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Desk Jockey [writing]

The transition back to more data analysis and writing is always a bit jarring, and I need to remind myself of this. I can't sit at a desk and think/write for as long as I can work on labwork or things like cricket care. And I need to be okay with that, and remember that it's okay to build in mental breaks (take a walk on this beautiful campus!).

And then, on the other hand, it's really fun to get to do all this thinking. I wake up thinking about all the data I've collected and all the experiments I've done, and I have all these ideas and I can't wait to get back to poring through everything.

Wednesdays are when I finally start to get a sense as to the number of potential crickets available for experiments in the upcoming 2 weeks. I mostly work with crickets that are at Day 5 of adulthood, which means that I can start to sort through the bins of last-instar crickets on Wednesdays and pull out new adults that will reach Day 5 by the following Monday. L also sorts through the California crickets on Wednesdays, and sorts out the last-instar crickets from the younger juveniles, so it's when we can assess the size of the last-instar stockpile and get a feel for how many crickets are going to reach adulthood over the next two weeks.

It was disappointing but unsurprising to note that our last-instar stockpiles still aren't looking all that great yet. There will be enough to perpetuate our lab stocks, but probably not enough to spare for experiments. In this case, this isn't actually a product of the food issues I've been blogging about recently. It's about the quality of cricket care while L and I were both away doing fieldwork at Sedgwick. When we returned, we discovered that the hatchling bins were full of mold and that they were out of water. It takes about 2.5 months for hatchlings to reach the last instar, so the current last-instar crickets are what remains from those poor, traumatized hatchlings.

And this is why, as much as it sounds nice to have undergraduates do all of our cricket care, we really can't. I think back to my first year as a graduate student, when I was also extremely terrible about taking care of seed-harvester ant colonies, and seed-harvesters are really easy compared to the crickets. It isn't the undergraduates' fault, really. Cricket care requires people who can keep a consistent and reliable schedule, and who can stay late when there are emergencies or when there's a shortage of help. It's difficult to do that when your student lifestyle involves running all over the place to participate in all sorts of activities, like classes and student groups and sports and studying.

And so, while in some respects crickets are a phenomenal study organism, the theory of being able to accrue huge sample sizes doesn't match up with the amount and nature of the work that must go into ensuring those sample sizes. I mean, we're still way better off than anybody studying vertebrates, but we have our fair share of hiccups, and crickets are a non-trivial amount of work. And this has been quite a year for those hiccups.

This entry was originally posted at http://rebeccmeister.dreamwidth.org/1179667.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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