The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Tag Archives: writing

Published! But not about my research…

Last week I received some very  exciting news: the first paper I worked on as a Ph.D. student has been published! It’s especially exciting because it has nothing to do with my research.


That’s right. The paper is not about my research. Well, not directly. But it does touch on something you all know me to be very passionate about: outreach and education.

It’s a book chapter entitled, “Insects in Education: creating tolerances for the world’s smallest citizens”, in a brand-spanking-new book called The Management of Insects in Recreation and Tourism.

(Pardon me for a moment…*ahem*…ZOMG I’M IN A BOOK!!!1!!…o.k., I’m good now.)

I was brought on board to this project late in 2010, after the editor, Harvey Lemelin, expressed interest in the work our research group was doing in northern Canada and the overarching theme of one of our research objectives: Northern Awareness, Education and Legacy. Since I spent a good chunk of my first field season doing outreach, education and training in a northern community, my advisor very generously suggested that I take the lead on the chapter.

Very simply, the book is a multidisciplinary look at the different ways that humans interact with insects. From the description:

[the book] challenges the notion that animals lacking anthropomorphic features hold little or no interest for humans. Throughout the book, the emphasis is on the innovators, the educators, the dedicated researchers and activists who, through collaboration across fields ranging from entomology to sociology and anthropology, have brought insects from the recreational fringes to the forefront of many conservation and leisure initiatives.

Our part of this book involves some case studies based on my and my team members’ experiences and successes working in northern communities and we challenge other entomologists to embrace the idea:

… educational opportunities involving insects engage youth and provide a tangible link to more formal science training and inquiry, and provide benefits for students and researchers.  In additional to longer-term programs, informal or impromptu learning/teaching opportunities are abundant and require little effort from scientists to find and exploit them.  Such opportunities could be as simple and brief as a chat with a local who happens to stop and make an inquiry about the researcher’s work, or a quick display of sweep netting to curious children. These impromptu teaching/learning moments take little time or effort, yet can make a profound impression on the participants, and help foster strong and positive relationships within the community.  working in the north gain tremendous benefits from partnerships in local communities.  …

The time commitment and equipment to pursue local partnerships is minimal, but the impact can be profound.  We have experienced directly the benefits of using arthropods in an educational context in northern Canada, and our experiences suggest the opportunities are untapped. Given their abundance, diversity, importance in northern Canada, and ease and efficiency of sampling, arthropods are certainly one of the best “models” for pursuing further partnerships between schools, communities, and researchers.

As excited as I am about being a contributing factor to this project, it couldn’t have happened without the support and input of my co-authors Kristen Vinke, Donna Giberson and Chris Buddle. Thanks for everything, guys!

If you’d like to get your hands on a copy of the book, it’s going to be released in the U.S. in December, so you can place your order now and have one in time for Christmas! I can’t wait to read the other contributors’ work!

ETA: There is a 20% off discount being offered right now, so get it while the getting’s good! 😀

Oh look, I found a new pit of despair

So you know that I handed my draft manuscript in to my advisor last week.  He sent back a document covered in red ink. Then my labmates pointed out all the dumb things I did, and showed me all the cool things I COULD have done but didn’t.

My advisor, a real funny guy, said, “You should make a new graph about the revision process,” and I was all, “Ha ha ha that’s so funny.”

And then I started working on the revisions.

It’s not funny.

Since the start of the long weekend I have been fully immersed in a new and and apparently much larger despair-pit, as I fumble around with R (a programming language that I’m still learning) and unfamiliar statistical methods. I think, if I can get my mathematically-challenged brain past this stats hurdle, I’ll get to the point where I feel ready to REVISE ALL THE THINGS with greater gusto.

The sad thing is, I suspect that I’m going to have to adjust the low-end of my y-axis to accommodate the deepest depths of despair that almost invariably follow after one actually submits the manuscript to the JOURNAL, whose editors then tell you that you have to, once again, REVISE ALL THE THINGS.


In which I LOL at an old-school National Geographic article and talk briefly about sexism.

