Also this week: the story behind an evolutionary parody, a statistical profile of recent faculty hires in neuroscience, Game of
Thrones grad school, “it’s because she put the beetles in a planetarium”, the statistician blues, Lego Daphnia, and more.
Ambika Kamath stumbled across one of my favorite papers, Norm Ellstrand’s parody of adaptationist thinking, “Why are juveniles smaller than their parents?” She then took to Twitter to contact Ellstrand, who passed on the backstory of the paper. If you haven’t read Ellstrand (1983), you’re in for a treat. It’s basically a subtler, funnier “Spandrels of San Marco”. Indeed, I’ve given it to advanced undergrads and grad students who didn’t even realize it was a parody until the very last line. Perhaps in part because they didn’t realize that the “S. Martin” quoted at the beginning of the paper is this S. Martin.
Inspired by me, Adam Calhoun compiled data on over 70 newly hired asst. professors in neuroscience, mostly at research universities. The headline result: 57% are men, vs. 62% men on the neuroscience postdoc list. (Aside: wait, there’s a centralized list of neuroscience postdocs? I had no idea.) Another tidbit that doesn’t surprise me: the large majority of newly-hired asst. profs in neuroscience do not have a paper in Nature, Science, or Cell. The myth that you have to have a paper in a Nature/Science/PNAS/Cell to get hired at a research university is one of the more puzzlingly-widespread myths about the academic job market. Adam compiled data testing many other widely-held beliefs about what predicts success in the neuroscience job market. Interesting throughout. See this old post for similar analyses for ecologists.
Enrollments at US colleges and universities continue to drop, especially in New England and the Rust Belt.
I’m very late to this, but here are Peter Keil’s thoughts on the IBS 2017 meeting back in January on the future of macroecology. Contrasts to some extent with Brian’s own thoughts, and expands on an exchange in the comments on Brian’s old post.
Evolutionary biomechanicist Emily Kane is starting a faculty position at Georgia Southern this fall. Here’s her story of her career path from grad school to where she is now. I suspect it will resonate with many of you. I was particularly struck by how she struggled with some early hurdles and didn’t want to go on in academia because she didn’t think she had what it took. And how even as an NSF postdoc she was thisclose to opening a pet fish shop before she landed a faculty position where the institutional culture and expectations lined up with her own values and interests. I also liked this bit, about how she doesn’t want to work 80 hours/week and is fine with doing something else if academia doesn’t work out for her in the end (see also):
I want to work at a level that I am comfortable with, and if I don’t get tenure because of it, then my husband and I will move to the Bahamas, buy a sailboat, and start our own ecotour business taking people snorkeling on our boat. I understand this is coming from a place of privilege since we have a decent savings account and no kids or dependents to support, plus its easier to say when you have a relatively permanent position, so this may not be for everyone.
And in case it needed saying, Emily concludes:
My sample size is 1. I know how I feel and how I approach this job, but that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone…YOU are the one who is living your life, so make it something you are happy with as well.
Kieran Healy reviews a new book on how the US News & World Report rankings of US law schools came to have so much influence over both prospective law students and law schools themselves. Good read for anyone interested in the USNWR rankings of colleges and universities, or in the broader role of quantitative rankings in our lives. I like the distinction Healy draws between the perniciousness of quantitative rankings based on arbitrary-or-contestable criteria weighted in arbitrary-or-contestable ways, and the non-perniciousness of ranking in general:
Few people want to be assessed on a reductive basis, at least not very often. That makes it tempting to argue against the idea of ranking in general. But then the moment of bad faith returns, because academics and other professionals really do believe that some of the work put out by their peers is better than the alternatives. To remain a professional at all they must believe in their own capacity for judgment on such matters. Status in these settings condenses out of the high regard of highly-regarded others, and it produces implicit, loose, but real rankings all the time. That makes a general moral objection to rankings harder to sustain in a full-throated way.
Stick with this Twitter thread for “it’s because she put the beetles in a planetarium”. (ht @jtlevy)
Fake David Attenborough is hilarious. 🙂
So is this line, after you think about it for a second.