Terry Wheeler studies bugs.
Insects, that is, and he writes haiku about them. He also works at McGill, and runs a blog called Lyman Entomological Museum, which is a delightful collection of musings about life as an entomologist. He recently posted a piece called “to a young naturalist” which proposes a required reading list for a budding researcher/naturalist much broader than text books and field guides.
He writes that a snapshot of his field camp library “was a nice little microcosm of General Life Advice to the Young Academic Naturalist.”
Wheeler’s insights, derived from fundamentals such as A Naturalist’s Field Guide to the Artic and the much less obvious Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird, encompass many of the lessons I try to share with clients and colleagues working in science and sustainability.
They are life lessons that apply to anyone seeking a richly productive and meaningful life working in the sciences, natural history, and environmental fields.
Wheeler’s message is that there is a lifestyle richness found in being multi-dimensional, and having interests broader than our career focus. Looking beyond our field of study can also go a long way toward making connections with non-scientists who might never think about such issues otherwise. Wheeler’s life lessons point to ways we can give “science” a face, a personality, an approachability that is fundamental to bridging the science-public gap.
These snippets encourage us all to remember there’s more to life than the lab, computer screen, or field site.
There were so many quotable phrases in Wheeler’s piece, I couldn’t have reasonably shared them all via social media. So, I’ve directly quoted Wheeler (with his permission), re-purposing his library catalogue into:
7 life lessons that will help make your science matter:
- “Don’t be a scientist 24 hours a day. Get yourself a hobby. Work with your hands as well as your mind.”
- “Know your organisms, know the organisms they interact with, and know the place they’re in […] it gives you a context for everything you study.”
- “The place you’re in is bigger than data […] It’s hard to separate science from a broader view of the world. So don’t try.”
- “There are people who will, inevitably, see you as a questionable character. Revel in that.”
- “Your interactions with nature, even fleeting ones, will affect you, change you, inspire you. Let them.”
- “Don’t be afraid to write about science with the words of a novelist, the rhythm of a poet, the imagery of an artist.”
- “Do more than simply document those patterns. Be an advocate. Be an educator. Be an ambassador. Be a leader. If not us, then who?”
Update July 2017: Terry Wheeler succumbed to cancer this summer. His wisdom that inspired this post can hopefully help us all carry his spirit onward.