Expiscor (19 August 2013) – The Photography Edition (Part 2)

Last week was Part 1 of the Photography editions of Expiscor (this is because I was been doing remote field work and have thus been unable to keep up on science links, and now I’m on vacation!).  Here’s Part 2 – and again, I thank the Photographers for letting me post their work here, and for directing me to their favourite nature image.

First up, a lovely shot from Morgan Jackson, a Micropezidae fly (genus Raineria)

Screen Shot 2013-08-04 at 3.16.51 PM

An Expiscor favourite Adrian Thysse submitted this photo, with the following comment: My ‘favourites’ change every week, but here is a shot that was one of themost popular images at the Bug Jamboree at the Ellis Bird Farm last Saturday. It is a meadowhawk, Sympetrum sp. , taken with very shallow depth of field to smooth-out the background and to accentuate those magnificent eyes.

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 11.32.26 AM

Next, another awesome fly, from Rachel Graham:

Screen Shot 2013-08-04 at 3.36.47 PM

Warren Sarle submitting this photo – lovely little jumping spiders!

Salticidae

The next photo comes with a story, here’s what Matt Bertone writes about this image:

I was walking on a trail near our local lake (Raleigh, NC, USA), when I came upon a harvestman. I didn’t think much of it until I saw this tiny ceratopogonid sucking hemolymph out of its leg. I had been wanting to find this phenomenon, so I took a couple photos (others show the whole scene) and then was on my way to find new subjects. After posting on facebook and having Chris Borkent comment on it, I sent the photo to Art Borkent, a world expert on punkies. He was amazed at what I had found – Opiliones as a host was only recorded once ever, and only in Brazil. I was kicking myself for not getting the specimen, but at least the shot turned out well!

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 1.10.08 AM

Ok, time to move away from the “All Arthropod” show… here’s an image of my own and here’s the story: Last week I was in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, doing field work. While doing a “tundra walk” one afternoon, we stumbled across a tiny patch of Asters, tucked in among some rocks. It was a beautiful moment because it was very late season, and we observed very few flowers. However, these stunning Asters took my breath away. Delicate, beautiful, fragile.

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 1.13.19 AM

Arctic reflections (Part 1)

So many clichés  – the Arctic is a vast, stark landscape. In summer, a land of endless days, swarms of mosquitoes and rivers teeming with Arctic char; snowy owls flying low over the tundra; Muskox roaming the lands.

The clichés are true. I’ve been north many times, and each time the effect is stronger. Each time the landscape leaves a deeper impression. Over a couple of blog posts, I want to share reflections about the Arctic from my recent field trip to Cambridge Bay (Nunavut), and try to explain why I love it so much, and why Arctic research is my passion. I’ll also share a few of my favourite photographs from the trip.

Mt Pelly

Arctic Arthropods

I often write that “Arctic biodiversity is dominated by arthropods” and I stand firmly behind that statement. Despite the latitude of Cambridge Bay (at 69 degrees North), the tundra is alive with butterflies, bees, low-flying dipterans, and spiders.  On a warm day, you can sit in the tundra and watch the careful movements of spiders as they navigate their three-dimensional world, seeking prey, or simply sunning themselves.  Over the past few years our research team has documented over 300 species of spiders living across the Arctic and sub-Arctic, and although diversity drops at high latitudes, there are still over 20 species known from the low Arctic Islands, dropping to fewer than a dozen as you approach 80 degrees North.

Arctic wolf spider (Lycosidae), genus Alopecosa

Arctic wolf spider (Lycosidae), genus Alopecosa

Under rocks in flowing water you can find black fly larvae, swaying in the current. Sometimes you find the shield-shaped pupal cases, and if lucky, you can see the emerging adults. These emerging adults are sometimes adorned with red mites. There are arthropods living within the protection of Arctic willow; careful examination of Salix reveals red ‘berries’ which are actually galls. Opening these reveals a hidden life. A secret, protected room containing the larvae of a Hymenoptera.

An Arctic Lepidoptera

An Arctic Lepidoptera (genus Boloria)

Research

A few years ago, the Federal Government announced a new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS), and it is to be built in Cambridge Bay over the next several years. This station will support and facilitate research in the North, in many different ways, from studies about effects of climate change on permafrost, to research on marine mammals. I am going to do my own research in Cambridge Bay, but with the aim of integrating research about arthropod biodiversity with other Arctic studies. I also hope to help in the development of a long-term monitoring plan, using arthropods as one of the focal taxon. Arthropods can tell us a lot about the world, and how it is changing, and long-term data are needed to ensure we have a clear sense of when ‘change’ is change that we need to pay particularly close attention to.

