Guest post: Two tenures

Note from Meghan: this is a guest post by Gina Baucom, following up on one she wrote earlier this year.

Most people have a person in life that was highly influential or made them feel understood, and that they in turn loved or deeply appreciated. For me, this was my aunt.

Janie Raye McWhirter*, my mother’s sister, was a painter — she focused on abstract impressionism, and was somehow associated with the Black Mountain Collective. She lived in Swannanoa, North Carolina, in a cabin on some land that she bought straight up with cash even though she was the daughter of a plumber, whom so far as I can determine put the ‘t’ in practicality and, as she told me, sometimes cruelty. Janie had a woodshop for building the frames for her canvases — which enabled her to generate paintings as large as 3 by 2 m (SUPER fun to move btw) — and bookshelves for her gazillions of books. Beyond reading and woodturning, her other hobby was hiking. We are not sure how many times she hiked the Appalachian Trail, but we know it was at least a few. She was incredibly independent and capable, not really interested in men, and never married or had kids. She lived by herself for the majority of her life and taught others how to paint, which in her words, meant she taught people how to think. In my opinion, she was a major badass.

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Faculty: you should attend your institution’s graduation ceremony, it’s great

Last week I attended the University of Calgary convocation–the graduation ceremony–for the Faculty of Science.* I didn’t used to. When I was first hired at Calgary, and for many years after, I didn’t attend convocation. I didn’t see any point in going to a boring two hour ceremony, the bulk of which would consist of watching students I didn’t know walk across the stage. I also thought I was too busy.

I was wrong on all counts.

I only realized I was wrong a few years ago, when a colleague told me that she always attends convocation. Because there’s no prouder feeling you can have as a professor than seeing students–especially, but not exclusively, the ones you taught–receive the degrees they worked so hard to earn. And because it really means a lot to the students to be able to shake hands with the professors they know as they finish crossing the stage. She was right.**

A graduation ceremony also reminds (and reinforces) to everyone in attendance how valued and valuable the college or university is as an institution. That’s a really enjoyable–and important–thing to remember. It’s pretty easy to forget that as you go about the day to day business of being a prof.

Plus, convocation is not even boring, honestly. The bit where the students walk the stage as their names are called is basically people watching for the audience. I find it relaxing. And it helps that Calgary does it right and encourages audience members to cheer as students walk the stage, rather than making everyone sit in somber silence.

So now I always attend convocation, and if you’re a prof I encourage you to do so too.*** I acknowledge that there are other, private ways for you to mark the graduation of the students whom you know. But they aren’t mutually exclusive with attending convocation. And it’s understandable if you feel as I once did–that it would be boring and you’re too busy. But if you feel as I once did, then I think you’re the sort of person who would benefit most from attending. You need a reminder of how awesome it is to be part of an institution that’s bigger than any one person and makes the world a better place. Attend your institution’s convocation; you won’t regret it. 🙂

*Calgary is a big university, we subdivide the graduating students into several convocation ceremonies.

**Also, this generation of students grew up on Harry Potter, so they all love academic robes. Their graduation ceremony is the closest they’ll ever get to being in Hogwarts. 🙂

*** “Encourage” is a key word here. I’m not slamming any prof who doesn’t attend convocation. This post is meant as encouragement of the sort my colleague once gave me, not as criticism. Nobody should use this post as an excuse to go onto social media and rip anybody. (And I assume and hope nobody would, but just in case…)

On getting—and giving—well-meaning but bad advice

Listen to other people’s advice, but that doesn’t mean you should follow it.

– Janet Currie, as quoted in Air & Light & Time & Space by Helen Sword

When I was thinking about coming up for promotion to full professor, I asked some senior colleagues whether they thought it would make sense. Two senior colleagues independently said that, while they thought I was definitely deserving of promotion, they were worried that I hadn’t done enough teaching at Michigan; they thought that might cause problems for promotion. I had actually taught somewhat more than I should have, but had had several leaves, including based on having two children at Michigan. These colleagues were concerned that those gaps in my teaching record might cause problems for promotion. I decided to come up for promotion anyway—I felt confident I could write a strong teaching statement. I was promoted…and got a teaching award as part of the process.

