QOTD: John Irving

January 26, 2007

John Irving“If you don’t feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then probably what you are doing isn’t very vital. If you don’t feel like you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it? If you don’t have some doubt of your authority to tell this story, then you are not trying to tell enough.”

Is there room in your dissertation for a chapter that is a bit risky? Discuss amongst yourselves.

h/t Kathy at (and I write this advisedly) Screw You!


5 steps to overcome dissertation block–the hive’s perspective

January 26, 2007

typist_reporter_scribe_small.jpgThe dissertation is a big deal in terms of the work involved and just its sheer psychological import. Not surprisingly, most folks working on their dissertation at one point or the other face a wee bit of writer’s block.

Its OK. Its normal.

But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Here is what Metafilter’s hive has to say about it. The upshot? Anne Lamott’s advice is still the best

1) Bird by Bird–write a little bit every day.

2) Shitty first drafts–perfectionism is a killer. Get the ideas down, then polish the logic and language.

along with

3) Use visits to your adivsor as a motivation. Verrry clever.  If you give her regular opportunities to say “How’s the writing goin?” this may focus the mind wonderfully.

4) 24 hour buddies–the dissertation version–in the same way that setting up a runner’s date will get you out expending calories, setting up a regular opportunity to proof other’s work can act the same way. And nothing makes for a tighter cohort of friends than those who slaved to finish together.

5) 45 minutes on, 15 minutes off–on those days when it is really hard, give yourself chunks of time to laze between writing bouts.  Better yet, get in the habit of scheduling full or half day breaks.  Some procrastination can be simple exhaustion.  Writing, after all, is physically demanding work.

Brown Food Web Friday–in praise of litter ants

January 26, 2007



How’re y’all doing this fine Friday? I’m slogging through a cold once thought vanquished. Now seems intent on hanging over me like a stale chain mail party dress. Bleah.

    In today’s BFWF we contemplate one of the great biological systems on earth–the litter ant nest. Litter ants live on the forest floor in small hollow twigs, empty acorns, or even between leaves. The whole colony may consist of only 100 or so ants, just enough to cover the tip of your pinky. This small size allows litter ants to be incredibly abundant: in a tropical rainforest there may be 5-10 species living together in a meter square plot. Yes, I will admit it, litter ants changed my life.

Every scientist has the occasional “aha!” moment. Mine came sitting on my butt on the forest floor at La Selva, cracking twigs with Margaret Byrne, a graduate student at the University of Florida at the time. I was in the middle of a PhD project happily placing bits of seed and bird poop across the forest floor to see what ants arrived, who consumed what, and if they preferred some bits of habitat and climate more than others. I only saw the ants when they emerged from the leaf litter to crawl on my baits, but that was fine. I was getting my data, and every night at the microscope I would empty my vials and see the biodiversity.

Margaret was collecting litter ant colonies for her research and she offered to show me how. Turns out, it wasn’t hard. Read the rest of this entry »