About Meghan Duffy

I am an ecologist at the University of Michigan. My research focuses on the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, particularly in lake Daphnia populations.

Imposter syndrome and cognitive distortions: some thoughts and poorly drawn cartoons

I’ve been thinking a lot about imposter syndrome lately – both because of feeling impostery myself, and because of seeing others who are feeling impostery. I find it helpful to realize how common it is for people to feel like imposters – sometimes I think that pretty much everyone is using the “fake it ‘til you make it” strategy. But it’s also disheartening when I realize that people who I think are fantastic scientists, teachers, and/or communicators also feel like frauds.

There are three particular flavors of imposter syndrome that I’ve particularly been thinking about. I wanted to write a post on them but surprisingly (to me, at least) I could only picture them in cartoon form. I suspect part of the reason for that is the influence of this really great cartoon on filtering out the positive and focusing on the negative. So, here are three poorly drawn cartoons on the topic. I feel a little silly sharing them (yes, of course I’m feeling impostery about a post on imposter syndrome!), but here goes:

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New paper on science community blogging!

I really don’t want the blog to turn into a platform for announcing personal papers, but this is another case that seems worthy of an exception. I am a coauthor on a paper that just appeared in Royal Society Open Science that focuses on science community blogging as an important type of blog. In the paper, we make the distinction between two types of blogging: science communication blogging and science community blogging. Science communication blogging is traditional scicomm: communicating science broadly, with non-scientists as a typical audience. Science community blogging, on the other hand, focuses on the process and culture of academia, with other scientists being the primary audience. Dynamic Ecology is pretty much entirely science community blogging. Some other blogs mix the two, and some are solidly on the science communication side of things. One of our arguments is that science community blogging is valuable, even though it often gets overlooked in discussions of science blogging. One piece of evidence supporting the assertion that science community blogs are overlooked: the Wilcox et al. book, Science Blogging: The essential guide, does not mention science community blogs, despite aiming to provide a comprehensive overview of science blogging.

Our new paper (which is open access so available to everyone!) discusses the reach of science community blogs and their value to the scientific community, including as a means of diffuse mentorship and as a means of contributing to scholarly discourse. The diffuse mentorship aspect of blogging is a key reason I blog. I think science community blogs are a great way of ensuring broader access to information that some people have but others do not (such as my post on how to format a CV for a faculty job application or Jeremy’s on how North American search committees work or Brian’s post on the five pivotal paragraphs in a paper). I also think science community blogging is a great way to raise issues that I think are important to consider (such as my posts on not needing to work 80 hours a week to succeed in academia or on being a scientist with an anxiety disorder). At this year’s ESA meeting, a surprising (to me) number of people thanked me for talking about these issues; my favorite may have been the person who stopped me and said “Thank you for being a real person!” This feedback meant a lot to me.

Our blogging paper was led by Manu Saunders of Ecology is Not a Dirty Word; she deserves a lot of the credit for this paper seeing the light of day! The other authors on the paper are Amy Parachnowitsch and Terry McGlynn from Small Pond Science, Margaret Kosmala of Ecology Bits, Simon Leather of Don’t Forget the Roundabouts, Jeff Ollerton of Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity Blog, and Stephen Heard of Scientist Sees Squirrel. Simon, Jeff, and Steve were the ones who had the idea for the paper in the first place.

The abstract of our paper is below the break, as are links to posts at the other blogs:

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Poll results: How mathy are ecology, evolution, and genetics?

Last week, I did a quick poll asking people how much math they think is involved in ecology, evolutionary biology, and genetics, and also how much math they use in their own research. What counts as a “moderate” or “substantial” amount of math is up for debate, of course. But I am most interested in the comparison between the three fields and, especially, in comparing the responses of DE readers with those of my intro bio students.

To give more explanation: it seems clear to me that undergrads are generally surprised by the amount of math that is in ecology. And, from talking with colleagues (here and elsewhere), it’s clear I’m not the only person who has the impression that college students do not expect ecology to involve math.

I’ve been thinking about how to try to address this with students. I want to try to better prepare them for what the ecology section of the course will involve. I worked with Susan Cheng (Cornell) to design a survey for students, polling them on their views of ecology, evolution, and genetics. We ran the survey at the beginning of the semester and plan on running it again at the end of the semester to see whether/how views change.

