Tag Archives: Writing

What are the best books about bees and other pollinators?

Clearly that’s a very subjective question and everyone has their own view on which books about a particular subject they would recommend! So coming up with a list of just five for the Shepherd book recommendation site was not easy. My list features authors such as Brenda Z. Guiberson, Megan Lloyd, Steven Falk, Dave Goulson, Mike Shanahan and Stephen L. Buchmann, which will hopefully inspire you to read some of these books.

Here’s the link: https://shepherd.com/best-books/bees-and-other-pollinators

If you think that I’ve missed your favourite from the list, please do comment below. And if you’re an author, consider signing up for Shepherd and curating your own list, they’ve been really helpful and it’s a useful service for readers and authors.

Earning a living as an independent academic and author: here’s what I’ve learned in my first year

It’s just over one year since I stepped down from my full time professorship at the University of Northampton in order to work independently as a consulting scientist and author. It was a move precipitated by a number of factors, not least that after 25 years at that institution I needed some new challenges. I was starting to feel stale, jaded, and not a little burned out.

Since making the decision to leave the university (where I still hold a Visiting Professorship) Karin and I have down-sized our lives by selling our house, disposing of possessions that we didn’t need (though there’s still a lot in storage in the UK) and moving to Denmark, where we are renting a small apartment for the time being. Karin is Danish and, yes, both Brexit and the pandemic have played a role in our decision making.

A few people have asked me recently how I’m managing to earn a living as an independent academic so I thought I’d share with you my experiences so far. I’ve looked at my various sources of income over the past year and put them into four broad categories: Conservation, Research, Education and Writing. Then I worked out the proportion of my income that can be attributed to each area, keeping in mind that there’s overlap between them. This is the result:

Conservation-related activities accounted for the largest fraction, about 46% of my income. This includes direct advisory and consulting, on pollinator-related projects but also on wider, biodiversity-related topics. For example I worked with the Stanwick Lakes nature reserve in Northamptonshire, advising on how best to enhance and manage the site for pollinators.

It’s a site that I know very well but which was set up mainly because it’s important bird habitat. Seeing it from a pollinator’s perspective allowed me to make suggestions for improving the amount and timing of floral resources, opportunities for ground nesting bees, and so forth.

I’ve also been working with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (Wallingford) on a biodiversity strategy for the European railway network which I’ll write more about later this year when the final report is published.

Also included in the Conservation category are the many, many talks (mainly online) that I’ve done for various natural history, gardening and beekeeping groups, plus training sessions that I’ve done with ecological consultancies, estates departments, and local government. There’s a list of those available on my training and public speaking page.

Research projects funded by UK and international agencies accounted for about 32% of my income. Some of these are projects that started when I was still employed at the University of Northampton and which are paying for my time (including completing the supervision of my remaining PhD students), others are new ones. You can find a list of present and past projects on this page of my website.

I am a partner on several funding applications that are in the process of being assessed and I’ll report back when we know if they have been successful.

As well as my own research I’m also reviewing grant applications for funding organisations, advising research groups and departments on their research strategies, and working with the Turkish Journal of Botany to promote the work it publishes to a wider international audience.

Education is the third, very broad category that includes things such as external examining (both taught and research degrees), assessing staff applications for promotion, and doing the occasional online lecture. It accounted for 11% of my income, less than I might have expected given that I’ve spent over 30 years teaching in higher education, educational consulting is quite a crowded field and unless you’re a high-profile specialist, it doesn’t pay well.

Writing accounted for about 11% of my income. As well as royalties from my book Pollinators & Pollination: Nature and Society, I earned money from writing for magazines such as BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, New Scientist, British Wildlife, and Bees & Other Pollinators Quarterly.

In addition I’ve done some advisory work for publishers, including reviewing text and making suggestions for a forthcoming children’s book about bees and other pollinators, and some paid manuscript editing.

At the moment the balance of my work feels about right; I’ll never stop being a scientist so working on research projects is, and always will be, an important part of my life. I wish that it was possible to earn more from writing, but outside of the best-seller lists it’s difficult for authors to earn a decent living. However I’m working on my next book at the moment, as is Karin whose Essential Companion to Talking Therapy has been well received.

