Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Collection growth

Here is a picture of Gillian adding a few hundred specimens of fully curated and databased beetles to our research collection. One of these days we will make our database accessible through the web but for now we can accommodate any requests for specimens with email.  

UPDATE 12/10/2014: The beetle collection is now online as part of the Symbiota Collection of Arthropods Network and can be searched here

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Lots of new projects going on

It's been a while since I posted anything here - the semester classes and other writing caught up with me. But just wanted to post a quick note saying that we have many new exciting projects going on.

Photo by Jaimie Davis/UTC
Above is a photo of Max who is doing a massive photographic project of xanthopygine rove beetles. Max is also working with me on a morphological allometry project, but more details on that soon.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ten facts about rove beetles

I wrote a small blog post hosted by Christopher Buddle at Expiscor.  The post is about what I thought were 10 really cool things about rove beetles. Go read it here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Celebrating synonymies in taxonomy

Taxonomists like to celebrate every new species described. If it happens that one described a new species after a famous person or a particular feature of a famous person, then our papers get a lot of media attention, which (trust me) is a good thing.

However, as taxonomists we also tend to propose a lot of synonymies, i.e. recognize that a previously proposed taxon has already been described, or perhaps that it belonged to a different genus, family, or order [yes, once I transferred a taxon from Coleoptera to Dermaptera]. Unfortunately, we do not emphasize synonymies because we see this as just correcting past mistakes or perhaps as a decrease in the number of species for a taxon. The latter argument is of course wrong because synonymies decrease the number of names for a species, and do not produce a net decrease in the number of species. Proposing synonymies is really important in taxonomy because it really helps in making order out of chaos. And do not start me on how much taxonomists contribute to chaos formation...

One of my all-time-favorite papers was written by Vladimir Gusarov while he was a postdoc at the University of Kansas. In that paper Vladimir proposed more than 100 synonymies of aleocharinae rove beetles, cleaning up the mess of aleocharinae taxonomists for the last 200 years.

So, I recently started counting how many synonymies I have proposed. The number (20) is not as impressive as the number of new taxa I have described, but to be honest, I get much greater joy for every new synonymy proposed, than for every new species described.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Six species descriptions

That's how many species description I have to do to finish this manuscript. And by finish, I mean be completely done. Everything else has been written, illustrations are ready, text formatted for the journal. In the pre-kid days, I would simply stay in the office as long as it took. Sometimes descriptions are written fast, other times not. From past experience, I probably need 10 solid writing hours to finish them. The thing is, I do not have 10 solid hours because I have to go pick up the kiddo for swimming at 4pm. So those descriptions will not be finished today, and simply that thought makes me procrastinate a bit more (like writing a blog post) instead of working on those @#% descriptions. I am not complaining; it is just that getting used to a life with kids (and wanting to do a decent job as a parent) is hard, even three years later. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Surviving the pre tenure years

I am taking a small break from rove beetle posts to talk about something that I know very little about:  how to survive the pre tenure years. I recently (one year ago) got tenure and Pröf-like Substance had a post today soliciting opinions on how people “cleared the bar”. I am not claiming that my approach will work for everybody in a similar situation but below is what I found useful. For clarification, I work at metropolitan Master’s University with ~11,000 student enrollment. Some departments in my University have low or no research expectations but in my department it is expected that people will have an active research program.

1: Don’t be an asshole. To your students, to other faculty, to administrators or administrative assistants. Simply. Do. Not. People are willing to look the other way if you are marginally under the bar and you have been a decent human being but they will come to hunt you if you have behaved otherwise. Although I have seen assholes getting tenured in my University, it is always much harder to do so. Do not start personal vendettas with other faculty, like the year you are going up for tenure. Seriously.

2: Find out what works for you and your students in teaching and stick to it. Some faculty want to change how they teach every semester and this is not really a good idea in the pre tenure years. Find a teaching style that gets you good (or even better: excellent) evaluations and stick to it until you get tenure. Changing teaching style every other semester will result in fluctuating teaching evaluations and this is rarely seen as a good thing.

3: For the love of FSM, do research. In a primarily teaching University like the one I am working it is very easy to spend all of your time teaching, advising students and participating in committee work. Close your door, hide, turn off your light if you have to, but keep those papers coming out. And by the way, research = papers published. Invited talks, conferences, "reports" etc are nice but they do not cut it.

4: Apply for grants. Even in a undergraduate institution, having an externally funded competitive grant will go a long way towards getting tenure.

5: And finally: when I was a graduate student E. O. Wiley told me that “one shoud always try to get tenure and then solve the problems of the world”.

7/3/14 update: And if you have to talk at faculty meetings during the first years, follow the Silent Bob model: when you speak make sure it matters. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A beetle and a coin

A species Trigonopselaphus Gemminger and Harold next to one $1c coin. For European readers, the size of the coin is between the size of 1c and 2c Euros. Some of the species in this genus are among the largest of all Staphylinidae with total length in excess of 20mm. Perhaps some Platydracus or Tasgius are larger than this, but not by much.

When I started working on this review, I thought (naively) that due to their size it will be an easy review (easy to find specimens in museums and easy to see the characters). I have been wrong on both accounts, with just a handful of specimens among major museums and almost zero variation of character traits between species. You would think that in a >20mm beast you would not have to count punctures or setae, but...

Stephen J. Gould had written once (don't remember the specific Natural History essay) that when mammals become very large they all tend to look alike and I start to believe that this may be the case for rove beetles as well.