Graduate Student Showcase 2021: Call for Applications

Graduate students are invited to apply to present their research at the Graduate Student Showcase (GSS), held during the Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of Canada and the Entomological Society of Ontario (Nov 15-18, 2021). The purpose of the GSS is to provide a high-profile opportunity for graduate students near the completion of their degrees to present a more in-depth overview of their thesis research.

Applicants to the GSS must:

  • have defended or plan to defend their thesis at a Canadian University within one year of the meeting
  • be the principal investigator and principal author of the presented work
  • be registered at the meeting

Eligible candidates who wish to be considered for the GSS must submit a complete application to students@esc-sec.ca, following the instructions below. Items 1-3 must be submitted in a single PDF file named in the format “FamilyName_GSSapplication.pdf”.

1) Submit a 250 word abstract describing the proposed presentation highlighting their work,

2) Submit a 1 page (single-spaced, 12 point) outline of their research, including rationale/significance, methodology, and results to date,

3) Include a CV that includes a list of previous conference presentations and other presentation experience.

4) Arrange to have the principal supervisor email a letter of support in a PDF file that confirms the anticipated or actual date of graduation and comments on the proposed presentation and the applicant’s presentation and research abilities. Please ask your supervisor to name the letter of support in the format “FamilyName_GSSLetterOfSupport.pdf”, where Family Name is the applicant’s family name.

In addition to the above materials, applicants are welcome – but by no means required – to submit supplementary information about any factors that may have influenced their application (e.g., factors that may have limited access to publication or presentation opportunities). Please note that the supplementary information will be considered confidential, being viewed exclusively by members of the Graduate Student Showcase Selection Committee.

The GSS application deadline falls on the same day as the annual meeting deadline for contributed talks. For the 2021 GSS, all application materials must be submitted by September 13, 2021. We will select up to four (4) recipients. All applicants will be notified of the status of their application. Unsuccessful applicants to the GSS will have their talks automatically moved to a President’s Prize Oral session.

Differences between the GSS and the President’s Prize (PP) Competition include:

  • The GSS will take place in its own dedicated time slot; there will be no conflicting talks!
  • Presenters in the GSS are given more time to speak about their research (28 minutes total, 25 for the presentation & 3 for questions)
  • Abstracts for talks presented in the GSS are published in the ESC Bulletin, an open access publication, received by all ESC members.
  • The selection process for the GSS is competitive (only selected students speak), compared to the PP where all students who enter speak but only one per category receives a prize.
  • All presenters in the GSS receive an honorarium of $200.

We encourage and welcome applications from all eligible individuals, especially those who identify with groups that are underrepresented in STEM and entomology. The Entomological Society of Canada values diversity in all its forms and seeks to represent the breadth of Canadian entomological research and researcher identities through its GSS. Supervisors, please encourage your students to apply and please help us to spread the word! Any questions can be directed to students@esc-sec.ca.

Matt Muzzatti and Rowan French
Co-Chairs of ESC’s Student and Early Professional Affairs Committee (SEPAC)

ESC members are invited to a participate in a research study on interference with environmental research in Canada conducted by a Master’s Thesis student from the School of Resource and Environment Studies, at Dalhousie University.

Purpose: To document scientists’ perceptions of their ability to conduct and communicate environmental research in Canada.

Eligibility: If you are currently working in Canada in the field of environmental studies or sciences, you will be asked to answer questions about your work, personal demographics (e.g., career stage, gender, etc.) and to recount any experiences with interference in your ability to conduct or communicate your work.
This survey is anonymous. It should take you 20 – 30 minutes to complete.

Impact: Results from this academic research will be presented at national fora on science policy and decision-making and could have policy implications that will directly affect your future work.

Incentive: Participants who complete the survey will have the option to provide their email address to enter a draw and win one of three $50 gift cards or donations to the organization of their choice. Email addresses will be collected separately from the survey to maintain anonymity in responses and will be kept confidential.

