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Ten Habits of Highly Successful Entomologists

By Josh Lancette

What makes a successful entomologist? Undoubtedly, there are many factors, including intelligence, a hard work ethic, educational opportunities, relationships, character, perhaps even luck, just to name a few.

Josh Lancette

However, while these things might be replicable to some degree, we wanted to dig a bit deeper. What do successful entomologists do day in and day out? What are their consistent practices and habits?

So we decided to ask some people who would know: successful entomologists. We talked to folks from all kinds of areas of entomology and asked them if they had any habits that they thought helped them to be successful. Some clear trends emerged.

Without further ado, here are 10 habits of successful entomologists:

1. Start the morning right

  • “I begin each day with several minutes of meditation, which helps to focus my mind on positive thoughts and gives me courage to face the challenges of the day.” – Eric Riddick, PhD; Research Entomologist, Biological Control of Pests Research Unit, USDA-ARS
  • “Daily, set specific goals for yourself to succeed, then strive to exceed those expectations. As much as possible, don’t let others define your success. Attempting to satisfy the expectations of others can cause frustration, anxiety, and disappointment.” – Marlin Rice, PhD; Senior Research Scientist, Pioneer; Professor (Collaborator), Iowa State University
  • “I begin the day by building a to-do list. This organizes the tasks and goals for the day and provides me an outline to follow, keeping me on track as unexpected objectives arise.” – Travis Prochaska, PhD; Crop Protection Specialist, North Dakota State University

2. Make time to think

  • “I have a habit of tinkering with ideas for difficult-to-solve problems while I’m falling asleep. This usually puts me to sleep rather quickly, but my brain seems to go into auto-pilot mode and continues to work on the problem even as I sleep. Interestingly, I usually wake up with some ideas on how to solve the problem. These may not be the final solutions, but they are something to move forward with.” – Nan-Yao Su, PhD; Distinguished Professor, Urban Entomology, University of Florida
  • “I spend 20 minutes or so each day just thinking, while sitting at my desk in my office. I write down any career related ideas—regardless of how silly they may seem at the time—that pop into my mind, determine what projects I need to concentrate on today rather than tomorrow, and decide who I need to consult (colleagues, technicians, etc.).” – Eric Riddick

3. Find a mentor, be a mentor

  • “Find a mentor and be a mentor, both in and out of science.I have my non-scientist community and my scientist community, and some relationships fall in between. Almost everything I learn from a friend in business is something I could not have learned in academia or from a fellow entomologist. That can give you a career advantage. At least once a month I’m sitting down for lunch or coffee with someone with a career I admire and seeing how they do what they do. Likewise, helping those who are just starting their careers helps you really pinpoint what got you to where you are today, both the mistakes and the good decisions.” – Phil Torres, Science Correspondent, Science Communication Consultant, and Television Presenter
  • “Find a mentor or mentors at various levels of the organization that you trust and that you can turn to in order to help advise, provide feedback, generate examples, and provide perspective when you encounter situations that you’ve not had to deal with before.” – Floyd Shockley, PhD; Collections Manager (Acting), Department of Entomology,
 National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
  • “Seek advice from trusted mentors. Run your ideas and concerns by knowledgeable people who’ve had experiences similar to what you are facing. Mentors will help you think things through, and you’ll be building your network, which is also important.” – Carol Anelli, PhD; Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Entomology, Ohio State University

4. Get some exercise

  • “To manage life’s curveballs (whether work or home), I find it helpful to walk or get some sort of moderate exercise. I prefer outdoor walks to help me reconnect with why I became a biologist. If circumstances don’t permit, I’ll settle for a treadmill type thing. Walking clears my head, gets rid of nervous energy, and allows me to sort through tangled thoughts. When a colleague needs to talk through a difficult situation, I’m about as likely to suggest going for a stroll as suggest going for a cup of coffee.” – Susan Weller, PhD; Director of the University of Nebraska State Museum of Natural History
  • “Each day, I attempt to save time for an activity. I may use this time to go for a run, to go for a bike ride, or to just take a break. This provides a short period of time to de-stress and provides the brain a short break.” – Travis Prochaska
  • “After leaving work for the day, I often spend 60 minutes in the gym. Physical exercise helps me eliminate work-related stress and condition my body.” – Eric Riddick

5. Value relationships

  • “Align with positive, supportive folks as a student, and thereafter with positive folks professionally. I had the great pleasure of working with lepidopterists at the National Museum of Natural History who were always there to answer my questions and to make positive suggestions for projects and/or solutions that were results oriented. Ask questions and more questions. Graduate school is an opportunity to act like a sponge that will not come again.” – Alma Solis, PhD; Research Entomologist, Systematic Entomology, USDA-ARS
  • “Spending time with family is very important. During challenging times in my career, the support and encouragement I received from family (e.g., my wife) was invaluable.” – Eric Riddick
  • “Cultivate friendships. My friends inspire me to stay dedicated to my work and profession.” – Gadi Reddy, PhD; Superintendent and Associate Professor of Entomology/Insect Ecology at Montana State University WTARC
  • “Treat other people the way you would like to be treated. Everyone has value even if you don’t initially recognize it. Put others ahead of yourself. That respect often will translate into more opportunities someday down the road, for both of you.” – Marlin Rice
  • “Be kind and respectful to EVERYONE you work with. Custodial staff, clerical staff, IT staff. These are often overlooked groups of people in the workplace, but being kind and respectful to them can make so many other issues that arise easier to handle. Plus, it has the benefit of just being the right thing to do.” – Floyd Shockley

