Resolutions: from blogs to birds

Happy New Year!

End-of-year posts tend to be focused on reflections on the past year – now it is time to look forward and make some resolutions.  From a personal perspective, I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions.  I’ll try to floss my teeth, exercise, and eat my veggies.  However, I will forget about these or feel guilty and annoyed by the time February hits.  I wonder if perhaps I can stick to my professional resolutions?  Will it help if I wrote a post about these and make them very public? Why not give it a try

… here are six resolutions:

1.  Keep blogging.  I think this will be an easy one to keep – I achieved 75 posts last year and I’ll work to equal or better that.  I’m motivated to write more posts: it’s fun, and provides immense value.   I thought that perhaps blogging would get tiresome and I would run out of ideas.  This is not the case.  I have a lot of ideas, and will soon write about spider parasitoids (including this one), share some videos related to field work from last summer, discuss the pros and cons of comprehensive exams in PhD programs, and discuss uses of technology in teaching (or not…back to chalk?).  I’ll also work to follow good advice for writing science posts.

2.  Finish the Opiliones Project.  For new followers, this was a project that uses twitter to share the information from a fabulous (but expensive) textbook about Harvestmen – fascinating cousins of spiders.  The project is about 3/4 of the way finished.  I will do my best to find a bit of time to wrap this up, archive it, and write a summary post… before winter’s end!

An Opiliones from Panama (with mites, too!)

An Opiliones from Panama (with mites, too!)

3.  Back to the Microscope.  It’s seldom I can find the time to use that magical tool – you know, that thing that you look into and it makes stuff big?  I really am going to try to rediscover my love of Arachnid taxonomy.  I’m thinking of starting with jumping spiders, and would like to work on a larger project about the local jumping spider fauna.

4. Manuscripts!  Quite a few of my graduate students will be finishing up this year – the Northern Biodiversity Program is coming to a close, and I hope to get manuscripts submitted for publication.  The work is very exciting, and that project has really been a catalyst of change – and the bulk of my research next year will have an Arctic focus.  However, I don’t feel a project is fully completed until all the manuscripts are submitted.

5. Get control of email.  I must be honest: this is the resolution that will be really tough to keep. E-mail is just so overwhelming, and I do a poor job of organizing it.  Typically I don’t delete anything, wait a few month and dump everything into an archive folder and rely on my email search function (or my memory – yikes!) to find things.  That system is not efficient and I frequently miss important tasks due to my lack of control over email.  I will try be more efficient, and hopefully more productive, by clearing and deleting unnecessary e-mail clutter daily (yeah, right.) –>Does anyone have good suggestions for managing e-mail??

#2013Birds - the beginning.

#2013Birds – the beginning.

6.  Become a (better) birder. This resolution reflects the fact that the line between my professional life and my personal life is pretty blurry.  I wish to be more knowledgable about birds because they are part of earth’s rich fabric that we call biodiversity and my research interests are about biodiversity.  I also think that birds are lovely and fun to watch.  Every year I try to be a better birder but it seems to fizzle out my mid-year.  This year will be different because I will give myself a goal.  I am quite obsessed with list-making, and by tracking all the bird species I see in a year provides me an opportunity to make another list, and will hopefully help me become a better birder.  Want to join the fun?  With twitter, use the hashtag #2013Birds.  I think I will also experiment with i-naturalist to track the species count. So far this year?  Blue jays, Chipping sparrows American tree sparrow, Black-eyed Juncos, American crows, and black-capped Chickadees (most of these in my own backyard).

Wish me luck!  (I’ll keep you posted about successes and failures!)


17 thoughts on “Resolutions: from blogs to birds

  1. I feel your e-mail pain. I have realised that my problem is that I use the inbox as a proxy to do list – the mail is the reminder of something I have to do. After a lot of work yesterday and today, I managed to get it down to 37 messages, including one from May 2011…

    I’m not sure there’s any way of stopping it rising up again like The Terminator or Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct except to do a little every day. Oh, and phone people rather than mailing them and not replying to people unless absolutely necessary.

    On the Opiliones project, it’s a fabulous book. I was lucky enough to get a review copy. Here’s my review, from the TLS:

  2. Hey Chris,

    I don’t know which software you’re using for your e-mails, but I know that most of the basic programs allow you to sort mail as soon as it gets in your inbox. For example: you can have different folders named say “Students”; “University Staff” and “Personal life” With the use of sorting tools, you can ask that any e-mail sent from an address that ends with “” be sent into “Students” and that any e-mail that has been sent by an address ending with “” be sent into “Staff”. You might already know about this, but if not, its a good way to keep some general level of control over which e-mails are where and how to access old stuff rapidly because you already have an idea of where you should find it.

