Jan 122017

Earlier today I reflected on my start as a Blogger™ over on Twitter, which is basically where I blog now (hashtag blogging is dead or something). Stephen Heard (who has his own blog) suggested I post it here too, and I figured for old time sake (and so I don’t forget my login information) that that sounded like a great idea.

You can read that first introductory post here if you want. The first “real” post is here (which I’m pleasantly surprised to admit stands up pretty well 7 years later).

Nov 092016

To: The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P., Prime Minister of Canada, Ottawa

Last night we watched as our neighbour and closest ally elected someone who everyone predicted was unelectable. Someone who centred their campaign on lies, bigotry, and fear; of others, of science, of reality. We watched as state after state after state endorsed these messages with their votes, and we wondered together how this could happen, and what do we do next?

What we do next is largely up to you. It’s the job you applied for, the job we elected you for, the job we need you for. Don’t worry, we as a nation of diverse and proud people will be here to provide guidance, and support, as you navigate the intricacies of a world waking up to an outcome that seemed beyond odds only hours before. But we need you to lead.

We need you to lead. We need you to lead here at home, to help us stamp out racism, bigotry, and xenophobia, to not allow these tones to resonate and spread like a mould beneath the surface of our society. We need you to lead for the downtrodden and disadvantaged, the refugees and the first nations, those struggling to survive on thinning dollars and those inspired to study despite growing tuitions. We need you to lead away from home; to advocate for an environment in jeopardy, for decisions based on evidence, not evangelism, and for peace in a world divided. We need you to lead our country, and in turn, make our country a leader.

Now is our chance to lead, together. We can shoulder burdens we’ve allowed others to carry on our behalf. We can lead the shift towards clean energy, towards humanitarian aid and equality, and towards a future we will all be proud to call home. Together, we can overcome the obstacles facing our society. Together, we can set the example of prosperity, equality, and responsibility. Together, we can lead. Together.

Together we’ll face opposition: from people who value individual wealth before global health; from people who fear change more than consequences; from people who have lost hope in a system that has let them down time and time again. But together we can embrace these people, and lead them through a world that is evolving, reminding them that we are all just people. Together.

So, invest in science, but also in art. Bring health care to those who need it, education to those who want it, and security to those who rely on it. Inspire those who can afford to give to do so, and support those who can’t, yet aspire to. Reach out beyond our borders, and don’t bend to belligerence. It won’t be easy of course; leading never is. But we can do it.


Oct 192015

As you may have noticed, it’s been fairly quiet ’round these parts the last few months. I’m not sure there’s one particular reason why I’ve let my blogging fall off, but rather a compilation of factors, like doing a PhD (and a number of side-projects…), the ease of sharing brief thoughts on Twitter, and the “P” word: Procrastination.

That’s not to say that I’ve disappeared from the online ecosystem, it’s just that there’s been a shift in the content I’m creating and where I share it. Breaking Bio (the podcast I co-host with a great group of other biologists) is going strong and we’re coming up on our 100th episode, and like I mentioned, I’m finding Twitter an easier way of sharing ideas, opinions, jokes & research news than writing several hundred words here. Of course I’m also playing around with Tumblr and Instagram, and have a bunch of ideas for additional projects if I can make/find the time for them. I was even invited to give a plenary address last month regarding the stuff I do online, which was awesome & humbling, but which also served to illustrate how much I’ve let my blog slide of late.

So while I can’t promise that my posting schedule will pick up anytime soon here, I still consider this blog as my home base online, and the place I go to when I really want to delve into a topic. I’ve always found a warm & receptive audience from you, my readers, and have always appreciated having my ideas challenged or bounced around by everyone who takes the time to read what I write. The support I’ve received online has been incredibly important to me, and I want to thank each and every person who has read, commented or shared something I’ve written here.

But now I have an opportunity to learn a little more about you, and it’s even going to count as SCIENCE! Dr. Paige Brown Jarreau is a Post-Doctoral Researcher at Louisiana State University who is interested in the science blogging community. She has previously studied and surveyed the motives of the people who write science blogs, but now she’s interested in finding out who is reading science blogs, which means she wants to hear from you!

So I’ve teamed up with Paige to create a survey of you, the readers of Biodiversity in Focus (and associated products). By participating, you’ll be helping me improve my blog and contributing to SCIENCE on blog readership. You will also get FREE science art from Paige’s Photography for participating, as well as a chance to win a t-shirt and other perks! It should only take 10-15 minutes to complete. You can find the survey here: http://bit.ly/mysciblogreaders. Paige also successfully raised some money with a crowd-funding campaign in order to provide perks for those that take the time to fill out her survey, so if you help her (and me) by filling out the survey at http://bit.ly/mysciblogreaders by October 30, you’ll be entered to win a $50 Amazon.com gift card (100 available to be won across all surveyed blogs)! It’s a Win-Win-Win: Paige gets data to help her research, I get to learn a little more about who you are & why you read this blog (and presumably others), and you have a chance at winning some money (plus the guaranteed feeling of personal satisfaction for making those first two Wins possible)!