Working independently in this way, and putting together what amounts to a “portfolio career”, is not for everyone. It’s hard work and there are lots of uncertainties along the way, especially with regard to month-to-month consistency of one’s income. However a career as a university academic has prepared me for this in ways which I’m only just beginning to discover. Aside from the obvious subject expertise, familiarity with literature searching, and confidence when giving talks, the uncertainties associated with the high proportion of unsuccessful funding applications and navigating the (often contradictory) requirements of peer reviews has been extremely valuable experience. And of course I’ve established a large and diverse network of colleagues with whom I can collaborate and go to for advice. The diversity of paid work with which I’m engaged, plus the pro bono activities such as peer reviewing for journals, ensures that there’s never a dull day. I have absolutely no regrets about this latest step in my career!

If you’re interested in working with me or want to discuss any aspect of what I’ve written about, please do get in touch via my Contact page.

Nature can’t solve all of our issues – sometimes we need therapy! Check out this new book: The Essential Companion to Talking Therapy

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About 20 years ago I went through a very difficult relationship break up. At the time I had a young family and found the whole thing too overwhelming to deal with. No amount of talking with friends and family helped. The current fashionable advice – “getting out into nature” – also did not help. Interacting with nature by walking, gardening or getting involved in active conservation, is a wonderful panacea for some mental health conditions. But it cannot solve all of our problems, especially those that come out of the blue. So I turned to therapy and had a series of weekly sessions with a therapist who provided a safe, neutral space for me to explore my emotions, anxieties about the future, and concerns for my own mental health. It was an amazingly useful experience.

Fast forward two decades and, lo and behold, I am married to a therapist! Not the same therapist I hasten to add, it’s purely coincidental!! Having a relationship with one of your clients would be hugely unethical on the therapist’s part, and ethical behaviour is just one of the themes that is in my wife’s new book.

So this is the reason for today’s blog post: it’s publication day for The Essential Companion to Talking Therapy by Karin Blak.

It’s the first volume of its kind that explains what you can expect to experience before, during and after therapy takes places. The book also deals with the many questions that you may have, or didn’t know to ask, about the therapeutic journey. It’s an invaluable read for anyone considering or going through therapy or counselling for issues around mental health, relationships, family problems, and so forth. It’s also got a useful section for families and friends on how to support a loved one who is in therapy.

Most importantly it provides a clear and rational argument for why therapy works, something that I only discovered for myself by going through the process. I wish I’d had this book 20 years ago.

The Essential Companion to Talking Therapy is available from all online booksellers around the globe, as a paperback or e-book. There’s also an audiobook version in the works.

OK, I’m clearly biased, but it is great book: well done darling, I’m so proud of you!

Why did I write the book? An interview with NHBS

The nice people at NHBS recently did a wide-ranging interview with me about my new book Pollinators & Pollination: Nature and Society and what led me to write it. It covers a lot of ground, including climate change, food security, the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme, and growing up in Sunderland.

Here’s the link:
https://www.nhbs.com/blog/jeff-ollerton-pollinators-pollination

We are now a two-book-author household!

Two very proud authors! A few days after I received the first physical copy of my new book, my wife Karin was sent a copy of her first book: The Essential Companion to Talking Therapy, published by Watkins.

As with mine, Karin’s book is available from all of the usual online outlets (I’ve linked to Bookshop just for convenience) and should be in stores at some point in the New Year. In the USA it’s published by Penguin-Random House. It’s a really remarkable book (ok, I’m biased, but it is!) not least because Karin wrote it in less than 6 months and poured her professional and life experience into it. I’m incredibly proud of her ūüôā

Here’s a synopsis of the book:

During her 15 years as a therapist, Karin Blak has found that, due to a lack of understanding of what therapy is, people often wait until crisis point to seek help. Even when they are motivated to find professional support, there are psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists; we have so many different types of professionals and approaches to therapy that confusion is inevitable. This book is a definitive guide to understanding talking therapies. It will clarify questions, misunderstandings, myths and grey areas in therapy, compassionately guiding the reader through their journey from beginning to consider therapy, to finding the right therapist, preparing for the first session, surviving common challenges, knowing when to end therapy, and when to return. Karin Blak reveals the rarely considered facts of how therapists work, how they themselves are supervised, how to know if your therapist  is overstepping boundaries, the role of a supporting partner, family member or friend, what the jargon really means, how to manage expectations, and when to move on from therapy. Each section contains honest commentary about the process of therapy, case studies showing examples applicable to real life, encouragements to act, practical suggestions and actions to apply if needed.

