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Royal honours for Canadian student!

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Eloise Rowland, graduate of the Gries Lab of Simon Fraser University was recently recognized by the Royal Entomological Society for the best paper published in the journal Physiological Entomology in 2013 and 2014. This paper, part of Eloise’s MSc work, examines the role of sound in the sexual communication of the gypsy moth, Lymantria dispar.  It was coauthored by Peter Belton, Paul Schaefer and Gerhard Gries and is really a great contribution! Check it out!

Rowland E, Belton P, Schafer PW, Gries G. 2014. Intraspecific acoustic communication and mechanical sensitivity of the tympanal ear of the gypsy moth Lymantria dispar. Physiological Entomology 39(4): 331 – 340. DOI: 10.1111/phen.12080

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ESC Students Entered in NSERC-CRSNG Video Contest

Two student members of the Entomological Society of Canada have videos entered in the NSERC-CRSNG Science, Action! competition. The contest, open to students across Canada, aims to share NSERC-CRSNG funded research through 60 second videos, and offers a cash prize of $3,000 to the winning entries. The first round of public voting is now open, and both students would appreciate your support by viewing and sharing their entries, helping highlight entomology research in Canada.

Michael Hrabar,  MSc Student at Simon Fraser University

Bed bugs have become a global epidemic. Detecting infestations early is the key to successful eradication. Scientists at Simon Fraser University have identified the bed bug aggregation pheromone. They extracted the pheromone from the bugs’ feces and cast cuticle, and analyzed extracts by state-of-the-art technology including gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. In lab and field bioassays, they demonstrated that a 6-component pheromone blend is highly effective in attracting bed bugs to, and retaining them in, cardboard shelter traps. The pheromone technology can now be developed as a tool to help detect, and possibly control, bed bug infestations.

https://youtu.be/xRsh-hInyR0

Morgan Jackson*, PhD Candidate at the University of Guelph

Flies, two-winged insects in the order Diptera, are an important and understudied component of Canada’s biodiversity. With nearly 8,000 species known from Canada, and likely as many more still to be discovered, flies impact our lives every day, either as pests and disease vectors, or as pollinators, decomposers and in many other ways. At the University of Guelph Insect Collection, we’re working to understand the diversity of flies from coast to coast and beyond our borders by studying their natural history and taxonomy using comparative morphology and DNA. By combining fieldwork with museum-based research, we’re helping catalog Canada’s dipteran diversity.

https://youtu.be/BBWC3quX_vk

*Disclaimer: Morgan Jackson is an administrator of the ESC Blog.

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Exploring piophilid flies: taxonomic tools for forensic entomology

By Sabrina Rochefort, MSc student, McGill University.

Early in my undergraduate program at McGill University, I was looking for an opportunity to volunteer in a lab, where I could feed my need to learn and make new discoveries. That led me to Terry Wheeler’s lab; he was the teacher for my evolution class at that time.

I had a strong interest in evolution and paleontology, and was hoping to pursue that field. But Terry informed me that volunteering in his lab did not involve studying fossils, but instead studying tiny insects. Curious and willing to learn about insects, I decided to give it a try! At the Lyman Museum, I quickly discovered that entomology is a field of study with great opportunities and with an infinite number of projects. Besides studying for my degree, and working on weekends at Tim Hortons, I was volunteering up to 12 hours a week, between and after classes, pinning flies and identifying them. I couldn’t lie to myself anymore, I had developed a strong passion for entomology!

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Identifying flies at the Lyman Museum. Photo by E. Vajda

 

Volunteering gradually transformed into a student job. It’s then that Terry introduced me to the fly family Piophilidae, commonly known as the Skipper Flies. I spent numerous hours familiarising myself with piophilids, reading literature, learning to identify them, their ecology, etc. All that knowledge that I acquired in entomology during my undergraduate studies gave me a great opportunity: the chance to pursue graduate studies. I am presently undertaking a Master’s project on the taxonomy and phylogeny of Piophilidae.

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Collecting piophilids on decaying mushrooms in the Yukon. Photo by E. Vajda

 

Now, let’s put a little less attention on my background and a little more on this wonderful family of flies and my project!