What did we find?
75% of incoming Intro Bio students think geneticists use a “moderate” or “substantial” amount of math. But only 33% think ecologists do.

How does that compare with DE readers?
64.7% of Dynamic Ecology poll respondents think geneticists use a “moderate” or “substantial” amount of math. 78.5% think ecologists do.

And how does that compare with what ecologists report in terms of how much math they use in their own research? 80% of DE poll respondents who identified as ecologists said they use a “moderate” or “substantial” amount of math.

(Sample sizes: For Intro Bio, n = 271; for the DE poll, n = 349; for the subset of just ecologists, n = 225)

In other words: there is a really big difference between the amount of math that students just starting Intro Bio think ecology will involve vs. how much ecologists say it involves.

I’ve been thinking about how I will talk about this with students. I think that, at the start of the population ecology lecture, I will tell them that there’s something that often surprises students: ecology involves math. I will note that most people haven’t been exposed to ecology before taking the course – it was certainly true for me that I never thought about ecology before getting to college. I think that, as a first year college student, I didn’t really know what ecology was, but probably had a vague sense that it was what you see in the nature videos on PBS. It definitely did not occur to me that it involved math! I can then transition to saying this is similar to what students in this year’s course think. I then plan on presenting the same set of numbers that I have above. My hope with this is not to scare them, but to better prepare them for what is coming.

I think it’s problematic that, this year and the two previous times I’ve taught Intro Bio, I’ve only taught the ecology half of the course. That means I haven’t worked with the students through all the genetics stuff — which is hard but in a way that they expect. So, I haven’t developed a rapport with the students as we work through that material. That means one potential explanation for why there’s an unexpected about of math in the ecology portion of the course is simply that I’m a mean person who likes to make things hard. So, I’ve asked to teach the entire semester the next time I teach. I think it will help a lot.

We plan on surveying the students at the end of the semester to see how their views have changed. I’m very interested in seeing those results, but I’m not sure they will change much. Again, because I’m only teaching the second half of the course, some of them might not change their views on how much math is involved in ecology because they might still think that I was just making things unnecessarily hard. (We actually don’t do a lot of math, in my opinion. There’s no Lotka-Volterra, for example. But it’s more than they expect.) So, I’m interested not just in seeing how the views change this semester, but also how they change in future semesters. My hope is that, in the future, I will be able to prepare them for ecology involving math by showing them data on how views of previous students changed over the course of the semester.

Do you find undergraduates who are new to ecology are surprised by what ecology is, including the amount of math it involves? What (if anything) do you do to try to prepare them for what ecology is?

Last and corresponding authorship in ecology: a series of blog posts turns into a paper

My paper on last and corresponding authorship appeared in the journal Ecology & Evolution today. Normally I don’t plug my papers on the blog, but this one is different: this paper arose out of a poll and a series of blog posts on the site, so it seems appropriate to wrap things up with a quick post today.

I suppose it’s actually not quite accurate to say the paper arose out of a poll. Before that, I had a tweet storm as I thought through issues, and that, in turn, was motivated by needing to decide on author order for a manuscript. When I was at Georgia Tech, I was told that I should be last author on all papers coming out of my lab as a sign of having driven the work. But I have a paper from work I did as a grad student where I am the last author (with my advisor as a middle author) because I did the least work on the project (Cáceres et al. 2008 Freshwater Biology), so the advice I got at Georgia Tech surprised me at first. At Georgia Tech, I was also told that I needed to be corresponding author on papers out of my lab; when I first got to Michigan, I never heard anyone mention corresponding authorship as something that mattered (and that included when I directly asked a couple of people about it). Notably, though, in the past year I did hear colleagues bring it up a couple of times.

I almost gave up on this paper multiple times, because I wasn’t sure it was worth the time. But I kept hearing comments from colleagues at various institutions about author order or corresponding authorship coming up as an issue, especially related to tenure & promotion discussions, so it seemed important to get this information out there in a format where it could easily be shared.