If you want to hear more from Paige, we spoke to her on Breaking Bio last year and talked all about her interest in the science of science communication and blogging:


Dec 312014

It’s that time of year when people look back on the year that was and reflect on what they’ve done, or not done, and begin planning on how to fill up the blank slate that comes with the new year. For myself, 2014 was arguably one of my most successful to date: I was awarded more than $20,000 in scholarships & awards, not counting my NSERC scholarship; I published 1 paper, have another major paper scheduled to be published in January, and have 3 more in progress that I hope to have submitted by February; I passed my qualifying exams, TA’d our intro entomology course, gave almost a dozen workshops and outreach events, and took my first MOOC; I visited some incredible places for my research, from Austria to Iceland to Oregon, and was fortunate to meet and spend quality time with dozens of friends and colleagues from around the world, including some old friends, some digital friends I met for the first time in the “real world”, and many, many, new friends. I collected new data for my PhD which already has me saying “huh…” (a good thing, really), am starting to get a handle on the diversity of the Micropezinae (my focal research group), and have been invited to collaborate with researchers across the continent on a variety of interesting projects that could have potentially significant ramifications.

Online, I published 26 blog posts, fewer than perhaps I had hoped, but not bad overall. More importantly, something has recently shifted: I’m actually beginning to enjoy writing, and what’s more, I’ve become confident in my abilities, thanks in large part to the supportive online science community. It’s taken me nearly 5 years, but perhaps this whole blogging experiment is paying off how I had hoped it would! I was also interviewed for articles in The Atlantic, CBC News, and my university’s digital magazine, I contributed to an article on the shared graduate experience, and published a newsletter article encouraging biologists to try their hand at science communication. Oh, and I had a tweet go viral and draw all kinds of rage from the internet.

Breaking Bio is still going strong thanks to Tom, Steven, Heidi, and Gwen, and not only did we get to talk to dozens of interesting and engaging people and publish 24 episodes in 2014, but we also secured funding from the European Society for Evolutionary Biology to cover our operating costs, making this the first of my online ventures to actually approach a break-even point financially. Watch for plenty of new content, and potentially some new and exciting things in 2015!

Like I said, 2014 was a pretty damn good year for me, and yet I can’t help but feel like I could have, and should have, done more. I still deal with existential dread about my dissertation and whether I’ll ever get caught up on my research, and I waver daily about what I may or may not want to do when I do finish my degree. I have no idea what 2015 will hold for me (although it’s already starting to fill up, and I haven’t even flipped the calendar over), but my goal is to procrastinate less, stop allowing fear of rejection hinder my progress, publish more (both academically and publicly), and reacquaint myself with that black box in my backpack that can apparently take photographs and record video.

So Happy New Year, internet! I hope your 2014 was filled with as much success and fellowship as I was lucky to have, and that 2015 brings you even more of the same!

Holiday Ornament

Dec 252014


Merry Christmas to those celebrating, and happy holidays to those who aren’t! I hope you find yourself surrounded by friends& family of all shapes and sizes, and I wish you a wonderful winter, and a New Year filled with curiosity, discovery and unparalleled joy.


And for you taxonomy geeks out there, here’s an insect holiday tree decorated with all the identification labels. Because nothing says Happy Holidays like a properly labelled insect collection.



(All specimens courtesy of and housed in the University of Guelph Insect Collection)

Mar 302014

Blank Page


The blank page, the biggest obstacle to my success.

I’ve been thinking about this post for 4 years. I’ve reworked what I want to say countless times on my walk to and from the lab and considered ways to tie it all together while laying in bed staring at the ceiling, but, until last week, I didn’t know how, or even when, it would begin.

I’ve put off writing about blank pages and my writing struggles because it so often begins with me staring at, and subsequently backing away from, a blank page. Did I mention I have a problem writing when faced with a blank page?

By late 2010 I had a full molecular DNA dataset prepared and analysed for my Master’s that showed some interesting relationships among the flies I study, and I proceeded to write up the results for my thesis. I moved on to the other major chapter of my thesis, and then defended my work. The whole thing was well received by my committee, and I was granted my degree in 2011 with the expectation that I’d make a few relatively minor changes and then submit the chapters for formal peer-review.

Well, after the final few months of pushing to get my thesis ready to defend, I needed to decompress and had no desire to look at my work for awhile. I figured after a few weeks of doing something — anything — else, I’d be ready to come back and reanalyse the data, rewrite the paper and submit  my work to an appropriate journal, and then never have to look at it again. Instead, I got busy working on other projects, writing a book, teaching, and then eventually starting my PhD, all the while having this paper hanging over my head, like a rusty guillotine just waiting to fall.

It wasn’t long until every word I wrote for the blog, for grant applications, or even emails elicited an increasingly larger pang of guilt that those words should be going towards that paper, to the point that nearly every aspect of my life was tainted by anxiety over it.

