B. Staffan Lindgren is a professor of entomology at the University of Northern British Columbia, and 1st Vice-President of the Entomological Society of Canada. He has been the senior supervisor of 11 M.Sc. students and one Ph.D. student, co-supervisor of two M.Sc. students, and participated on more than 20 supervisory committees.

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Recently I have been approached by several students asking about how to go about applying for graduate school. Furthermore, I and a colleague are doing a brownbag lunch discussion for the local student chapter of The Wildlife Society on this topic this week, and this got me thinking about what considerations a student should have. My conclusion is that you can break down the approach into a consideration of W5 (Why, Where, Who, What, and When) to optimize the chances of being successful.

In this post I will go over my thoughts on these W’s, and relate some of my own experiences, both as student and supervisor. I have not consulted the literature, but base this on personal experience alone, so you have to bear that in mind. For the record, I have not supervised a large number of graduate students, and all but one have been at the Master’s level. On the other hand, I have only “failed” as a supervisor once, which just means that I blame myself for the student’s failure to complete. On the other hand, I have also failed as a graduate student once, so I feel I have some relevant qualifications for writing this.

Why?

This question may seem somewhat redundant, but I believe it is an important first step. It is surprising how many students go into graduate school “to get a better job”. In my opinion, that is not a good reason at all. It is very possible, or in fact likely, that you can land a better job after completing a graduate degree, but there is no guarantee for advanced degrees automatically leading to better jobs. I have two examples. One of my more successful graduate students told me long after she graduated that she went into graduate school for this very reason. Somewhere along the way, she realized that she loved research, and her passion for it grew as a result. She subsequently carried on with a PhD, and now holds a very good research position. So in her case doing a graduate degree led to exactly what she set out to do to begin with, but it wasn’t graduate school per se that lead to her success, but rather her passion for what she was doing, along with some very hard work. My second example relates to my first, and failed attempt at graduate school. I was more worried about funding than topic, and opted to do a PhD in Endocrinology. I had really enjoyed my coursework in zoophysiology, so it seemed like a logical choice at the time. I was in a good lab, had a great colleague (who is now a professor with more than 300 authored or co-authored publications). As it turned out, it was not for me, however. The reasons were many, but a lack of passion for the subject area certainly contributed (see below).

Where?

Different institutions have varying reputations, and particularly if the ultimate goal is an academic position, it may make a difference whether you hold a degree from a major research university or primarily undergraduate teaching institution. However, there may be pros and cons with joining big labs. An obvious benefit is that a large institution is likely to have lots of infrastructure and resources. On the other hand, you may end up in a lab where your supervisor plays only a limited role in your actual supervision, i.e., you may be viewed more as a small cog in a large wheel than as an important individual. To avoid this, you have to ask the next question.

Who?

The supervisor is of critical importance in my opinion. All supervisors are not made equal, and they often have their own agendas and biases! Some may expect you to work things out for yourself, while others like to treat you like an employee. Depending on your personality, you may like one or the other, or somewhere in between. Highly productive, “big name” researchers are not necessarily the best supervisors! Moderately productive scientists at small institutions may provide a much better environment, particularly for graduate students lacking prior experience, e.g., Master’s students. I went into my first two graduate degrees (including the initial failed PhD in Sweden) pretty much blind. The endocrinology attempt was uncomfortable because of an internal schism between my supervisor and the head of the department, but other than that I was fortunate to get a very approachable and helpful supervisor. My supervisor for my Master of Pest Management and PhD degrees at Simon Fraser University was as good as they come; I learned an enormous amount from him, and model my own approach to supervision on that experience.  However, he did not suit everybody. The problem is matching your own needs and preferences with a suitable supervisor. I recommend all prospective graduate students to contact both former and current students of potential supervisors and ask what it is like to be a graduate student. I even recommend students expressing interest in me as a supervisor to do the same – I think of myself as a good supervisor, but I am clearly biased, and in control of the situation, whereas a graduate student would be dependent on my actions. Raise up front issues of support (not just salary, but field assistant, transportation, accommodation in the field, expectations). Ask about how the supervisor deals with authorship – believe it or not, there are supervisors who are prone to self-promotion. A good supervisor promotes his/her students, not themselves. Once you are in a graduate position, it is much more difficult to adjust things, so do your homework up front. I also recommend students to be frank with a potential (or existing) supervisor if there are issues. If you can’t communicate with your prospective supervisor before you are his/her graduate student, it is likely that you won’t be able to later. Sometimes this is just due to personality incompatibility, but it really doesn’t matter what the reason is if you end up in a bad situation. You are never going to go into a graduate position with 100% confidence that it will be perfect, but you can optimize the chances that it will be by doing some basic research.

