant and the soil.  I lifted the green plastic pot out of the purple ceramic one enclosing it and looked in there.  Finding nothing remotely buggish, I handed the pot back over and asked her what she saw.

“It was small, and dark, and wormy, and had little legs like this,” (she brings her hands up close to her sides and wiggles her fingers  suggestively) “but not like millipede legs.  What was it???”   Hmm.

I really didn’t know what to tell her other than “come get me if you see it again”, and suggest that (to my very un-pathology-trained eyes) the speckled dent on the stem could be a virus or other pathogen but was almost certainly not caused by an insect.

“But it had legs like this!” (fingers wiggling)  Sigh.  I shrugged and went back to my cube to continue my boring shit work.

Hours later, I heard the thudding of feet running down the corridor.  My co-worker appeared, breathless, with the Amaryllis (still in its generic green pot) in one hand and the purple ceramic one in the other.  The latter was thrust at me with an air of triumph.

“THERE!  There it is, I TOLD you there was a bug!”  Sure enough, an eensie-weensie rove beetle was busy doing laps in the bottom of the pot.  It was indeed small, dark, wormy and it had little legs…like this; ironically, reasonably accurate descriptors for a rather cryptic-looking group of beetles.

I distinctly remember the undergrad entomology class where I first encountered one of these strange critters.    I remember thinking “wow, what a weird-looking earwig”.  Then spent a good while flipping through the pages of my trusty Borror, Triplehorn, and Johnson, mainly through the chapters involving the more primitive orders.  I was quite surprised to discover (after actually using the key and not just looking at pictures, duh) that it was, in fact, a beetle.  A beetle who had totes received the short end of the elytra stick, but a beetle nonetheless.

Image from Wikipedia

The rove beetles (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae) are the second largest beetle family after the true weevils (Coleoptera: Curculionidae).  With over 46,000 known species, there is considerable variation in size, colour and shape.  However, most can easily be identified by the typically elongate body and very short elytra, which leave over half the abdomen exposed.  I herded the little one in the plant pot onto my finger, where it promptly demonstrated the flexibility of its vulnerable lower half by curling its abdomen up and over in a threat display.

Image from Wikipedia

These beetles are found in a range of habitats but tend to haunt moister areas with leaf litter or similar decaying plant matter.  Staphs feed on almost anything: mainly smaller arthropods and other invertebrates, but also dead plant and animal tissue etc.

Luckily for my co-worker, one of the few things they rarely eat is live, healthy plant tissue.  Her Amaryllis was safe (at least until the virus or rot or whatever it’s got does it in).


Protected: A brief tour of hell

Meant to be

I really don’t believe in a higher power, universal energy, or even karma (although sometimes I like to pretend I believe in karma, ’cause it might lead to a meanie getting a well-deserved bite in the ass.  Yeah, I’m vengeful that way).

But, sometimes, I get the eerie feeling that something has happened that was meant to be.

Do you ever get that feeling?  Like someone (a mentor, a lover, a friend, a teacher), or something (an opportunity, a challenge) dropped out of the sky, usually unexpectedly, and influenced your life in a way that was SO FREAKING UNBELIEVABLY AWESOMELY PERFECT that you can hardly stand it?   And then that thing lead to something else that was awesomely perfect and then THAT lead to…well you get the idea.  Like it was meant to be.  Sometimes you see it more clearly in hindsight, but it’s there. 

I’ve been acutely aware of this happening several times in the past ten years.  I can actually trace a timeline of these events and pinpoint how they have lead me to where I am today:

1. I moved to Ottawa.  It seemed extremely far and I was scared shitless and really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but my mom somehow convinced me I’d make a good journalist.  So off I went to Carleton U for journalism.  It was random, but being in Ottawa, at that University, worked out well for me.  It was meant to be.

2. That winter I took an elective course entitled “Natural History of Ontario”.  I only took it because I was an idiot freshman who didn’t understand how timetables worked and it was the only class I thought could fit into my schedule.  The class was taught by a naturalist of epic genius who is, without a doubt, one of the most amazing teachers on the planet.   I was enthralled.  With no hesitation whatsoever I quit journalism at the end of that year, caught up on science-ey stuff in summer school and came back in the fall as a new Biology student.  It all happened because of a moment of frosh naïveté, but it got me on a new career path.  It was meant to be.

3. In my third year of undergrad studies, I put a ridiculous amount of debt on my credit card so I could study bats in the tropical rainforests of Belize for three weeks. I thought it would be fun.  What it REALLY did was tell my brain, in no uncertain terms: YOU SHOULD BE A BIOLOGIST.  It happened because of a spur-of-the-moment decision, and I almost missed out on getting summer employment.  But it really sealed the deal of the whole biology/research/field work thing.  It was meant to be.

4. I met my future thesis supervisor.  She took me under her wing, showed me the ropes and then set me loose to prove to myself that I was capable of conducting meaningful research, and communicating about it.  I completed two theses with her guidance.  She made me work and write and speak and apply for things until my CV was pretty well-padded.  I could have worked with anybody in the university, but I worked with her, and she worked her butt off to help me grow.  It was meant to be.

Then I took a break.  I stepped away from the academic world for four years.  I worked in a lab, a park, a museum, and later in cubicles, getting farther and farther away from what I really loved to do.  Somehow, “what I want to be when I grow up” was a concept I was never fully able to actualize.  I just knew I wasn’t terribly happy.  Then:

5. I got my current job, the one from which I’m fleeing shortly.  This was the clincher.  Not because I dislike it, no, dislike alone is not sufficiently motivating to make you leave a job that’s permanent, well-paying, and offering good benefits. 

What happened was, it exposed me to other people like me.  I mean the type of person I COULD have been had I carried on with my studies: researchers, academics, professors.   All in love with their work, their schools, their students.  I found myself insanely jealous.  I wondered why I felt that way.  I thought long and hard, then had my “aha!” moment, which sounded a lot like “Duh, you’re supposed to be DOING that kind of work, dummy!”  Oh.    Had I not been in my current job, where I was able to interact with these academics, the “aha!” would never have happened.  Or it would have happened a long time from now.  Possibly when it was too late to do anything about it.  It was meant to be.

6. So then I fished around for labs.  Dr. B seemed to be doing reasonably interesting work.  We chatted, clicked and then… he told me about an project he was working on…something completely new and outside of the realm of the research I was expecting to be able to do in his lab…something UNBELEIVABLY AWESOMELY PERFECT and totally unexpected.  To which I replied: sign me up brother!!!  It seemed totally meant to be.

 All of these events/people/circumstances have led me to where I am right now: about 7 weeks away from a new research program, a new university, a new degree and most importantly, a new career.   All of which I am so freaking excited about. 

Was it dumb luck that these things happened?  At the right time, in the right place?  Probably.  But I really think the reason it’s all turned out so UNBELEIVABLY AWESOMELY PERFECT is because I did a few things:

1. I kept myself open to new opportunities
2. I was willing to deviate from the path I currently had in mind for myself
3. I made myself take risks, even…no ESPECIALLY…when it scared the pants off me

These go hand in hand (and arguably all mean the same thing).  Whatever.  It works. 

Be open.  Be brave.

And when karma offers you a sweet deal, for the love of pete, TAKE IT!

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