Also this week: Meghan wins an award, the
future adjunctification is here it’s just not evenly distributed, renaming Dynamic Ecology, if your study species revolted, and more.
Steven Frank, for my money the deepest thinker in evolutionary biology, on the biggest puzzles in modern biology. His list: why are so many males sterile, why do some age-related diseases have global causes while others (like cancer) start locally and then spread, why are genome regulatory networks overwired, and why do complex evolutionary innovations arise abruptly? Here’s a newly-identified puzzle in ecology that really interests me: why does community production rate scale with community density as a power law with an exponent of 0.75? (Hatton et al. 2015) It’s puzzling because the obvious answer (“because individual production scales with body size as a power law with an exponent of 0.75”) can be ruled out. More on this in a future post.
Meghan got the President’s Award for Public Impact from the University of Michigan this week! Congratulations! She got to have breakfast with the university President and everything. 🙂
Terry McGlynn with thoughtful, constructive criticism of whether NSF REU programs achieve the goal of helping students from underrepresented groups go on to research careers. Includes some ideas for improvement, one of which NSF DEB is already piloting.
Lots of discussion online recently about adjunctification of US academia (e.g. this Bloomberg News piece, which links to other recent pieces). For context, I’m reupping this piece, which I’ve linked to before. It’s a deeper dive into the data than you usually see in news articles about adjunctification, and it’s useful because it shows how the headline numbers on adjunctification could easily be misinterpreted. The key takeaway is that adjunctification isn’t evenly distributed across US higher education. Rather, the growth of adjuncts as a proportion of all faculty in the US has been driven largely by the boom in community colleges that started in the 1970s, and the boom in for-profit universities that started in the 1990s (and may now be receding, thank goodness). Adjuncts comprise most of the faculty at those two types of institutions. Full-time faculty at non-profit 4-year colleges and universities are mostly not being replaced by adjuncts (yet; one wonders what will happen in future if enrollment declines continue, as they likely will). These data of course don’t speak directly to the plight of adjuncts, or suggest any solutions on their own, but I think they’re a piece of the puzzle.
Some notes on the finances of China’s top universities.
Interesting tidbit: Am Nat papers default to double-blind review, but authors can opt out. Which 18% of them do, mostly because they want to talk about their own previous work.
This week in inside baseball: Terry McGlynn suggests a new, more descriptive title for Dynamic Ecology. Which Twitter needs an ellipsis to display. 🙂
Big news for US folks: NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology has moved to a no deadline model. They will not accept preproposals this January, which is a faster change than I expected. The DEBrief post is here. I think this is the right thing to try, but do wonder how this will play out over the next year or two. When some Geosciences program tried this model, proposals dropped substantially, presumably because many people are very deadline motivated. This is good because it allows for life events, gives people flexibility for working around other obligations, and allows people to wait until they feel a proposal is really ready before sending it in. One of the main concerns I’ve heard so far is about the potential for strife between collaborators — for some people, those hard deadlines are the motivation they need to really focus on the proposal. And, as I said, I wonder how it will play out in the short term as everyone adjusts.