A malaise trap on the tundra - designed to collecting flying insects

A malaise trap on the tundra – designed to collect flying insects

I was in Cambridge Bay to start to develop these kinds of projects, and to get to know the town, community and the land.  I also wanted to collect insects and spiders in the Arctic in the late-season. I’ve worked in the Arctic a lot over the last several years, and although we have done full-season (i.e., June-August) collecting on the mainland, our laboratory does not yet have a clear idea about seasonal occurrence of different species occurring on the Arctic islands. Therefore, I was doing some collecting so that data could be gathered about arthropods on Victoria island and the end of the summer. For all these reasons, Cambridge Bay was my ‘research home’ for a week or so.

History and People.

Arctic regions of Canada have a rich history – and a history that is both tragic and awe-inspiring. Residential schools, relocation programs and stories of substance abuse, are all part of the darker side of this history. For hundreds of years, Europeans saw the Arctic as a wild land that required navigating, and a land that contained a bounty of riches, from whales to minerals. A bounty that was available for the taking. The stories are remarkable, and evidence of them remain in places like Cambridge Bay, including the influence of the Catholic church and the wreck of Amundsen’s ship, the Maud.  The search for Franklin’s lost ships continues – while I was in Cambridge Bay, a ship departed, in search of the Erebus and the Terror.

The remnants of a Catholic church, built in Cambridge Bay in the early 1950s

The remnants of a Catholic church, built in Cambridge Bay in the early 1950s

The Maud, in its resting place. The townsite of Cambridge Bay is visible in the background

The Maud, in its resting place. The townsite of Cambridge Bay is visible in the background

There has been a rebirth, however – Nunavut is a place of Inuit pride, and includes a wonderful balance between old traditions and new. The Inuit are marvellous – a people exhibiting patience, perseverance, kindness, good humour, and ingenuity. I heard stories of how runners on sleds could be made of frozen bodies of Arctic char, and the cross-braces from bones of wildlife, and frozen mosses would adorn the tops. If times were really tough, parts of the sled were edible.  Today, wood and rope is the preferred construction material!

Sled on the tundra: waiting for winter.

Sled on the tundra: waiting for winter.

Inuit culture is alive and well. I was lucky to spend time on the land with some of the locals, and I learned of edible plants, leaves that can be burned to ward of mosquitoes, and about the lice on arctic hare pelts.  The Inuit are also fabulously artistic, well known for their carvings from bones and fur.

Looking out towards the Northwest Passage.

Looking out towards the Northwest Passage.

Stay tuned for Part 2, to come next week…

Inuit Art – arthropod style

Thought I would do a quick post from Cambridge Bay – I have managed to find some decent WIFI so I am taking advantage this morning! Once I am back south, I will post more detailed accounts of my adventures in the Arctic.

Inuit carvers are known world-wide for their depictions of Muskox, polar bears, seals, and other wildlife.  “Bugs”, however, are rare as pieces of art from the Inuit. I was therefore thrilled to see a mosquito made from sealskin at a shop in Cambridge Bay, made by a local artist. It’s a wonderful depiction! And the mozzie looks almost cute and cuddly….

Sealskin mosquito

Sealskin mosquito

Another local carver, Johnny, comes by our place with some regularity. Earlier this week I chatted with him about my interest in insects and spiders and he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. “I’ve never done any bugs before, let me think about that” were his words.  I believed him – I have travelled in the Arctic quite a bit, and have never come across a carving that depicts arthropods.

Last night there was a knock at the door. Johnny approached, holding out his arthropod, made from caribou antlers. WOW. I was so touched that he went away and worked on this carving for me. To me, it looks like a spider, which is quite fitting.

Inuit carving of an arthropod (a spider, in my opinion!)

Inuit carving of an arthropod (a spider, in my opinion!)

 

UPDATE (11 Aug) – Johnny came by the house again last night. He allowed me to take his picture, and I’ll share it with you, here.

The artist: Johnny Udlaoyak Jr., of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

The artist: Johnny Udlaoyak Jr., of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

 

What is loss?

