Regrets, I’ve had a few…

June 19, 2014 • 10:01 am

by Matthew Cobb

My PhD (Sheffield, 1984), was a study of fruitflies f***ing. Put less crudely, I observed the courtship and mating behaviour of seven closely-related species of Drosophila (technically, they aren’t in fact fruitflies – ‘vinegar fly’ is a much better and accurate term; two other species in this group have since been discovered). This is the group of flies that Jerry also studies.

My PhD research was all done in the lab, but in my literature reviews I tried to emphasise the different ecologies of these species (they were all from Africa, even if two of them, melanogaster and simulans, are now found around the world, thanks to humans – they live in our bins and have travelled around with us).

Sadly I did no field work, not even collecting flies (a few years later I went to Ivory Coast to collect some flies from the rain forest). At the beginning of my thesis, I added a quote from the marvellous 18th century book ‘The Natural History of Selbourne’ by Gilbert White, which was contained in a letter from White to the naturalist Daines Barrington, written on 1 August 1771:

Faunists, as you observe, are too apt to acquiesce in bare descriptions, and a few synonyms; the reason is plain; because all that may be done at home in a man’s study, but the investigation of the life and conversation of animals, is a concern of much more trouble and difficulty, and is not to be attained but by the active and the inquisitive, and by those that reside much in the country.

And there’s my regret in a nutshell. I never did get round to residing ‘much in the country’, and despite a couple of field collection trips (the Ivory Coast trip to find flies, and a trip to India to collect ants), I have never done any real field work. I used to run a field trip for students in the foothills of the Alps, which was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot about the area (that’s where I encountered the nightjar), but it’s not the same as doing consistent research.

That regret has encouraged my interest in natural history, even down to encouraging the development of a pond in the quad of one of my university’s modern buildings, the Michael Smith Building at the University of Manchester. The pond has been there for about three years, and has already led to the production of several frogs, which now live in the quad (we put in the frogspawn the first year – it’s now ‘natural’). Around the edges of the quad are large wild-flower areas which caused some dissent initially (people objected to ‘the weeds’) but everyone loves it now.

Here’s a picture of the pond (it was emptied and deepened a couple of months ago, so its still not fully established):

And while I was peering into the water, this lovely blue-tailed damselfly came zipping by. One of my favourite insects, taken with an iPhone 5:
Looking at examples of wildlife out of the lab is about as close as I get to responding to Gilbert White’s injunction, which I still think is absolutely right. Note to self: if you really want to know about the life and conversation of animals (which is basically what I have spent my academic life doing), you need to get out more!
So, readers, what are your regrets? What road did you not take, that you now wish you had? Is it too late, and if so, why?
[JAC: I’ll answer first: I regret not petting a baby tiger, and not going to Australia, New Zealand, Bali, or Antarctica. I hope to rectify all of those before I croak. If I had my life to live over again, and also had the requisite talent, I’d be a rock star—one like Stephen Stills or Eric Clapton (without the drug habit). But otherwise, science has worked out beautifully.]

87 thoughts on “Regrets, I’ve had a few…

  1. Interesting stuff, Dr Cobb: many thanks.

    From your heading, Regrets, I’ve had a few…, I’d anticipated an advance apology for a curmudgeonly rant, or for an essay filled with typos and formatting errors, or . . .

  2. No real regrets. There’re all sorts of things it would have been nice to have figured out sooner…but the logical extreme of that is being born already knowing everything, and what’d be the fun in that?

    That writ, there’re still all sorts of thing that, like Jerry, I’m still looking forward to hopefully doing….


  3. I have two regrets, sadly nothing I could have done would have changed either of them.

    The first is that, in the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s, my paternal grandfather owned a small shipyard. He mainly built tug boats (including a few blue water tugs) and barges for coastal transport. My dad was adopted and not up to the task of running (or participating) in such an enterprise. So my grandfather sold it about the time I was born. I always wonder if I could have handled it and done some really great things with it.

