Friday links: the audacity of grad school, protist humor, job search advice, and more

From Jeremy:

Great post from Science Careers on the audacity of grad school. Forgotten why you ever wanted to go to grad school? Read this piece and be reminded.

Protist humor: old but hilarious post from Beatrice the Biologist on why protists make no sense. With cartoons! And here’s a cartoon guide to your protist friends (yes, I’ve worked with almost all of these species)

This year’s Nobel Prize in Economics has just been awarded to Al Roth and Lloyd Shapley for their work on market design. Market design basically has to do with how markets work when there are no prices. One common example has to do with “matching” markets. For instance, consider the job market. Perhaps you have a bunch of ecologists looking for tenure-track faculty positions, and a bunch of universities who want to hire them. The ecologists on the one side, and the universities on the side, are each looking for the best “match”. Or you have a bunch of prospective grad students looking for advisers, and a bunch of advisers at a bunch of universities, looking for prospective students. And there are many other examples, including ecological and evolutionary ones (think of organisms choosing mates, for instance). What does it take for such “matching markets” to function well–to produce an outcome which is optimal in the sense that nobody on either side can be given what they would consider a better match without forcing someone on the other side to accept what they would consider a worse match? Roth and Shapley developed an optimal matching algorithm for such markets, and more broadly have considered the “design requirements” for matching markets to function well. For instance, one requirement for a well-functioning matching market is coordinated timing of transactions. That’s why many graduate programs in the US agree to coordinate the timing of their admissions offers (sadly, there is no such coordination in Canada). Another requirement for a well-functioning matching market is a way to make transactions “safe”–that is, all participants have to be confident that agreed transactions will actually take place. If you’ve ever hired someone, and had them accept the offer only to back out at the last minute in favor of a better offer, you know what it’s like for a transaction to be “unsafe”. For an accessible overview of Roth and Shapley’s work, see this Digitopology blog post, or this wonderful post from Marginal Revolution. For a long-but-also-accessible taste of their work, see this 1994 paper by Roth on timing of transactions in matching markets (includes all sorts of fun examples, everything from medieval markets to college football bowl bids). And if you tend to see economics (and perhaps ecology!) as incapable of being a real hard science, or of giving practical policy advice, because its subject matter is too complex, idiosyncratic, or changeable to be captured by mathematics, read this Noahpinion post–Roth and Shapley’s work is a great example of how serious math can help us solve seemingly-intractable, real world problems.

From Meg:

It’s job application season! For those of you who are on the job market, Spencer Hall has a great set of resources. Among other things, Spencer and his colleague Leonie Moyle have a great pdf there on how to get yourself on the short list.

Athene Donald had an interesting post on her blog this week about self-promotion in academia and, particularly, how it affects women. The post considers how differences between men and women in self-promotion might affect the promotion process, seminar invitations, etc. It also discusses how women can face a backlash for self-promotion, since it can be seen as immodest. It’s another example of how it can be important to consider our implicit biases when evaluating faculty/job candidates/etc.

Finally, even Darwin had imposter syndrome! Brain Pickings has a post on a letter from Darwin to Lyell, where Darwin wrote, “I am very poorly today & very stupid. . . One lives only to make blunders.” My first thought when reading that was “Darwin felt like that, too?” I guess even geniuses have days where they feel utterly incompetent. He apparently also sometimes hated his study organism, since he also wrote, “I am going to write a little book for Murray on orchids & today I hate them worse than everything”. I’m sure we’ve all been there at some point!

From the archives:

Why are some ecological ideas controversial? Sometimes it’s for good reasons, but often it’s for, um, reasons.

What were you, or what were you going to be, before you became an ecologist?

One thought on “Friday links: the audacity of grad school, protist humor, job search advice, and more

  1. To add two things that I noticed helped me get on short lists – 1) make your application as skimmable as possible. The big points that show why you are awesome and will rock the job should be accessible at a glance, and understandable to a non-specialist and 2) sell yourself and why you’d be a great colleague in your cover letter. There are tons of things that won’t get covered in your research and teaching statements that you can use the cover letter as a place to highlight. Once I did this, my letter increased in length a tad, but, I also started getting interviews.

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