Piophilids are small to medium flies (3 to 9mm), which are abundant and diverse, especially in the northern hemisphere. To date, there are 82 described species worldwide. They mainly feed and reproduce on decaying organic matter. This family is of interest in several scientific domains such as forensic entomology (for their presence on carrion), in behavior (for their unique sexual selection strategies) and in biodiversity (for their interesting geographic distribution in the arctic). Several species are also pests in the food industry. The study of their taxonomy and phylogeny is essential for several reasons: to be able to identify specimens found in studies; to document the geographic distribution of species; to establish their phylogenetic relationships; and to learn more about their biology and ecology. The main objectives of my thesis are a taxonomic revision of the Nearctic Piophilidae and phylogenetic analysis of the genera worldwide.

Liopiophila varipes, a piophilid species commonly found on carrion. Photo by S. Rochefort

Liopiophila varipes, a piophilid species commonly found on carrion. Photo by S. Rochefort

A statement that is often repeated in our lab is that it is important for taxonomists and ecologists to collaborate, and that the outcomes of our taxonomic projects should be useful not only for taxonomists but also to other entomologists in other fields of expertise. And that is right! For taxonomy to make sense, it is essential that other researchers be able to understand it and use our work. This can be done by providing them with “working tools” such as identification keys which are simple and adapted to a specific need. It is for that reason that, as a side project to my thesis, I decided to collaborate with Marjolaine Giroux, from the Montreal Insectarium, Jade Savage from Bishop’s University and my supervisor Terry Wheeler on a publication and key to the Piophilidae species that may be found in forensic entomology studies in North America. That paper has just been published in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod identification. We reviewed some of the problems associated with identification of piophilids, and the need to develop a user-friendly key to the species. We wanted to create a key with lots of photographs, that was user-friendly and simple for non-specialists, and that would be published on-line and open access. Because of this, CJAI was the ideal journal for our paper.

Seeing this publication completed early in my graduate studies is a great accomplishment for me. It gave me the opportunity to share my knowledge and make taxonomy more accessible to students, amateur entomologists and researchers in the academic and scientific community. Undertaking a project in a less familiar field which is linked to your expertise is a very gratifying experience which I strongly encourage other students to try. From this experience, I acquired new skills and knowledge, I made connections with researchers in other fields of study and I was able to make more connections between my Master’s thesis and other subjects in entomology.

Reference

Rochefort, S., Giroux, M., Savage, J., Wheeler, T.A. 2015. Key to Forensically Important Piophilidae (Diptera) in the Nearctic Region. Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification No. 27: January 22, 2015. Available online

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Exotic field collecting…in the hallway!

The following post is by Chloe Gerak, a Masters student at UBC who completed an undergraduate project at Simon Fraser University in the Gries lab.This past weekend, she won the top prize for an undergraduate talk at the Annual General  Meeting of the Entomological Society of British Columbia with a talk entitled « How the false widow finds true love ». Photos by Sean McCann.

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A male Steatoda grossa. These spiders have stereotyped courtship behaviour involving stridulation of an organ located dorsally between the cephalothorax and abdomen.

For approximately eight months, I studied the courtship behaviour and chemical communication between male and female false widow spiders, Steatoda grossa. Prior to studying them in Prof. Gerhard Gries’ lab at Simon Fraser University, I had never even heard of this species!

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Female Steatoda grossa on her web.

My mentor Catherine Scott and I had collected juvenile and mature false widow spiders around the basement of the biology wing at SFU… and let’s just say we didn’t have a lack of specimens to collect. Almost every baseboard we turned over or corner we searched, we would find these little guys and collect them individually into petri dishes. These formed the nucleus of our laboratory colony which we reared for behavioural experiments.

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A  common nickname for Steatoda grossa is the “cupboard spider,” which I find extremely appropriate considering these spiders seem to love dwelling in dark corners. Since they are so abundant around SFU, and I had never even seen one before this, I think people should not be frightened by cohabiting with them… likely, you won’t even know they are there!

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President’s Prize winners and runners-up

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Sarah Loboda of McGill University, a double runner-up! Photo by Miles Zhang.

In my last post, I shared some thoughts about the value of the President’s Prize at Annual Meetings of the Entomological Society of Canada. This time, with the help of Tyler Wist, I present the names and categories for each of the winners and runners-up.

I would like to congratulate all of these fine scientists, and invite each of them to share a bit about their work here on the ESC blog.

Oral Presentations

Bees and Pollination

Winner:

Veronika Lambinet (Simon Fraser University), with M. Bieri, M. Hayden, and G. Gries.

Bee talk – Do honeybees use the earth’s magnetic field as a reference to align their waggle dance?

