Into Fall: field and lab, hello and good-bye

September is a time of change in the lab. Some changes are positive and happy, and some are a little more bittersweet. This year is no different.

One of the big changes, of course, is that we shift from summer fieldwork mode into the fall routine of teaching, meetings, and lab work. This summer was a busy one for me, and I spent much of it crisscrossing the continent for fieldwork (Alberta, Yukon), museum trips (Washington DC), teaching a field course (Arizona, California), some meetings (Minnesota, Arizona) and even a little bit of vacation (Colorado, Utah). Now that September is here it’s great to be back in the lab engaging with my students face to face instead of just through scattered emails. Several of the students were also busy in the field this year as well, so we’ll have a busy fall of specimen processing and identification ahead of us. I’m also looking forward to getting back into the classroom and waxing poetic about the awesomeness of insects to a new batch of students.

Two new grad students have joined the ranks of Team Lyman this fall, but both are familiar faces: Sabrina Rochefort has started a M.Sc. continuing her undergrad project on the fly family Piophilidae; and Élodie Vajda’s passion for empidid dance flies has carried her through from her undergraduate work on our arctic empidids into a M.Sc. program. We’re all delighted that they’ve both decided to stay on in the Lyman.

The other grad students continue their research as well. Christine Barrie’s M.Sc. thesis on bird and insect diversity in urban and rural green spaces is out for review, Heather Cumming continues to explore the fascinating diversity of the flat-footed platypezid flies in the genus Callomyia, Anna Solecki has been spending lots of productive time in Ottawa unlocking the hidden genetic secrets of arctic flies with our excellent colleagues Jeff Skevington and Scott Kelso at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, and Amélie Grégoire Taillefer, who finished up a successful field season collecting wetland flies, has switched into study mode for her upcoming Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination.

There are a couple of farewells this September as well. Dr. Laura Timms has wrapped up her postdoc with the Northern Biodiversity Program and we’ll miss her experience, advice, motivation, and optimistic personality in the lab. That being said, we still have a lot of projects underway with Laura, so she’ll figure prominently in some future posts as papers continue to roll out from our big NBP datasets.

The other farewell that I have to report is more bitter than bittersweet. For the first time since its initial move to McGill in 1916, the Lyman Museum is without a Curator. Those who follow the circus that is Quebec politics may be aware that the provincial Parti Quebecois government, within weeks of being elected in 2012, slashed 250 million dollars of funding to Quebec universities. This deplorable attack on the educational and intellectual life of the province left universities scrambling to make draconian budget cuts across the board. McGill University was not spared. We have spent much of the summer watching our ranks decimated as valued colleagues accept “retirement” packages and leave the university, not to be replaced. Unfortunately, these retirements, and other budget reductions, were insufficient to meet to required targets, so funding was also cut to the two unique and irreplaceable collections on our campus: The McGill University Herbarium, and the Lyman Entomological Museum. What this means to us, in real, human, terms, is that Stéphanie Boucher, Curator of the Museum since 2000, is no longer employed. This leaves an enormous hole in our teaching, research, collection development and outreach capabilities and we are not yet sure what the long-term outlook is. We are hopeful that a future provincial government will restore university funding to an appropriate level and we can begin to emerge from the intellectual darkness of the current regime. And hopefully, when that happens, the university will recognize the absolutely critical role that natural history museums play in science and society and we’ll once again be able to perform all the necessary functions in teaching, research and outreach that the Lyman Museum has done so well for almost a century.

Despite all the troubles, entomologists tend to be a pretty optimistic bunch and Team Lyman is no exception. We’re looking forward to finding ways to move forward in research and teaching and we’ll continue to collaborate with exceptional colleagues such as Stéphanie and Laura, and keep doing good taxonomy, good ecology, and good biodiversity science with our great group of collaborators, both down here in the basement and out beyond the walls.


About terry wheeler

professor, museum director, entomologist, ecologist, naturalist
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