Roadside Science

Exploring science from the roadside and beyond


Lab Culture: A guest post by Jessie Abbate

Jessie graduated from UVA (the first time) in 2003 with a double major in Biology (BS) and Italian (BA). Focusing on infectious disease biology, she managed to serendipitously put her linguistic skills to good use working on a fungal plant pathogen in the Italian Alps, and eventually on the French side, during her graduate career. After earning both her Master’s (2008) and PhD (2012) from the UVA Biology Department, she is continuing her work on ecology and evolution of infectious disease as a post-doctoral researcher at the French National Research Center for Functional Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in Montpellier, France.

This post first appeared yesterday on Jessie’s own blog, Lab Culture. It is the first in a series of posts that will explore the adventures of an American scientist working in France. Visit her blog often to read more!

How do you say “science” in French?

Um… “science.” But with an accent.

A typical meal at the French field laboratory SAJF

A typical meal at the French field laboratory SAJF

After graduating from the UVA Biology department a little over a year ago, I landed a post-doc position in Montpellier, France – home to one of the most lively research communities in Europe. Particularly for studying ecology and evolution, this is the place to be. Yes, yes, there is also the wine and the bread, and here in the south, the Mediterranean. But there’s more to changing continents than a new diet, phone number, and weekend destination list. In general, there’s not that much of a difference between working as a scientist in the U.S. and in France if you just consider the actual science work – you do experiments, you collaborate, you vie for grants, you present your work, you write and review papers. But there are subtle differences that either promote or impede this process, and a slue of things that just take a period of adjustment. Many of the unanticipated differences are almost so cliché that it’s hard to call them unanticipated, but some changes were either contrary to my expectations or just never even dawned on me. I hope this post serves to both inform those who are considering the pond jump and foster some reflection on how our own system works.

I think the single most fundamental difference between practicing science in the U.S. and France is the French natural tendency to compartmentalize work from life, and our belief that this division signals a lack of drive and dedication. Continue reading


Meet the Conopid Fly: A bumblebee horror story

An adult conopid fly (Photo credit: Rosemary Malfi)

An adult conopid fly (Photo credit: Rosemary Malfi)

When I first saw a bumblebee fall from a jewelweed flower and plummet five feet to the ground, I thought I had witnessed an unusually clumsy bee. When another fell only a minute later, I started paying closer attention. When the third bee hit the ground, I discovered the culprit.

Some sort of crazy dive-bombing insect was systematically kicking out every bumblebee that entered the jewelweed patch by ramming itself into the bees’ abdomens. It was shaped like a fighter jet with narrow black wings that formed a V when resting on a leaf. The insect looked like it weighed about one-tenth of what a bumblebee weighs and yet it could shake a bee from a flower with one swift push. Not once did I see it actually pollinate a flower. What was this thing?!! Continue reading