 

The deadline to complete the survey is on or before 11:59pm ADT on Sunday, August 15, 2021.

Follow this link to the Survey: Interference in Science Survey Link

Or copy and paste the URL below into your internet browser: https://rowebusiness.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_aeHh5GmYXUMfoXk

If you have questions or concerns, please contact the research team at woodlab@dal.ca.

Thank you very much. Your participation is important to us.

 

Sincerely,

Manjulika E. Robertson
on behalf of the Westwood Lab
School for Resource and Environment Studies
Dalhousie University, Halifax (K’jipuktuk), Nova Scotia

www.westwoodlab.ca || woodlab@dal.ca

The 1st International Electronic Conference on Entomology (IECE)

A free virtual event held from 1st–15th July 2021

This event will solely be an online proceeding that allows participation from all over the world, with no concerns of travel or related expenditures, while at the same time, allowing the rapid dissemination of global advances in the study of insects among the entire scientific community. All proceedings will be held online at https://sciforum.net/conference/IECE.

Through this event, we aim to cover the following topics:

  • Systematics and Morphology
  • Genetics and Genomics
  • Biology, Behavior and Physiology
  • Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution
  • Pest Management
  • Forest and Urban Entomology
  • Medical and Veterinary Entomology
  • Apiculture and Pollinators

The conference is completely free of charge—both to attend and for scholars to upload and present their latest work on the conference platform.

IECE is a virtual conference sponsored by Insects (IF: 2.220, ISSN 2075-4450). Participation is free of charge for authors and attendees. The accepted papers will be published free of charge in the journal Proceedings of the conference itself.

IECE offers you the opportunity to participate in this international, scholarly conference without the concerns or expense of traveling—all you need is access to the Internet. We would like to invite you to “attend” this conference and present your latest work.

Abstracts (in English) should be submitted by 15 May 2021 online at http://www.sciforum.net/login.

For accepted abstracts, the proceedings paper (at least 3 pages and should not exceed 8 pages) can be submitted by 15 June 2021. The conference will be held on 1st–15th July 2021.

Paper Submission Guidelines

For information on the procedure for submission, peer review, revision, and acceptance of conference proceedings papers, please refer to the section ‘Instructions for Authors’.

Timelines

Abstract Deadline: 15/05/2021
Abstract Acceptance Notification Deadline: 25/05/2021
Proceedings Paper Deadline: 15/06/2021
Conference Date: 01/07/2021

We look forward to receiving your research papers and to welcoming you to the 1st International Electronic Conference on Entomology (IECE). Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Prof. Dr. Nickolas G. Kavallieratos

Chair of the 1st International Electronic Conference on Entomology

Conference Secretariat

M.Sc. Fancy Zhai
Ms. Barbara Wang
E-Mail: iece@mdpi.com

Mark your calendars for Black in Entomology Week, happening virtually from Feb. 22-26. This is an event dedicated to celebrating and supporting Black entomologists, organized by Maydianne Andrade, Swanne Gordon, Vik Iyengar, Shakara Maggitt, Michelle Samuel-Foo, Jessica Ware, and Natasha Young.

The goals of #BlackInEnto week include fostering community among Black entomologists, including students and enthusiasts, for Black entomologists to inspire others and share their passion for insects (and other terrestrial arthropods), and to create funding opportunities for Black entomology students.

In addition to daily content on the @BlackInEnto twitter feed, there is a fantastic schedule of live panel discussions and social events on zoom. Some highlights include:

 

Tuesday Feb. 23

A panel on Black in Entomology with organizers Maydianne Andrade, Michelle Samuel-Foo, and Jessica Ware. This discussion will focus on the challenges and successes of Black entomologists, and ways everyone can get involved in efforts to diversify entomology and support Black entomologists. Hosted by the California Academy of Sciences. Watch here.

Plus, discussions about Entomology Careers, Getting into Undergraduate Research, and a community building social for non-traditional students. Full schedule here.