What did I find? This is the abstract of the paper:

Authorship is intended to convey information regarding credit and responsibility for manuscripts. However, while there is general agreement within ecology that the first author is the person who contributed the most to a particular project, there is less agreement regarding whether being last author is a position of significance and regarding what is indicated by someone being the corresponding author on a manuscript. Using an analysis of papers published in American Naturalist, Ecology, Evolution, and Oikos, I found that: 1) the number of authors on papers is increasing over time; 2) the proportion of first authors as corresponding author has increased over time, as has the proportion of last authors as corresponding author; 3) 84% of papers published in 2016 had the first author as corresponding author; and 4) geographic regions differed in the likelihood of having the first (or last) author as corresponding author. I also carried out an online survey to better understand views on last and corresponding authorship. This survey revealed that most ecologists view the last author as the “senior” author on a paper (that is, the person who runs the research group in which most of the work was carried out), and most ecologists view the corresponding author as the person taking full responsibility for a paper. However, there was substantial variation in views on authorship, especially corresponding authorship. Given these results, I suggest that discussions of authorship have as their starting point that the first author will be corresponding author and the senior author will be last author. I also suggest ways of deciding author order in cases where two senior authors contributed equally.

If you’re interested in finding out more, the paper is open access. Something that is fun is that this is the first paper to appear in Ecology & Evolution’s new paper category, Academic Practice in Ecology and Evolution. Also fun is that, after acceptance, the production staff required that I add an author contribution statement to my sole-authored paper. So, I wrote: {continues below the break}

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Poll: How mathy are ecology, evolution, and genetics?

Something I’ve been interested in is student views on ecology, evolutionary biology, and genetics, including how much math they think is involved in the different disciplines. I’ve surveyed my Intro Bio students to get their views, and realized it would be interesting to compare it to what ecologists, evolutionary biologists, and geneticists think. Hence this poll! The poll is brief, but I’m doing it in google forms so I can do the cross tabs.

Here’s the link to the poll in case the embedding doesn’t work. The embedded poll is below the break.

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Choosing reviewers, recognition not recall, and why lists like DiversifyEEB are useful

Last week, I was assigned a paper to handle as an Associate Editor at American Naturalist. After reading through the paper and deciding it should go out for review, I began the task of finding potential reviewers. There were two people who immediately stood out to me as qualified reviewers. But AmNat likes to have a list of six potential reviewers to work from, so I continued through my standard process: 1) try to think of another person; 2) struggle with that; 3) think “surely I can write the editorial office folks and tell them we should just go with these two I already thought of because they’re perfect”; 4) decide I need to try harder before giving up; 5) after some more effort, end up at a list of six (or, in this case, seven) people who would be good reviewers, ranked in the order in which I’d like them to be asked. After going through that process, the two people I originally thought of were still on my list, but they were numbers 4&5. For some other papers, the initial people I thought of didn’t end up on my final list at all. And I have never had the first two people I thought of end up being the first two people on my list of six.

In other words: there were really good options who I only thought of after working at it for a while; those people were better options for this task than the people who initially occurred to me. To me, this is striking, but not really surprising. It’s what motivated the DiversifyEEB list that I created with my colleague, Gina Baucom. We all have biases, and those make it so that the people we think of first aren’t necessarily the best ones. And, moreover, our biases make it so that we’re more likely to think of well-known white men. That’s just how our brains work.

As I thought through this on my walk home, it reminded me of a story Kay Gross told me shortly after DiversifyEEB launched. Kay said that, many years back, she had a conversation with Margaret Davis. What Margaret told Kay is that, when she got a phone call asking her to recommend people for something, she would say, “Let me think about that and get back to you”. She did this because she had noticed that the first set of names she thought of were always men. But, if she thought it over more, she came up with more names and more diverse names. I found it especially interesting to learn that Margaret Davis had created a set of cards, adding a new card whenever she met an interesting woman scientist; during the time between getting the call and getting back to the person, she consulted that set of cards (her own personal DiversifyEEB list!) to think through people who were well-suited but who didn’t initially occur to her.

Back to the specific topic of finding reviewers: Charles Fox and colleagues have done a set of really interesting studies related to gender and the publication process. In one, they found that just 25% of the reviewers suggested by authors were women. In another, they found that only ~27% of the reviewers invited by associate editors were women. I initially thought that perhaps one solution to the problem of lack of gender diversity in reviewers would be to have more journals ask for lists of 6 potential reviewers — perhaps thinking longer about who should review something would increase the diversity of who they think of? But it turns out that Functional Ecology already asks their AEs to come up with 6 potential reviewers, so clearly that, on its own, will not solve the gender balance problem.

