A weekend at Lake Itasca

I might be distracted for a few days — I’m at our second annual retreat, in which we drag 50 new biology students out to a field station and force them to confront biology. Me, too…I saw a tree! And a squirrel!



  1. Jason Nishiyama says

    PZ, you should kick them out of the buildings at night if it’s clear. It’s been my experience that many students who have grown up inside cities have never seen the Milky Way and it’s high overhead this time of year.

    (yes, I know, biology retreat)….

  2. says

    They’re going on a night hike. Unfortunately, it’s cloudy and damp, and even if it weren’t, the astronomical viewing might be obscured by the GIANT CLOUDS OF RAVENOUS BLOOD-SUCKING INSECTS.

    We don’t have weed-out courses here — we just evaluate their ability to survive blood loss.

  3. Jason Nishiyama says


    The insects are just there to teach them that they are a vital part of the ecosystem!

  4. steveht says

    Excellent! My Neuroscience PhD began with six weeks crammed in a musty log classroom at the field station learning such lovely techniques as intracellular recording, patch clamping, hippocampal slice recording, and of course, watching biology students track beavers, canoeing, midnight fishing, and downing what may have been the worst “mexican food” I have ever eaten in my life.

    Great memories!

  5. moarscienceplz says

    I like the student with the 3 liter water bottle in her pack. Heaven forbid she should become dehydrated in the land of 10,000 lakes.

  6. shouldbeworking says

    It’s not a hike if there’s no hordes of blooding sucking insects, at least 1 bear, and 1 over-protective mommy elk with the cutest baby elk.

    Oops, that was my last Rocky Mountain fishing trip.

  7. says

    I would love to hear some more details about what you do for this orientation/retreat with new students. As faculty at a small college with a research station I would love to see us implement something like this!

  8. JPS says

    I like the student with the 3 liter water bottle in her pack …

    In the ’50s I camped with my father and his friends and their kids in the northern Minnesota “canoe country”. The lakes were our only source of water.
    We did biology experiments. To make kool-ade we’d scoop a pot of water from the lake. Often there’d be a cloud of almost-microscopic bugs darting about in the water. We’d test to see if the beverage powder or the sugar made them move more.

  9. yazikus says

    There was a guest on a podcast I listened to recently from Australia, who claimed that when he would go out into the outback the juice concentrate he brought purified the water- killed anything in it.

    Aha- it was Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki on the SGU.

  10. outaworkee, back at work for now. says

    I saw some large beetles there a few weeks ago. Ribbed Pine Beetle? Make sure they don’t walk off with your lunch.

  11. bortedwards says

    Was just discussing this with other faculty yesterday. As a biology department with an inordinate fondness for organisms that live in bottles and manifest on chalkboards, students can go their entire academic lives without any idea how wonderfully messy, colorful, intricate, tenuous, busy, absorbing, exhilarating etc etc the natural world is. Not only do they miss out on potentially wonderful experiences, but on fitting the work we do into a greater context.