I’m not sure I have much comprehension or real understanding of loss. I’m healthy and happy, as are my kids, as is my wife. I’ve lived a life that has so far been full of joy, love, opportunity, laughs and I have been surrounded by family and friends. I live in an amazing community – I work in an amazing place with good people. My parents are still alive. In short, I’ve not suffered any tremendous personal loss.

But loss can be small and I have surely felt it at times. Loss can be a kind of disappointment or inconvenience. Loss can be in sports, a broken leg or dislocated shoulder; it can be an inability to get that paper published, or a graduate student deciding to leave the laboratory, or some form of rejection. Small losses can sting for a little while. They are not insignificant when viewed at small scales, but they are small.

Loss can be significant. Life throws curve balls, gives some pretty sharp kicks and pays no attention to ‘good timing’. There are big losses that take up larger chunks of emotion, and affect us physically and mentally.  Kids get sick (…how many of us have stayed awake all night, laying next to our child who may have laboured breathing and suffering high fever?).  I’ve lost grandparents, I’ve had friends who have passed away, and I’ve had pets who have died. I’ve also been near to people who have suffered tremendous loss, especially recently. If it stings and hurts for me, it must be unbearable for them. I think I’m dreadfully scared of large-scale loss and I don’t know how people get through it.

From a broader perspective, this has me reflecting on what is constant about our lives. Are there any constants? Perhaps only that life is both fragile and unpredictable – that’s a difficult combination.  When things are good, at their most basic level (health, food, roof), things are really, really good. That is an important thing to remember. When things go south, life makes little sense, it seems unfair and we despair.  This is a confirmation of the fragile and the unpredictable.

When facing significant loss, why should we not despair and call it unfair?

Here’s why: the people I have seen go through significant loss, and who have been in dark places, do emerge from those places. The continue, they fight, they move on. They don’t forget, they don’t get over grief, they don’t get over the loss, but they do carry on. These are my heroes.  Of course, this is my view, from the outside, and I certainly don’t pretend to understand. But I do take inspiration from people who move on and eventually laugh and smile again, after what must be the unbearable context of tremendous loss.

I’ve talked and written before about the importance of ‘slowing down‘. I believe this more strongly now than ever before. Be mindful, be caring. Curve balls are coming. None of us will be be spared those sharp kicks.

To end, a few lyrics from Tom Petty – I heard these while driving in to work, after just learning of a friend who suffered tremendous loss.

Well I know what’s right, I got just one life

In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around

But I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down

 

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

This is re-posted from the Entomological Society of Canada’s blog, and is written by Chris Buddle (McGill University) and Dezene Huber (University of Northern British Columbia)

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: you can apply for a term position in biology at St Mary’s!)  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’.
  • 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.

Expiscor (29 April 2013)

As you may have noticed, the ‘weekly’ Expiscor missed last week! This is because I have opted to change to Mondays for this blog feature.  The start of the week just works better, for a whole suite of reasons that I won’t bore you with!  So, you can now look forward to starting your week with some odd discoveries, from arthropods to general biology and other geekery.

  • Most (many?) Arachnologists know of Emerton’s classic “The Common Spiders of the United States” written in 1902 – that book is now available on-line! Big WIN for spider enthusiasts.
  • Be still my heart.  Here’s a video showing the heartbeat of a spider after being captured and placed in a mud-dauber (wasp) nest.  Wasp finds spider. Paralyzes it. Returns it to its nest. Spider is still alive. A tasty feast for later on…. (thanks to Spider Joe for this video!)
  • Adrian Thysse always impresses me with his amazing photographs.  This one depicts one of the most lovely spiders in North AmericaHabronattus americanus.  Yes, it’s one of my most favourite spiders, here’s why:
Habronattus americanus - photography by A. Thysse (reproduced here, with permission)

Habronattus americanus photography by A. Thysse (reproduced here, with permission)

  • If you don’t buy stuff on ETSY, you should – amazing on-line resource. Also, some lovely insects finds on ETSY, including this from GollyBard (thanks Cameron Webb for pointing me to this)
One of GollyBard's paintings - listing here. (reproduced here with permission)

One of GollyBard’s paintings – listing here. (reproduced here with permission)

  • Peeping peepers: I live on the outskirts of Montreal and over the past week, the spring peepers have been making some noise! (spring –> it’s here!)
  • Milk Cartons & Guitars: Two musical bits to wrap up.  First, I’m especially fond of bluegrass, old-time, trad., folk, indie…. My colleague and friend Elena Bennett pointed me to the “Milk Carton Kids” – what a talented duo.
  • And, to finish… talk about GEEKY!  Here’s the “Arthropod song

