A year of change: 2013 in review

When you work in a university, change is constant. Students come and go as they start and finish their programs; colleagues come and go as new opportunities arise; old projects run to completion and new ones start to pick up steam; fieldwork and conference travel gets us out of the lab and on the road. Every day holds the promise of something new.

2013 was a big year for personnel changes in the lab. Grad students Katie Sim (co-supervised with my colleague Chris Buddle), Meagan Blair and Christine Barrie successfully completed their M.Sc. programs. Postdoc Laura Timms, who was an integral part of our Northern Biodiversity Program team, also wrapped up her time with the lab and has moved on to exciting new opportunities in Toronto. Stéphanie Boucher, the Lyman Curator since 2000, also left the lab — her position abolished by an administrative decision focused only on a budgetary bottom line, rather than on any recognition of the critical importance of natural history collections in research, teaching and outreach (such are the risks of doing fundamental research in an increasingly “corporate” university climate.)

On the other side of the equation, two new grad students started M.Sc. programs this year. Sabrina Rochefort and Élodie Vajda, both already experienced Lymanites through their involvement as undergrads in the Northern Biodiversity Program, stayed on to pursue their interests in empidid dance flies (Élodie) and piophilid flies (Sabrina), joining grad students Amélie Grégoire Taillefer, Anna Solecki and Heather Cumming in keeping research and training active here in the museum as we roll into 2014.

Good research needs to be disseminated to the scientific community and we had a productive year in publications, with four refereed papers covering a range of topics from the taxonomy of chloropid flies (Wheeler & Solecki 2013), to fungus gnat phylogeny (Borkent & Wheeler 2013), to insects in restoration ecology (Grégoire Taillefer & Wheeler 2013), and the impacts of climate change on high arctic parasitoid wasps (Timms et al. 2013). I like to think that the diversity of these papers reinforces the close relationship between taxonomy and ecology, between fundamental and applied research. Of course, the more opportunities we have to forge those links across subdisciplines, the better.

We also had our usual presence at conferences this year. Face to face interactions at meetings are another great way to present research results, interact with colleagues, and find out what’s going on in research. I presented an overview of our work on arctic Diptera at the Eastern Branch meeting of the Entomological Society of America in Lancaster, Pennsylvania back in March, and a poster (co-authored with grad students Meagan Blair and Anna Solecki) on phenotypic changes in arctic flies at the Ecological Society of America conference in Minneapolis in August. Our big conference this year was the 150th meeting of the Entomological Society of Canada in Guelph, Ontario in the fall. Heather, Anna and I gave talks; Christine, Amélie, Élodie and Sabrina all presented posters; and Laura gave the prestigious ESC Heritage Lecture. In addition to conferences, I also visited Cornell University (in Ithaca, NY) and Prescott College (in Prescott, AZ) this fall to give seminars about our northern arthropod research.

We got some excellent and productive field work in this year as well. I continued to work on the diversity of northern flies, with a trip to the Yukon for the third year in a row, this time with Sabrina and Élodie along to experience the north and collect lots of great data. Meanwhile in the temperate zone, Amélie had a very successful first field season to her Ph.D., collecting flies in a range of wetlands in southern Quebec.

Checking the catch, Dempster Highway km 155, Yukon

Checking the catch, Dempster Highway km 155, Yukon

I tried to keep this blog active when I could. Some posts on the importance of natural history clearly struck a chord with readers, and were responsible for most of the visits to the blog this year. There is obviously a big and active community of people out there — professionals and amateurs, students and senior researchers, scientists and non-scientists — who “get it” when we talk about the critical importance of natural history. I have to confess, though, that I sometimes feel like I’m preaching to the choir. I hope we can find a way to get our message through the sometimes thick skulls of university administrators, hiring committees and granting committees. I also blogged about our field work in the Yukon (and the critical importance, at least to me, of getting out into the field), as well as new publications as they appeared. I’m hoping to keep up that trend this year.

I tried to spend as much time in the lab this year as I could, talking to my students, finding out about how research was going. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing well at that; sometimes I don’t. Maybe this coming year I’ll have even more time to spend interacting in the lab.

I spent some time on the microscope this year, looking at flies, doing my own research. That’s pretty important to me (even though, as a 21st Century Professor, I’m probably supposed to be writing grants and supervising research, not actually DOING it). To be honest though, if I couldn’t get that microscope time in and actually work on my own projects, I’d likely be looking for another career. It’s a sanity thing.

I had fun teaching this year, as I always do. I went to the deserts of Arizona and California in April and May with 20 fantastic students and 3 great colleagues to teach a three week field trip on Desert Ecology. I taught Insect Diversity this fall to a dozen keen and motivated students who made every class session a pleasure to be part of. And my annual Evolution and Phylogeny class in the winter gave me the opportunity to tell stories about the importance of evolution in science and society to a (more or less) captive audience of 95 first year students. Maybe I’ll see some of them in my lab down the road.

I found some time to work in my garden this summer, although never quite enough. I went to Colorado in August and hiked up to the tops of a bunch of mountains, although not quite enough. I discovered, on conference trips and fieldwork and hiking days, some fine new brew pubs and restaurants and diners, but I’m always looking for more.

Rocky Mountain. High. Colorado (photo by J. Mlynarek)

Rocky Mountain. High. Colorado (photo by J. Mlynarek)

There were some bad days in 2013, but a lot of good ones. I suppose that keeps the universe in symmetry. It’s still early days, but 2014 is looking pretty good.

Happy New Year to all the Lymanites who keep this stuff fun. And happy New Year to all our friends and colleagues out there scattered around the globe.

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About terry wheeler

professor, museum director, entomologist, ecologist, naturalist
This entry was posted in Lab and Field News and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A year of change: 2013 in review

  1. Love this! I’ve had a nebulously similar post brewing in my head over the past few days, and this helped me figure it out. Best wishes for a great 2014!

  2. Thanks Ted, and Happy New Year to you!

  3. b says:

    One disappointment – you didn’t join us on the super fun ZADBI Diptera Blitz!

  4. Very true, Brian. It was disappointing to miss the Blitz. This is the problem when conferences run on exactly the same week as Diptera Blitzes. And at least I’m still enjoying the ZADBI flies here in the lab.

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