If money and time was no object, what research idea would you investigate?
I am not sure if I could pursue this even if time and money were no object because it is so politically incorrect…. I would investigate if the inability to see prospective brides in religious communities that do not allow their women to expose themselves to men has led to reduced physical beauty in females.
Who was your PhD supervisor and what was the best thing you learned from them?
My PhD supervisor was Maurice Sabelis (University of Amsterdam). He always believed in you. That is not to say he was not very critical, but his criticism was always constructive so that he would get the best out of people. And he still supports me, even from afar.
Which paper of yours are you most proud of (and why)?
My paper on male production by bumblebee colonies which was part of my PhD. (Beekman, M. and P. Stratum van (1998). “Bumblebee sex ratios: Why do bumblebees produce so many males?” Proceedings of the Royal Society London, B 265: 1532-1543). The first version was rejected with no option of resubmitting, which I did anyway because the reviewers made such good points. I then received a fax (yes, this was prior to email) in which the Editor at the time thanked me ‘for my un-invited resubmission’. And they accepted the paper.
What is the worst review you’ve ever had?
This was not a review but a comment from one of my co-authors: ‘this study is fundamentally flawed.’ Who needs bad reviews when you have collaborators? Needless to say the study was published and we still work together.
Which other evolutionary biologist’s work do you most admire and why?
Wallace. Because unlike Darwin he was not an ‘armchair scientist’ but travelled the hard way, nearly died in the process, remained poor throughout his life and never received the same credit as Darwin.
Dawkins or Gould?
Ever since I tried to read Gould’s ‘The structure of evolutionary theory’ in bed, I stick to Dawkins.
What animal would you bring back from extinction?
The Tasmanian tiger. In fact, if I am not allowed to do my male mate choice experiment outlined above, I would put the money and time towards attempting to bring back the tiger. The Australian Museum made some headway, so it may well be possible.
When was the last time that you laughed uncontrollably (and for what reason)?
Watching the Warf Review, when Gina Reinhardt and Clive Palmer were singing a duet.
What TV series boxed-set DVD would you take to a desert island (and why?)
Oh dear…I don’t even have a TV so I don’t know anything about TV series. Also, would the desert island have power? I hope not… Can I take books instead?
Which social insect would you like to be reincarnated as?
My initial thought was that I would have to be a queen of whatever species I would choose. But then I would basically be an egg-laying machine, which doesn’t sound that exciting. But I also wouldn’t want to be a worker who needs to work hard until the day she dies. Luckily, most workers do nothing at all, so a worker I shall be. But which species? I like the warmth, so it needs to be a tropical species. I shall choose a stingless bee species from Northern Queensland and the Top End. Don’t really care which one though….
Which do you prefer: beer or wine (and what sort)?
Well, that depends on the time and the occasion. Beer is good after work (preferably Belgian-style beer) but with dinner it needs to be a big red, shiraz (Australia) or cabernet sauvignon (South Africa).
Tell us a secret that your colleagues don’t know about you
I would like to be able to s(t)ing….
Madeleine Beekman is Professor of Behavioural Ecology and an ARC Future Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney. Her research focuses on the evolution of behaviour in social insects particularly in regard to conflict and cooperation, decision making, communication and intergenomic conflict. For more information on her research in the social insects lab at University of Sydney click here.