Baby you’re and arthropod. Shake that segmented bod”

Expiscor (19 April 2013)

Here’s  Expiscor -some discoveries I stumbled upon this week… (past versions can be found here)

  • World’s Biggest Butterfly Collection.  This video explores the amazing collection at London’s Natural History Museum.
  • Spiders, spiders, lovely spiders.  How about this image of a spitting spider by Chris Ruijter – STUNNING (thanks Alex Wild for directing me to Chris’ photos…)
A spitting spider, photo by Chris Ruijter (reproduced here, with permission)

A spitting spider, photo by Chris Ruijter (reproduced here, with permission)

  • The trees are speakingthis story describes how scientists listen to ultrasonic noise made by bubbles forming inside water-stressed trees (thanks Carly Ziter for that link)
  • More on the links between Art and Science.  The debate about “E.O. Wilson versus Math” inspired a discussion in my ecology class, but coincidentally, a friend of mine also pointed me to this truly lovely writing about Mathematics and the Arts (starts on page 55), written by Marston Morse in1959. Here is a quote from that piece:

            “…mathematics is the sister as well as the servant of the arts and is touched by the same madness and genius. This must be known.”

  • A passion for beetles: a retired researcher from Germany’s Federal Center for Meat Research in Bavaria has a lovely collection of Coleoptera, 6,000 species at over 30,000 individuals. Now that’s a hobby! (thanks Bug Girl for the tweet about that story)
  • To finish, glad to see that Entomologists are out there correcting bad taxonomy.  Here, Ainsley Seago (aka @AmericanBeetles) does some fine work (and it was given a stamp of approval by Taxonomy Hulk – yes, we do need him, too!)

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 8.21.19 AM

Slow Down

I have written previously about how IMPOSSIBLE it is for a Professor to ‘relax’: the work-life balance is  tricky and it’s very difficult to find time to take a deep breath, go for a walk, or have a calm and long discussion with a colleague.   Well, something happened that is causing me to reconsider my stance.

In mid-March, I was invited to travel to Cape Breton University to give a couple of talks to their professors about the ‘publication game’ in Academia, and about the use of social media in Universities. It was a wonderful trip, and I managed to get a little birding done, too.  However, I must be honest in saying that I was in rush to get the talks completed on the weekend before leaving, there was grading to finish up, reviews to complete, and I have two MSc students wrapping up their projects and was trying to get thesis drafts edited  – I was being pulled in many directions and was rush-rush-rushing around, as usual.   So, when finally getting back to the Montreal airport late on a Tuesday night (and after a rather impressive snowstorm in Montreal that day), instead of slowly and calming walking to my car, I ‘jogged’ to the car, slipped on a snowy curb, and dislocated my shoulder.  Yeah, it hurt.  A lot. It’s an on old injury that was re-injured that night.

After the emergency room visit, I stayed home for a couple of days and couldn’t do much other than sit on the couch.  It was nice. It also gave me a bit of time to reflect on how I live my life, and how I always rush around doing too many things.  My wife, who is my rock, a no-nonsense person, and a clear thinker, said to me: “Chris, you need to slow down“.  She was right:  If I had gone a little slower, I wouldn’t have injured my arm.  I’m not exactly sure why I rush everywhere (partly a personality trait…?).  Going quickly does not lead to a more productive or happy life.  Going quickly makes you miss things and do jobs poorly.  Rushing around makes me spend too little time on the important parts of life and instead I work to check-off to-do lists.  As a friend of mine said on a drive home the other day, I don’t want a gravestone to read “Chris Buddle, he got 308 things done today!”.  I need to take time to take things slower, stop and listen to my students, my friends, and most importantly, my family.  A dislocated shoulder is a very small injury – something much worse could happen because of my behaviour of dashing around from one thing to another.

So, I am proposing that I will try to “slow down“.  Perhaps by writing this (personal) post, it will cause others to take a deep breath, and go through their own lives as a more measured pace.  I will still have too many things to do, and will be overworked, but I am going to try to change my overall philosophy and move through my life one step at a time.  I want to start to see the world as a saunter through a forest instead of a mad dash across a busy street.  Maybe every now and then I will go for a walk at lunch (with binoculars) and try to pay a little more attention to my surroundings.

