Academic life – Wednesday edition

Wednesdays are always busy, and today was no exception. Meetings in the morning until eleven, followed by a therapist session*. After the important, but usually unproductive morning, the afternoon, on the other hand, was spent on teaching, which at least feels important and somehow productive and satisfying. Interestingly, we spent part of our morning meeting discussing how we could boost our student attendance levels during our group exercises among the teachers in our group. It’s a recurring theme here at my university that only about a quarter to half of the registered students show up to participate in classes or group work. Nothing is obligatory, and from what I understood, it’s not allowed to make things so. Overall, my courses have had a reasonable 50% attendance, or higher in my project work (usually 100% there). I don’t know what happened today. Today’s theme was biodiversity decline, and we selected two papers to discuss and break down (Crossley et al. 2020 and Seibold et al. 2019 on insect declines, if you’re curious). These are two interesting papers. Okay, I’m biased. But still… Instead of the usual 18 out of 36 students, this afternoon I was joined by only eight students. I guess this year’s cohort does not like insects? It’s a shame that instead of the six envisioned themes/questions that the students would be working on, only three were covered now. This totally messed up the structure of the group work, and wiped most of the preparation work I did off the table. My take on this during this morning’s meeting was to just maintain enthusiasm for those that do show up, because this is your target audience. These are the people motivated to work with you, and potentially will return for projects with you. What I had not taken into consideration is that if you have not enough students to form groups, and that messes up the structure of your teaching material it becomes a different story. I tried to just casually adapt – with enthusiasm – without freaking out, and while filling in the gaps that were important for the sake of education. The enthusiasm wasn’t hard. It was about insects after all. But whether it all really worked smoothly, I’m not sure. Teaching goes easier if everybody’s there. I hope this was just an exceptional event this week. We’ll see if some people remain next week.

After teaching, just before I headed home, I helped out two PhDs with their final preparations – and transportation of goods – for their insect choice assays, which will commence tomorrow! This is exciting, and I’m really curious to see what we will find out about the preferences of different aphid species for our different tansy plant chemotypes. I’ve taken up more of an observer role on this one, but these two are in full control! I’m confident that we will end this year on a positive note with the new data coming in later this week! I’m a little excited, too. And I admit, it’s also a bit of a personal test for me. I’m not used to taking the back seat in experiments. I try to be heavily involved, usually, also during the practical procedures. I like the grind of doing experimental work, and they’re a huge reason why I’m in academia. But I think it is important to be comfortable with adopting a more passive role, too. Part of being a good supervisor, I think, is trusting your team to do right. And I know they will!

* My Wednesdays will be less cluttered by therapy from now on. This was the last regular session. We’ve decided to keep my remaining sessions as a backup, so no more weekly therapy. Instead, I will see how I fare with a couple months with only a monthly session. The final ten or so, I want to save for just in case. I feel pretty reasonable on the mental end lately, so I probably won’t spiral down into a mental health disaster situation any time soon. But who knows. It’s always good to have some backup. The brain is an unpredictable pile of goo, after all.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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