One of my Xmas prezzies was a digital compilation of every National Geographic issue since 1888.  Très cool.   This little gem consists of 6 disks of full-colour issues whose articles are fully searchable by topic, author, year, etc.   Although I dearly loved the sight of yellow row upon yellow row adorning my old bookshelf, I eventually donated my own hard copies to an elementary school because a) they took up too much space and b) they were simply not practical.  The searchable index of this electronic version is a godsend, not to mention user-friendly and visually appealing.

So I plug “insects”  into the search engine, and find an article from May 1959 entitled “GIANT INSECTS OF THE AMAZON” (bah-bah-baaaaaah!) by Paul A. Zahl, a NG naturalist and senior editor at the time.   Sounds like a goodie, so I click.

It is, overall, an interesting article peppered with good photographs, mainly centered on the authour’s quest to get his hands on specimens of the impressive and elusive Titan beetle, Titanus giganteus (now I know what to ask for next Christmas).  But what struck me most, almost to the point of distraction, was the archaic and overly anthropomorphic writing style.

The article begins with the authour’s harassment of giant ants, Dinoponera gigantea (and I’m not using “harass” in the sarcastic sense, he literally smashes up their colony with a pick, axe, shovel, then comments on how “sorrowful” and “frustrated” the evicted ants appeared the next day.  How nice of him to notice).  

Zalh refers to individual ants, which are almost exclusively female, as “ladies”, “huntresses”, “sisters”.  Those he collected in a jar as they returned to the colony from foraging become part of  “his harem”.     He places a large number of them in a cage with soil for observation.  Later that day he spots a number of them clustered in a circle around a newly-deposited clutch of eggs, a scene which he describes thusly:

 The sisters were gathering around to honour the event, perhaps to act as midwives, certainly to serve as nurses to this brand-new ant life.

Excuse me a moment while I BWAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!  *sniff*  I’m sorry, but this is some funny stuff.  I’m as guilty as the next entomophile of assigning personalities to my tiny charges, just for funsies, but this stuff is RICH.   “Huntress“?  Who says that?*  “Harem”?  “Midwives”?  OMG!!!

It’s interesting to observe how writing styles and the acceptability of certain phrases/terms change with time.  I suppose that this type of narrative would have been considered colourful and amusing, and, really, socially relevant at the time.  Considering that “sexism” was not a widely used term until a decade after Zahl’s article was published, and the use of gender-neutral language was largely scoffed at prior to, oh, the early-to-mid 90s or so, I suppose I should read the article with this in mind.   It’s very hard not to “OMG” my way through it though.  

Very rarely have I come across this kind of language as a student/researcher of the 21st century, with the notable exception of one caricature of a professor (he wore tweed, received his degrees from Haaaaaahvard and insisted on being called “Professor” So-and-so, no exceptions).  Some of the crap that spilled out his mouth was so maddening, it would throw me off my game for entire lectures.  Days later,  I would find myself staring at lecture notes I couldn’t remember taking – my hand must have been dutifully working on auto-pilot while my brain was seething over Professor So-and-so’s latest sexist brain fart.**   This exception duly noted, I must acknowledge that while my chosen field is traditionally considered “male-dominated”, I have never felt demeaned, overlooked, patronized or otherwise oppressed in any way because of my gender.   It’s encouraging to see such a stark contrast between the attitudes and beliefs that cultivated Zahl’s report of his ant “harem” and the current reality for female scientists***. 

And on that positive note, enjoy this fun clip of researchers bagging a Titanus specimen in the field, complete with happy dance.

* even my WordPress spell-checker doesn’t recognize this word!

**the most maddening one involved his description of insect exoskeletons.  Exoskeletons are in part composed of overlapping layers of chitin; these layers are oriented in different directions, like plywood; this arrangement strengthens the structure.  The plywood analogy is a good one, but  Professor So-and-so started describing it like this: “So you girls in the room will probably not get this, but you men will: exoskeletons are blah blah blah”.  WHAT???  Three giant fails here: 1. assuming women don’t know what plywood is; 2. forging ahead with the analogy anyways, despite the (however erroneous) belief that half of  the audience won’t understand the explanation, and; 3. referring to the females using a noun usually reserved for children while referring to the males using adult terminology.  AUGH!!!

***while I recognize that there will always be exceptions, as well as ignorant a-holes, I think it’s safe to say that, for the most part, the playing field has leveled

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