Who are you calling Vermin?

imageLast week, I enjoyed Marc Cadotte’s post over at EEB and Flow on learning that he had one of the worst jobs in science: Triage Biologist. I thought both the post was funny and also the fact that I would never have thought about the work he does as being one of the worst jobs in science. I mean, many of us can think of much much worse things to do with one’s time than to have Cadotte’s research career. (Let’s just say that my time spent as an undergraduate marking with paint the thorax of a 2 mm long wasp is not remembered fondly). Imagine my surprise when I found out this morning that apparently one of those things that people would rather not do is “vermin handler” – i.e. rodent catching…i.e., my job! 


Unlike Cadotte, my work is not specifically mentioned in the article. I’m grateful for this because I already have some recruitment issues. It is not uncommon for me to have to reassure prospective graduate students that they are not automatically expected to work with rodents if they join my lab. And let’s face it, as the Popular Science article clearly shows, working with rodents – referred to as small mammals when you want it to sound better and never never ever as vermin – does have an image problem. Given the image problem, you may wonder why I was surprised that small mammal handling was listed as one of the worst jobs. Let’s just say that I don’t consider getting to go here:

Sarah picking up traps


And work with these:


to be any kind of hardship. You may also be wondering right about now about those students who join my lab who perhaps were not initially thrilled with the idea of working with “vermin” – what happened to them? Through fair means or foul, I do encourage all my students to go down to the field site to “just gain the experience”. They don’t have to handle rodents, all that is done by the trained graduate research assistant. All they have to do is help set traps and record data. Unanimously, undergrads and grads, come back loving the experience. So far they’ve even all ended up developing research projects on small mammals. If you’re suspicious, well, you’re welcome to tag along sometime. We always have room for one more vermin handler down at Portal.

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