Feeling like a real scientist

The last few months have been tumultuous, but with the spring semester has come a fresh start. I’ve been learning how to knit, I’ve started an additional weight-lifting program, I have a couple new pets, and my energy for my research has been renewed. I’m working on re-gaining my focus and resetting my priorities. One of those priorities is to keep up with this blog to track my research progress and share tales of science (and cute bunnies).

The biggest wake-up call I have received recently was the publication of my first paper. It is a species description that my advisor and I have been working on for several years now. It was meant to be a semester-long side project. And boy, was that wishful thinking. I talk about the project in this post from nearly a year ago.

The paper is in ZooKeys, an online open-access publication.

A new cryptic Sympistis from eastern North America revealed by novel larval phenotype and host plant association (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae, Oncocnemidinae)

One set of figures from the paper, my larval illustrations of Sympistis forbesi

I learned so much from this process, and I am incredibly thankful to my advisor for giving me this opportunity. It was a childhood dream of mine to name a new species. I didn’t discover this species or choose the name, and it’s not exactly a flashy organism, but to do the taxonomic work has been quite satisfying. Since the adults of the new species and its sister species are very difficult to distinguish, it was a fun sort of detective story, sorting out the larval characters we considered convincing enough to make our case.

I learned how many people it really takes to collaborate on a project like this, how many revisions need to be made on every drawing and photo, how many times specimens need to be reexamined, and how easily one small task can take months to complete. For this paper I reared multiple caterpillars, performed caterpillar and adult dissections, photographed live and dead specimens, illustrated larval and pupal characters, learned how to describe the features of caterpillars and adults (including genitalia), learned how to obtain SEM images, and dealt with the tedious task of typing and triple-checking the locality data for each specimen. Nothing ever went right on the first try. And then of course there was my first experience with the peer-review process, edits, panic while my advisor was away on a trip, page proofs, and the final real-deal publication.

At first I felt glad it was over, but it may never really be over. We found another potential cryptic species from a different locality that may be mixed within these species in collections. I won’t be tackling this project now, but perhaps someday. I would love to get my hands on another new species to describe, and the ultimate satisfaction would come from finding one of my own.

So there you have it, I’m back to blogging, and feeling like a real scientist. For a while I was really doubting my path, but this is where I belong.

 

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Posted on February 13, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. When in doubt, just check out your photo as a child wielding a butterfly net and having a smile on your face. This is your destiny.

  1. Pingback: The Monthly Flypaper – February 2014 » Biodiversity in Focus Blog

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