Science happens in leaps interspersed with considerably longer slow crawls

One thousand. That’s the number of male beetles I collected from bottles of flour today. One thousand today and there are still more to collect tomorrow. Science, as one colleague put it, is not for those who despise tedium.

The moments of discovery in research science are a high like no other, but between those peaks lay long valleys of repetitive work. In my line of work there are beetles to tend, food to make, individuals to separate by gender, adults to measure, offspring to count, and data to manage. This doesn’t include work done for proposal writing, keeping up with current research, and the process of data analysis – all other critical tasks to keep your science humming along.

Science is also done with lots of contributing hands and minds. If you are a fortunate grad student, and in this respect I am, you have undergraduate assistants to help with the general maintenance and basic data collection. Assistants also require management, but lately I’ve been lucky to have good problem solvers who aren’t afraid to speak up when something looks weird.

From all of this monotony, there spring bright moments of joy. The statistically significant result, the newly observed behavior, the accepted manuscript all make up for the drudgery. For today, I put on episodes of This American Life and let part of my brain wander away with wherever Ira Glass will take me as the rest of my mind settles into the rhythm of sorting pupae.


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