This is my sixth term as an Entomology (that’s the -ology of insects) PhD student at McGill, and I’ve been awfully busy. I’ve given my first departmental seminar, submitted my thesis proposal, survived my comprehensive exam, taught three terms’ worth of labs, and finished writing a book chapter. (I’m tired just looking at that list!)
Somewhere in the middle of all that, I also managed to squeeze in two field seasons in the Canadian Arctic.
I’m the first to admit that doing field work in the far north is pretty sexy stuff. I get to travel to gorgeous remote regions that most people will never get a chance to see. I spend my days driving an ATV over wide-open tundra, setting traps and collecting specimens and keeping an eye out for grizzly bears. I see cool things like muskoxen, the spring thaw on Coronation Bay, and the midnight sun. I get to meet beautiful, friendly people; sometimes I get to go bug-hunting with local kids.
Even when it’s cold and rainy, my ATV gets stuck in the mud and I discover that a reckless caribou has run through my trapline, it’s still full of awesome.
When I tell people that this is how I spend my summers, I get “Oh, lucky you!”-type responses. “How exciting!” they say. “How exotic!” The assumption often becomes that Doing Science must consist of having one thrilling adventure after another.
Well, it’s a little bit like that.
But the reality is, when I think about my research and the year ahead, I mostly envision this:
This is the not-so-sexy, but oh-so-important part of Doing Science. After two field seasons, I have bazillions of six-legged critters stored in ethanol that remain to be identified, quantified, thought about, written up and talked about at conferences.
One of my students recently asked, “Can I be an entomologist without spending a lot of time in the lab?” I suppose it’s possible, but not terrifically likely. Prof. Buddle, who was with me at the time, said it well: “You have to pay your dues”. The time at your lab bench, those days and weeks and months spent peering into microscopes and coping with the parfum of ethanol-soaked bugs, sifting through museum collections, entering data, doing analyses…these are the dues you have to pay when you are privileged enough to get to Do Science.
The rewards can be great, though. And, with the right frame of mind, these potentially monotonous tasks can provide opportunities for learning, networking, socializing, skill-enhancing, and simply for seeing some really neat stuff. At the end of it all, discoveries are made, theories are advanced, papers are published and your hard work and ideas start to bear fruit and gain recognition.
That being said, it’s time for me to quit blogging for today and get back to work…it’s time to pay my dues.