Tenure-track position in evolutionary/comparative animal biomechanics at the University of Calgary (UPDATED)

I know this is a bit outside our usual beat, but it’s an exciting opportunity: a tenure-track asst. professor position in evolutionary/comparative animal biomechanics in the Dept. of Biological Sciences (my dept.!) at the University of Calgary. Link goes to the ad.

A bit of context and encouragement, especially for our many non-Canadian readers, some of whom will hopefully fit this ad and 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 strong primatology group in Anthropology, the Kinesiology faculty, the medical school, the vet school, and the Royal Tyrell Museum 90 min. drive away, 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/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.
  • If you have any general 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, headbio@ucalgary.ca.
  • UPDATE: In case anyone was wondering, the ad is posting now, and has a fairly short deadline (Mar. 18, 2019) because of when the search was approved. We’re trying to move fast to have someone in place by July 1 if possible.

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!


Manuscraps: on partially killing one’s manuscript darlings

If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.

– Arthur Quiller-Couch, “On Style”, 1914

“Murder your darlings” and its variants is common writing advice.* But what do you do if you’re not quite sure you’re ready to part with those darlings? My strategy is the same as Ethan White’s:

I suspect this is a common strategy (certainly the twitter responses suggest it is), though I don’t think it’s one that gets discussed much.

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Happy Darwin Day from Charles Darwin himself!

Charles Darwin himself celebrated his 210th birthday a bit early at the University of Calgary’s 34th annual Darwin Dinner last Friday:

me as Charles Darwin

p.s. If you think this looks less like Charles Darwin than like a man who was cut four times from his college improv comedy group and has never gotten over it, well, I can see why you’d think that. But you’re wrong, it’s totally Charles Darwin. 🙂

photo credit: Rachel Tessier

Why I told a room of 300 people that I see a therapist

Last week, I had the honor of being a plenary speaker at the biology19 conference in Zurich. This is an annual meeting of Swiss organismal biologists, where most of the attendees are Swiss graduate students and postdocs. When I first thought about my talk, I debated whether to use the last part to talk about mental health in academia, especially since I am on sabbatical this year and some of my sabbatical projects relate to student mental health. But, when I prepared my talk, I decided to just stick with my normal research.

On the first day of the meeting, I had several conversations with people that veered towards student mental health, which made me wonder if I should have included mental health in my talk. Then, the afternoon plenary on the first day was given by Virpi Lummaa. She gave a really interesting talk about her research, but pivoted at the end to talk more about the human side of science. It was inspirational. So inspirational that I went back to the hotel and changed the end of my talk to focus on mental health in academia. When I decided to make that change, I made another decision: I would admit to a room full of hundreds of my colleagues that I see a therapist regularly, and that doing that is essential to my ability to do everything I do, including my science.

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Why should species diversity be highest where organismal performance is highest? (UPDATEDx2)

The question in the post title has bugged me for years. I’ve read and thought about it enough that I think it’s a good question, meaning a question without an obvious answer. But it’s on a topic on which I’m far from an expert, so there might well be some non-obvious answer that I’m unaware of. So I’m going to pose the question and look forward to learning from the comments.

I was reminded of this question most recently by Grady et al. (2019 Science). I emphasize that this paper is merely one among many that could be used to illustrate my question, and that I’m not criticizing this paper or its authors. This isn’t a post-publication review of Grady et al. (2019). This is me thinking out loud about a broad issue, and picking a recently-published paper as an illustration purely because it would be work to look up a bunch of additional illustrations and I am lazy this is only a blog post.

Anyway, Grady et al. report a bunch of data establishing two main claims. First, species diversity of large-bodied ectothermic marine predators is highest in the tropics, but species diversity of large-bodied endothermic marine predators is highest in the subtropics and temperate zones. Second, endotherms outperform ectotherms in colder water–they can swim faster, their neurons fire faster, they can consume more food relative to their metabolic demands, etc.

Grady et al. then argue that the performance pattern explains the diversity pattern–that species diversity of ectotherms is maximized where it is because those are the places where ectotherm individual performance is maximized. And similarly for endotherms.

But why should that be the case? Why should correlation indicate causation here?

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A statistical profile of recently-hired TT Canadian ecologists

As regular readers know, I’ve compiled quite comprehensive data on recently-hired tenure-track assistant professors in ecology and allied fields in N. America. Recently, I gave a talk on these data to the EEB group in my department. Inspired by that talk, here’s a statistical profile of the small subset of the recent hires who were hired in Canada.