    Hope this helps!


  3. Matthew: thanks for the link to your review!

    Email: indeed… the trick (for me) is to learn to hit the delete key more often. And deal with it every day.

    We are all in this battle together… perhaps we will eventually win.

  4. Hi Fred and thanks for the comment – indeed, I have already set up many “rules” to filter out various emails – it sort of helps limit the volume, but is only a partial solution. But a good idea – I could perhaps think of setting up more rules.

  5. Regarding email Chris, some research suggests your archive and search system is marginally better than organization into “boxes”. That was counter-intuitive to my thinking, but after switching to this system with my work email, I do find it works. I don’t spend *any* time figuring out what box a particular email should fit. Key is having a good search system (i.e. being able to search by sender or if email includes attachments) to find the email again.

    Also, as Matthew mentions, using a to-do list so that your inbox doesn’t have to become the defacto holder for upcoming actions is a good way of clearing it out. I actually have three tags (U of G email allows us to create and add tags to emails) called “action” “upcoming” and “waiting”; I will often tag read email that needs attention later. That’s just one way…


  6. Hi Chris,

    Good luck with the birding! In addition to iNaturalist, I recommend, developed by The Cornell Lab or Ornithology, is also a great way to track your sightings and contribute to ornithology research.

    Chipping Sparrows are somewhat rare in winter in Canada, but compare your photo to the American Tree Sparrow (rusty flanks, broader white wing bars).

    I just found your blog a few months ago when I became interested in insect identification and ecology, and I’ve really enjoyed and learned a lot from the plain language summaries of research papers.

  7. Matt – thanks for the comments! I will look into – but I did like that inaturalist has a mobile app – something important to me since my smartphone is always will me and allows an easy way to record observations.

    Hmm – interesting point about chipping sparrows – I will look again (more carefully!) – I must admit, it was a bit confusing determining that species (too many darn sparrow species!!). I am already learning something!

    I really do appreciate the pointers, and I am glad you are enjoying the blog!

  8. Great resolutions – you might just inspire me as well. I have wanted to get better at my insect ID for several years now… as well as plants, trees, fish, mammal tracks…. and more! I am more than happy to help with bird ID anytime – just let me know! I agree with Matt that your sparrow was likely a American Tree Sparrow – slightly bigger than a chipper and with a central dot on the breast. I have plenty of them at my feeder this winter.

  9. Thanks Barbara – OK, a close look again this morning – I was (of course) quite wrong – those sparrows in my back yard ARE American tree sparrows, not the Chipping sparrow. Mistakes, I shall make. Learn, I will.

    • Meeting with the undergrads? One of my frdneis has never had a meaningful exchange of words with his PI (though there’s one undergrad whom he is apparently chummy with). Their lab does take up at least two entire hallways, though.

  10. Sounds like email is something everyone is struggling with 🙂 I do a combination of methods:
    1) I only ‘deal’ with email in the mornings. I peek at emails coming in during the afternoon, but if they’re no urgent, the replies wait until the next morning.
    2) I partially use the “zero-inbox” method. As in, if it’s something that needs to be done soon and I can tackle in the next 48 hours, it stays in my inbox and it gets dealt with in morning processing. If it’s going to take longer than 48 hours, or if it’s something I can put off until later, I respond to the person, letting them know when it will be handled, and then it goes into my to-do list.
    3) And my to-do list is inspired by David Allen’s method of “Getting Things Done.” If you haven’t been introduced to this method yet, it has some great ideas on how to sort and manage and get power over crazy long to-do lists.

    Thanks for you posts, I love them! I’m not an entomologist myself, but a science communicator in the physics world, and have photos of bugs on my desktop as a screensavers. Yay science!

  11. Thanks, Jennifer, for the advice and comments. In particular, I should subscribe to the advice about dealing with emails only at specific times (as Dezene suggests, too). I’ll look into the “getting things done” method! (more than a few people have now suggested that text to me – it’s a sign!)

  12. Sparrows are very hard to identify, and that genus is one of the most confusing! If you can get a hold of the original version of Kenn Kaufman’s _Advanced Guide to Birding_, he includes a section on first determining the sparrow genus by shape, and then narrowing it down to species from there. The most recent edition of this guide might also have this section, but I’m not sure.

    eBird has some privately developed smartphone apps including BirdLog for iPhone and Android which allows you to easily record and submit sightings (

  13. Pingback: The greatness of pseudoscorpions « Arthropod Ecology

  14. Pingback: An entomological wish list for the new year › Expiscor

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