Empty Nest

I haven’t written anything here in a while!

I’ll attribute this to the hectic wonderful frenzy of helping two new Ph.Ds finish up. Dr. Katie Bockrath and Dr. Christine Ewers-Saucedo have now been unleashed onto the world!


I’ve said it before, I said it as they defended, I’ll say it when I walk these two across the stage in December - I’ve never experienced such a close-knit team in science. These two helped each other battle through R code, field work, illnesses, and most of all putting up with ME. They defended back-to-back in less than 24 hours, and both got jobs - not just jobs, GREAT jobs - within a few weeks of each other. Christine will be heading to California to postdoc with Rick Grosberg (one of the true greats in marine evolutionary ecology, and yes he was my 2nd postdoc advisor as well); Katie will be moving to Wisconsin to help lead the new Whitney Genetics Lab in Onalaska - she will definitely need snow gear! I couldn’t be prouder of these two.

Perhaps just as significantly, for the first time since January 2005 the lab may be (nearly) empty. I’m pleased to host Chinese scholar Baoying Guo, who studies Asian cuttlefish diversity; and there may be an undergraduate or two continuing their work in the lab. But at this point, I am planning to not have any graduate students for a while.

Why? Well, the easy answers: I am between federal funding, so I don’t have the financial resources to support a student’s stipend or research. The more difficult answer: after 9 years of graduate and postdoctoral training, and 10 years of being a faculty member, I need a break. I worry about becoming more and more dispersed in my intellectual efforts. I think this happens to many of us, as we gain more and more responsibilities over students it is easy to forget that we are involved in the development of their careers for some time to come. I still write letters supporting my first students, and I still have unpublished data from those first students.

I would like to take the time to put most of this research into writing, presentations, publications. If science is not communicated, it did not happen. And so, I feel like I need to focus on taking care of all of these loose ends while I determine the next best course for my scientific pursuits.

It will still involve patterns of diversity at multiple levels of biological organization. It will probably still involve barnacles. But most importantly, it needs to be mine. As a junior faculty member, I signed onto aiding the research of a number of colleagues, and much of this led to some really intriguing work in fish diversity, coral disease ecology, and cryptic species in diverse taxa. I went into science, however, to satisfy curiosity of my own and this is my goal for the coming year: to re-establish links with the curiosities that got me here in the first place.

That sounds so mid-life crisis! It isn’t like that. I just think most of us get spread too thin with responsibilities and ideas and then it becomes difficult to identify a day when you have actually made progress or headway on any of them. I take my responsibility for students - like Katie and Christine, like Meredith and Christina and John before them, like Scott and Tina before them; like all of my postdocs and undergrads and colleagues - seriously. So I’d rather not have anybody else in the lab until I know I can do justice to their goals and needs as a trainee.

I don’t think it will take long. Anyway, if you’ll pardon me, I have to go do some lab work - just a little post-PCR clean-up on a reaction that may harbor another cryptic barnacle species. It is nice to remember that I know how to do this simple lab work, because somebody took the time to train me.