Over the last two years, I checked 32 Canadian TT asst. professor positions that, based on the job titles, might’ve been filled by ecologists. Of these, I identified 18 that were filled by ecologists. This is a very small number of hires, reflecting the fact that Canada is a small country compared to the US. So these are barely “data” rather than “anecdotes”. Even though my sample includes most recently-hired TT Canadian asst. profs of ecology and allied fields, the statistical features of that population may well bounce around a fair bit from year to year just because it’s such a small population. That’s in contrast to N. America as a whole. The statistical features of the entire cohort of newly-hired TT N. American ecologists do not change much from year to year, because it’s a much larger population of people.

Anyhoo, here are the results:

  • 11/18 were women. Statistically, that’s similar to N. America as a whole.
  • 11/14 for whom I identified their PhD institution got their PhDs in Canada. The other three got their PhDs from Australia, the US, and the UK. That’s similar to the US, in the sense that most recent TT ecology hires in the US have a PhD from a US university, and the few who don’t mostly have PhDs from other English-speaking countries.
  • 5/6 for whom I identified their undergraduate institutions got their bachelor’s degrees in Canada. The Canadian bachelor’s degree holders include one person with a US PhD; the others have Canadian PhDs. The non-Canadian bachelor’s degree holder got both a bachelor’s and a PhD in the UK. Again, that’s similar to the US; most recently hired TT ecology profs in the US got their bachelor’s degrees in the US. Note that you can’t necessarily infer where someone is a citizen from where they got their degrees. I suspect that most but not all recently-hired TT ecologists in Canada were already Canadian citizens or permanent residents at the time they were hired, and similarly that most recent US hires were US citizens or permanent residents when they were hired. But that’s an inference with some assumptions behind it.
  • On average, the recent Canadian hires were about 3 years post-PhD, very similar to recent hires for N. America as a whole.
  • The 15 recent hires with Google Scholar pages had a mean h-index of 8.5 at or around the time of hiring, similar to N. America as a whole.
  • 7/8 for whom I was able to identify employment at the time of hiring were postdocs at the time of hiring; the other was a graduate student. Again, that’s not too different from N. America as a whole.

In summary, these results don’t surprise me at all (do they surprise you?). Statistically, recently-hired TT ecology asst. profs in Canada look just like those in the US.

p.s. I confess I feel a bit embarrassed to have published this fairly boring post the day after Meghan published an interesting, important post.


Should we aim to leave students feeling empowered to tackle climate change? Should we try to give them hope? And, if so, how?

As I’ve blogged about a few times recently, I have been working with a couple of collaborators, Susan Cheng and JW Hammond, on a project aimed at understanding student views on climate change. As part of this, I’ve been thinking about what we teach and how we teach it, and also about a common challenge faced by instructors who teach about climate change: how do we convey the severity of climate change without leaving students feeling depressed and hopeless?

As I was working on the manuscript describing the first set of our results, I typed a sentence to that effect, and then just sat and stared at the computer for a bit, wondering “Is it my responsibility as a biology instructor to leave students empowered and with a sense of purpose?”

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When did you realize you work on climate change?

Some ecologists start their careers planning to study climate change, and others make a decision to pivot towards that line of research. But something I find fascinating is that there are ecologists, myself included, who didn’t necessarily set out to study climate change, but who are accidental climate change biologists. To give just one example: if you work on a time series on natural populations, communities, or ecosystems that extends more than a few years, chances are you’ve found that climate change is now a part of what you’re studying.

I’ve thought about this over the years as projects we work on that started out as basic research into host-parasite interactions end up relating to climate change. Some links are obvious—wanting to understand how temperature influences host-parasite interactions leads pretty naturally to thinking about how climate change will influence host-parasite interactions. Some links are less obvious—for example, we wondered whether the light environment might be influencing when and where we saw parasite outbreaks. As I recall, our initial interest in this was not related to climate change. But lakes are getting browner, in part due climate change, so any work we do on how lake light levels influence disease naturally links with climate change. And we now have some data on host-parasite interactions in lakes that spans 1-2 decades. Once you’re into decadal time scales, you have to consider the impact of climate change on what you’re seeing.

I’ve also thought about this in terms of some projects I didn’t work on. When I started grad school, one of the projects I was thinking of working on related to what was going on under the ice in lakes in winter, and how things like snow cover influenced that. So, when I saw news articles about a new study showing that there will be an “extensive loss of lake ice…within the next generation”, I thought back to those grad school plans to work on lake ice & snow cover. My recollection is that my interest in that project was mainly wanting to understand the basic biology of lakes, but clearly it would have ended up being a study of climate change if I’d pursued it.

Based on conversations with colleagues, I know I’m not alone in coming to realize that I am an accidental climate change biologist.

So, I’m curious: for my fellow accidental climate change scientists, when did you realize you were studying climate change?