 

Wednesday Feb. 24

Panel discussion: Contributions of Black Entomologists to Insect Sciences. Hosted by Texas A&M University. Register here.

 

Thursday Feb. 24       

Panel discussion on Colonialism in Entomology, and an Entomology Trivia Night. Full schedule here.

 

Full schedules and registration links, profiles of Black Entomologists, and more can be found on the Black in Ento website here.

By Matthias Rös, Alfonsina Arriaga-Jimenez, Bert Kohlmann

 

Dung beetles (Scarabaeidae) belong, besides ants and butterflies, to the best-studied insect groups in tropical ecosystems. Three subfamilies are considered as true dung beetles: Scarabaeinae, Geotrupinae, and Aphodiinae. There are about 10,000 species of dung beetles around the world known to science, although that number is still rising; montane areas in the tropics are exceedingly rich in species, and new species are regularly discovered. 

High mountain ecosystems in the American tropics have been less studied than the diversity-rich lowland rain forests, which have received greater attention and efforts for conservation purposes. Nevertheless, the significance of temperate ecosystems within the tropics may have been underestimated regarding their importance to explain species distribution patterns in various biodiversity hotspots of the Earth. Mexico, and particularly the state of Oaxaca, will serve us here as an example to explain why. 

Oaxaca is one of the most (if not the most) biodiverse states of Mexico. One reason is the rugged orography, shaped by different geological events, which, accompanied by changing climate, separated and connected animal and plant populations several times, and so turned Oaxaca into a laboratory of species evolution. Oaxaca is situated in the southeast of Mexico and is dominated by three major montane areas (Sierra Norte, Sierra Sur, Mixteca Shield). Eighteen percent of the state has an elevation higher than 2000 m, and around four percent is situated between 2500m and 3700m. 

Typical land-use patterns in Oaxacan mountains. Forest dominated landscapes with traditional milpa system (corn, beans, squash). El Rosario Temextitlan, Chinantla, Sierra Norte de Oaxaca at elevations between 2000 and 2700 m. Photo by Matthias Rös.

In the last two years, we have collected and described new dung beetle species from Oaxaca. All of them were not collected in pristine or remote places, but in mountain forests close to the capital city of Oaxaca. Whereas the state has few large reserves, Oaxaca is known for its high number of community-conserved areas (CCA), and the new species were collected in the CCA La Mesita, in San Pablo Etla, a 3000 ha community-managed forest at altitudes between 1800 and 3200 m, which provides firewood, clean water to the entire watershed, and offers small scale sustainable tourism. In Oaxaca, at lower altitudes, there exists an oak forest, with mostly small trees that lose all their leaves during the dry season, reminiscent of the familiar chaparral vegetation. In Oaxaca, this oak forest is a typical vegetation type of piedmont, mostly surrounding the Central Valley. We named Canthidium quercetorum after this forest type, only known at present from La Mesita. Onthophagus etlaensis, named after the Nahuatl word for bean-fields, sampled by us in the same reserve, had already been collected in the 1970s but was erroneously identified because of its closeness to another, more common species. This is a very typical pattern found in Oaxaca: there abound many endemic sister species of common and more widespread taxa, and they have a small distribution range in the mountains of Oaxaca, which indicates their speciation in situ.  Finally, Phanaeus dionysius, a veritable jewel of a beetle, was also found in this CCA.

Onthophagus etlaensis (left) and Phanaeus dionysius (right), two dung beetle species of the subfamily Scarabaeinae, described from the community-conserved area of La Mesita, San Pablo Etla, near the city of Oaxaca.

Oaxaca belongs to the Mexican Transition Zone, a region ranging between the southern USA down to the Nicaraguan lakes. Its outstanding characteristic is the overlap of Nearctic and Neotropical species distributed here, the former more often at higher elevations with the latter at lower elevations. Both Neotropic and Nearctic faunas have generated a high number of endemic species in Mexican mountains. 

