I often have difficulty starting things. Papers. Conversations. My morning routine. And now, this blog. My delays in writing stem from feelings of doubt in my writing ability. Delays in my morning routine stem from a severe lack of caffeine. So, really I just need to start writing with coffee in hand.
I’ll begin with a background of how I’ve arrived here since it’s a topic I know well. And by ‘here’ I’m referring to graduate school studying beetle systematics. Let’s start with how I’ve found myself completely enthralled with the insect world.
I have not always loved beetles. There are some people I’ve met working in graduate schools and/or museums who have always been inclined in one way or another to become naturalists. They went camping with their parents and knew how to identify plants in their backyard. They went on hikes. They knew what the term ‘scat’ meant. I never went camping as a child and never had a great affinity for insects. I enjoyed running around outside (and I remember once trying to collect a colony of fire ants…which ended badly), but that’s about all.
When I was an undergraduate in college, I wanted to become a veterinarian. I was one of those awful, cutthroat pre-med types. I’m certain that if current ‘me’ met undergrad ‘me’, we would not get along. There was a medical and veterinary entomology class being offered and I wanted to take it as I thought it would give me an edge when applying to veterinary school (see? obnoxious undergrad ‘me’). A prerequisite was general entomology, so I took that.
“Wait, how many insects are there?”
“Wait, can you show that video of the femme fatale fireflies again?”
“Wait, so a parasitoid is like the movie Alien, but for real?”
And that’s it – I was hooked! I was left dumbfounded with how amazing and completely awesome insects are!
Once I had become completely enamored with entomology, I began to volunteer in several different labs in the department. (*If you’re thinking of applying to graduate school, this is a great thing to do. But at this point, I was not thinking of graduate school. In fact, I had absolutely no idea what it was. No one in my family had gone to graduate school and I didn’t really know what it entailed. At the time, I remember my picture of graduate school was akin to some society of which I had yet to learn the secret handshake.) Anyway, in the lab I was dissecting moth genitalia and taking magnified images using an Automontage camera system. I was loving it! One day, I looked up from the camera and told the lab PI how I wished that I could image moth genitalia for a living. He looked straight back at me and said, “have you considered graduate school?” I stared back at him….and asked for the secret handshake to the society.
It turns out that it wasn’t so secret as I had imagined. I just needed to apply. It was just like applying as an undergraduate, except this time all the other applicants would be über-dorks like myself. So I applied, crossed my fingers, and was accepted into a beetle systematics lab.