Friday links: ESA award winners, RIP Robert Mark, Johnny Depp vs. academia, and more

Also this week: not getting ice cream is bad but not getting a grant is…good?, how selective US colleges and universities got that way, a theory of faculty meetings, 1 lion = 3 pro wrestlers, and more.

From Jeremy:

Congratulations to the 2019 ESA award winners, particularly Eminent Ecologist Bob Holt. It’s been a privilege to learn from Bob since he was the external member of my PhD committee. Bob is just so generous with his time and wisdom.

I’m late to this, but I just learned that Robert Mark passed away last month. Mark was an innovative civil engineer and architectural historian, who used modern engineering methods to understand how Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals were built. Evolutionary biologists will (or should!) remember him for his brilliant takedown of both Stephen Jay Gould and Daniel Dennett in their debate over whether “spandrels” are “non-adaptive” features of cathedrals (see my old post for some discussion).

To our faculty readers: I hope you wanted Johnny Depp to play you in the movie of your life, because he is.

The Ontario government is proposing changes to the provincial Endangered Species Act. The proposed changes seem bad from an ecological perspective. You can comment on the proposed changes here.

Here’s an incident that the ESA and other scientific societies should pay attention to as they develop, and possibly have to enforce, meeting codes of conduct. An archaeologist who’d been banned from his university campus after a Title IX investigation into serial sexual harassment showed up at the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) conference after registering on site. SAA’s meeting code of conduct only covered conduct at the meeting itself, so it took two days for the SAA to revoke his society membership and ban him from the meeting.

Good news (or at least, not bad news): implicit biases, as measured by Project Implicit, are decreasing. Just eyeballing the graphs, this isn’t a recent trend; it’s been going on for years. I confess I’m unsure what to make of this; there are criticisms of the implicit bias test, and of purported associations between real-world behavior and the test results. Would particularly welcome comments from folks who know the relevant literature.

A claim (unreviewed preprint) that just barely missing out on getting an early career NIH grant appreciably increases the likelihood of leaving NIH-funded biomedical research–but that those rejectees who don’t leave actually go on to greater long-term research success than those who just barely got the grant. And it’s further claimed that that’s not just because people who barely miss out on a grant but persevere are a non-random sample of all biomedical researchers, but also because barely missing out on a grant actually causes increased research success among those who persevere. That which does not kill you makes you stronger, as it were. I am somewhat skeptical of these claims, especially the claim that having a grant rejected causes appreciably-higher long-term research success for those who remain in the field. But having skimmed the preprint I didn’t spot any obvious technical problems, so [shrug emoji]. (ht Marginal Revolution)

A very promising experiment from the University of Michigan that got a bunch of high-achieving, low-income students to apply and enroll, by using a simple cheap intervention that encouraged them to apply and made it clear that they could afford it. (ht Meghan) I think this is awesome. Ok, I’m far from an expert on this stuff. But from what little I’ve read, I’ve long had the sense that there are lots of great students out there who don’t ever apply to places like Michigan (or my own alma mater, Williams College) because they mistakenly believe they wouldn’t get in or wouldn’t be able to afford it. And I’ve long had the sense that “top” public and private colleges and universities could do more to correct those widespread mistaken impressions. Not that there’s anything wrong with not applying to Michigan or Williams or wherever if you don’t want to! But everybody ought to be put in position to make an informed choice from the full range of options.

Related to the previous link: when and why did competition for admission to “top” US colleges and universities first get so fierce? Has it gotten more fierce recently? Here’s a deep dive into the answers. As the cliche goes, (some of) the answers will surprise you. I disagree with some of the author’s interpretations, but I learned a lot from the piece.

Andrew Gelman compiles some reviews of Deborah Mayo’s new philosophy of statistics book. Here’s my old summary of Mayo’s ideas, which had a big influence on how I think about statistics.

Hoisted from the comments: Andrew Krause sends us to Herb Childress, who understands faculty meetings:

Scholars have made their entire careers out of finding problems within what is perceived to be settled knowledge. They carve out that tiny bubble at the edge of what we know, and they focus all of their ample energies and intelligence on precisely defining, or redefining that small issue. Gather a hundred of these people together, and give them a policy to review. You think that’s going to go well?

I think we can all agree with this toddler. 🙂

I leave it to Meghan to decide if this qualifies as a video for teaching ecology. 🙂

7 thoughts on “Friday links: ESA award winners, RIP Robert Mark, Johnny Depp vs. academia, and more

  1. I think your College Admissions link may be broken. You may appreciate (or perhaps this is what you meant to link) SSCs analysis of this, though it is quite restricted to the US College system.

    Also some of the comments on that article are particularly insightful, and many of them were copied into their own post:

  2. The Michigan experiment doesn’t surprise me at all. I only applied to grad school after one of the grad students where I was an undergrad mentioned (for some offhand reason) that she got a stipend. Otherwise I would’ve thought it totally unaffordable, and I don’t see how it could’ve occurred to me to ask if you got paid to go to grad school unless someone told me unprompted; you’re called a student, you take classes: Why would it ever occur to an undergrad you might get paid to do that?

    • Yes, I bet that’s how a lot of undergrads first learn about what grad school is like: chatting with their grad student TAs, working as research assts to grad students, etc.

    • Yes, I remember being totally blown away by this, too! The idea that I could get paid to go to school and do research was mind-blowing.

  3. Whether a top school matters probably depends on what a student wants to do and how well prepared the student is at the start of the undergrad degree.

    If you’re preparing for a certain career, especially in science, going to a top school might be really beneficial. If as a student you exploit your access to faculty and grad students to make contacts and generate opportunities to do research, that will work in your favor, for sure. At a major university you’ll get access to a wide variety of research, be at a school with great facilities and lots of grad students, probably have access to lots of science seminars, clubs etc.

    OTOH, if your just following everyone else to college, you don’t have any idea what you want to do, you haven’t made any particular preparations for college, and you don’t have any compelling interest in academics other than the degree, it’s not clear that a top school will be a huge benefit or worth the extra effort to get in, get financial aid, etc. You might even be better off at a smaller school where it’s more casual and faculty are more accessible and are more focused on teaching. Not that you shouldn’t go to a top school. But it’s not clear that it will do any better for you.

  4. If a student is planning a career in science or considering going on for grad school and not sure where to go, it’s a great idea to look for schools that have offices of state or federal agencies in the field you’re interested in. For example, since the US Geological Survey does a lot of field ecology these days, there are probably USGS offices associated with some biology departments, and no doubt many schools have state ecology, environmental, game, and natural resources departments on campus.

    Even if the school is a bit smaller, having these agencies on campus is a huge boost for students. For undergrads, it often means that there are year-round and summer jobs available in your field. As a geology undergrad in geology, I operated an X-Ray diffractometer to identify minerals, did field projects, did microscope analysis, a wide variety of lab work, used every type of equipment available for mineral separation that generated some really good ages (although I didn’t operate the mass spec), and colored a series of state geologic maps. It’s great experience, generates lots of contacts, earns a little cash, and gives you a great idea of what’s going on in your discipline.

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