Honourable mention:

Danae Frier (University of Regina), with C. Sheffield.

Bumblebees do it better: the importance of native bees to the pollination of haskap crops.

Biodiversity and Conservation

Winner:

Sebastian Ibarra (Simon Fraser University), with S. McCann, R. Gries, H. Zhai, and G. Gries.

The wrath of the bald-faced hornet – pheromone-mediated nest defence.

Honourable mention:

Seung-Il Lee (University of Alberta), with J. Spence and D. Langor.

Variable retention harvesting and saproxylic beetle conservation in white spruce stands of the boreal ecosystem.

Sarah Loboda (McGill University), with J. Savage, T. Hoye, and C. Buddle.

    Ecological and evolutionary responses of Arctic flies to recent climate change in Zackenberg, Greenland.

Arthropod Biology

Winner:

Sharleen Balogh (University of Northern British Columbia), with D. Huber and S. Lindgren.

Host selection of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) by the Warren root collar weevil (Hylobius warreni).

Honourable mention:

Aldo Rios (University of Manitoba), with A. Costamagna.

Contribution of soybean aphid alates to colony fitness under predation.

Pest Management

Winner:

Tina Dancau (CABI, Switzerland), with T. Haye, P. Mason, and D. Gillespie.

Mortality factors affecting the diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella) in continental Europe: a preliminary life table analysis.

Honourable mention:

Jon Williams (University of Guelph), with H. Earl and R. Hallett.

Laboratory investigations of swede midge, Contarinia nasturtii, oviposition and damage symptoms to canola.

Posters

 

Winner:

Sabrina Rochefort (McGill University), with T. Wheeler.

Taxonomy and diversity of Parapiophila (Diptera: Piophilidae).

Honourable mention:

Sarah Loboda (McGill University), with C. Ernst and C. Buddle.

Yellow pan traps versus pitfall traps: best monitoring tool for ground-dwelling arthropods in the Arctic.

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What is a President’s Prize worth?

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Sabrina Rochefort – winner of the President’s Prize for best poster

At the recent ESC/ESS JAM in Saskatoon, not only were we treated to some great science and camaraderie, but the beloved institution of the President’s Prize sessions for student talks and posters provided some of the most stimulating and exciting times. This was my first year not being in the competition, and I would like to offer my views on the subject.

1) The President’s Prize encourages excellence: Students are definitely motivated to deliver polished and professional presentations in the hopes that their efforts will be recognized publicly. This reaches further than the conference, to encourage students to vet their talks and posters within their laboratories and departments in formal and informal settings in order to make the best presentation possible. This can only be a good thing.

2) The recognition is important: this prize, although modest financially, has amazing value as something to put on one’s CV. This enhances the career prospects of the winners and also the recognition that conference travel for students is worth funding within departments. Again, the value of this prize reaches much further than the conference, as students returning with the tangible benefits of a prize winning talk encourages others to make it a priority to attend and give an excellent talk next year.

The President’s Prize and the more recent innovation of the Graduate Student Showcase are thus valuable to the society as a whole. By encouraging and recognizing the efforts of students who attend our conferences to present well-polished research results, we promote excellence in scientific communication. We can all learn from the skill and innovation of these students!

With all of this in mind, I would like to make some recommendations:

1) For every conference, pre-publish the scoring rubric to be used by the judges. This will ensure that students entering a talk or poster know what points they have to hit to make their talk a candidate for the prize. These rubrics should not penalize creativity on the part of the students or discretion on the part of the judges, but should ensure that there is a baseline for what is expected.

2) At every conference, formally recognize runners-up in every session: It costs nothing but a bit of extra time during award presentation, but the chance to bestow recognition on a few more students should not go to waste. Many sessions have many excellent talks, and to send an excellent presenter home with nothing does no one any good.  It has been a bit hit and miss in recent years at ESC meetings with regards to runners-up, and I think it should be the case that every conference includes this important recognition.

3) Send all competitors home with the judging sheets. This is a bit more onerous on the part of the judges, but the judges can definitely jot down some notes on their scoring sheet and show the tally for how well the talk lived up to the rubric. This is important to show that the criteria used to score the talks informed the decision. More importantly, it allows students to see how well their talk met the judges’ expectations, and to improve their presentations for the next year. This has been done at a couple of ESC meetings over the last few years and as far as I know, students found the feedback they got very valuable and were able to use it to improve their science communication skills.