I hope this will stick, but those of you that know me realize that this will not be an easy task. Here’s how I have decided to remind myself of this new motto:  I have printed out little ‘slow down’ signs and have proceeded to tape them up all over the place.

Slow Down! An eye-level sign, as you leave my office.

Slow Down! An eye-level sign, as you leave my office.

This process started last week, and it is helping.  These continual reminders are useful, and causing me to consider whether I should walk slowly and calmly to the next meeting.  Or whether it really matters if I’m 2 minutes late getting home, or whether it really matters if I finish that e-mail NOW instead of later.  I am enjoying this slower approach to life.  Let’s hope I can maintain this philosophy –  heck, maybe it really is possible to insert a little more ‘relaxation’ into every day.

Do you go slowly through this world? Should you?

What strategies can you recommend?

Slow Down!  ...a reminder taped to the corner of my computer monitor.

Slow Down! …a reminder taped to the corner of my computer monitor.

Ten tips when asking for a letter of recommendation

Academics get asked to write a lot of letters of recommendations, and we are pleased to do this!  Letters of recommendations can be really, really important when students are applying to grad school, or applying for scholarships.  Strong letters can make a big difference, and that means it’s essential that students approach this with seriousness, maturity and professionalism.

When asking for a letter of recommendation, here are ten things to do, more or less in chronological order:

1) Plan ahead: Ask for letters well ahead of the deadline!  Never, never assume your Professor will have the time or inclination to write a strong letter if the deadline is two days away.  Give lots of advance warning (at least several weeks).

2) Ask nicely.  Approach your Professor (in person, if possible; with a telephone call, or over email), explain what you are applying for (and why), and ask whether s/he might be willing to write you a letter of support.

3) Ask what kind of letter you might get!  You need to know whether it’ll be a strong letter, or one that is perhaps less in-depth.   In many cases, if I’ve only met a student in one class, and only have a grade to base a letter on, then I won’t be able to write a strong letter.  You deserve to know this, and it may affect whether or not you should ask someone else.  Don’t worry – most Academics are able to be honest (and nice) about what kind of letter they might be able to write.  You must find out, early on, so that your chances of success are as high as possible.

4) rite gud.  In all correspondence with the person who is writing a letter for you, ensure there are no grammatical or spelling errors.  Be professional, respect credentials (e.g., don’t start with  Hey prof Dude….), and make sure what you write is readable.  Avoid common writing mistakes.  This makes a big difference.  Sloppy writing, poor grammar and spelling mistakes make me think less of a candidate and will affect the strength of a letter.

5) Include ALL the relevant details, in one well-composed e-mail:

a) What you are applying for (in appropriate detail – don’t just say “I’m applying to do a Master’s in Biology”)

b) When you don’t know your Prof. all that well, remind them who you are: it is helpful to state what course(s) you might have taken with the Professor, in what context, how you did in the class, and anything else to help those old minds recall who you are!.  You may think that your instructors remember you well, but this is not always the case (we see hundreds of students each year, and we are all getting older…),

c) Provide a ‘statement of interest’ to give some context to why you are applying for a particular position or scholarship,

d) Provide an informal transcript, or at least your GPA so your Prof doesn’t have to ask for this later, and possibly your CV.

e) Provide the deadline for the letter! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to email  a student to ask them what the deadline is.  It’s annoying having to deal with email overload, especially when it is avoidable.

f) If there are PDF fillable forms, or web-links for the reference, make sure to include these!

g) if the Professor is going to get an e-mail from an Institution to which you are applying, make it clear that they should expect this.

 6) Follow-up! If you haven’t heard anything within a week of when you sent your one e-mail, stop by the Prof.’s office, or give a phone call, to make sure that s/he received the details.

 7) Make it easy: Always make the process of writing a letter of recommendation as easy as possible.  In many cases PDF fillable forms have parts that are to be filled out the by candidate ahead of time – do this!  For hard copies, make sure to fill in parts that you are supposed to, and always include a stamped envelope with the address written out.  It’s YOUR job to ensure the letter gets sent by the Professor, and you don’t want their Department to have to pay for postage!  If you are required to pick up the letter and send it in as an entire application package, provide two envelopes – one for their confidential letter, and another that they can slip the official envelope into – arrange a system by which you can pick up the letter.