    The second is that my much beloved maternal grandfather never got to meet his great grandchild. All of my grandparents died before my child was born, but my grandad and I had a special relationship. And my son is a chip off of his block. I know they would have got on quite well.

    As far as me personally and something I actually had control over, I most regret not learning any programming. I could still do so, but it requires quite a bit of effort to do the things I want to do and I am still teaching myself phylogenetics and molecular biology (plus my actual job, which isn’t just a piece of cake). So, that’s on the back burner for now.

  4. I regret that despite my time working for Apple, I didn’t get a degree in natural history or astronomy. Regrets, yes I’ve had a few.

    1. I don’t understand the connection between working for Apple and getting degrees in natural history or astronomy. Does Apple give scholarships or pay for schooling for some employees? I know some businesses will give time off and pay for employees to get an M.B.A. Does Apple do that kind of thing for science degrees?

      1. Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. Perhaps not widely read but deeply read (Shakespeare, Euclid). Self-educated. Autodidact. Became a lawyer through the apprenticeship method – didn’t have to get a degree to validate his knowledge/expertise.

        Who validated the first-ever Ph.D.?

      2. A number of large companies pay for employee schooling (tuition, books and fees); only a very few require it to be in a field related to the employee’s current job area; companies tend to believe that a better educated employee is a better employee. The only requirement was that you had to pass the courses. Exxon payed for my college classes until I got too sick to either go to work or to school. Exxon also payed for a very expensive ‘self enhancement’ seminar for my husband and me. He had quit college when having children became too expensive for a one income household. But after the seminar (which he had to be kidnapped and hog-tied to attend; he said at 40, he was too old), he went back and got an associates degree in computer programing for PC’s, which were not all that common at the time, and immediately went to work for Compaq, who paid for his bachelors and his MBA. If Compaq hadn’t died, he would have gotten his doctorate. (Just as a strange aside, my husband is an atheist, but he wanted to get his doctorate in theology. And meaning no disrespect to Professor Ceiling Cat, but theology has nothing to do with studying god (how could it when there is nothing to study), it is all about what mankind has decided WAS god – not the same thing at all)

        1. I’m impressed with people who can get a degree and work. I have to do one or the other I find.

  5. Lovely post!

    Compensation works in mysterious ways. Your university has a wondrous pond otherwise it probably would not have. The importance of such an action is beyond measuring, giving forth chain reactions minus the pesky radiation.

    As for my ‘regrets’, I compensate as quickly as I speak, and as a native New Yorker, that’s fast. 🙂

  6. Maybe I am not old enough to have regrets. Being a physicist just walking outside is magnificent enough for me to enjoy the natural world. I am an experimentalist now…something I discovered on my own terms and makes me feel like I would not want to give any of the past up.

    In any case, WEIT helps make me understand the other (biological) world better, something I am very grateful for.

  7. A stand out regret that I have, a missed “field trip.”

    I once took same ancient Greek history courses that through some fortuitous mishap in the system I was able to sign up for even though I had none of the required prerequisites. The first day of class when the professor saw me he raised one eyebrow and said something like, “huh, I guess we’ll see how this works out.” Turns out it worked out well and I took several classes from him.

    The regret is that he asked me to go on a summer expedition to the Aegean to recover an ancient ship that was thought might be a trireme. For reasons that seem incredibly, enormously, stupid, now, and starting pretty much right afterward, I decided that I couldn’t do it. When I need to remind myself that I ain’t too smart this is my go-to memory.

    One bit of fun came of it though. The next year I helped him with the physics part of figuring out the practicality of portaging ships of trireme size. This was all an effort to try and determine the credibility of accounts of Alexander III portaging large numbers of ships during a couple of his campaigns.

      1. Yes indeed. I can’t remember details but turned out to be perfectly plausible even with large RWU (Real World Unknowns)factors included.