Besides its rich biodiversity, Oaxaca is also one of the most understudied states in Mexico, and regarding plant or animal groups we have only little information. This  might explain why we also found, in addition to the recently described species, some species which were last collected 45 years ago. 

This map shows Oaxaca as depicted by a 3D Digital Elevation Model. Black dots represent sampling sites for Onthophagus anthracinus, the red dot Canthidium quercetorum, and the blue dot Phanaeus dionysius.

AAJ started to work on dung beetle diversity at high-altitude mountains ten years ago when she collected insect material from the alpine prairies of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt (TMVB). For her Ph.D. project, she moved up to high elevations between 2500 and 3500 at four volcanos. One of the most interesting results was that a high variability of diversity patterns between the volcanoes existed. We also found an unexpectedly high diversity, coupled with low abundances and detection probabilities, that in three years of sampling, abundances were still lower than what you collect in one rainy season in a cloud forest. Our next step shall be to compare diversity patterns between the mountains of Oaxaca and the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. Bert Kohlmann has studied for almost three decades the dung beetle communities in the high altitude-mountains of Costa Rica and Mexico, where interesting evolutionary phenomena have been discovered associated with the Last Glacial Maximum. Nevertheless, to detect and understand processes which determine diversity patterns at high altitude mountains in the tropics, more attention, longer sampling periods, and deeper taxonomic knowledge of the species and their phylogenetic relationships covering the whole Neotropics is needed. Matthias Rös studies diversity patterns in natural and human-modified landscapes, looking for biodiversity-friendly land-use patterns. Oaxaca seems to have plenty of these biodiversity-friendly land-use patterns in its mountain landscapes, despite or even because of a human-induced modification history dating millennia. Our research of describing new species is the baseline for further investigations. How can we protect the outstanding biodiversity under scenarios of climate change and land-use intensification? Oaxaca might suggest very interesting answers to many questions related to this topic. Oaxaca and its mountains still have many secrets to unfold, and we want to explore and reveal them.

 

Arriaga-Jiménez, A., Escobar-Hernández, F., Rös, M., & Kohlmann, B. (2020). The establishment of the Onthophagus anthracinus (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) species complex and the description of a new species. The Canadian Entomologist, 152:1-17. https://doi:10.4039/tce.2019.62. (Paper made available to read for FREE until March 24, 2020 in cooperation with Cambridge University Press)

 

Related research to dung beetles in high mountains:

Kohlmann B., Arriaga-Jiménez, A., Rös, M. 2018. Dung beetle vicariant speciation in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, with a description of a new species of Phanaeus (Coleoptera, Geotrupidae, Scarabaeidae). ZooKeys743:67-93. https://zookeys.pensoft.net/articles.php?id=23029

Arriaga-Jiménez, A., Rös, M. & Halffter.G. 2018. High variability of dung beetle diversity patterns at four mountains of the trans-Mexican volcanic belt. PeerJ 6:e4468. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4468

Kohlmann, B., Arriaga-Jimenez, A., & Rös, M. 2018. An unusual new species of Canthidium (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae) from Oaxaca, Mexico. Zootaxa 4378 (2): 273–278. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4378.2.7

by Dillon Muldoon, MSc student


Me on one of my newly planted berm research plots. Photo by Jenni Dunning.

While driving up highway 400 for that cottage getaway in the Muskokas, you’ll pass by a little slice of Ontario agriculture on some of the darkest soil you’ve ever seen. But be careful: If you blink, you might miss this beautiful place known as the Holland Marsh. Located 50 km north of Toronto, the Holland Marsh is known for its intensive production of carrots, onions, and over 60 other horticultural crops. The Marsh contributes over 1 billion dollars to the Ontario economy through the production, processing, and shipment of vegetables.