A successful supervisor-student relationship can turn into a lifetime relationship: Staffan Lindgren (PhD 1982), Lisa Poirier(PhD 1995) and Dezene Huber (PhD 2001), gave back to their supervisor John H. Borden by successfully nominating him for an honorary doctorate at UNBC in 2009 in recognition of his enormous impact on forest insect pest management in British Columbia. Photo by Edna Borden.

A successful supervisor-student relationship can turn into a lifetime relationship: Staffan Lindgren (PhD 1982), Lisa Poirier(PhD 1995) and Dezene Huber (PhD 2001), gave back to their supervisor John H. Borden by successfully nominating him for an honorary doctorate at UNBC in 2009 in recognition of his enormous impact on forest insect pest management in British Columbia. Photo by Edna Borden.

What?

This is perhaps the most important decision you have to make, and it is closely linked to the first W (Why?). In my experience, the most successful students are not those who come in with the highest GPA or with the most funding (although it is easier to get accepted with those qualifications as it relieves the supervisor of some obvious burdens). Rather, they are the students with a burning interest in a specific type of project, or specific organisms. A great way to find your bearings is to get involved in research as an undergraduate student. When I was a PhD student, I had three undergraduate research assistants over the years. All three went on to get a PhD, one is now a research scientist with Forestry Canada, one is a conservation biologist with a consulting company (after Environment Canada was brought to its knees by the current government), and the third is a professor at a large institution in the United States. A number of students I have hired as undergraduate summer research assistants have successfully pursued successful careers. Decisions you make as a young person can profoundly affect your future. I went to the United States as a high school exchange student – without that experience I may have lacked the confidence to come to Canada for graduate school. As an undergraduate student, I participated in annual vole surveys and spider research, which taught me something about what types of activities I enjoy. When I first wanted to pursue graduate school, I failed to use that experience. My primary interest was entomology, but funding was hard to come by, so I opted for endocrinology because that graduate position came with a stipend. This decision turned out to be a huge mistake, and after 1 ½ years I had to give up. Essentially, I selected what to do for the wrong reason. (Thanks to my brilliant graduate student colleagues, I still ended up with five publications, which probably helped me get accepted at Simon Fraser University, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, however).  At SFU, my MPM supervisor offered me a funded project that would have been applicable to Sweden, and he gave me 8 months to think about it. I eventually made the decision to take that on, and I have never looked back. Thus, once I reset the career compass to my original goals, I ended up where I always wanted to be, which is in forest entomology!

When?

Strangely, this question relates to both “Why” and “What”, although there is considerable variation among students in terms of what is right for each individual. In my experience, however, the most successful graduate students tend to have a little bit of “real world” experience before they pursue a graduate degree. In part, this may be because they have more experience, and therefore are more confident about their abilities, and possibly more aware of their weaknesses than someone fresh out of an undergraduate degree would have. These individuals have also had time to formulate what they are really passionate about, and in my mind, passion is the most important ingredient in a successful graduate degree. Yes, you need some basic skills (communication (written and oral), quantitative skills), a modicum of intelligence, and lots of patience for endless tedium (most research is 90% tedium, 5% frustration, and 5% elation), but you don’t have to be an A+ student. As a graduate student, a passionate B student will do better than a moderately interested A+ student any day. You would be surprised how many professors and successful scientists were relatively average in high school. If the timing is wrong, you may not be happy. For example, when I first tried to pursue graduate school and ended up in the wrong program, I could have waited 2-3 years and I may have had perfect opportunities in Sweden as a huge project on insect pheromones was initiated a year after I went to Canada. I had in fact contacted several of the professors that led that project, but at the time they didn’t have the funds in place.

I mentioned at the beginning that I failed as a supervisor once. This was a combination of not matching the student with an appropriate topic, and personal incompatibility. Both resulted from inexperience, as it was one of my very first graduate students. Even supervisors learn from experience.

I hope these musings are helpful you decide to pursue a graduate degree. Good luck!

By Laura Timms, Chair of the ESC Common Names Committee
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Hello,
The Common Names Committee of the Entomological Society of Canada, in collaboration with the Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment Canada), is planning a project to develop common names for all beetles in Canada. We are looking for to hire contractors to assist in developing English and French common names.  Since this order contains many families, we are looking for Anglophone and Francophone Coleopterists who specialize in more than one group of Coleoptera species.  Compensation will be based on the number of species assigned to each contractor.  If interested, please send your C.V. to Joanna.James@ec.gc.ca by August 16th, 2013.  Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.
Thanks!
Bonjour,
Le Comité des noms communs de la Société d’entomologie du Canada, en collaboration avec le Service canadien de la faune (Environnement Canada) prépare un projet pour développer des noms communs pour tous les coléoptères au Canada. Des experts seront engagés pour développer les noms communs en anglais et en français. Puisque cet ordre contient plusieurs familles, nous cherchons des experts anglophones et francophones qui se spécialisent sur plus d’un groupe d’espèces de coléoptères. La rémunération sera basée sur le nombre d’espèces assignées à chaque expert. Si intéressé, svp envoyer votre C.V. à Joanna.James@ec.gc.ca  avant le 16 août, 2013. Svp n’hésitez pas à nous contacter si vous avez des questions.
Merci!