        1. Cool, love it. I would feel the same regret you did (do). I discovered Thucydides, Xenophon, Herodotus, Tacitus, Caesar, etc. pretty late in life; but now I have a great interest in ancient Greece and Rome.

          1. jblilie:

            I share the same passion as you, but since my high school years, under the belief that our modern world is the direct descendant of the Ancient Greeks and ancient Romans.

            Then you cannot miss getting and reading the best comprehensive book on the subject by British historian Charles Freeman:

            Egypt, Greece, and Rome
            Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean
            Oxford Un. Press
            784 pages
            3d Edition (March 2014)

            Because of the beauty of maps and illustrations, I’d get the hardcover instead of the paperback.

            The publisher says:
            The most-up-to-date, fully comprehensive, and reliable general history of the Ancient Mediterranean
            Fully illustrated throughout with maps, photographs, and colour plates
            Most popular introduction to the ancient world on the market
            Amazon has it listed by now.

          2. I was fascinated as a kid with ancient Greece and Rome, but didn’t really plan on studying ancient Greece. I was just trying to fill out my class schedule and thought, hey that sounds cool.

            All of the courses I took on ancient Greece were part of a program on Alexander III. Of course, for a decent understanding of him you have to first study the Greeks, even though he was, of course, not Greek. Everything from politics to the evolution of battle tactics.

            For years after university I would search through old bookstores whenever I found them for old translations of Thucydides, Diodorus, Plutarch, Arrian and similar. Found a few cool old volumes in the 100 to 130 year old range in various condtions over the years.

  8. Regrets imply that you wish things had turned out differently. I’ve certainly made plenty of dumb mistakes and bad decisions, but the way I look at it, all of those mistakes were steps on the path to where I am now, and I’m not sure I’d want to trade that for some hypothetical alternative.

    For instance, I made a decision decades ago not to have children. Now, late in life, I realize that being a family man would have been really enjoyable and fulfilling for me. But on the other hand, in the last several years I’ve fallen quite by chance into a position of responsibility at a world-class ballet school, where it’s been my privilege to serve as friend, advocate, and father figure to some of the most talented and hardworking (beautiful goes without saying) young people on the planet.

    So while I regret that I have no daughter of my own, I’ve had at least a dozen temporary surrogate daughters who have made me as happy and proud as anyone I could have raised myself. That surely would not have happened if I’d chosen differently decades ago. So I embrace the errors that led me here, since there’s nowhere else I’d rather be right now.

    1. Thank you for your profound insight and your beautiful personal illustration. Brings a tear to my eye.
      I have one son; I’m immensely happy for him.

  9. A recent episode of the very funny cartoon Adventure Time yielded a nice comment about bruises:
    ‘Do not regret getting bruises. They are like getting hickies from the universe. And who would not want to make out with The Universe?

  10. I have some regrets, but I managed to spend a total of @ three years studying fish in South and Central America. Also considerable field work, with classes, or on projects, in the Midwest. I look back on my career and think “Not too shabby.”

  11. One regret that I plan to remedy is not learning to SCUBA dive before going to the Galapagos Islands. Even without the SCUBA it was the best travelling experience of my life, but now that I’ve been diving I think about how much better it could have been. I will go back and dive when my kid is old enough. Also, sitting on a yacht called The Beagle, rolling with swells of the Pacific Ocean not far from the equator, re-reading The Beak of the Finch (having just finished The Voyage of the Beagle earlier in the trip), drinking sangria as the sun sets behind Daphne Major, is a memory I will cherish forever…so I guess I don’t really regret it all that much. And swimming with Galapagos penguins (they’re super fast) and sea lions (they play with you like puppies) is pretty fantastic even when you’re only snorkeling. Wow, I wanna go back.