For my MSc project, I’m looking at ways to enhance ecosystem services in the Holland Marsh. Ecosystem services are benefits humans gain from ecosystems, which can include water and air purification, carbon sequestration, agricultural pest management, and crop pollination. My research specifically focuses on enhancing non-crop areas so that they can provide better habitat for pollinators and natural enemies of crop pests. Studies show that the enhancement of “naturalized” non-crop areas (e.g., hedgerows, field margins, riparian areas, mowed grass) with vegetative and floral plantings can help support the abundance and diversity of beneficial insects within an intensive agricultural system. The habitat provided for these beneficial insects can offer several ecosystem services to growers, from pollination of crops to assisting with crop pest control. Until recently, the Holland Marsh had almost no non-crop habitat. In 2010 the Holland Marsh Drainage System Canal Improvement Project was initiated, and at its completion in July 2016, 19 km of canals had been relocated and dredged, and 10 km of berms (dykes) had been expanded to improve safety and efficiency. This expansion of the berms increased the amount of non-crop habitat in the Holland Marsh. My study investigates how different vegetative enhancements on the canal berms might affect beneficial insect complexes and agricultural pest populations at the Holland Marsh. I’m using both active and passive trapping to assess the abundance and diversity of natural enemies, pollinators, and insect pest populations in two different vegetative enhancements throughout the growing season.

Me at Berm Day explaining the importance of non-crop habitat. Photo by Jenni Dunning.

Although vegetative enhancements can be beneficial, stakeholders were concerned about the possibility that the enhancements could provide a refuge for pests (e.g., insects, weeds, vermin) and that they may not be aesthetically pleasing. To address these concerns, I orchestrated a public and grower outreach day (Berm Day) on July 5, 2019 with help from funding by the Entomological Society of Ontario. The goal of Berm Day was to connect with the public and growers about the importance of enhancing non-crop habitat to support beneficial insects in intensive agricultural systems. I hoped to create a dialogue surrounding the importance of ecosystem services, and to disseminate some of my findings. My study has shown that vegetative enhancements support a greater abundance of natural enemies than the natural berm vegetation and increase floral resources for pollinators. The enhancements have not provided a refuge for primary insect pests of the crops grown at the Holland Marsh.

Overall, Berm Day was a great success. I connected with local growers, members of the public, master gardeners, conservation authorities, and members of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, over some fresh baked goods and coffee. We opened a dialogue about the project and shared ideas for future research, including management approaches and new seed mixes to improve the aesthetics appeal of the plantings. Everyone who attended left with a package of Ontario Native Seed Mix to plant at home, which was generously provided by Syngenta’s Operation Pollinator Multifunctional Landscapes.

I have heard once or twice that diversity is the spice of life, and within an intensive agricultural system, it can play an important role by offering numerous benefits for both growers and natural ecosystems. The conservation and enhancement of non-crop habitat can help provide ecosystem services in the Holland Marsh by increasing and supporting beneficial insects.

A special thanks to all the volunteers, advisors, the Muck Crops Research Station’s staff, Paul Hoekstra, and the Entomological Society of Ontario for making this day possible.

By Dr. Shelley Adamo, Dalhousie University

Do insects feel pain?  Many of us probably ask ourselves this question.  We swat mosquitoes, step on ants, and spray poison on cockroaches, assuming, or perhaps hoping, that they can’t – but can they?  As someone who studies the physiology behind insect behaviour, I’ve wondered about it myself. Those thoughts motivated me to examine the question from the perspective of evolution, neurobiology and robotics.

Are these crickets angry? In pain from being whipped by antennae? How would we know?

To find out whether insects feel pain, we first need to agree on what pain is.  Pain is a personal subjective experience that includes negative emotions.  Pain is different from nociception, which is the ability to respond to damaging stimuli.  All organisms have nociception.  Even bacteria can move away from harmful environments such as high pH.  But not all animals feel pain.  The question, then, is do insects have subjective experiences such as emotions and the ability to feel pain?

