After 17 years, it is time to update the manifesto. Much has changed. The beard is now grey; the “Coon hunter’s special” hooked up to the motorcycle battery has been replaced by a Penz with 10 LEDs; and I seriously doubt I could achieve, let alone maintain, the above posture. Mind you, the old manifesto (below) is still valid. It just needs a little updating. If it seems a bit more operational, and little less aspirational, re-read number 1; 2-6 are a roadmap toward achieving it.
- Change the world. Why else are we here? The world could use some help right now.
- Always be finishing something. Wonderful advice, courtesy of Dan Janzen. It is always easier to begin a project than it is to wrestle it from 95% complete to over the finish line.
- Quality = style * content. Style makes content go down easy; content makes it satisfy.
- Teaching = Writing. A corollary to 3. Writing is not dumping your thought processes onto the page. Good writing, as David Foster Wallace says, is considerate. It is empathetic. Know your audience and write for them.
- Become the authority on something. The joy, and the responsibility, of scholarship is in becoming the go-to person on something that the world cares about (or should care about, see 1).
- Work is play. Academia is hard, science is hard. But where else can you discover something truly new? We are the lucky ones: we exist in a civilization that values discovery. Keep the long view, and cherish those moments of transcendence.
Updated 11 March 2013
The Manifesto of 1996:
Community ecology seeks to understand the factors that regulate the nature, structure, and diversity of local assemblages of organisms. As such, it borrows from physiology, behavior, geology, meteorology, and evolutionary biology. A community ecologist’s knowledge, like the Platte River, is almost by necessity “a mile-wide and an inch-deep”.
But one feature common to ecologists is an obsession with their study taxa. I study ants. Ants are dominant and conspicuous animals in the world’s terrestrial ecosystems. Ants are herbivores, fungivores, detritivores and top predators. Exported away from their natural environs they become ravenous pests. Studied in the field or the lab, they are endlessly fascinating.
Students entering my lab will have access to materials for research and other folks passionate about ant ecology. We have over 100,000 specimens and close to 1000 species of ants from sites in North and Central America in our collection. We have studied ants from Mojave desert to Rocky Mountain tundra, from Sandhills prairie to Amazonian rainforest. Each study in the AntLab, in every locality, represents a devotion to fieldwork, observation, and experiment informed by theory and hypotheses.
As human populations continue to grow, ecologists of this generation will see the worst and be in the position to do the most. Ecologists, as Aldo Leopold pointed out, live in a world of wounds. As a consequence, there is no shortage of interesting, applied, projects to work on in ecology nowadays. And this work must continue.
In sum, our lab is guided by two principles:
Know your organism.
Always have a question.