Thursday, May 3, 2012

New PhD-thesis from the lab: Anna Runemark and evolution on islands


Posted by Erik Svensson

Some of the proudest moments in the careers and life of advisors come when their students successfully finish their PhD-theses. Now it is time again, this time for Anna Runemark, who will defend her PhD-thesis on Friday May 25 in the "Blue Hall" (Ecology Building, Department of Biology) at 09.30. The thesis defence is open to all interested, as with all PhD-thesis defences at our university.

The Science Faculty's external opponent is Professor Scott Edwards from Harvard University. The examination committé consists of Drs. Alexandre Antonelli (Gothenburg University, Sweden), Folmer Bokma (Umeå University, Sweden) and Jessica Ware (Rutgers University, USA). On May 24 (Thursday, the day before Anna's thesis defence), we will have a small and informal research symposium with the opponent and the members of the thesis-committé entitled "Island Biology and Evolution", which will start at 13.00 in the "Blue Hall" (Ecology Building).

The title of the thesis is "Island biogeography and population divergence in the Skyros wall lizard". You can find a Swedish summary of the thesis here, and here is the link to the entire thesis, for those of you work at Lund University.



On a more personal note, Anna Runemark is my fifth PhD-student, preceeded by Jessica Abbott (2006), Thomas Gosden (2008), Fabrice Eroukhmanoff (2009) and Kristina ("Tina") Karlsson-Green (2010). I am proud of all these students, and I have learnt tremendously much from being an advisor of these five PhD-theses. Above all, I have learnt that there is not one way of being a good advisor or a good student - but many. 

There is thus no single "magic formula" to do an excellent PhD-thesis, but many different avenues. In a way, one could compare the writing of a thesis with the hill-climbing process on Sewall Wright's Adaptive Landscape: there are multiple adaptive peaks (excellent theses) and many different combinations of skills that make a good thesis. There are also many different kinds of students, each with different social and intellectual backgrounds, personalities, skills and interests. 

Equally, there are many different ways of a being a good advisor, and being a good advisor or a good student is, in itself, no guarantee for success. It is rather the combination of advisor and student that is crucial. One could perhaps compare this with the concept of genetic compatability in sexual selection: some combinations are less fit than others, even if the component parts (genes, advisors, students) do not differ and are excellent in isolation. 


The ideal student-advisor relationship is one of complementarity and mutual respect for each other's skills: The advisor provides the broader overview, theoretical and conceptual background and helps the student to see "the Big Picture" of the work, and forces the student to keep looking at the horizon, rather than dwelling in to methodological details. The student, on the other hand, should develop his/her methodological and technical skills and become "good" at it, and work to build his/her understanding of scientific concepts and how the thesis work can contribute to increased understanding of the natural world. I feel that Anna's thesis about a classical topic in evolutionary biology (evolution on islands) exemplifies this type of advisor-student collaboration that characterizes an excellent PhD-thesis.   

8 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Congrats Anna (and Erik). The thesis looks fantastic (I downloaded a copy) and like a colossal amount of work. Hope you enjoy your defence and party.

    Cheers, Tom

    (I deleted the first post due to a typo that autocorrected to say the wrong thing...nothing rude)

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  3. Thx Tom! Wish you could attend the the thesis defence and the party!

    Erik (on behalf of Anna and myself)

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