We’ve probably all observed insects struggling in a spider’s web or writhing after being sprayed with insecticide; they look like they might be in pain. Insects can also learn to avoid electric shocks, suggesting that they don’t like being shocked.  However, just as I was appreciating how much some insect behaviour looked like our pain behaviour, I realized that Artificial Intelligence (e.g. robots and virtual characters) can also display similar behaviours (e.g. see (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxyGwH7Ku5Y). Think about how virtual characters can realistically express pain in video games such as “The Last of Us” (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQWD5W3fpPM). Researchers have developed circuits allowing robots and other AI to simulate emotional states (e.g. ‘joy’, ‘anger’, ‘fear’). These circuits alter how the robot/virtual character responds to its environment (i.e. the same stimulus produces a different response depending on the AI’s ‘emotion’).    However, this does not mean that robots or virtual characters are ‘feeling’ these emotions.  AI shows us that behaviour may not be the best guide to an insect’s internal experience.

Given that behaviour seemed an unreliable guide, I then looked for neurobiological evidence that insects feel pain.  Unfortunately, the insect brain is very different from the human brain.  However, once we understand how our brains perceive pain, we may be able to search for circuits that are functionally similar in insects.  Research in humans suggests that pain perception is created by complex neural networks that link up the necessary brain areas.  These types of networks require massive bidirectional connections across multiple brain regions.  Insect brains also have interconnections across different brain areas.  However, these interconnections are often quite modest.  For example, the mushroom bodies in the insect brain are critical for learning and memory. Although the mushroom bodies contain thousands of neurons, in fruit flies, for example, they have only 21 output neurons.  In humans, our memory area, the hippocampus, has hundreds of thousands of output neurons.  The lack of output neurons in insects limits the ability of the insect brain to sew together the traits that create pain in us (e.g.  sensory information, memory, and emotion).

Finally, I considered the question from an evolutionary perspective.  How likely it is that evolution would select for insects to feel pain?  In evolution, traits evolve if the benefits of a trait outweigh its costs.  Unfortunately, nervous systems are expensive for animals.  Insects have a small, economical, nervous system.  Additional neurons dedicated to an ‘emotional’ neural circuit would be relatively expensive in terms of energetics and resources.  If it is possible to produce the same behaviour without the cost, then evolution will select for the cheaper option. Robots show that there could be cheaper ways.

The subjective experience of pain is unlikely to be an all-or-none phenomenon.  Asking whether insects feel pain forces us to consider what we would accept as a subjective experience of pain.  What if it was devoid of emotional content?  What if cognition is not involved?  If insects have any type of subjective experience of pain, it is likely to be something that will be very different from our pain experience.  It is likely to lack key features such as ‘distress’, ‘sadness’, and other states that require the synthesis of emotion, memory and cognition. In other words, insects are unlikely to feel pain as we understand it.   So – should we still swat mosquitoes?    Probably, but a case can be made that all animals deserve our respect, regardless of their ability to feel pain.

Adamo, S. (2019). Is it pain if it does not hurt? On the unlikelihood of insect pain. The Canadian Entomologist, 1-11. doi:10.4039/tce.2019.49 (Paper made available to read for FREE until Sept. 16, 2019 in cooperation with Cambridge University Press)

Aziz Sancar delivering his Nobel Lecture for his prize in Chemistry 2015. He said yes.

My early morning wakeup on Wednesday, October 7, 2015 began as usual with a, though admittedly not healthy, quick Twitter check. My internet-induced squint widened when I saw that Aziz Sancar was trending. Dr. Sancar had just been named co-winner of the Nobel prize in chemistry for his work on DNA repair mechanisms. Not at all surprised by the recognition of his career achievements, I was, however, flabbergasted because I actually know Aziz Sancar and in no small way, my career is what it is because of his generosity and kindness.

Twenty years ago, I was an MSc candidate studying the physiological ecology of amphibians at Trent University. At the time I was working with Michael Berrill on replicating and testing the findings of a 1994 PNAS paper by Andrew Blaustein and company. This was important work on declining amphibian populations in the Cascade Mountains. They found that these declining populations were characterised by low levels of a DNA repair enzyme called photolyase. This finding was intriguing because photolyase catalyses the repair of the principal form of damage to DNA from ultraviolet-b radiation. Because emerging ozone holes would result in natural populations experiencing an increased amount of UVB radiation, low levels of photolyase might be a “magic bullet” that explained which populations would be in decline in otherwise “pristine” areas.