8) Send a reminder... A few days before the deadline, send ONE reminder e-mail – politely remind your Professor that the deadline is approaching.  For me, this is absolutely critical!  I am usually aware of the need to write a letter for a student (it’ll be in my ‘to-do’ list), but that little reminder will stir me into action.

9) Say ‘Thank you’ – It is classy and professional to say thanks to whoever writes letters of recommendation for you.  If your application ends up being successful, or you get that scholarship, you can even send a post-card, or a short thank-you letter (yes, in the mail!) – that leaves a very positive and lasting impression (and you never know when you will need another letter…). As a minimum, send a short ‘thank you’ email.

 10) um, sorry, I don’t actually have a tenth tip.  Except, perhaps, be sure to follow the nine that are written above! (maybe you have a tenth?)

…I hope this helps!

Students: you will get a better letter if you follow the tips. 

The greatness of pseudoscorpions

As you know, I’m quite passionate about Arachnology, from spiders, to harvestmen and Pseudoscorpions.  These are all some of the creatures that fall into the category of the ‘obscure and amazing‘.  On the topic of pseudoscorpions, a few very fun and interesting things have happened recently, and enough to warrant a short blog post.  I also promised that I would post a few more videos related to some research activities on the hunt for pseudoscorpions in the Yukon.

1. Just look at this SEM of a pseudoscorpion!

A little while ago, my Arachnid friends and colleagues from Alberta, Heather Proctor and Dave Walter, forwarded me a stunning image of a pseudoscorpion taken with a scanning electron microscope (SEM).  Dave was kind enough to give me permission to share it here:

SEM of a pseudoscorpion (Chernetidae) - copyright D. Walter (reproduced here with permission)

SEM of a pseudoscorpion (Chernetidae) – copyright D. Walter (reproduced here with permission)

There really is something lovely about getting up close and personal with these little Arachnids. I don’t know this species, but it’s definitely in the family Chernetidae – a relatively diverse family, quite common across Canada.  My favourite Yukon species, Wyochernes asiaticus, is also a Chernetid.   Dave Walter really does some magic with his SEM images, and you are encouraged to check out is macromite blog (his home bug garden blog is also worth a peek!).

2.  Just look at these videos about collecting pseudoscropions in the wild! 

Speaking of my favourite Yukon species, I took a lot of videos of field work in the Yukon last summer and I wanted to share a few with you, here.  Although our larger purpose for the trip was to complete some follow-up field work for the Northern Biodiversity Program, I also wanted to collect additional specimens of a wonderful pseudoscorpion species.  The first video provides some context to the work, and gives you a bit of a flavour of the landscape up near the Yukon – Northwest Territory border in Canada:

Typically, pseudoscorpions are not that commonly encountered.  In my experience, when they are encountered, you tend to see one or two.  What is truly amazing is the sheer abundance of this species found under rocks in creek/river beds in the Yukon.  Furthermore, you can see and collect multiple life stages, including females with eggs.  This short video gives a taste for this abundance.

The third and final video is a big goofy, and highlight the ‘collecting gear’ and appropriate field attire for becoming a “pseudoscorpion hunter“.  I am continually on a crusade to help generate enthusiasm for Arachnids, whether it is dispelling myths, or trying to inspire others to become Arachnologists (you know, we do need Arachnologists in Canada!).

One important caveat:  you may NOT simply run to the Yukon and flip rocks to collect pseudoscorpions – many parts of the world, including the Yukon, have strict guidelines about what you can collect.  Permits are required, and be sure to check into this before you plan on becoming an Arachnologist!

3.  Just look at this pseudoscorpion necklace!

To further illustrate my rather quirky obsession, I managed to find a wonderful person on Etsy who was able to make me a pendant with a pseudoscorpion design:

The pseudoscorpion necklace.  You want one.

The pseudoscorpion necklace. You want one.

Not only that, this design is actually from a photography I took a few years ago, and is an accurate depiction of the cosmopoliton species Chelifer cancroides.

Chelifer cancroides - my photo which was used to design the pendant

Chelifer cancroides – my photo which was used to design the pendant

I KNOW you want to get yourself one of these… start a conversation with Lynn.  Get yourself one of these necklaces and stand proud with other pseudoscorpionologists!

In sum, I do hope you find this post interesting, hopefully fun, and has whetted your appetite from more information about curious critters.

Stay tuned… I will continue to post more about Arachnids…