After more reflection, perhaps it makes sense that the lists are still pretty biased, even if they have more people on them: these potential reviewer lists still rely a lot on recall (that is, who I think of as I think about a particular topic), not recognition (that is, choosing from a list of names that might be suitable). And the original motivation for DiversifyEEB was learning (from Joan Strassmann) about psych research showing that the best way to come up with more diverse groups is to rely on recognition, not recall. (If you remember nothing else from this post, remember “recognition, not recall” as a strategy for increasing diversity!)

So, if you are an associate editor for a journal (or, really, in any other position where you are trying to come up with a list of scientists for something):

  1. It’s worth the effort to try to come up with a longer list. In that process, you are likely to think of people who are better options. This will lead to better reviews (or a better seminar series or candidate list or whatever it is you’re trying to do.)
  2. Once you have your list, consider the diversity of it. Does it include diversity in terms of race, gender, career stage, and institution type (including non-academic ones)? In some cases, your list might intentionally be lacking a form of diversity (e.g., a candidate list for an endowed chair probably won’t include many early career folks). But, in most cases, a lack of diversity will reflect our inherent biases. (We all have them! The key is to recognize them and work to counter them.)
  3. If your list seems to be lacking in diversity, try to find lists that will give you more ideas. DiversifyEEB is one, but you can also look other places (e.g., if you are trying to think of Darwin Day speakers, a scan of the editorial boards of journals like Evolution, AmNat, J. Evolutionary Biology, etc. might give you ideas). Another great strategy, especially for looking for reviewers, is to go to the webpage of the person you first thought of and look at their grad students & postdocs. This includes looking at recent grads who have moved on to other positions.

As I said above, the key is being aware of the biases we have, recognizing when outcomes indicate biases are at work, and working to counter them. Lists like DiversifyEEB are one way to try to do that, and I love knowing that Margaret Davis had created her own version of a DiversifyEEB list long ago! I’d love to hear from readers about what strategies you use to try to increase diversity when coming up with potential reviewers, seminar speakers, etc!

Crowdsourcing parental leave policies for tenure track faculty

The goal of this post is to provide a place where people can report about the official (and unofficial) parental leave policies at their colleges and universities. The idea is that, while there’s surely no “typical” parental leave policy, it would help to have some idea of what the range of options is. Hopefully by showing what is possible, some people will be able to advocate for improved policies at their institutions!

This survey is specifically about tenure track faculty. We know there are many other positions at universities, including students, postdoctoral researchers, research associates, teaching faculty, and many others, and recognize that policies differ for these different groups. Our goal here is to start by surveying tenure track faculty to get a sense of the range of policies for this type of position. We’re hoping to expand to other position types in the future; please leave suggestions for which types of positions you’d like this resource for in the comments! (Also note that Margaret Kosmala has compiled information on maternity leave for postdocs at several institutions in the US.)

Note: this post was prompted by a conversation with Tracy Teal (Data Carpentry), who provided helpful feedback on an earlier draft. Thanks, Tracy!

In the comments, please leave information on:
Country
College/university name (optional, but helpful to include)
City/town & state name (optional)
College/university type (e.g., SLAC, R1, community college, etc.)
Official parental leave policy, including information on whether it applies to both birth and non-birth parents, whether it includes adoptions, and any other useful information.
Website with official leave policy:
Unofficial leave policy: do people actually take the leave that is offered? If no leave is officially offered, is there a typical workaround that people tend to use? [My guess is these unofficial things will often be department-specific]
Tenure clock stoppage: Is stoppage of the tenure clock linked with parental leave? Is it automatic?
Dual academic career parents: If both parents are at the university, do they share leave time or do each get their own leave?
Consideration for other health issues before or after leave: Is there any official policy if there are health issues during pregnancy or after the time of official leave?
Other information:

Here’s an example from my university, which has a really great leave policy:
Country: US
College/university name: University of Michigan
City/town & state name: Ann Arbor, MI
College/university type R1
Official parental leave policy: non-birth parents (including fathers and adoptive parents) get one semester of modified duties (typically interpreted to mean one semester release from teaching and possibly also reduced service that semester); birth parents get two semesters of modified duties
Website with official leave policy: http://spg.umich.edu/policy/201.93
Unofficial leave policy: many people take the one semester of modified duties. The second semester for birth parents is fairly new, so I don’t have a sense yet for how commonly people take it (but know several people – myself included – who have)
Tenure clock stoppage: Requires clicking a box on the same form that requests the modified duties
Dual academic career parents: Both parents can take their leave. Both parents can be on modified duties in the same semester.
Consideration for other health issues before or after leave: I think that health issues for the mom would get covered under the two semesters of leave. I know one person who used one of her two semesters before the birth of her child due to pregnancy-related health problems. I don’t think she got a third semester because of those health problems, but I’m not 100% sure.
Other information: This piece has a quote from the former dean of Michigan’s Ross School of Management, Alison Davis-Blake, who pioneered the new policy with two semesters of leave for birth mothers:

 

Note: If you want to comment but don’t want your name publicly associated with it, enter a pseudonym in the name field. You can also enter a fake email (such as email@email.com) in the email field to make yourself fully anonymous. If you enter a pseudonym plus your real email address, the authors of Dynamic Ecology (Meghan Duffy, Jeremy Fox, and Brian McGill) will be able to see your email address, but it will not appear in the comments section.

Introducing #EEBMentorMatch: linking students from minority serving institutions with application mentors

Research has demonstrated that science benefits from diversity, but graduate programs still suffer from a lack of diversity, including in terms of race/ethnicity and the type of undergraduate institutions of applicants. Meanwhile, minority-serving institutions are full of students who are talented and passionate about science. Faculty members at these institutions are dedicated to their students and work to connect them with opportunities. But, at the same time, those faculty members are often overextended (unfortunately, minority serving institutions tend to be underresourced) and simply do not have the time to mentor all of their promising students through the process of applying to graduate schools and fellowship programs, including the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program and the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship. Moreover, most of these institutions primarily serve undergraduates and there is little access to graduate students and postdocs who can serve as mentors and role models.

In other words: graduate programs are looking to recruit more minority scholars, fellowship programs are looking for bright applicants, and minority serving institutions are full of students who are ready to excel in graduate school and research. But, right now, many of those students from minority-serving institutions don’t apply to graduate programs or for graduate research fellowships.

Therefore, we* have created EEB Mentor Match, with the goal of matching undergraduate students from minority-serving institutions (MSIs) who are interested in ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB) with mentors who can provide feedback on graduate school and fellowship applications. We are looking for:

  1. undergraduate students who are considering applying to graduate schools in ecology and evolutionary biology (defined broadly, including programs in conservation biology, natural resources, etc.) and/or to the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program and/or to the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship;
  2. masters students who are planning to apply to PhD programs in ecology and evolutionary biology (defined broadly, including programs in conservation biology, natural resources, etc.) and/or to the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program and/or to the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship;
  3. graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and others with experience with the graduate school application process and/or NSF’s GRFP and/or Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowships who are interested in working an undergraduate student from a minority serving institution as they craft their application materials; and
  4. mentors of students at MSIs who can nominate students who are considering applying to graduate school in EEB and/or for fellowships. We will then contact these students to see if they are interested in being mentored and, if so, pair them with a mentor.

Note that this is focused on students who are interested in ecology & evolutionary biology (defined broadly, including programs in conservation biology and natural resources). Our hope is that, by keeping this more focused, we will be able to do a better job of matching mentors and mentees. (Also, there are only so many hours in the day, unfortunately.) We encourage people in other research areas to develop similar resources for their fields!

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Who should be senior author on papers resulting from collaborations between multiple research groups?

I am pretty much through with revisions to my manuscript on authorship, with one exception. One of the reviewers is (quite reasonably) pushing me to make a stronger recommendation about how authorship decisions should be made in the increasingly common case of collaborations between groups. But, of course, this is a tricky issue, and I’m waffling on what exactly to recommend. This blog post is me trying to work through that, and looking for feedback at the end. I’m quite interested in hearing how others think decisions about authorship should be made when multiple groups collaborate substantially on a project!

I’ll start by recapping some of what my results, since they set up the general question. Then, I’ll give some of my thoughts on what might be a proposed solution. And, as I said above, I’ll end by asking for feedback on what I propose.

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Some thoughts on The Undoing Project, especially related to science, academia, and mentoring

I recently finished Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project, which focuses on the lives and work of psychologists Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky. They changed how we think about how we think, with their work on psychology having major influences in economics and medicine, in particular. I really enjoyed the book, and there were a few points I wanted to write about here, as I think they are important for scientists, mentors, and/or academics to consider. It’s not a full review of the book* – I’m just focusing in on a few areas that I thought were particularly notable.

undoingprojectimage

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