"The Long Grind"

Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

As I said, although my project was at a University, it began as a self-funded endeavor, as my major professor was not interested in or set up for taxonomy, and had no funding. So I initially provided everything, from a microscope with a grid for making sketches, to the microprojector for projecting images, to the lightboard for tracing, and even to the the lettering set for plates (remember, this was back in the pre-computer dark ages). I wanted it like this. Nothing in life is free. I only planned to get one Ph.D.: I was determined that it would be on the taxonomy of robber flies. The price for having my way would be that I would have to equip and fund myself.

So my third and biggest challenge was how to pay. It is not so much that I thought funding myself would be easy. Rather, I knew it could be done. I had had experience. I had worked my way through regular college. And I had already revised one group of insects (some scale insects) for my M.S. degree. But I faced one huge hurdle. Unlike classwork, thoughtful research requires large blocks of free, unstructured time, that one can approach with a fresh, relaxed mind. These conditions are doubly requisite for the construction of complex plates containing several interrelated, 3-D drawings. Blocks of quality time like this were not easily available while supporting myself at the variety of odd jobs at which I was working. Nor were they really available through teaching assistantships. Our department didn't have but one, and it was occupied by somebody else.

Getting out of this quandary required some very creative solutions--mainly on my part, but also by my advisor, which I am happy to report eventually worked quite well--netting me a total of four years of quality time, in which I worked on my project exclusively. During these years I was able to write over 500 pages of double-spaced text and create 100 full-page plates, depicting either detailed distribution maps, or drawings of terminalia. These latter included the first drawings ever of female terminalia for all the species, from dorsal, ventral, and lateral views, as well as descriptions of the spermathecae and related structures. To facilitate this work I also put the locality records for about 7,000 specimens on 3x5 index cards (which I still have). Many of these cards had small sketches on the back of terminalic parts. I drew these to help me sort the species.

But although I succeeded in the end, I wasn't able to figure out how to proceed immediately. I spent several years moving at a snail's pace. I tried first one thing and then another, while taking classes and working at a variety of dead-end jobs--dishwasher, store clerk, librarian, and agronomy technician come to mind, among many others less discript. My first Christmas I even worked in a bottle factory for a week to pay for a visit to the U. S. National Museum. And all the while I was sorting specimens and trying to come to grips with the generic outlines given on page 2 of this essay (whoever said that insight is 99% perspiration was right). During this time I made a number of false starts: for example, I made plates for several species of Laphria s. str., which I never used, and in one instance I even recorded the label data for several hundred specimens, that would later be unnecessary.

And the effects of this early lag were lasting. Even though I finally got my "sea legs" as it were (and in a rough sea), my reduced project was still so big, that the lag pushed the total time I would take to near the limit set by the University for getting a Ph.D. Since beginning my Ph.D. I had familiarized myself with the details of asilid taxonomy, figured out how to rationally reduce the scope of my project, equipped myself for it, provided most of the funds, and then worked on it exclusively for several years straight, with voluminous results. So I was not about to be done in by an arbitrary deadline. To meet it, I decided to postpone finishing my nearly-complete revision of Choerades (then over 200 pages of double-spaced text and about 50 plates), and work up only the material on the new genera for consideration. This tack itself took time, as instead of finishing one genus and then moving on to the next, to ensure uniformity I had worked on all of them simultaneously--finishing all the drawings first, then all the maps, then all the synonymies, etc., so that when I began to cut down, everything was nearly done for all three genera, but nothing was completely finished for any one of them. My reduced dissertation on the two new genera totaled 275 pages, including 47 plates. It was accepted and I graduated with my Ph.D. in 1986.

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