      1. Don’t go on a giant cruise ship. You want a boat that lives about 12-15 people on board (not including crew). Take scopolamine patches even if you don’t usually get seasick (I put one on at the very beginning and then took it off in frustration as its effect on pupil dilation made reading difficult – after a few hours I had to put a new one on as it had apparently been doing a great job preventing nausea). Take binoculars. Living on a small yacht for a week or two is not comfortable, but as long as you get a good chef, a good captain, and most importantly a good guide, it may be one of the best experiences of your life. I cannot even express in words how amazing it was. The giant cruise ships, though, would not be as good. On the Beagle, our captain stopped when we were right on the equator to let us jump in a swim (apparently an old Navy tradition). Swimming on the equator in the Pacific, with deep, deep, blue water and no land in sight is incredible. As is looking up at the stars floating on a small boat in a huge ocean, again with no land in sight. I could go on and on…it’s *almost* too good to be true.

        1. Thanks very much for the advice. I have a horror of large cruise ships, so that’s right out anyway.

          I have never been motion sick (even crossing the Bass Straight, the Cook Straight, and from John O’Groats to the Orkneys in an almost-gale; but I’ll plan to bring the anti-nausea patches anyway! (My wife and son both get motion sick.)

          Sounds absolutely terrific. I remember well my first sighting of the Southern Cross.

  12. At the end of my PhD work, I taught biology and systematcs 8 years in one small university and one large university. The politics in the large university caused that to end unhappily, although I doubt that in the long run I would have been any more pleased with staying at the small school as the department chairman and full professor. I entered the then new environmental consulting industry with only one break during the recession in the early 1980’s. It has been a career that provided ample opportunies to expand the scope or breadth of my interests. When I think about whether in retrospect I would or should have stayed in academia, I wouldn’t change my decisions. Of course, JAC would probably say there were no real choices, but I believe our decisions do have some impact on the direction of our lives and careers, but much like how much you deflect a ball in a pinball game. At 73 I have some things I want to do or see before my misbehaving cells end my life, but no regrets.

  13. I regret having lived for a year in England without once going to Scotland, Ireland, or Wales (especially Scotland). (I was 12 years old at the time and had little control over the situation.)

    I wish I had more opportunity for amateur theatricals but am grateful for the ones I’ve been in.

  14. I regret spending most of my youth at church – on my own decision because my parents were not religious. Such a waste … I could have spent that time and energy in developing so many skills and relationships. The best part is the fact that my kids didn’t repeat the same mistake :).

  15. All I want to know is how to get rid of the damn things. I don’t leave anything around for them to feed on, yet they breed like rabbits! I’ve tried commercial vinegar traps (they do work but as many new fruit flies appear as are trapped, if not more…), home-made vinegar traps, but still I cannot get rid of them.

      1. You need to find the source of the flies. Clean your bins and your fruit bowls, check under kitchen furniture to be sure there’s in rotting fruit. But be patient, they’ll go in winter anyway…

        1. And anyway — they don’t really hurt anything. When they get thick at our home (in the fall, with the wild fruits outdoors) I just have a cloth to cover my wine glass between sips. My only real concern is their desire to swim in my drink!

          Darn, they are hard to swat too! Why is that? I can get house flies, horse flies, gnats (midges/black flies), and I can snatch mosquitoes out of mid-air with a quick grab (about 50% of the time). Why are the drosophola so hard to get? 🙂

        2. Everything is spic and span, I leave no source of food whatsoever for them. I suspect they come from some neighbours’ kitchens through the air vents that are connected to all the kitchens via a main air vent in our building. As the building is also central heated, they are there in the winter too. Thanks anyway!

      1. Spiders have always been welcome in my home. There are webs everywhere and I only get rid of the old and dusty webs that no longer are in use. Sure, the spiders catch some of the fruit flies, but only a small proportion of them. 🙂

        1. Frogs then 🙂 now this is sounding like that song about the women who swallowed successive things to get rid of a fly she swallowed until she swallowed a horse & died.

  16. As hard determinists how can we have regrets?If things could have been different they would have been different.

    But I wish I had been a theoretical physicist studying the foundations of quantum theory. Without maths the rest of us have to make do with an explanation of how our universe works written in words. And that can only get you as far as a “popular” understanding.