By Sean McCann, PhD Canidate in Biological Sciences at Simon Fraser University

9/10 ant-mimicking mantids recommend tropical fieldwork for prevention of insect withdrawal.  (Photo: S. McCann)

9/10 ant-mimicking mantids recommend tropical fieldwork for prevention of insect withdrawal. (Photo: S. McCann)

At this stage of the long dark Canadian winter, thoughts of tropical fieldwork should be going through the heads of all sensible entomologists…If you find yourself longing for the moist and insect-filled paradise of the Neotropics, or even if that is what your research plans call for, let me introduce you to the wonders of French Guiana.

Topography near the Inselberg Camp.  (Photo: S. McCann)

Topography near the Inselberg Camp. (Photo: S. McCann)

French Guiana is situated just north of Brazil on the Atlantic coast of South America, and remains to this day an overseas Department of France.  Both French and Creole are spoken, so Canadians should feel right at home.

French Guiana truly shines as a biodiversity and natural areas hotspot because unlike many countries in the Amazonian forest region, it has not experienced extensive deforestation. The immense expanses of unlogged rainforest are truly impressive.

The Inselberg des Nourages on a clear day.  View not guaranteed, depends on the season. (Photo: S. McCann)

The Inselberg des Nourages on a clear day. View not guaranteed, depends on the season. (Photo: S. McCann)

There is quite active citizen science in Guyane as well, of particular interest is the SEAG, or Société Entomologique Antilles Guyane: http://insectafgseag.myspecies.info/. This society has conducted numerous expeditions focused on collection and identification of many insect taxa, and represents a great resource of local knowledge of the insect fauna.

Finding a cryptic owlfly nymph is always a nice surprise (unless you are a cricket) (Photo: S. McCann)

Finding a cryptic owlfly nymph is always a nice surprise (unless you are a cricket) (Photo: S. McCann)

I have done all my tropical fieldwork at the Nouragues station, supported by an annual grant program that seeks to assist visiting scientists with the travel and logistical expenses involved with a tropical field season. My work has centred on a bird which is a specialist predator of social wasps, the Red-throated Caracara.

Red-throated Caracaras are specialist predators of social wasps, and a common resident of the Nouragues Reserve. (Photo: S. McCann)

Red-throated Caracaras are specialist predators of social wasps, and a common resident of the Nouragues Reserve. (Photo: S. McCann)

The 1000 km 2 Nouragues reserve is located approximately 100 km SSW of Cayenne, and was established in 1995 to be both a refuge free of development and to facilitate research on Neotropical forest dynamics.

Army ants (Eciton spp.) are one of the wonders of the Neotropical raindforests. Go. See. Them. (Photo: S. McCann)

Army ants (Eciton spp.) are one of the wonders of the Neotropical raindforests. Go. See. Them. (Photo: S. McCann)

There are two research camps, the Inselberg Camp, situated just beneath a 420 m granite mountain, the Inselberg des Nouragues, and the camp at Saut Pararé, situated just below a series of high rapids on the Arataye River. The camps are accessible by helicopter, or you can take a motorized canoe (pirogue) to the Saut Pararé camp.  Both camps are administered by the CNRS (Centre Nationale de Recherche Scientifique) which has an office in Cayenne. Field costs are €20/day for students and postdocs and €35 per day for established researchers. Travel to the station can be expensive, but sharing the cost of helicopters/pirogues with other researchers can bring the costs down considerably.

Access to various parts of the forest is facilitated by an extensive trail system . Data on tree species and flowering/fruiting phenology in two large research plots at the Inselberg Camp are available. At the Pararé camp, there are also many trails, although not as extensive as at the Inselberg camp, as well as access to riverine and palm swamp habitats. Lists of species of birds, bats, fish and trees are available, and there is an impressive list of scientific data already published:  http://www.nouragues.cnrs.fr/F-publications.html.

SM7

UV lamps attract a nice variety of insects. These are particularly fabulous. Start your collection today! (Photo: S. McCann)

The camps are comfortable, with covered shelters (carbets) for sleeping and eating, and there is electricity and running water at each station (it is the rainforest!). There is also a satellite internet connection which is adequate for email and keeping in touch with labs and colleagues. Food is provided, and is quite good (as one might expect at a French field station!), cooking/cleaning duties are shared.

