Tree-Eating Beetles March Northward, Lured by Milder Winters

For lovers of the stately pine forests of the Northeast, sightings of a destructive tree-eating beetle in recent years have been nothing short of alarming.

Now, new research from climatologists at Columbia University confirms what ecologists feared: Warmer winters mean the southern pine beetle is here to stay, and is set to march ever northward as temperatures rise.

Historically, the tiny beetles, which starve evergreens to death, were largely unheard-of north of Delaware. The Northeast’s cold winters killed off any intruders.

The winters are no longer cold enough.

Want to know more? Read about it here!


On the fine balance between crafting new ideas and fighting writers’ block

My biggest problem as an academic? I’m not enough of a finisher. I get excited and distracted by new shiny things and start pursuing them instead of sitting down and finishing the paper from the last thing I’m already done with. I sometimes call this writers block… but that’s just an excuse and I know it.

So to combat this idea, and the ideas put forth in this post, Raul Pachecco-Vega wrote about how he teaches his students to write every day. It’s both a nice rebuttal and food for thought on how to approach the mountain of writing required to publish or perish. I especially like Meghan Duffy’s response.

Do you have writer’s block? Is there a way you combat it? Does it involve moving the refrigerator to clean behind it as a means of avoiding writing your thesis (Mom, I’m looking at you here)?


Write drunk, edit sober

The title of this post is one of my favorite Hemmingway quotes. While I think Ernie might have taken it too far (I’m not encouraging alcoholism here), I definitely approve of this kind of mentality. Just ask my editors, my first draft is usually words vomited onto the page that I then spend MONTHS beating into submission.

But as was recently pointed out in an article making the rounds of the twitterverse: this isn’t the only way to do it, and being open about the struggles we all go through (I still hate staring at a blank page) and our process.

Check out: How academics survive the writing grind: some anecdotal advice, and let me know more about your process!


I want to do research: undergraduate version

Are you an undergraduate and think, “I might be interested in research”?  Are you an undergraduate and want your med school application to stand out?  Are you trying to decide if you want to go to med school?  Do you want a better connection to the faculty whose classes you take?

Where do you start?

To anyone on my side of the equation, it seems pretty obvious and easy: just do it. But I have a good memory and remember the utter fear of asking a professor if I could work with her. So let’s break it down in a few simple steps:

1.Figure out who you might like to work with. Did you have a professor whose lectures you loved? Or a subject that you thought was super cool? These are two great places to start. Another place to go is your University/Department website.  Almost EVERY ACADEMIC HAS A WEBSITE (I need to update mine, come to think of it), and usually they talk about what they do and who is in their lab. Keep an eye on students in the lab (PhD and MS students) and whether the focus of their research work looks cool. Get a feel for who might be interesting to work with, and start reading some papers authored by that person.

2. Contact the person/professor you have selected. Brief emails are great, because these people are likely busy, but be professional. Here’s a shell document I used to help students in the past:

Dear Dr. (Professor Name)-

I am a {your year at the University} student majoring in {your major here}. I am interested in doing research in your lab. Do you have any projects available?

Thank you for your time.

{Your Name}

This allows the professor to know who you are quickly, while not having to dig through a long email. Remember, this is just the first step. Don’t be offended if the answer is “I don’t have time for a new student right now.”  It’s not you! Profs are busy people, and you are asking something of them! When I did this, I had 3-4 responses back – a wider choice of people with whom to explore the next step. I happened to get my first choice, but don’t be offended if they turn you down.

3. Plan to work hard. When I started mentoring undergraduates, I was so excited to be in the role of mentor that I found I felt as though I put in twice as much work as they did on their projects. As I got more experienced, I realized I can’t do that and make them successful (live and learn!). So as a mentor, I had a pretty straightforward method of determining “are we going to work out.” I would start by giving them a task that required hard work for one week. Changing water in snail tanks, or feeding my experimental populations, something that required them to come in a few times in the first week and do something tedious. A LOT of students decided at that point that maybe research wasn’t for them, and that’s fine. But if you want to stick around and get your own project (which was what was in store for week 2), then you need to plan to work hard right away. I know you have exams, and homework, and life is hard. I get it, I’ve been there. But I’m not going to hand you a research project that is a priority for me, when it’s REALLY low down on your priority list.  And every single project EVER has the tedious bits that have to be done.  If you’re not willing to do the tedious stuff, you aren’t ready to do research.

4. Learn as much as you can. Ask questions, make mistakes, get messy! (Mrs. Frizzle, My Entire Childhood <-pretty sure that’s how you cite this particular quote). There is nothing I like more than when students ask to know more. They want more reading, more stats notes, more recommendations on classes or experimental designs. I mentioned above that I stopped doing the work for my students after my first year mentoring (my time became valuable at some point… not sure when…). However, if you want to do the work, I WILL BEND OVER BACKWARDS TO HELP YOU IN ANYWAY I CAN. I got into this field because I like teaching, so be someone who is teachable.

There you go. This isn’t a recipe for success (too many other variables there), but how you can start. Also, this is heavily biased by what I’ve done and the students I’ve mentored. Do you have a way to do it better? Do you tell students something different? Have things changed in the decade since I did undergraduate research?

Let me know!


Presenting my undergraduate project at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research.

Sea Stars Are More Brutal Than They Look

Ever look into a tide pool and become filled with the wonder of sea stars? Think they look so peaceful, chilling in their cute little pool, watching the world go by…

THINK AGAIN! These monsters are aggressive af, and one of the most brutal predators of the shore.

Want to know more? Read about it here!


Utah Paleontologists Turn to Crowdfunding for Raptor Project

Utahraptor, 23 feet long and weighing over a ton, was one of the largest dromaeosaurs, feathered, sickle-clawed dinosaurs closely related to birds. Since its discovery in 1991, it has been the subject of a popular novelassorted documentaries and tie-in toys from “Jurassic Park.” But for all its fame, the predator has been known primarily from only a few remains. That changed in 2001, when a geology student found a leg bone emerging from a hillside in the Cedar Mountain formation in eastern Utah. You see, millions of years ago, on a mud flat somewhere in Cretaceous Utah, a group of Utahraptors made a grave mistake: They tried to hunt near quicksand. The pack’s poor fortune has given modern paleontologists an opportunity to decode the giant raptor — its appearance, growth and behavior — but only if they can raise the money.

Enter “The Utahraptor Project,” started on GoFundMe last year with a $100,000 goal. It offers backers access to a field worker’s blog, a live “Raptor Cam” and digital models of the find put together through the process of photogrammetry.



Flamingos In The Men’s Room: How Zoos And Aquariums Handle Hurricanes

While people can flee in the face of a hurricane, zoos and aquariums don’t have that luxury. They can’t abandon the animals which they care for, and the trauma of an evacuation might harm more animals than it would save.

How do they deal with it? Read about it here. One solution, keep the Flamingos in the men’s room…


It’s good to have lots of bad ideas

Linus Pauling, a two-time Nobel prizewinner, also gave us another important, if less well-known, dictum: that if you want to have good ideas, you must have lots of ideas and learn to throw away the bad ones.

But how do we quantify if that’s true? One academic of emeritus status (John Kirwanlooked back on his career to do just that.

Read about it here.


Why Ecology Needs Natural History

The two fields’ intertwined histories show that most theoretical breakthroughs are preceded by the kind of deep observational work that has fallen out of vogue in the past half century.

Want to know more about collaboration and a call for research associated with this partnership? Read about it here.