31 March 2015

Tuesday Crustie: Made in Taiwan

Even though I’m nominally an expert in crustaceans, I’m embarrassed by how little I know about them. If I was walking down a beach and saw this little guy, I would recognize it as Emerita – which I should, since they were one of the species in my doctoral thesis! – but I would be completely oblivious to this being a new species.

I might, and I stress might, clue into to the colour. The blue patch at the front around the eyes is something that is different than in other mole crabs, but it’s still quite subtle.

Of course, I’m unlikely to spot this walking down a beach, since its name, Emerita taiwanensis, indicates where it’s from: Taiwan. They’ve been found only at two locations, and only once from one of those two.


Hsueh P-W. 2015. A new species of Emerita (Decapoda, Anomura, Hippidae) from Taiwan, with a key to species of the genus. Crustaceana 88(3): 247-258. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/15685403-00003413

17 March 2015

Tuesday Crustie: Pinch me, I’m Irish

Something for St. Patrick’s Day! (I get to celebrate, because my grandmother’s original name was Murphy, which is about as Irish as you get.)

This green crab (Carcinas maenas) can be found in the waters around Ireland. Unfortunately,it’s been distributed around the world, and is no one of the world’s worst invasive species.

However, Ireland also has its own problems with unwelcome visitors. My most recent paper looks at this.

If St. Patrick were alive today, his job should be casting out alien crayfish, not snakes.

16 March 2015

13 March 2015

Jobs at UTRGV

The Department of Biology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has put out the call for two tenure-track assistant professor positions!

Applications close 23 March 2015.

If you have questions about the institution, department, and so on, you can find all my pertinent contact information on my home page.

Come work with me!

12 March 2015

The Zen of Presentations, Part 68: Literally too literal

I’ve been trying to teach my biology students about the importance of narrative in presentations. As part of their task, I’ve been using two parts of the techniques elaborated in the book Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking (reviewed here).

Summarize your talk in a single thematic word.

Summarize your talk in a single, “And... but... therefore” sentence.

Students are finding this a much harder task than I expected. I was particularly surprised by how many of them stumbled over drilling down their talk to just one word.

Over and over again, students are submitting just be something that is in the paper. If I give them a paper on coral reef ecosystems, their word is, “coral.”

It would be like someone asked to write a single word for last year’s movie Guardians of the Galaxy, and saying, “spaceships.” Or worse, “galaxies.” Sure, there are spaceships in the movie, but that isn’t the theme of the story.

Basically the movie is about characters with a traumatic family history getting over their trauma to forge a new family. Sure, the movie uses the word “friend” but the point is still clear. Drax lost his whole family; Gamora’s family was abusive; Peter Quill’s dad abandoned him, his mom died, and he was adopted; and Rocket and Groot are orphans who’ve never really had parents. The movie is all about these characters learning to surmount their history, communicate, and forge a new family. (From here.)

“Teamwork” or “family” or “trauma” might be better.

This literal take on their topics carries through the main presentation. Over and over again, students get focused on the minutia. They spend an enormous amount of time on minor points. When presenting a singe scientific paper, a large number of students spend a lot of time on methods, up to and including which institutional board did the ethics review for the experiments.

It may be that the sort of education that science majors get tends to be way focused on details, and seemingly irrelevant details are often exactly the sort of knowledge students are tested on. I don’t know how to get them out of their heads and stepping back to see more “forest” and less on “every leaf on every tree.”

Related posts

Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking review

11 March 2015

“What’s our Nature paper?”

A few years ago, a candidate interviewing for a gig in our department said that he routinely asked people in the lab, “What’s our Nature paper?”

I have severe concerns about chasing after glamour magazine publications. But that question stuck with me. I may hate the way the question is phrased, but I understand what the question is asking at a deeper level. It’s asking, “What research will do you do that would be important, not just to your narrow field, but to science generally? What research would you do that would change the world?”

And when I thought about my own work, I didn’t have an answer.

It’s a well known thing in psychology that when things go wrong, we blame external influences. (But when things go right, we credit ourselves.) And it’s increasingly easy to say, “I can’t have a manuscript worth sending to Nature because grants are hard to get these days, my teaching load is too heavy, the best students won’t apply to my program, we don’t have a doctoral program...” and on and on and on.

And then I asked, “What if none of those were problems? What if I had no other commitments, and all the supplies and cash and colleagues I needed? What would be my Nature paper?”

And I still don’t have an answer.

Maybe as you go on in your career, you get complacent. You have a line of research, and you know what the next experiment is for the next few papers. And you don’t stop to ask yourself, “Forget about external limitations, do I have an question or an idea that – if I could answer it well and before anyone else – would shake things up?”

Ambition has a bad rap in science. There are a lot of people with massive egos who are very ambitious. But ambition is not all bad. You can achieve a lot of positive things if you are ambitious. So maybe it’s worth asking yourself, “Am I being ambitious enough?”

Myself, I have the ambition to live 300 years. I will not live 300 years. Maybe I will live one year more. But I have the ambition.
Why will you not have ambition? Why?
Have the greatest ambition possible.
You want to be immortal? Fight to be immortal. Do it.
You want to make the most fantastic art of movie? Try.
If you fail, it’s not important. We need to try.
Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jodorowksy’s Dune (2014)

10 March 2015

Tuesday Crustie: Young but old

This is a baby crab, therefore young.

This is also a reconstruction of a 150 million year old fossil, therefore old. Huag and colleagues show this is the oldest baby crab in the fossil record (150 million years!). That it’s the oldest may not be as impressive when you consider that it’s only the second baby crab in the fossil record ever found. So it had a fifty-fifty chance to be oldest!

What a spectacular find.

For more on this discovery, read here. I’d like to direct you to the original paper, but despite Nature Communications being an “open access journal now,” not all of its papers are open access - including this one. Sigh.


Haug JT, Martin JW, Haug C. 2015. A 150-million-year-old crab larva and its implications for the early rise of brachyuran crabs. Nature Communications 6: 6417. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms7417