Cornell University

Staff manifestos

This field guide to blog staff1 provides meager information about the regular (nonfungal) characters behind the scenes. Many stories have been written by talented Cornell students; other contributions are from our valued guests. Three regular culprits outline their motivations below.

The Editor, Kathie Hodge
Editor, leaves, basket, shadow

It typically happens at cocktail parties. Some well-meaning muggle approaches and asks what I do. So I explain that I have the best job on earth. That my job involves looking really up close at molds, mushrooms, and things just bursting with spores. I examine them, I consider their names, I sequence snippets of their DNA. Oh! and I teach classes at Cornell University. What are my classes about? Why, mushrooms, molds, and things that slowly eat the surface of your skin–wonderful fabulous things that you would hardly believe exist. Oh! and I direct a large herbarium–a place with endless rows of green steel cabinets full of mouldering old specimens that we are specifically trying to keep forever, and that we have lovingly labeled and pondered and fussed over… and at this point, if the muggle isn’t nervously sidling away, she says something astute like “Er. gosh.”

And that’s when it really hits home that I might seem a bit unusual.

I don’t really know how this happened to me. I like small things. I like the frontiers of understanding. I enjoy biodiversity, and connections, and both good and evil sorts of symbioses. I would like to know how things work. Fashioning Rube Goldberg machines sounds like an attractive alternative career to me. I like to teach, because I like to ignite that spark of wonder that you only occasionally get to see in grown-ups. Also, I am introverted. I am goofy. I have a young son who is a willing apprentice. I like walking in the woods, and by this I mean walking just a few paces before falling on my knees to admire some beautiful speck of a thing.

For whatever else you need to know, visit my lab web page, and my Herbarium site, which shed light on some other stuff I do. I’ve had a hand in almost all our posts, as my students’ writings seldom escape my red pen. But some I have written exclusively myself: Here are all of Kathie’s posts.

The Friday Afternoon Mycologist

The Friday Afternoon Mycologist wears a propeller beanie at all timesThe Friday Afternoon Mycologist (the FAM) is a professional mycologist who spends his days staring at a computer screen, mostly in response to other people’s priorities. On a good week, those priorities will be satisfied (or at least exhausted) by Friday afternoon. And then, if all goes well and nobody barges into the lab who has decided that the solution to their Friday afternoon is to delegate something to the FAM, he might just find some time to look at a fungus.

The FAM likes little things. He considers mushrooms and other macrofungi to be like loud, voluptuous, middle aged women who wear too much makeup or noisy, muscular middle aged men with beer bellies and Hawaiian shirts. He likes his fungi shy– they should be subtle, conceal their mysteries, and require some coaxing before they reveal themselves.

There is a legion of Friday Afternoon Mycologists all over the world. The FAM knows this because he gets emails from them on Friday afternoons– “Do you know what this is?” “Have you ever seen this before?” “Would you like to write some articles for my blog?” The aim of this series of articles is to expose this covert mycological activity to the broader world.

By the way, the FAM is not really anonymous– but like the fungi he studies, he is shy, and it will require some coaxing before he will reveal himself. Here are all of FAM’s posts.

The Photodude, Kent Loeffler

The Photodude himselfThe Editor may think she has the best job in the world, but I beg to differ. I don’t have to teach or publish and I get to play with all sorts of optical and digital toys (er, tools). I never know what nasty, fetid, rotten, reeking, and occasionally beautiful specimens will be deemed important enough to be photographed, so work is a continual surprise. The surprise aspect sometimes backfires though when grant deadlines, thesis deadlines, publishing deadlines, and their attendant overcaffeinated humans pop into my lab. The Cornell administration frowns on trap-doors and 2000lb weights so I have to deal with these problems (er, faculty), but then it’s back to the fun stuff.

The fun stuff includes time lapse movies of things rotting and sporulating, movies of rotating objects, borescopy, crawling around in a field photographing ants and aphids, and any number of other odd jobs.

Photography is both my vocation and avocation. You can visit my photo lab, online. When off Cornell’s dime I like to experiment with pinhole cameras, alternative photo processes, large format landscapes, 360 degree panoramas, infrared photography, and blurs. None of this will ever get me a show at MOMA but it’s fun anyway.

1. Information in this guide should not be used to determine staff edibility.


Most people don't pay much attention to fungi, which include things like mushrooms, molds, yeasts, and mildews. Here at Cornell we think they're pretty fascinating. In fact, even the most disgusting foot diseases and moldy strawberries are dear to our hearts. We'd like to talk to you about fungi, so that like us, you too can tell gross stories at the dinner table. Afterwards, maybe you'll notice some things you would have overlooked before, and we think this could be good for the planet.

Kathie T. Hodge, Editor

Beneath Notice, our book of borescopic mycology.


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