Over at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense, newly-minted PhD evolutionary biologist David Hembry reflects on the biggest changes in evolutionary biology and ecology since 2005. It’s a thoughtful piece, reflecting on some less-noted aspects of widely-noted trends. For instance, it’s not just the increasing availability of sequence data that makes synthesis and reanalysis of other people’s sequence data attractive, it’s also the fact that it’s cheap to do (particularly important in an era of rising fuel costs and increasing competition for funds). The same could be said of any database-based work, really, and also of theoretical work and laboratory microcosm work. It will be interesting to see how patterns of training, hiring, and publication shift in decades to come*, and if there aren’t frequency-dependent forces that will limit how far these directional trends can go (At some point, will really good field skills become highly prized precisely because of their scarcity, while good bioinformaticists/meta-analysts/theoreticians/programmers/etc. will be a dime a dozen?)
David also identifies some less-noted trends, such as the increasing focus of evolutionary biologists on “field model organisms” like sticklebacks and anoles, and how this poses problems of system choice for grad students who want to go on to academia. Do you choose the same model system as everyone else, thereby making it easier to ask big questions (after all, there are good reasons why sticklebacks and anoles are model systems!), but harder to stand out from the crowd? Or do you choose the road less traveled, which might make it harder to address big questions but also really impress people if you succeed? (sounds a bit like the handicap principle…)
Anyway, click through and read the whole thing.