6. Follow your passion, flexibly

  • “Careers and scholarly endeavors in our discipline can take many forms. If you find you have an affinity for some ancillary area—e.g., public engagement, teaching, history of science (the last two are two passions I discovered in grad school)—start developing those interests. They may open future career doors. (Warning: Don’t lose focus on your thesis/dissertation!)” – Carol Anelli
  • “Be flexible and open to new ideas for areas of study. Life is not linear, but a series of forks in the road that lead you down paths that are surprising. I was an English major, until I discovered the organismal world as an undergraduate in college, and changed my major two years in to biology. In graduate school I was very interested in Hymenoptera and pollination, but during my first field course to Costa Rica, I discovered that I was allergic to bee stings, so I was gently pushed into Lepidoptera by my major professor. I went from ecology to systematics when I discovered that the diversity of neotropical moth fauna was practically unknown.” – Alma Solis
  • “I love entomology. I am committed to all my work related to my profession, making sure to always work hard and make entomology a priority.” – Gadi Reddy

7. Step outside entomology

  • “Nurture your non-scientific interests. Many entomologists have interests outside of their specialty areas. Continue to develop and enjoy those—they feed your soul, keep you sane, and make you a more well-rounded, interesting individual.” – Carol Anelli
  • “Practice explaining your research (or another scientific concept) to people outside of your field, all the time. I make it a point to try different analogies, different order of ideas, different assumptions about starting points of knowledge in the person I’m talking to. Observe the reactions. I’ve had reactions ranging from boredom to disgust to fascination. Obviously, I prefer fascination and work to get that result nine times out of 10. Honing the craft of communication allows you to write better papers, apply for better grants, impact more of society, and spread the good word about insects.” – Phil Torres
  • “Take every opportunity to learn something you don’t know so that you understand all of the moving parts of whatever organization you are working with. This nearly always is the hardest thing to do, but very quickly you become “the go-to person for logistics,” which makes you indispensable and helps grow your responsibilities. So long as you can manage, always say yes to opportunities when they present themselves, especially those that offer you access to network with people outside of your immediate department. Some may not seem very important in terms of their scope, but they often serve as a pathway to other greater opportunities later and in directions you never expected.” – Floyd Shockley

8. Stay organized and pay attention to details

  • “Pay attention to details. Learn to criticize your own work, always looking for improvement and giving attention to the small things, especially in writing and presentation. Be meticulous.” – Marlin Rice
  • “Time management is critical, and developing a method of keeping track of appointments is key, especially if you are heavily overprogrammed or understaffed. It doesn’t really matter if you do this electronically (I live and die by my Outlook calendar) or via a paper calendar. But keeping your time organized is critical to success.” – Floyd Shockley
  • “Create project calendars with intermediate goals ‘with good to achieve by date’ and ‘drop-dead’ deadlines. In a constant quest to stay on top of work and home demands, I create project calendars (typically sketched out by hand) that, in a glance, can help me keep projects on track or recognize when they are off track. These are especially important for me when working with colleagues so I get my deliverables delivered! (And rewarding yourself with a small treat when you hit a ‘good to achieve by’ date is positive reinforcement.)” – Susan Weller

9. Get outside your comfort zone

  • “Getting outside your comfort zone is hard for introverted people like me, and I had to make an effort to become more extroverted when I entered graduate school. The gradual change began with the support of my major professor, who first encouraged me to give talks at ESA Eastern Branch meetings, then at ESA Annual meetings. Many years later when I became Research Leader of the Systematic Entomology Laboratory, I could quickly gauge interests and become a chameleon at will. I could interact with different groups of people and organizations as needed.” – Alma Solis
  • “ESA has a plethora of opportunities where you can serve, which allows you to return back something to your fellow entomologists. Committee membership, student competition judging, and volunteering at annual or branch meetings are great ways to meet others and develop leadership and teamwork skills. Volunteering introduces you to others outside your universe, many of whom will become lifelong acquaintances, and often friends. We are, all of us, like bees. Success is sweeter when we work together.” – Marlin Rice

10. Harness the power of social media

  • “Tweet, blog, Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr … Use these! Often. It is hard to pinpoint exactly how social media has helped my career, but in just the last 24 hours I’ve had a turtle ID’d, a publication process explained, and seen important discussions happen about issues like equality in academia. Those interactions add up and help shape your professional community, and therefore your career.” – Phil Torres

Josh Lancette is Manager of Publications at the Entomological Society of America.


  1. Successful Entomologists should serve as a bridge between the academia, the society and technology.

  2. Completely on target. Very impressive. However, I would exclude number 10, probably because I’m old school. Having said that, I’ve recently noted that when someone says “old school” one might consider dropping the word school from the phrase.

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