 Thanks to Mile Zhang for photos of the poster competitors, and to Catherine Scott for helpful suggestions. Congratulations to all this year’s winners, runners-up, and competitors!

 

 

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A unique experience for the mosquito enthusiast – FMEL’s mosquito identification course 2014

The following is a guest post by Memorial University student Andrew Chaulk. Andrew is looking into mosquito ecology an biodiversity . He recently attended a short course offered by the University of Florida’s FMEL in Vero Beach. 

 

Just off a main road running through a small town in Florida, a small group of enthusiastic folks, both local and foreign, sit focused. Eyes trained on minute hairs, scales, and a plethora of other physical traits, we worked diligently; all of us training to identify the 174 species of mosquitoes which call North America home. What brought us all together? The advanced mosquito identification and certification course offered by the Florida Medical Entomology Lab in Vero Beach, Florida.

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Toxorhynchites, one of the « good guys ». These mosquitoes won’t bite you, and their larvae are predators on other container-inhabiting mosquito larvae. Photo by Andrew Chaulk.

First offered in 2000 as a training course for mosquito control personnel in Florida, the course has since opened its doors, inviting students from across the United States and internationally. This year’s class comprised of 21 students, four of which were Canadian (including myself, Kate Bassett – a fellow Master’s student, and our supervisor, Dr. Tom Chapman), and one student had travelled all the way from Nigeria to receive this internationally recognized accreditation.  Led primarily by Dr. Roxanne Connelly, a Louisiana born entomologist who specializes in mosquito biology and mosquito borne diseases, the course is the only one of its kind and covers the principles and skills needed to identify all known mosquito species in North America north of Mexico in a fast-paced and in-depth manner. The taxonomically based course is divided into two sections, with the first week covering adult mosquito keys, and the second, taught by retired entomologist George O’Meara, covers the larval keys.

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George O’ Meara leading the class. Photo by Tom Chapman.

Having come all the way from St. John’s Newfoundland, we arrived in Vero Beach to a wonderful break from our typical early spring weather. The course, which ran from March 3rd to 14th, began with some brief introductions and a tour of the FMEL property before getting down to business. Each section of the course comprised of four days of instruction and practice with the keys followed by one morning of exams – one written and practical exam per section. The in class material was often broken up by opportunities to use a wide variety of mosquito collection methods. Demonstrations were also provided concerning methods of specimen preparation and during one such demonstration I was even given the opportunity to show the class how minuten pins are used since this method is not commonly used at the FMEL. Overall, while the learning curve for the course was rather steep and the instruction fast paced, there was an interesting combination of anxiety and comfort brought about by the very friendly and supportive atmosphere which I think created an excellent learning experience.

 

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Greg Ross demonstrates some of the trapping and surveillance equipment, including lard can traps and CDC light traps. Photo by Andrew Chaulk.

Reflecting on my experience after returning to the snowy St. John’s, one unexpected yet valuable aspect of the course I took home with me was learning about the variety of backgrounds my peers had come from and how these all culminated in our taking the course together. From graduate students to naval officers, and mosquito control employees to research and medical scientists, our class was quite an interesting mix. While the foundation for my own interest in mosquitoes stems from my work for a graduate degree in biology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, I now have a much broader perspective on the amount of effort and resources that are invested in mosquito research and control.

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Students work with FMEL’s teaching collection, which is extensive. Photo by Tom Chapman.

Taking everything into account, I see this course as being one of the most valuable experiences of my graduate experience to date. Still in the first year of a Master’s degree I am working on a project centered on the mosquitoes of our province. I am concerned with questions surrounding the biodiversity of these insects in our province, their ecology and behaviour, as well as identifying possible introduction pathways of novel species. Being able to see firsthand what the results of research in this area can develop into has provided perspective for my own project and also has given me ideas of where my research can take me in the future. My expectations for this course were well exceeded and I would recommend this course to anyone who is working with these insects in any aspect.

If you would like some more information concerning course content and registration for next year’s class please visit here.

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The W5 of Deciding about Graduate School

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!

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Landing an entomological tenure track job: perfecting the practice of academic kung fu

By Chris Buddle (McGill University) & Dezene Huber (University of Northern BC)

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Last autumn there was quite an interesting discussion on twitter among some entomologists in Canada about the ‘job search’ – more specifically focused on the process of seeking tenure-track academic appointments.  Many of us shared our sob stories, and although the time, place and characters varied, the common element was REJECTION.  Those of us who currently are lucky enough to hold faculty appointments remember the rejection to success ratio, and some of us still have stacks of rejection letters.  While most of us really enjoyed the academic freedom that came with working as a postdoc, the job-search process was more often than not discouraging and deflating, and a really difficult time in our lives.