  17. I regret not learning more languages when I was young because now it’s hard to find the time and with a lot of migraine issues, it’s hard to devote the time. While at school, I wanted to take Russian, but it didn’t fit my schedule. Now Cyrillic is a pain but luckily familiarity with the Greek alphabet helps.

    I also regret being so badly taught math that I refused to do a social science degree simply because I had to take stats. I now wish I had because I like social sciences.

    Lastly, I regret not seeing Queen in concert while Freddie was alive!

    1. Not learning languages earlier is the closest thing I have to a regret. I’ve made up for it later though! As they say (it’s true for me anyway): It gets easier. First 2nd language is hardest, 2nd easier, by the third, it’s pretty darned easy. Exercising those bits of the brain I think. (Having a good long-term memory helps a lot of course.)

  18. But what about some newts Matthew? The common frog and toad seem to be thriving, but in the past 30 years I’ve only seen one common newt (miraculously in my back garden), let alone palmate or great crested.

    Save the newt!

  19. To Matthew Cobb

    “a quote from the marvellous 18th century book ‘The Natural History of Selbourne’ by Gilbert White, which was contained in a letter from White to the naturalist Daines Barrington, written on 1 August 1771”

    This has nothing to do with regrets (or could, with some leap of imagination).
    This may be the same Daines Barrington who presented a report to the London Royal Society in 1769 of a very special examination titled:
    “Account of a Very Remarkable Young Musician. In a letter from the Honourable Daines Barrington, F.R.S. to Mathew Maty, M.D. Secretary of the Royal Society”.

    The examination took place in 1764 or 1765, when young Mozart was in London, age 8 or 9, and Barrington undertook to verify in a scientific experiment the truth of the claims made all over Europe about the phenomenal young musician.

    1. He never said the quote was about regret, but rather that he regrets not doing what was said in the quote.

  20. Regrets are natural, given that hindsight is 20-20 (or maybe a little better)! I first went to Panama to do some field work about four years ago, right after I retired. I do regret not going there back when my knees and back worked better, but, as the old saw goes, “Better late than never.” I think it is never too late…

  21. There are places that I wish I had gone – but then, I still may go there, and when I think about the places I have been, and the things I have seen, it seems wrong to complain. So I think I’ll go look through the photos and have a reminisce. BTW, nice pond!

  22. There are many things that I would have done differently had my BiPolar been diagnosed and medicated decades ago. I don’t regret what has happened now that I understand why it happened. But there are many things I would have done differently: both life and work choices.

    It’s a great picture of the blue-tailed damselfly.

  23. I wish I had stuck with science when I first entered college. I got sidetracked quickly being away at school and felt rather intimidated by some of the professors.

    I wish I had known how to find a mentor when I was young. As a teenager, I’d once looked to a church youth group leader (a man) as a mentor and that ended badly. I was one of the only (maybe the only?) girl in my high school physics class. The male teacher would often make very sexist comments directed at me and I think barely took me seriously. One favorite comment of his was when providing an example of Newton’s 3rd Law he described me standing on frictionless ice and tossing my clothes away, of course resulting in my body moving the opposite direction.
    I always blamed myself for incidents like these and found I couldn’t trust myself or others much by the time I was in college.

    I really don’t blame either of these incidents/people on my extremely circuitous journey away from science, I’ve just been thinking about this a bit more than usual lately. I do wish I’d had someone who could have taught me how to handle things like this better.

    I look now at such an exciting time in science and I think I might have had something to offer.
    Not that I still can’t–I’m a science teacher now! Perhaps I can do for someone else what I couldn’t find for myself.