Intriguing, but I was actually not ready to test it. With a potent combination of naïve enthusiasm, I figured I could simply contact the authors of the paper and ask them to teach me the methods that I needed to know to further their work. I tried email but could not find an address on the department website. So I phoned the Department of Biochemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They explained that Dr. Sancar did not want or have an email address. I asked that the call be connected to his office. When he picked up the phone, I leapt immediately into my explanation that I was an MSc student from Trent University in Peterborough, Canada, and that I was hoping to visit his lab to learn methods of photolyase extraction that I would apply to my system. To my now weathered academic amazement, but, at the time, only to my joy, immediately and without hesitation, he said yes. If I could get myself to Chapel Hill, he would teach me what I needed to know.

Alex Smith with hair studying amphibian photolysase induction and concentration in the late 20th century.

Alex Smith with hair studying amphibian photolysase induction and concentration in the late 20th century.

So on my spring break of 1997, I rented a car (two cars actually – one died, another story) and drove from snowy Peterpatch to the flowering springtime of Chapel Hill, North Carolina to spend a week in Dr. Sancar’s lab. “Lab” didn’t quite cover it. Dr.’s Sancar (he and his wife, Dr. Gendolyn Sancar) had a floor of the building at UNC. Dr. Sancar met me on that Monday morning and arranged for a postdoc and a PhD student to help me all week and ensure that I could extract and purify the enzyme. He even arranged for another lab to give me some African clawed frog eggs to practice on! He met with me every day to see how I was progressing and answer any questions. I remember him encouraging me to take in a UNC NCAA women’s basketball game while in Chapel Hill (Tar Heels!), and I was very impressed that this academic superman was often watching soccer in his office when I arrived (the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League, I think). A man of many interests! I left at the end of the week and proceeded to apply these methods successfully in my MSc. Three papers (Smith 2000, Smith et al 2000, and Smith et al 2002), eventually came from this project and one of the principal findings was that this enzymatic system could be induced in individuals from natural populations (previously not considered – and something that dramatically affects ones’ estimation of a populations’ photolyase level).

In my paper I was very critical of previous research – and not surprisingly, the manuscript received quite harsh and negative reviews. I had never written a response to reviewer comments before, and I did not craft them elegantly or with appreciation. Dr. Sancar was the editor at the journal handling the submission. He phoned me to suggest how I might better word my response. Connecting the phone call alone was no easy feat considering I was living in my car at the time, couch-surfing amongst friends on the west coast of North America – I’m still not sure how he managed to find me. But the advice was priceless and likely not something I would have come to on my own (let’s say it was something along the lines of…“I can hear that you’re angry by these comments, and they are not elegant – but you can’t say what you’ve said. What you mean is this……..so try expressing it like this….”). I was so appreciative, and now 20 years later I’m not sure I expressed my gratitude sufficiently.

And so, fast forward 20 years when I wake to read that the world has recognised Aziz Sancar for his pioneering work in the broad field of DNA repair. It made me think about the often unappreciated or unintended effects that saying yes can have on those around you.

At the end of his Nobel Lecture in Sweden in December 2015, Dr. Sancar showed a slide acknowledging his lab and colleagues. In part, these people and their output are the metrics that the Nobel committee evaluated in awarding him the prize. It was an impressive, but I knew not an exhaustive, list, for Dr. Sancar’s direct effect on my career – and indirectly then on all the students I have worked with in the subsequent years – was invisible to the Nobel committee (and perhaps not even remembered by Dr. Sancar). But these effects are significant and they came from a busy scientist saying yes when confronted with a naïve but enthusiastic student. There were many reasons for him to not take my call, not encourage me to come to North Carolina, not host me while I was there nor mentor me through the review process later on. But he did. He did say yes and it had an immeasurable effect.