For nearly 4 years I let it slide while busying myself with other projects and tasks, telling myself that next week will be the week that I look at it again, until this fall when (with a not-so-subtle nudge from my PhD committee) I forced myself to get it done, or perhaps die trying. After all new analyses, totally redrawn figures, and about a dozen written drafts spanning several months, I finally submitted the paper two weeks ago. The feeling of relief when I finally pressed that submit button came immediately, and I finally realized that I hadn’t been devoting my full attention to any of my other projects or responsibilities.

So why bring all this up now when the paper hasn’t even gone out for review, and will undoubtedly require more work post-review before I can finally be done with it? Because I need to get over my hesitancy to put my thoughts on paper (or whatever this digital equivalent of paper should be called), and I suspect I’m not the only one who faces these obstacles.

My qualifying exams are coming up, which means several weeks of intense studying followed by days of writing compelling papers in a set amount of time, on demand. I’ve always approached this blog as a tool for self-improvement, so I plan to continue using it to force myself to write more frequently, to get past my fear of that blank page.

And for anyone out there currently in the midst of graduate work or projects that require writing, don’t let that blank page stand in your way: all it takes is one word scribbled down to defeat it.

Aug 232013

This morning, shark mega-enthusiast & PhD student David Shiffman (@WhySharksMatter) tweeted

Here’s the screen cap image a little larger if you can’t make it out (click to embiggen further):



Is reverse Google Image search able to identify sharks to species? Yes, David included the search term “lemon shark” (David just let me know that Google included the text search terms itself… my mind is blown), but the fact that Google returned “Best guess for this image: lemon shark” might imply that they’re playing around with visual identification services, not just photo comparison. Considering how well reverse image search does at aggregating similar images, how many shark images are online & indexed by Google, and that many of those images are probably tagged with a species name nearby or in the metadata, I think the concept is entirely plausible.

Seeing how insect ID is kind of important to me, I tried it with a few of my insect photos, and got nothing. I even tried improving the odds by using search terms like David HAL 9000 Google did, and this is all I got:



I was beginning to get discouraged, but Marianne Alleyne (@Cotesia1) made a good point: perhaps it was the fact that David was sitting on the shark that mattered!

So, I reverse Google Image searched this photo

Fly Wrangler_20130823


And it still failed.

Apparently Google things this fly wrangler looks like a bride. Not really sure what to make of that...

Apparently Google thinks this fly wrangler looks like a bride. Perhaps their search algorithm could use a little more work after all.

Clearly Google loves sharks and hates flies (and passenger pigeons). Not cool Google, not cool.

I guess we’ll just have to stick to other web-based tools for identifying flies for a little while longer. Darn.

Jul 262011

Ryan FleacrestI’m busy. Not just a little busy, but really busy.

I’m on track to have 5-6 peer-reviewed papers submitted and/or published by the end of the year, I’m co-authoring a field guide which should be coming out this fall, I’m running a field trial for the first time in my life to help pay the bills while I wait for PhD funding, I can’t say no when asked for help from friends and colleagues, and of course the blog (although lately it’s been slightly neglected; sorry about that). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining and love what I do, and I willingly signed up for all of these projects knowing hoping that time spent now will pay off later when I’m applying for funding and looking for PhD/Post-Doc/Faculty positions.

But with all of these projects on the go, something has had to give, and lately it’s been my photography. After I defended my MSc this spring, I figured I’d have plenty of time to shoot more insects, experiment with a few ideas I’ve been thinking about (when I was supposed to be writing my thesis) and just spend more time in the field relaxing and creating new images to share. As the summer has slipped by (can someone tell me where July went?), photo opportunities have come and gone, and I’ve found myself repeating that there’s always next year…

A recent post by travel photographer and inspirational blogger David duChemin has given me pause however, and made me consider my priorities somewhat. I think it’s one of his best (which is really saying something), and hit close to home. Take the time to give it a read, then come on back (I’ll wait, don’t worry).

Well, what did you think? Amazing that a seemingly small commitment can add up to such a significant amount of time!

While I have dreams of becoming a tenured professor at a mid-sized university teaching, researching, and looking at flies until retirement, I also dream of that perfect photo, and the road trip with no fixed destination or deadline, dreams that seem nearly incompatible with my professional aspirations at times. But an hour a day? I think I could work that in. Whether it’s an hour writing something for the blog, editing photos that have become back-logged, or banking a couple of day’s worth for an afternoon out with my camera, I’m going to do my best to take a breath more often and leave something in the tank for things other than academia. While 45 days in a row could allow a pretty kick ass road trip or South American odyssey, let’s be honest; I’d probably end up with another project on my platter instead. I think the daily hour is a pretty good place to start.

This week’s song fits nicely with the idea of taking time for yourself, and allowing yourself a moment’s peace away from the busy colony life.



That’s it for this week, but I hope you’ll take the time to find an hour a day for yourself and your outside interests. If you’re interested in hearing about my “daily” hours, I’ll try to keep a Tweet-log about my time spent; feel free to follow along (@BioInFocus) or contribute your own journal by using the hashtag #1hr4life.

Have you found yourself passing up opportunities in order to get just one more paper/project/promotion? Feel free to air your thoughts below in the comments.

This week’s song is available on iTunes – Ants Marching – Under the Table and Dreaming