Many hats

I moved my research lab this week. From a space it sat for ten years, to a somewhat larger space, but with a smaller exhaust hood, and on a different floor. As I moved everything, it was like going through time, all of the different projects that have taken place there.

Sometimes, I find it hard to be an ecologist in a smaller school. When I came to this place, I was the only organismal biologist who actually worked on entire living organisms. My background is in insect-plant interactions, so I could talk about insects, other animals, and even plants. I usually end up teaching as many different classes as classes, which does not make the most efficient use of my time. It also means I have even less time to put into research.

Over the past ten years, I have accumulated a number of research projects. Some work better under circumstances that others won’t work at all. Some can be worked on in the winter, others cannot. Some projects get stalled when there are no plants or insects available. And some get stalled when something like a maternity leave (or a trip to China) kills off all of the plants… So many of these are still in progress. Chemical ecology of the black swallowtail, pollination of tree of heaven, allelopathy of tree of heaven, preference and performance under different nitrogen and phosphorus treatments with two different pairings of insects and plants, color learning in butterflies, sampling and collection of insects in and around campus, and, most recently, pollination in China. My lab has thus accumulated the materials and supplies to study all of these things. Cages of all sizes, insect drawers and cabinets, pins, models of flowers, leaves, and plants, all kinds of chemistry equipment… to inventory my lab, it would look like the combination of at least one each of chemist, systematist, behavioral biologist, field ecologist, botanist — oh, and photographer as well.

Such is the danger of going to a small school, and wearing many different hats at many different times. I have yet to decide what hat will be worn in the lab when classes begin again in the fall. Perhaps I can make a project of identifying the insects and plants we saw in China. Probably more sensible than trying to find the time to restart a project with plants, caterpillars, and butterflies or moths — what with another trip in the works for next summer.

Someday, perhaps when my part-time administrative role is up, I need to take a sabbatical and try to catch up with all of the data and projects that have accumulated… For now, it works as it ever does — triage reigns, and that which must be done is, and that which can wait does. (Oh, there are way too many things in that ‘waiting’ bin…)



All moved out of the old space

All moved out of the old space

New space, insect drawers visible

New space, insect drawers visible

Better view of the new space. More floor space...

Better view of the new space. More floor space…


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