Productivity, planning, and self-care: work-life balance requires planning ahead

As I’ve done work related to Michigan’s Grad Student Mental Health task force, and done my own “regular” work this semester, I’ve realized that discussions related to self-care and work/life balance often focus on things like making sure you get enough sleep or leaving time to go for a run or do yoga or things like that, but they leave out something important: if you want to do all those things (and I think they’re extremely important) and still submit manuscripts and proposals with deadlines, get feedback to lab folks in a timely manner, etc., you need to plan ahead. 

I’d been thinking about this for a while, but then had a really great conversation with a colleague about this that led to me coming up with this framework:

Top axis is "work-life balance/self care", right axis is "Plan ahead?" and left axis is "highly deadline motivated"

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Two postdoc positions on host-symbiont interactions available in Meghan Duffy’s lab at Michigan!

Two postdoctoral positions focusing on host-symbiont interactions in lake zooplankton are available in Meghan Duffy‘s lab at the University of Michigan. The successful candidates for these positions will be expected to carry out independent research relating to Daphnia-symbiont interactions in inland lakes. The overall project involves characterizing the diversity of symbionts associated with Daphnia (especially microsporidian symbionts), understanding interactions between symbionts that infect the same host, and uncovering the food web-level consequences of parasite outbreaks in inland lakes.

While there is some flexibility in exactly what each position will entail, two major themes are likely:

  • Theme 1, led by one postdoc: Molecular analysis & characterization of the diversity of microsporidia and other symbionts infecting Daphnia, as well as attempts to culture those symbionts in vivo and in vitro.
  • Theme 2, led by a second postdoc: Studies of the ecological dynamics of Daphnia­-symbiont interactions, including analysis of impacts of symbionts on food web processes.

The work will also likely involve studies aimed at uncovering mechanisms underlying shifts between parasitism, commensalism, and mutualism.

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Some data and historical perspective on scientific misconduct

There’s been much discussion recently of irregularities in the raw data underpinning numerous papers by prominent behavioral ecologist Jonathan Pruitt. No formal investigation by Pruitt’s current or former employers is yet complete; it’s far too early for that. But inevitably, discussion and speculation about the Pruitt case has morphed into broader online discussion of scientific misconduct, defined for purposes of this post as fraud, fabrication, and plagiarism.*

This post is about those broader discussions, not the ongoing Pruitt case. How prevalent is scientific misconduct, what causes it, and what if anything should be done to reduce its prevalence? From what I’ve seen, those discussions of broader issues around scientific misconduct have mostly been informed by single examples, such as the recent case of Peter Eklöv and Oona Lönnstedt. I think that’s understandable but also a little unfortunate. We’re scientists; we don’t ordinarily generalize from a sample size of n=1. There’s a literature on scientific misconduct–we should learn from it! So I spent a bit of time reading the literature on scientific misconduct, some of which I’d read before but some of which was new to me. Here’s a summary of what I found. I am by no means an expert on scientific misconduct. But hopefully this post advances the ongoing discussion in some small way, by raising awareness of the relevant literature.

You should totally grab a coffee and read the whole thing, because some of these data are probably the opposite of what you expect them to be!

Note: this is a long-ish post. (sorry!) Please do read the entire post before you tweet about it or comment on it. And please don’t leap to conclusions about my views on anything that’s not explicitly stated in the post. Scientific misconduct is an important issue on which people have strongly-held views. So I did my best to phrase this post carefully. I can’t promise I was perfect; nobody’s perfect. By all means ask in the comments if anything is unclear, and if necessary I’ll update the post and flag the updates as such.

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Saturday blast from the past: I have data ESA, I promise!

The ESA Annual Meeting abstract deadline is coming up soon. If you’re new to the ESA meeting, you might be wondering about the ESA abstract guidelines stating (in part):

  • The abstract must report specific results. The results may be preliminary, but they may not be vague. Abstracts without explicitly stated results will be rejected.
  • It is understandable that abstracts describing non-traditional work may lack quantitative data; however, it is still expected that the abstract will address some question and have a “take-home message” describing specific findings.

Does this mean you have to report numerical results? Like, even if you haven’t done all the analyses yet? Or haven’t even collected all the data yet?

Never fear: Meghan discussed this back in 2015, and everything she said back then still applies today.

Tenure-track asst. professor position in evolutionary/comparative biomechanics at the University of Calgary

The Dept. of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary is searching for a tenure-track assistant professor in evolutionary/comparative biomechanics, with an anticipated start date of Sept. 1, 2020. Here’s the ad.

This is the same position that was advertised last winter; it was offered but in the end wasn’t filled.

