How far are you from the cutting edge?

December 29, 2006

from ScienceThis time of the year the media is flooded with end of the year lists and retropectives. Science is not immume from this syndrome. So as you ponder (along with the rest of the self-absorbed world) your place in the universe, its not a bad time to read what others are saying are the Grand Challenges and Great Opportunities in Science.

This serves two purposes. First, if it’s in Science magazine, people are talking about it, and it reflects, to some degree the status quo. Part of being a scholar is knowing what the big ideas are in your field, since those ideas are the lingua franca of science.

Second, when you are selling your work (to journals or granting agencies) its not a bad idea to find linkages to what everybody else is talking about and what the status quo thinks is important.

Now, I know this might sound a tad jaded. Perhaps you are working on wombat tunneling behavior because, by golly, that’s what your passionate about. And that’s cool too. But part of teaching (and writing grants and journal articles is teaching) is creating the desire in you reader to learn more. And it certainly helps if you can relate your work to things everybody else is interested in.

Our work in the Antlab? We are all over bullet points one and two above. 😉

h/t to Matt over at Ontogeny .

The importance of solitude

December 29, 2006

Presentation Zen has another fine post, this time on the subject of solitude in the creative process.  A taste:

Perhaps one reason why many business presentations are so poor is that people today just do not have enough time to step back and really assess what is important and what is not. They often fail to bring anything unique or creative to the presentation, not because they are not smart or creative beings, but because they did not take the time alone to slow down and contemplate the problem.

If you haven’t checked out PZ, do so. Although its written for bidness types, it regularly has cogent discussions on the importance of design and human behavior in putting together presentations. Its well worth a read.

Its Brown Food Web Friday!

December 29, 2006

Now you see the monkey….

Take a look at this lovely picture. What is it? A cloud over a restless ocean? A rodent running through a fog bank?

One of my favorite research systems is the brown food web–the collection of microbes, microbivores, and their predators that take apart dead stuff and in doing so return nutrients to the soil, carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and generally undo what the green food web does and complete the cycle. The brown food web is where much of the planet’s biodiversity exists, and it is is genuinely muy hermoso y elegante.

At the same time, some of my favorite people are museum people. Remember that scene with the death’s head moth from Silence of the Lambs? Absolutely dead on. Perhaps its all the formaldehyde and mothballs, but museum people have a certain perspective. They also have regular brushes with the brown food web when they want to quickly and cleanly turn a large meaty organic thing into a beautiful skeleton. Watch.