The kitchen carbet by moonlight. (Photo: S. McCann)

The kitchen carbet by moonlight. (Photo: S. McCann)

If you are a student or a researcher at the planning or pre-planning stages of a Neotropical research program, there is no better time than now to submit a research proposal to the scientific committee of the station. The recently announced call for proposals will fund projects to a maximum of €9000, which would nicely cover the transportation and field costs for a several-month expedition. The deadline is Feb. 14, 2013. For more information, the details are available here: http://www.nouragues.cnrs.fr/indexenglish.html

Your admins have finally returned from a whirlwind of great entomology conferences! We’re just catching up to the backlog of work here at the ESC Blog and are working on some posts about the excellent JAM in Edmonton (on that note, if you’d like to contribute your thoughts or experiences, we’d love to hear from you!)

In the meantime, Brent Sinclair has asked us to pass on this notice for a Ph.D. scholarship in New Zealand. It looks like a great opportunity, and the deadline to apply is November 30th!

You can read the posting here: PhD ad Bark beetles Allee effects-1.  Good luck!

The Entomological Society of Canada is looking for volunteers for the upcoming JAM, November 3-7!

Volunteering looks great on your CV, is an excellent way to meet new people, and is fun! The Student Affairs Committee worked hard to keep student registration rates low, so we need a very strong showing of student volunteers to help make this meeting a success!

Sign up at http://www.doodle.com/i8znn4z75mtharfw by checking off times you are available. The full program is up now so you can confirm when you are presenting: check it out here!

As mentioned in a previous post, the Entomological Society of BC has been working hard to improve the Society’s impact by enhancing our online presence to reach more people in BC, as well as the rest of Canada and the world. We’ve undertaken a massive project to digitize our entire journal archive, and are in the process of moving all 108 volumes of the Journal of the ESBC online (plus occasional papers, supplementary reports, and the Quarterly Bulletins dating back to 1906!).

This project will provide unprecedented public access to the Society’s publications, and you can help! With scanning and OCR completed, we need to extract the metadata for each article, including the abstracts and references, so that we can import them into our new online journal system (link to http://journal.entsocbc.ca). We are recruiting volunteers to assist with this step, as well as creating cover images from the scanned volumes.

  • Flexible and easy;
  • Can be done from anywhere (you don’t have to live in BC!);
  • Opportunity to explore the history of entomology in BC;
  • Work closely with ESBC journal and web editors;
  • Contribute directly to the establishment of a permanent, online, open-access repository of entomological knowledge in BC;
  • Ideal for students or anyone with an interest in entomology and community service.

Contact Alex Chubaty (webmaster@entsocbc.ca) if you are interested in contributing time towards this project.

Dr. Rebecca Hallett of the School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph is looking for a graduate student and a post-doctoral research assistant to join her research group.

Swede Midge

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License – CC-BY. Image by Susan Ellis, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org

Insect‐Plant Interactions & Pest Management –  Graduate Student Position Available
Project summary:
I am currently seeking a motivated graduate student (Ph.D. or M.Sc.) to investigate host plant interactions between the invasive crucifer pest, the swede midge (Contarinia nasturtii (Diptera: Cecidomyiidae)) and spring canola. The graduate student will investigate the relationships between timing and intensity of swede midge populations, canola phenology, damage severity and yield impacts. This project is part of a larger program to develop an integrated pest management program for swede midge in spring canola, including insecticide efficacy, optimal insecticide timing with respect to canola phenology, and the development of comprehensive pest management recommendations for swede midge in canola.

Start date and stipend:
Anticipated start date of September 2012 (preferred) or January 2013. Funding is guaranteed for 3 years at the Ph.D level and 2 years at the M.Sc. level.

Deadline for Application: June 15, 2012

For application procedures and required qualifications, please see full advertisement here.

Entomology & Chemical Ecology – Post-Doctoral Research Associate Position Available

Spotted Wing Drosophila

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License- CC-BY. Image by Hannah Burrack, North Carolina State University, Bugwood.org

Research Project:
We are currently seeking a motivated Post-Doctoral Research Associate to investigate the chemical ecology of Spotted Wing Drosophila (Drosophila suzukii (Diptera: Drosophilidae)), an invasive pest of soft-skinned fruit. The post-doc will develop semiochemical-based pest management methods for D. suzukii that can be used in both conventional and organic production systems. The post-doc will help design and execute lab and fieldwork, analyze data, and write up publications in collaboration with the PI and other members of the research team. The post-doc will also have opportunities to supervise undergraduate project students and to interact with collaborators at Vineland Research Innovation Centre, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada and OMAFRA. This project is part of a larger program on the biology and management of D. suzukii in Ontario.

Timeframe:
Anticipated start date of 1 August 2012. Two year position, with possibility of extension.

Deadline for Application: June 10, 2012

For full application procedures and required qualifications, please see full advertisement here.

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ESC Blog will not forward applications or handle inquiries regarding advertised positions; please follow instructions and use contact information provided in advertisement.

If you have an entomological job or student opportunity available, let us know and we’ll be happy to spread the word!