Here’s a bit of context and encouragement, especially for our many non-Canadian readers, some of whom hopefully fit this position and will apply:

  • If you’re interested in this position and think you might fit the ad, you should definitely apply. Yes, like the ad says, we are legally obliged to give preference to Canadian citizens and permanent residents. But I, and several other faculty in my department, are living proof that we do hire non-Canadians. I was a US citizen living in the UK at the time I was hired. So don’t take yourself out of the running by not bothering to apply because you assume, incorrectly, that it wouldn’t be worth your time because you’re not Canadian.
  • Federal funding for basic research is much easier to get in Canada than in the US or most other countries, which makes it much easier to set up and sustain a long-term research program without having to constantly chase money.
  • Canadian health care! (I almost feel like that’s all I should have to say to spark a deluge of applications from Americans…) Plus, the University of Calgary offers good extended health benefits that cover additional stuff on top of what the government covers.
  • Canadian faculty positions are 12 month positions. None of that US summer salary nonsense here
  • Calgary is a great place to do comparative/evolutionary biomechanics. We’re a big public research university. And between the biological sciences department, the geosciences dept., the Faculty of Engineering, the strong primatology group in Anthropology, the Faculty of Kinesiology, the medical school, the vet school, the Royal Tyrell Museum 90 min. drive away, and Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on Vancouver Island (which UCalgary helps run), you can’t throw a rock around here without hitting an evolutionary biologist, a vertebrate paleontologist, someone working on human biomechanics, or someone else whose research interests overlap yours.
  • It’s very important to us that the successful candidate be able to teach comparative vertebrate anatomy at the undergraduate level. So if your research and training focuses on invertebrates, you need to explain why you’d be able to teach the vertebrate courses the successful candidate will be expected to teach. (EDIT: note that we won’t necessarily expect the successful candidate to teach the entire comparative vertebrate anatomy course right out of the gate. You might be able to team-teach it with someone who’s taught it before, for instance.)
  • Calgary is a safe, growing, diverse city of about 1.3 million people. It’s located 45 min. drive from the Canadian Rockies with all the opportunities for recreation that implies. Here’s what they look like; click that link and tell me you don’t want to live here. 🙂
  • If you have any questions about the department, university, city, or Canada that aren’t specific to this position, I’m happy to answer them. Inquiries about the position should go to Doug Storey, our Head of Department,
  • In case anyone was wondering, the ad is posting now, and has a fairly short deadline (Mar. 18, 2020), because of when the search was approved.

A bit of broader advice for anyone thinking of applying, but worrying that they might not be “competitive”. Remember that you can’t estimate in advance how likely you are to be interviewed for any given faculty position. That’s in part because recently-hired TT faculty in ecology and allied fields vary hugely on any measurable dimension you care to name, even among recent hires into the same department. The only good predictor of the number of interviews you’ll get is the number of positions you apply for. Remember as well that faculty job seekers (and faculty themselves!) tend to greatly overestimate how many papers a typical new hire has, and how many it takes to be competitive. Don’t fall into the trap of taking yourself out of the running by convincing yourself you wouldn’t be competitive. If you think you could do the job and might take it if offered, apply!

Who are the most accomplished scientist-politicians in history? (UPDATED)

One of the world’s most accomplished mathematicians, Fields Medal winner Cédric Villani, is running for mayor of Paris. He’s currently a member of the French national assembly. Which raises a fun question: is he the most accomplished scientific or mathematical researcher ever to hold national-level elected office?

Here’s another fun question: if you plotted scientist-politicians on a graph, with “scientific research accomplishment” on one axis and “political accomplishment” on the other, who’d be closest to the upper-right corner? Some opening bids:

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Saturday blast from the past: Can you describe your research using only the 1000 most common English words? And should you even try?

Hoisted from the archives: Meghan’s old post on “Up Goer Five”. Up Goer Five is an invention of xkcd creator Randall Munroe. It’s a challenge to describe something complicated–such as some bit of scientific research–using only the most common 1000 words in English. “Up Goer” is how Munroe referred to a rocket, because “rocket” isn’t among the 1000 most common English words. Anyway, Meghan’s post recommended the Up Goer Five challenge as a good and fun way to learn to de-jargonize your scientific communication. Which led to a very long and excellent comment thread, because lots of folks–including me, but also some professional science writers–argued that the Up Goer Five exercise might be fun, but that it wasn’t useful as communication training. Up Goer Five is no longer trendy, as far as I know. But the issues raised in that post and subsequent comment thread are timeless, so have a look!

What prof-specific topics would you like us to blog about?

Following on from our recent reader survey, which revealed that our regular and regular-ish readership contains a much higher proportion of profs than it used to: what prof-specific topics would you like us to blog about? This could be stuff on which you’d welcome advice, or just stuff on which you’d like to hear the experiences/approaches/opinions of other profs. We and others have done a few posts on prof-specific topics, like how to write tenure & promotion letters, what to do at lab meetings, or what to do after you get tenure. But I feel like there are many others that we could talk about. Especially topics that are specific to post-tenure profs. It doesn’t feel to me like there’s much online discussion of stuff like how to be a good administrator, how to remain a fresh, creative researcher after many years of working in the same study system, etc. (Or is there a ton of stuff out there and I just don’t know where to look for it?)

So the floor is open! Looking forward to your suggestions.