Saturday, February 18, 2012

New blog name and a few words about the past and the future

Some of you might already have noted this, but the blog has recently changed its name from the more person-oriented "Erik Svensson Research Laboratory", to the more general name "Experimental Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour" (Acronym: EXEB). This is more than cosmetics and simply a changed name: it reflects a significant change that had as its starting point over a decade ago, in 2000, when I returned from my postdoc in the US.

By that time, our department was (and still largely is), very dominated by bird behavioural ecology and two large research groups: Molecular Ecology and Bird Migration Ecology. It was therefore a bit odd to try to start up something in between these two large groups, that was neither, and in this case an evolutionary and ecological research programme focussed on field studies on insects and with a strong connection to quantitative genetics and selection approaches. Moreover, at that time (unlike today), odonates were still considered to be quite odd study organisms, both in Lund and elsewhere. It was quite lonely, at times, to strive to cut out an independent niche in a department so strongly focussed on birds and behavioural ecology, and it was tempting several times to give up, and just follow the crowd along some easier path.

Luckily, I got several excellent PhD-students, who were all succesful in terms of their theses, defended, got postdocs and went abroad to learn new things: Jessica Abbott in 2006, Tom Gosden in 2008, Fabrice Eroukhanoff in 2009 and Kristina Karlsson in 2010. Of these former PhD-students, Jessica recently obtained a "Junior Project Grant" from "Vetenskapsrådet" last year, and as you know she has now re-established herself in Lund and in our research environment. She is hopefully not the last of my current and former PhD-students/postdocs who will be able to establish herself as an independent PI, but only the future will tell this, of course. This spring several of you will apply from VR, and later this year, Tom Gosden will return to Lund from Australia on a one-year postdoc (Marie Curie). Any new PhD-students entering this group will have an idéal situation in the form of several postdoctoral mentors, good role models and senior scientists.  

Given these happy and exciting developments, I feel that the goal I did put up more than a decade ago, i. e. to build up a new evolutionary oriented research group in Lund focussing on insects/invertebrates, has largely been achieved. As there is now more than one senior scientist and PI,  it is time for me to transform this group in to more of a collective enterprise, and less of a one-man show. This has already started to happen,  naturally, as lab-meetings were obviously running when I was recently away in South Africa. This is great, and exactly how I want it to be. A research group cannot stand and fall with a single person, it has to be a collective effort.

Time is therefore mature to change the name of both the blog and the research group. These new changes will soon be seen also at the the department's website. I strongly feel that it is important to have a group of people who regularly meet, as several brains work synergistically, and intellectual lab-meetings of the kind we have had over the years should be the last thing to prioritize down, even if time is always limited. As for myself, I will now try to cut down on the number of projects, focus more on my own research and hopefully share some of the administrative burden and advising activities with Jessica and those others of you who might also hopefully soon enter as new PI:s.

A few more words about the new name of the blog, which I and Jessica have discussed before deciding on  EXEB. "Experimental Evolution", i. e. the first two words, signify the important fact that Jessica brings with her an entirely new research approach to Lund and our research group, while at the same time we keep our strong focus on ecology and behaviour.

Some might argue that there are other groups in our department working with these topics too, and that our research group is therefore obsolete or unnecessary. Perhaps we should simply dissolve it, and happily integrate ourselves with other similar groups like MEEL, The PEG ("theoretical ecology") or "Bird Migration Ecology"?. Well,  I do not think so, otherwise I would of course have shut down this blog a long time ago. Personally, I think we represent a significant and different research current than these other groups, without denying that they also do good work.

There is clearly room for a research group that is both integrative (i. e. combines molecular, experimental and field approaches) and theoretically oriented (although not a pure theory group), and which is firmly rooted in population and evolutionary quantitative genetics. That is who we are and what we are good at, I think. And we also have a certain responsibility to represent this particular research tradition in Lund, rather than trying to copy others and become too similar to other research groups.

Finally: Goodbye "Erik Svensson Research Laboratory" and long live EXEB!


  1. I chime in: nice post, nice name. Thanks for "migrating" me to the new group :-)