I now work with insects in the neotropics and Canada on questions of biodiversity. I don’t work with photolyase and I don’t work as a physiological ecologist. However, by saying yes to me 20 years ago, Dr. Sancar’s act of generosity enabled me to follow this path. In the over-scheduled and busy lifestyle that we lead, it is important to consider this ripple that saying yes can have. There are many intended and measurable outcomes of supervision and mentoring – however there are many, perhaps more, unintended and important effects that kindness can have. As Anne Galloway said on Twitter, “We’re all smart – distinguish yourself by being kind”. The Nobel committee judged Dr. Sancar’s academic output worthy of its highest award last year. They were likely unaware of the affect that he has had in other scientific disciplines through his generosity and kindness.

 

I don’t think I said it clearly enough before. Thank you Dr. Sancar.

 

Dr. Alex Smith
Department of Integrative Biology,
University of Guelph

Yes, the International Congress of Entomology, which included the 2016 Entomological Society of Canada meeting contained within it, has just drawn to a close, but it’s never too early to start planning and preparing for the next ESC Annual Meeting!

So, in 2017, please accept the invitation of the Entomological Society of Manitoba to join entomologists from across the country in Winnipeg October 22-25 to share their, and your, entomological research and curiosity!

Official 2017 ESC-ESM Joint Annual Meeting Website

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Seeking Two Postdoctoral Fellows in Tree Responses to Insect Herbivores and Drought

Area of Research: Chemical Ecology & Ecophysiology

Location: Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton (Alberta, Canada)

Description of positions: The interdisciplinary project goal is to characterize the contributions that metabolomics and genomics-assisted tree breeding can play in comprehensive forest planning. Postdoctoral fellows (PDFs) sought for this project to assess the activities of tree defense and ecophysiological responses to insect herbivory and drought. The PDFs will characterize the secondary compounds, anatomy, and ecophysiology of two conifer species (lodgepole pine and white spruce) in response to insect herbivory and drought treatments in both greenhouse trials and associated progeny field trials in Alberta. The PDFs will be responsible for conducting and coordinating both lab and field investigations that include anatomical and chemical characterization of tree defenses, assessment of 13C, gas exchange, and chlorophyll fluorescence plant drought response, implementation of greenhouse and field experiments, data management, statistical analyses, writing reports and peer-reviewed journal manuscripts, and interact with industrial and government partners. The PDFs will also assist with supervision of full and part-time research assistants and undergraduate students. Even though each PDF will have his/her own research projects, it is expected that they work and collaborate together.

Salary: $50,000+ benefits per year, commensurate with experience.

Required qualifications: PhD in a relevant field is required. The ideal candidate should have background and experience in chemical ecology, ecophysiology, entomology, forest ecology, with strong analytical chemistry of plant secondary compounds (primarily terpenes and phenolics) using GC-MS and LC-MS, and writing skills. Suitable applicants with a primary background in one or more areas, plus interest in other research areas, are encouraged to apply.

Application instructions: All individuals interested in these positions must submit: (1) an updated CV; and (2) a cover letter explaining their qualities, including a list of 3 references along with their contact information (a maximum of 2 pages). Applications should be sent by email to Nadir Erbilgin (erbilgin@aulberta.ca) and Barb Thomas (bthomas@ualberta.ca) by the closing date. Please list “PDF application in Tree Responses to Insect Herbivores and Drought” in the subject heading.

Closing date: November 30, 2016.

Supervisors: Nadir Erbilgin (https://sites.ualberta.ca/~erbilgin/) and Barb Thomas (http://www.rr.ualberta.ca/StaffProfiles/AcademicStaff/Thomas.aspx)

Expected start date: January 2017 (with some flexibility)

Terms: 1-4 years (1st year initial appointment, with additional years subject to satisfactory performance).