Friday links: overwork and mental health in academia, Liam Neeson vs. teaching, and more

Also this week: Rapid Ecology’s latest experiment, new ESA Fellows, and more.

From Meghan:

This piece on overwork in academia — written by a tenured professor who collapsed from overwork — is worth a read. It includes:

A tenured professorship has always been my dream job, because it provides freedom and flexibility. You teach what you care about; you decide what to research. But the benefits of such freedom and flexibility in academe come at the cost of disappearing boundaries between work and life. We are so free to work whenever we want that many of us end up working all the time

The piece also makes an important point about how many academics end up overcommitted, noting:

Countless articles and books have been written about why women are reluctant to say no on the job. I never thought I had that problem. But requests in academe rarely come in the shape of cold demands; they come tightly wrapped in appreciation.

I think the observation that we are often flattered into overwork is an important one.

Rebecca Calisi led an effort to provide concrete suggestions on how to make conferences more welcoming to parents, especially mothers. She drafted the piece, and then a working group of 45 scientist mothers (including myself) edited away in a google document. The piece just appeared in PNAS this week, with some excellent artwork! Please share with people who are organizing meetings!

Drew Tyre had a very important post on his experiences with depression (tw: suicidal ideation). It’s really important and well-written, so it’s worth a read. Some important points include: 1) people may seem fine to outsiders, even though they are really struggling on the inside, and 2) if you think about suicide, please seek help! It also includes this very important observation:

The realization that I am never going to be “better” was the hardest bit. Staying well is a process, not a state. I must work on my mental health every. single. day.

The piece raises a lot of interesting and important points. It’s very much worth reading.

Thanks to Drew Tyre’s piece, I learned about this really useful guide by Price & Kerschbaum on how to promote supportive environments for faculty with mental illness. It has lots of suggestions, and ends with these specific suggestions for how to create a culture of access:

  1. Think about access in terms of a consistent engagement with the campus environment, rather than an isolated effort to “fix” an individual’s problem. Jay Dolmage has spoken of access in terms of “ways to move” (2008, p. 24) and “places to start” (2016); these are helpful guiding principles to keep in mind.
  2. Think proactively, not reactively, about mental health and access. Ensure that mentally disabled faculty members are not only welcomed, but expected; they should be assumed to be an already-present and valuable part of campus life.
  3. When issues arise, ask what would be helpful; the faculty member involved may already have a clear sense of what is needed.
  4. Ensure lines of communication are kept open (and are not left up to faculty members to maintain). Ensure that all policies and practices are clearly delineated, transparently communicated, and consistent across all faculty members.
  5. Request and act upon feedback.
  6. Avoid adhering to stereotypes.
  7. Avoid supporting or valorizing behaviors that erode mental health (e.g. working extremely long hours; making the job more important than anything else).
  8. Do not assume you need to be an expert in diagnosis, disability, or accommodation in order to practice access effectively. Mostly, you just need to pay attention, ask questions, and remain curious about what might be possible.

NSF is requesting feedback on their new reporting requirement for sexual harassment and other forms of harassment.

From Jeremy:

Congratulations to the new cohort of ESA Fellows and Early Career Fellows!

The latest news from psychology’s replication crisis: according to a new unreviewed preprint, a “growth mindset” intervention replicates in a massive preregistered randomized experiment involving over 12,000 9th grade students at 65 randomly chosen US schools, with key data analyses conducted blind. The effect size was tiny, although that’s to be expected since the intervention was tiny. The argument, presumably, is that a tiny effect repeated across lots of students is quite important. The linked blog post notes that conducting preregistered replications powerful enough to detect tiny effects requires large teams and lots of money. Psychology may be moving towards a model in which the most important research is conducted by relatively small numbers of large, well-funded, centrally-coordinated teams, rather than by a relatively larger number of individual investigators and their trainees. I have an old post musing on whether ecology is moving in the same direction, and if so how far the trend might go. And here’s Mike the Mad Biologist’s argument from a few years ago that government science funding should be directed to a small number of “Manhattan Projects” rather than spread thin among large numbers of individual investigators, because it’s a waste of money to conduct a bunch of separate underpowered studies. Of course, as the example of NutNet illustrates, sometimes a huge centrally-coordinated multisite study doesn’t cost much more money than a typical single-investigator grant. Reading about that growth mindset study also had me thinking back to this old post asking what’s a “small” effect and when they’re worth studying.

Rapid Ecology’s posts don’t ordinarily allow comments, unless the post author wants them. But now they’re going to have a weekly open thread in which readers can discuss that week’s posts or anything else they want. Interesting experiment.

As someone who barely tweets (though I do lurk on Twitter a fair bit), I probably shouldn’t link to this. It’ll just give certain people an excuse to subtweet me about how I’m an old blogger who doesn’t understand social media. But FWIW, I thought this critique of retweets was pretty cogent. As cogent as a Blanket Critique of a Social Media Thing can ever be, at any rate. Bonus: it includes an analogy with mathematical epidemiology. (ht @noahpinion)

An introduction to why UK academics are on strike.

Textiles featuring endangered species.

And finally, inspired by this, here’s a picture of me. 🙂


I was torn between the text above and “teach you how to grow protists in jars”. Multa novit vulpes. 🙂

5 thoughts on “Friday links: overwork and mental health in academia, Liam Neeson vs. teaching, and more

  1. Jeremy, Do you have a blog post, or a set of public protocols, or even better a youtube video, to teach us how to grow protists in jars, including all the years of accumulated tips and troubleshooting? I ask because I’ve been using Paramecium in our Intro Bio lab to conduct multi-week simple experiments and I could use any help you have to offer.

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