Work at the times that work for you

A couple of nights ago, I checked the weather forecast for the next day, in part to see how cold it would be for my morning run. I was surprised to see that the forecast was for 3-6 inches of snow overnight. (I hadn’t realized a storm was coming!) I had no interest in trying to slog through a run in 3-6 inches of wet, unshoveled snow in the dark, so decided I would work when I first got up in the morning (in that wonderfully quiet time when I’m the only one in the house who is awake) and go to the gym at the end of my work day. And that’s what I did. I got up, made myself some tea, sat down to check twitter, and then started working, which included replying to some emails that had been hanging around in my inbox.

That was when I remembered a conversation I’d recently had about whether it’s okay to send work emails outside of “typical” work hours. This is a topic that comes up on twitter sometimes, too, as well as on facebook. The concern is that, if you’re sending emails early in the day or in the evening or on weekends: 1) you have an unhealthy work/life balance and/or 2) you are sending a message to others that they should be working at those times, too. I fully, completely support having interests outside of work, and think that working long hours is unhealthy and unproductive. But I don’t think the way to achieve healthy work habits is to be proscriptive about when people work, or to shame others for working outside the hours that we deem acceptable.

Continue reading

FYI: I (Jeremy Fox) am on leave until July 1 and unavailable for reviews (UPDATED)

Public service announcement: I’m on leave until July 1. I’m working on a book. I’m not doing any reviews during this time. I’m announcing this here in the hopes that it’s an efficient way to alert lots of editors. I don’t like having to reply individually to every review request I get if I’m just going to decline them all. And it’s a pain to have to log into every journal’s editorial manager system and change my availability status.

Posts will continue as usual-ish, because I’ll be trying to use the blog to help me write the book. But I might be posting a bit less.

UPDATE: Since this came up in the comments, I should note that no, I’m not shirking my obligations to the peer review system by taking a 6-month break from reviewing. As I’ve written in the past, I believe each of us has an obligation to do at least as many reviews as we receive (unless you can’t do so due to lack of sufficient invitations to review). Since starting my postdoc, I’ve always done more than 2 reviews for every ms I submit or co-author (counting rejected and resubmitted mss as new ones, obviously), and in any given calendar year the ratio is usually more like 3:1 or 4:1. I’m going to return to that practice after my sabbatical. So I think it’s fine for me to submit a few papers in the next 6 months without doing any reviews, because on a longer-term basis I’m fulfilling my professional obligations to the “peer review commons”.

Mentoring plans: a really useful tool for PIs and their lab members

Over the years, I’ve heard people talk about mentoring plans and individual development plans (IDPs), and always thought they sounded like they could be worth trying some time. But I never made it a high priority, and so never actually got to doing them with my lab. I got as far as starting to do an IDP for myself to test it out, but never got further than that. Then, last year, I had to do a mentoring plan with one of my students, as a requirement of her graduate program. As soon as I did that one with her, I realized I needed to be doing these with everyone in my lab, including grad students, postdocs, technicians, and undergrads. Here, I’ll describe what we include in our mentoring plans, talk about some of the ways they’ve been helpful, and will ask for ideas on some things I’d like to add or change.

Continue reading

You can’t estimate your odds of getting a faculty job from common quantitative metrics

The 2016-17 ecology & evolution jobs compilation includes a spreadsheet on which anonymous job seekers can list some common quantitative metrics summarizing their qualifications. Year of PhD, number of years as a postdoc, number of peer-reviewed publications (first-authored and total), h-index, number of major grants held, and number of courses taught (not counting TA positions). Job seekers also can list the number of positions for which they’ve applied this year, the number of interviews they’ve received (phone/skype and on-campus), some personal attributes such as gender, and other information. The purpose presumably is to allow job seekers to determine how competitive they are for faculty positions.

As of Dec. 19, 2016, 73 people had listed their information. Not a massive sample of current ecology & evolution job seekers. Also surely a statistically-biased sample in various ways. But it’s many more current job seekers than anyone not currently sitting on a search committee is likely to have personal knowledge of. So I checked how well quantitative metrics like number of publications and h-index predict the number of interviews job seekers receive. For comparison, I also compiled data on the h-indices of 83 North American ecologists recently hired as assistant professors.

Faculty job seekers understandably want any information they can get on how competitive they are. But how competitive any given individual is for any given position depends on many factors, many of which are only captured coarsely or not at all by common quantitative metrics. You can’t put numbers on fit to the position, quality of your science, strength of your reference letters, and so on. So I suspect that many job seekers tend to overrate the importance to search committees of things you can put numbers on: publication count, h-index, etc. It’s an instance of “looking under the streetlight”. Hence my question: Can you estimate your odds of being interviewed for, or obtaining, a faculty position in ecology and evolution just from common quantitative metrics?

Short answer: No. For the details, read on.

Continue reading

Friday links: a rare retraction in ecology, and more

From Jeremy:

The deadline for nominations for the Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Awards is Jan. 1. Details here.

A rare retraction in ecology, from Biology Letters. There’s no suggestion of misconduct, merely honest errors the last author worked hard to fix. A second paper, in GEB, also is affected by the errors, but GEB will allow the authors to publish a corrected version. Our own Brian McGill, EiC of GEB, is quoted in the linked article. Mistakes happen in science, and discovering you’ve made one is really stressful, so kudos to the author for doing the right thing and correcting the record.

Phil Davis of Scholarly Kitchen with an overview of different approaches to “portable peer review”. Axios Review, for which I am an editor, gets a lengthy shout-out. Here‘s my most recent post on Axios and why you should consider trying it.

Friday links: holiday caRd, Canadians vs. snow, and more

(Almost) nothing but seasonal links this week!

From Jeremy:

A defense of the “adversarial” culture of philosophy, as distinct from a defense of assholes in philosophy. My anecdotal impression is that the culture of ecology is mostly non-adversarial, save at a few places. Related: my old posts on how to ask tough questions of seminar speakers, and how to make your graduate student seminar series better training.

Merry Christmas from herpetology! Well, for some value of “merry”. “Merry” means the same thing as “AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!11!!1!”, right? 🙂

Caroline Tucker’s annual holiday caRd. Hooray! Been looking forward to this for weeks. 🙂

And finally, I love my adopted country:


Happy holidays everyone! See you in 2017!

Book review: The Theory of Ecological Communities by Mark Vellend


Earlier this fall I read Mark Vellend’s The Theory of Ecological Communities. I read it on my own, and also read it in a reading group with several ecology grad students. Here’s my review.*

tl;dr: It’s a very good book that fills a real pedagogical need. Whether it will also shape the direction of future research in community ecology is an open question, I think. Below the fold you’ll find me engaging with the book, which I think and hope Mark will welcome.

Continue reading