Towards the end of the PhD program, most of us are riding high – our papers are getting published, we are truly ‘experts’ in our fields of study, we are being congratulated, buoyed by our peers and mentors, and we are ready to take on the world.   We found ways to get a post-doc and perhaps traveled to a different country for additional experience, with a sense of hope, optimism, and enthusiasm for the next stage of our careers.

Then, like the world supply of helium, our hopes were quickly diminished.

« I will easily get a job interview at THAT University ».

Nope.  Not even an interview.

« Perfect – that job advertisement was MADE for me – they will hire me.  It’s a perfect fit ».

Nope. A mass e-mail rejection letter instead.

« I’m the GREATEST in my field of study.  Universities will be asking me to apply »

Nope.  That never happens.

I’m sure that I’ll be seriously considered for this position

Nope. The rejection letter came back saying that there were more than 400 applicants for the position.

Even if I don’t get the job, I’ll be able to get feedback from someone on the committee.”

Nope. It’s highly unlikely that, among the 400 applicants, anyone on the committee even remembers you.

There are really two ways to look at this.  It is possible to get discouraged and frustrated, and give up hope OR it’s possible to see that persistence can pay off and eventually the right job will come along, and you will be competitive.  Sure, the opportunities have to be there, but that kind of timing and ‘luck’ isn’t something you can control.

Here are a few pointers that will hopefully help you think about that tenure-track job search, and give you a sense of optimism:

  • It will take a huge dose of patience and persistence, but there ARE tenure-track jobs out there for people with Entomological interests, even in Canada. Recently, Manitoba hired an entomologist, and University of Ottawa just hired an assistant professor on the evolution of plant-pollinator interactions.
  • University professors do eventually retire! (…Although it needs to be noted that the reality in the current economy is that their positions are not always replaced)
  • You don’t have to restrict your options to only University positions.  We know of faculty members who worked in private companies, or in government, and made a lateral transfer, eventually, to academia.  Your holy grail may be a tenure-track job, but other opportunities are equally rewarding and could eventually get you a tenure-track job. Or you may find that life “beyond the ivory tower” is much to your liking anyhow. In fact, you may be interested in the advice column at Chronicle.com by that very name.
  • Be creative with your CV.  There are relatively few jobs for entomologists, sensu stricto, but there are jobs for evolutionary biologists, ecologists, or other more ‘general’ disciplines (Look: Concordia recently held a competition for a community and ecosystem ecologist!)  Re-work your cover letters and CV to reflect your potential in these jobs, and that you use insects as ‘model organisms’. And always tailor your cover letter and CV to any job for which you apply. Don’t just send in the same material to every search committee. Search committees are looking for that elusive thing that we call “fit.”
  • Keep your eye on the ball:  to get that coveted university position, the peer-reviewed publication remains the MOST IMPORTANT item on your CV.  Publish, publish, publish. During this stage of your career, keep the focus on that part of the research process. In particular, enjoy the fact that, as a postdoc, you are relatively free to conduct research and publish without many of the other responsibilities (e.g., teaching, administration) that will come with a tenure-track post.
  • Be realistic. If a job ad states that the committee is looking for an acarologist specializing in the mites of toucans, and you are an acarologist who studies toucan mites, then you have a good chance of landing an interview. If the job ad asks for a “terrestrial ecologist working at any scale from microbial to landscape” and you fit somewhere in there, chances are so do a few hundred other recent graduates.
  • When you see something that looks potentially appropriate for you, apply. Rejection is painful but costs nothing; not applying to something that might have worked out is doubly painful.  People who have agreed to write you letters of recommendation will be patient with you (if they are not, perhaps they are not the right people to give you a letter…?)
  • Have another postdoc or your mentor read through your application material. Chances are your mentor has been on a few search committees and can give you useful tips.
  • Every time you apply for a job, consider it a chance to improve your application material.
  • When you do land an interview, prepare for it like there’s no tomorrow. You are a researcher, do your best to figure out everything that you possibly can about the department to which you are applying and, even more, the personalities that make up that department.  Once you get an interview, this means your CV is strong enough, and the job interview is about the ‘fit’.
  • OK, to be fair, there are other tricks to success in academia.
  • Landing an academic position is not always going to be in the cards for everyone. It is best to have alternate plans so that you don’t get stuck in the so-called postdoctoral holding pattern for years and years. At least one of us (DH) committed to himself to start to explore alternate options at the five year mark after walking the convocation stage. Have a plan B. Your Plan B might actually turn out better than your Plan A in the end.
  • Rejection in terms of tenure-track jobs is really just a warm-up to the continual sense of rejection you will feel if you do end up working as a Professor.  You might as well get used to it.  This is not a statement to bring on doom and gloom: it’s the reality.  You must develop broad shoulders.