I truly think my colleagues had my best interests in mind when they gave the advice—they have been incredibly strong advocates for women in science. (Indeed, they have surely contributed to a climate and culture that has allowed me to be successful.) But, in my case, following their advice would have led to me postponing a promotion, which would have meant postponing the raise & other benefits that come with it. As one example of the latter—I don’t think I would have been able to do some of the things I’ve done this past year related to grad student mental health without being at the full professor rank.

In the past few months, I’ve shared this story a couple of times, using it as an anecdote about how some people mean well but end up giving advice that isn’t in the best interests of the advisee. Now, based on the results of the poll we did on listing parental & other leaves on CVs, I’m realizing that I have probably* been doing the same thing. I have been advising people not to list parental leave on CVs. I didn’t have direct evidence of listing leaves on a CV being used against anyone, but was focusing on the downsides (we know some people doubt whether moms will really be committed to their work) and not on potential upsides (that committee members might productively use that information).

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Poll results: Good news! Listing parental or family leave on your CV seems more likely to help than to hurt. More committees should give applicants opportunities to list major life events.

Recently, we did a poll asking about parental or other family leave and CVs. It was prompted by both a blog post by Athene Donald, who argues that people should include leaves on their CVs and an email from Tess Grainger who asked:

Is there is any evidence of bias related to parental leave, or it a thing of the past? How many people have been on a search committee (recently) in which someone indicated any kind of negative bias associated with a parental leave (or leave for illness, eldercare etc.)? Is this something that still happens, or should I and others not hesitate put these leaves in our records?

Poll results are below, but the brief answer to Tess’s questions seems to be that listing parental leave on a CV is unlikely to have a big impact but, if these poll responses are indicative of the field as a whole, listing leave seems more likely to help than to hurt. In many countries, applicants are already given specific guidance on when/where/how to list leaves on CVs. At the end of this post, I call on North American search committees (especially those in the US, where we are way behind on this front) to start routinely giving applicants the opportunity to list leaves, career interruptions, and major life events.

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Poll results: what are the biggest problems with the conduct of ecological research?

Recently I polled y’all on which of the many purported problems with the conduct of ecological research are actually problems. For each of 24 purported problems in ecological research, respondents were asked if it was a serious problem, moderate problem, no/minor problem, or opposite of a problem.

Here are the results! They’re very interesting! You should totally read on!

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What do you most think you should know but don’t?

I recently attended an event related to graduate student mental health. One point of emphasis was imposter syndrome (something I’ve blogged about before), and one thing the presenter stated was that it’s important to remind ourselves that it’s okay not to know what we’re doing. As a strategy for doing that, he suggested listing what you most think you should know but don’t. I thought this was an interesting idea, and thought it would be interesting to think about this question in three different areas:

  1. a specific area of ecology
  2. something that relates to my professional life but isn’t a content-related thing, and
  3. something outside my professional life.

I then wrote Brian & Jeremy who were on board with thinking about those questions, too, leading to this post. Read on to see what we think we should know but don’t, and please tell us what your responses are in the comments! Continue reading

A quick introduction to anchoring, or, why I am still trying to get Nature Biotechnology to correct the Evans et al. paper more than one year later

Last year, I wrote a blog post about a =piece that had appeared in Nature Biotechnology related to graduate student mental health. There were two big problems: first, Nature Biotechnology had not checked whether there had been IRB oversight of the study before publishing it, which is a huge ethical problem. Second, the major result (that grad students experience anxiety and depression at more than 6x the rate of the general population) was not valid they used an apples to oranges comparison to get that statistic. Unfortunately, that inaccurate statistic has dominated the discourse on graduate student mental health since it appeared.

In addition to writing a blog post, I worked with two behavioral scientists, Carly Thanhouser and Holly Derry, to write a formal response to the Evans et al. study. We submitted it on May 17, 2018. On April 5, 2019, we finally heard back about our submission. It had been peer reviewed (unlike the original Evans et al. submission) and accepted. On April 17, I uploaded the final version and the paperwork. Since then, the manuscript (which, remember, has already been accepted) is still listed in their manuscript system as “under consideration”. No one at the journal office will explain what is going on, despite multiple emails (including one to the Editor in Chief on May 15th).

Here, I am going to explain why I have devoted so much time and energy to this (frustrating!) process over the past year. I care a lot about graduate student mental health, so it might seem weird that I’ve spent so much time trying to point out that we don’t have evidence that grad students experience depression & anxiety at 6x the rate of the general population. To explain why, I need to briefly introduce the idea of anchoring. And, to do that, I’m going to tell you a story.

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