    1. I didn’t get the sexist/pervy crap like you did, being a guy I just got mocked for my dreams by parents and other adults, but results were similar. Self-blame and warped sense of self worth. and it’s taken longer for me to make it into teaching; I’ll be certified and with a Masters in Education, teaching history, not science, but I’ll switch over later if I can to rectify my own missed opportunities and perhaps prevent some little pimply nerd teen from making the same mistakes. For a natural pessimist, I’m still optimistic that having one person cheering you on can make up for a lot of dream-crushing bullies trying to beat you down.

      1. I’ve taken a long time to get into teaching too. I just got my MAT in science education and this is a second career for me.

        That pervy stuff has to stop. I’m so happy to see people from groups like science online better addressing this issue, especially with mentoring.
        What I often felt was that when I expressed interest in what some male scientists were doing, they saw that interest as my personal attraction. So finding a mentor can be a difficult thing for women.

        1. The fact that it is being addressed instead of hidden or ignored is a sign of progress and reason for a little hope, not exactly a revolution but it’s a start.

        2. Oh gross. I’m fortunate to work with younger men who don’t think that way. It is hope for the future.

    2. That crap is so despicable! I saw it happen to women/girls too and was too stupid/gutless to protest (I was young). No more.

      I’m happy to say that my current management have made a real effort to hire women — and with great results. They’ve hired nearly all young women into the starting levels here. We have a high standard and so naturally, these new engineers are all doing very well. This is how it changes.

      Sexism is not tolerated here in any way, I’m happy to say as well. Things have really changed culturally (praise Ceiling Cat!) I haven’t heard an off-color or sexist joke here my entire time (10 years) at my present employer. I once heard one comment from a young manager that might have been interpreted as sexist and it went over like a lead balloon, never to be repeated.

      I think there’s been progress (at during my 30-year career). But I’m in engineering and can’t comment on science.

      1. I quit. Y last job because of a sexist director. He relentlessly attacked all women. He’d praise the men on the projects I led when I had done the work (which upset the men too). He would only talk to the men and he made sexist remarks all the time. The last thing he told me was I couldn’t have a BlackBerry (all the guys had them) because I was a girl and wore skirts so where would I put a BlackBerry? I informed HR about this in my exit interview and the documented it. It he wasn’t fired until 7 years after I left and only after having many unfair dismissals lawsuits launched by the various women he tormented then fired. Funny enough, I don’t even think that was the reason he was let go.

          1. He must have know a lot of secrets. When I think of all the guys I saw booted off the corporate ladder for trying to look up someone’s skirt, I can’t believe he lasted 7 more years.

        1. Funny!

          But no longer applies to me. I’d be thrilled to get away with the approach men have to shoes, & to wardrobe in general.

    3. There is no occupation more important or more noble than teaching. And probably none more undervalued. Only teachers can really touch the future. We are all putting our old age in their hands.

  24. I regret never having kept bees (not on any large scale like the awful uber-capitalist American bee-industrialist who appears in the good but depressing film ‘More than Honey’, along with one of my heroes, Karl von Frisch, and another very good – living – German entomologist.) Other regrets: I’ve never visited Iceland (the sagas were some of my favourite reading in youth, and still are), or the Drakensberg Mountains to see the rock art of the Bushmen.

    If, Professor Ceiling Cat, you go to Bali, do try to go to somewhere like Ubud, and not the places along the coast; and do read the anthropologist Stephen Lansing on the Balinese water temples, whereby irrigation was regulated throughout Bali (despite its division into unstable and often warring kingdoms), until the disaster of the ‘Green Revolution’ was visited upon Bali by agronomists and bureaucrats – the kind of people who think they ‘know better’ and have no time for what they unthinkingly suppose is ‘primitive’. Lansing’s books are fascinating, and give you an insight into, among other imprtant things, a very different sense of time. Also, avoid the large numbers of woo-laden Westerners there who tell you about the mystic peacefulness of Bali: its history is difficult and often bloody; in the massacres, abetted by the US, Britain and Australia, that took place in Indonesia after the fall of Soekarno, a larger percentage of Balinese were killed than the percentage of Cambodians killed by Pol Pot’s regime. Most of the Balinese people remain pretty poor.