One of the reasons why I don’t use reference management software….

….is that it creates nonsense like this! Now, I’m sure that spatial and temporal trends of global pollination have, indeed, benefited me – but that’s not the title of the paper! The actual title is “Spatial and Temporal Trends of Global Pollination Benefit” – full stop. I handled the paper when I was an editor at PLOS One and somehow my role has been bundled into the title by whatever reference management system the authors have used.

I won’t embarrass the authors by saying where it’s from, but it’s yet another example of something that I blogged about a few years ago – that reference management systems encourage sloppy referencing practices.

One thing that “Spatial and Temporal Trends of Global Pollination Benefit Jeff Ollerton” does get right, though, is subject-verb agreement – check out Steve Heard’s post over at Scientist Sees Squirrel on this very topic, and how a careful analysis of sentence structure can improve your writing.

Auto-bee-ography – a new genre of writing?

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In the post today I was pleased to find a copy of Brigit Strawbridge Howard’s first book Dancing With Bees that she had kindly signed and sent after I reviewed some of the text.¬† It was great timing – I’ve just finished Mark Cocker’s Our Place,¬†a really important historical and future road map of how Britain got to its present position of denuded and declining biodiversity, and what we can do to halt and reverse it. Highly recommended for anyone interested in environmental politics and action.¬† So Brigit’s book will be added to the pile on my bedside table and may be next in line, though I still haven’t finished Dave Goulson’s The Garden Jungle – perhaps I will do that before I start Dancing With Bees?

And thereby lies a problem – there’s just too many interesting books to read at the moment if you are interested in the environment, or indeed even just in pollinators.¬† Because a new genre of writing seems to be emerging that I call “auto-bee-ography”. A number of writers are using bees to frame their memoirs and anecdotes.¬† Dave’s trilogy of Buzz in the Meadow, Sting in the Tale, and Bee Quest is probably the best known. Then there’s Buzz by Thor Hanson; Following the Wild Bees by Thomas Seeley;¬†Bees-at-Law byNo√ęl Sweeney;¬†Keeping the Bees by Laurence Packer; Bee Time by¬†Mark Winston;¬†Bees Make the Best Pets by Jack Mingo; Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee
by Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut; The Secrets of Bees by Michael Weiler; and The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Kate Bradbury.

All of these books fall more-or-less into the category of auto-bee-ography, and I’m sure there are others that I’ve missed (feel free to add to the list in the comments below).¬† They follow a strong tradition in natural history and environmental writing of using encounters with particular groups of organisms, for example birds and plants, as a way of exploring wider themes¬† Which is great, the more high profile we can make all of these organisms, including pollinators, the better in my opinion*.

However there’s not enough written about the other pollinators, that does seem to be a gap in the literature.¬† Mike Shanahan’s Ladders to Heaven has a lot about his encounters with figs and their pollinating wasps, but that’s about it, unless I’ve missed some?¬† Perhaps in the future I’ll write something auto-fly-ographical called No Flies on Me.¬† But before that, look out for Pollinators and Pollination: nature and society which I’m currently completing for Pelagic Publishing.¬† It should be out in Spring 2020.


*Though not in everyone’s – I had a very interesting discussion on Twitter with some other ecologists recently about whether pollinators had too high a profile compared to organisms that perform other functional roles in ecosystems such as seed dispersers.¬† You can follow the thread from here: https://twitter.com/JMBecologist/status/1165565465705496576

 

 

 

 

Research is Writing is Research is Writing is Research

“this is an interesting approach because it collapses the distinction between doing ‚Äėresearch‚Äô and writing ‚Äėit‚Äô up”

For years I’ve tried to impress this idea upon my PhD students and postdocs, that writing IS part of the research, and that “writing up” research is, at best, an inaccurate way of describing the process, even in the sciences. It’s had mixed success because it’s a difficult message to get across until they experience it for themselves and appreciate the importance of writing as they go along, even if much of what they write doesn’t end up in the thesis or research paper.

The quote comes from a recent post on Stuart Elden’s¬†Progressive Geographies blog, and he in turn highlights a post by Raul Pacheco-Vega¬†called “What counts as academic writing?” ¬†Both are well worth reading, though Pacheco-Vega’s discipline of writing for two hours every day certainly won’t suit everyone (myself included).