Recently The Geek In Question posted an awesome graph to help visualize the stages of euphoria and despair she experiences while going through the manuscript process. Fellow grad students David Winter (The Atavism) and Morgan Jackson (Biodiversity in Focus) each took the bait and ran with their own version of the process. It has been far too many years since I was a grad student (moment of whimsy overtakes me), and I’ve gone through the manuscript process so many times now that I actually find the whole thing rather enjoyable. Presumably this results from my love of writing, combined with the sageness of having experienced most of the potential pitfalls and feeling confident in how to prevent or deal with them.
For my version of the Geek-Graph™, I thought I would take a broader look at the whole process of what it is to be a publishing Bug Collector. Here is my version:
I’ve been at this long enough to know what I like and what I don’t like, and it strikes me that I love the up front and the final product, but there are elements in between that I simply detest. I love time in the field—a bad day in the field is better than a good day of just about anything else. Some of my best field memories involved getting skunked on the collecting, just because the field experience itself was so weird, new, eventful, etc. I’ve spent days in the desert, it’s dry environs parched by drought, with nary a beetle to be had despite beating hundreds of tree branches. I hated it at the time, but I get euphoric recall of those days when I see something that reminds me of those trips. Even driving between localities, while not time “in the field,” is enjoyable for me as it’s a chance to see the landscapes. It’s only when I have to take time out to buy supplies mid-trip and, especially, hunt for hotels late in the day, that I stop enjoying my time completely.
After I’ve collected the specimens is where I hit the snag—pinning and labeling, ugh!!! It wasn’t always that way; in my younger days I rather enjoyed it. But in those days I was practicing my art and gaining skills. Now I’m as good at pinning/labeling as it gets, and my perfectionist tendencies don’t allow me to do anything less than perfect when I do do it. But it takes time—lots of time to do it perfectly, and especially when you collect the large numbers of specimens that I do. This is the point where I consistently question my decision not to pursue taxonomy as a career. I could have been enjoying the assistance of professional specimen preparators to take care of this for me, but nooo… I had to do it avocationally so I could “do my own thing”! Okay, a quick slap to the face and I’m back.
Once those specimens are pinned and labeled, it’s all fun from here on out.¹ Identifying specimens and adding my “Det. label” is enormously satisfying, even for routine, common species. Excitement mounts if the specimen turns out to be something rare, more so if it represents something I’ve not collected before. This is normal for all collectors, but for me there are additional chances for excitement if the specimens represent new information—e.g., a new state or host plant record, or (gulp!) a new species! Identified specimens also form the basis for manuscripts, and once I’m at that stage it’s pure happiness. I love writing the manuscripts. I even love revising them based on reviewers feedback (even when not very positive—hey, it makes for an improved paper). About the only negative is a little bit of post-publication depression when you realize that your paper is actually read by only a small number of specialists, and you haven’t really offered anything ground-breaking, but rather just an incremental increase in the vast, collective knowledge. But I usually don’t have time to let that get me down—by then I’m already out in the field collecting more bugs!
¹ I probably should make a confession here—sometimes I go ahead and include data in manuscripts from specimens that I haven’t even pinned and labeled yet. The siren call of the unwritten manuscript is far more irresistible than the grating nagging of the unprepared specimen!
Copyright Ted C. MacRae 2012