Rejection is a fundamental and core part of the academic life: The publication process is becoming so difficult that you can pretty much assume that your paper will get rejected the first few times around (check out this paper about rejection rates…).  Funding agencies are cash-strapped, and it’s getting harder and harder to find ways to fund research projects.  High caliber graduate students will ‘shop around’ for the best graduate program, and will often reject your laboratory. Be a practitioner of academic kung fu – use the weight of rejection against rejection itself by learning from it and applying it to your next attempt.

Depressed yet?

Don’t be.  A tenure track has so many advantages, and these far outweigh the annoying stream of rejections. And the other options available to a bright, young researcher are often as appealing (and usually pay more) than being on the tenure track anyhow.  ..but that’s a topic for another post.

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Meet your ESC Student Affairs Committee

By Julia Mlynarek, PhD Candidate (Carleton University)

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Well it’s a New Year! 2013!

I’m writing a post on behalf of the Student Affairs Committee (SAC). Many people, especially students, don’t really know who we are and what the Student Affairs Committee actually does. So I figured I’d try to clear it up…

Who are we?

The SAC is composed of several graduate students distributed as evenly as possible across Canada. At the moment, there are seven students serving on the Student Affairs Committee. Part of these seven and Chandra Moffat (Fredericton, NB) and Boyd Mori (Edmonton, AB) who are also co-chairs of the SAC this year making sure things run smoothly.

The co-chairs – Chandra Moffat and Boyd Mori. Photo credit: Adrian Thysse

The co-chairs – Chandra Moffat and Boyd Mori. Photo credit: Adrian Thysse

Via e-mail, we consider how improve or maintain student success and visibility in the ESC. Other members include Ikkei Shikano (Burnaby, BC), Brock Harper (Toronto, ON), Paul Abram (Montreal, QC), Léna Durocher-Granger (Quebec/Honduras), Guillaume Dury (Montreal, QC) and me (Julia Mlynarek (Ottawa, ON)).

What do we do?

The mandate of the SAC is two-fold; 1- we advise Student Members, the Governing Board, and the Society on programs of the Society for students and on other matters concerning students and 2- we advise Student Members and the Society on the training of entomologists and on the future job opportunities for entomologists in Canada. This mandate is very broad but throughout the year we try to set specific goals to help students succeed in entomology. This year for example, we will be trying to post more regular updates on the ESC blog to let the Members know what we are up to. We are also working on an updated version of the Directory of Entomology. Of course we continue working hard on letting the Student Members know of Job and Research postings. Additionally, we let the community know if a student has defended their thesis successfully in the thesis round-up (either on the ESC website, or in the Bulletin). So if you’re a student that has just submitted a thesis, let us know! We also help with organization of the annual meeting such as trying to keep the costs for the meeting as low as possible (but still sustainable) for the student, the student mixer during the meeting, the Graduate Student Symposium and the Silent auction. The proceeds of the silent auction actually come back to help the students. So a successful silent auction means extra funds for the students!

Great turn out to the ESC student mixer! Photo credit: Seth McCann

Great turn out to the ESC student mixer! Photo credit: Seth McCann

Student affair committee members (Chandra Moffat and Paul Abram) manning the silent auction at the last ESC annual meeting. Photo credit: Adrian Thysse

Student affair committee members (Chandra Moffat and Paul Abram) manning the silent auction at the last ESC annual meeting. Photo credit: Adrian Thysse

We work hard in our spare (non-thesis) time to encourage students pursue their dreams of working with insects. The actions we take today will influence the future entomology students which could potentially be our students in the future. We want Canadian Entomology to be the best it can be so that is respected in the world as it has been since the inception of the ESC.

If you (as a student) are interested in getting involved please contact us – students@esc-sec.ca or post a message on the ESC student facebook page. We would love to hear from you.

Enjoy the insects.

Till next time,

Julia