  25. I regret not following my childhood dream of becoming a scientist, though at age 37 I’m working to correct that. If only E.O. Wilson’s “Letters to a Young Scientist” had come out when I was 15 or if just one adult had told me to follow my dreams instead of telling me how hard life was and that I was going to fail so I better just get a monotonous crappy soulless government job like my parents, keep my head down and mouth shut because you’re supposed to be miserable at work, that’s why it’s called work and not play, or so I was repeatedly told.

    But you know, never mind all the regrets we adults have, take the time to help the kids around you to avoid as many of their own possible future regrets. Don’t just fill their heads with motivational posterisms, but show them how to do what they want to do or help them find someone who can, and don’t tell them they aren’t good enough, smart enough, or won’t make enough money or whatever. There’s plenty of other people who will be more than happy to piss in their Cheerios; don’t be that guy.

  26. Sorry to be a bit of a damselfly pedant, but I think the picture is of a male Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella). This is a very common damselfly in Europe, and is distinguishable by eye to both the Variable Damselfly (C. pulchellum) and the Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) in the abdomen patterning. The Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) has a dark abdomen, with a blue strip at the end. What is interesting about these and several other Coenagrionidae species is that they often have a female polymorphism, meaning there are several different female colour patterns. It is common in some popualtions that one of the female morphs has a similar colour pattern to the male, and the other(s) is/are distinct from the males. Current thinking is that a form of frequency dependent selection, driven by male mating harassment, is maintaining the different female morphs. So next time you are watching these beautiful creatures skimming over the surface of a pond, if you spot them in tandem (the male clasps the female’s thorax with the end of his abdomen), try to see if the female has the same colour pattern as the male.

    (Sorry to have gone off topic, and nice picture. I did’t know how to put the species name in italics)

    1. I thought Enallagma cyathigerum & you should not apologise for pedantry as that is what got people into studying the natural world in the first place!

      1. When taxonomic accuracy is what is being discussed, there is no such thing as annoying. Accuracy is everything in that line of work…

  27. My PhD (Sheffield, 1990) was a pile of crap.

    (Faunal archaeology, where most of the remains had come via owl pellets and possibly hyaena faeces).

    I regret pretty much everything I have and haven’t done if I think about it, so I try not to think about it.

    1. “I regret pretty much everything I have and haven’t done if I think about it, so I try not to think about it.”

      Glad I’m not the only one.

  28. I regret that I ended up living in the Great Wen which sucks you in, & not in the countryside for I am but a simple country lad!
    I don’t know – yes I would have loved to be a ‘naturalist’ in the old way, but then I sould have been born in the age before urbanisation blattered the natural world into submission. My life has been wasted on me, if waste is possible 😉 !

  29. I’d like to visit Antarctica and be photographed wearing a tuxedo next to an Emperor Penguin.

    I would have liked to have been an academic in maths, physics, immunology or something like that. Alas, I wasn’t smart enough.

  30. Regrets?
    I didn’t read the copy of ‘The Natural History of Selbourne’ that I brought for Dad’s birthday (or father’s day, or something) a few years ago before I mailed it down to him.
    I’ll have to pilfer it back. Occupational hazard for books which are not welded down in my presence. And for books near me and an angle grinder.

  31. I regret not traveling, not getting my degree and never finishing that book I’ve been writing for the past 50 years. But strangely, I don’t regret the things I did that kept me from doing any of them. And I really regret not learning another language. But I am still alive, so who knows, I might still do all or some of them.

    And I really, really regret my husband’s switching our 401K’s, all other savings accounts and my substantial legacy from my parents to Compaq stock the day before its ‘merger’ was announced. There are good reasons that using insider information is illegal. Now that he has that MBA in corporate finance, we know better.

    And there was that one affair right after my divorce with that very young, really stupid but very good looking kid…

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