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.

Work at the times that work for you

A couple of nights ago, I checked the weather forecast for the next day, in part to see how cold it would be for my morning run. I was surprised to see that the forecast was for 3-6 inches of snow overnight. (I hadn’t realized a storm was coming!) I had no interest in trying to slog through a run in 3-6 inches of wet, unshoveled snow in the dark, so decided I would work when I first got up in the morning (in that wonderfully quiet time when I’m the only one in the house who is awake) and go to the gym at the end of my work day. And that’s what I did. I got up, made myself some tea, sat down to check twitter, and then started working, which included replying to some emails that had been hanging around in my inbox.

That was when I remembered a conversation I’d recently had about whether it’s okay to send work emails outside of “typical” work hours. This is a topic that comes up on twitter sometimes, too, as well as on facebook. The concern is that, if you’re sending emails early in the day or in the evening or on weekends: 1) you have an unhealthy work/life balance and/or 2) you are sending a message to others that they should be working at those times, too. I fully, completely support having interests outside of work, and think that working long hours is unhealthy and unproductive. But I don’t think the way to achieve healthy work habits is to be proscriptive about when people work, or to shame others for working outside the hours that we deem acceptable.

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Mentoring plans: a really useful tool for PIs and their lab members

Over the years, I’ve heard people talk about mentoring plans and individual development plans (IDPs), and always thought they sounded like they could be worth trying some time. But I never made it a high priority, and so never actually got to doing them with my lab. I got as far as starting to do an IDP for myself to test it out, but never got further than that. Then, last year, I had to do a mentoring plan with one of my students, as a requirement of her graduate program. As soon as I did that one with her, I realized I needed to be doing these with everyone in my lab, including grad students, postdocs, technicians, and undergrads. Here, I’ll describe what we include in our mentoring plans, talk about some of the ways they’ve been helpful, and will ask for ideas on some things I’d like to add or change.

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Nominate yourself for UMich’s Early Career Scientists Symposium on phenotypic plasticity!

Every year, my department hosts an Early Career Scientists Symposium with a different theme. This year’s theme is the ecology and evolutionary biology of phenotypic plasticity. Here’s the call for nominations:

The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan invites nominations of outstanding scientists early in their careers to participate in an exciting international symposium about the ecology and evolutionary biology of phenotypic plasticity. The symposium events will take place from 10-12th of March 2017, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Eight early career scientists, alongside a keynote speaker, will be selected to present their work and to participate in panel discussions. We welcome nominations of early career scientists who are studying topics in ecology and evolution related to phenotypic plasticity. This symposium will highlight the work of up-and-coming scientists whose research foci span a breadth of subfields and levels of organization. We champion diversity and encourage the nomination of members of groups underrepresented in science.   

Early career scientists are considered senior graduate students (who stand to receive their Ph.D. within one year), postdoctoral researchers, and first- or second-year faculty. A colleague or advisor must provide the nomination.

The nomination consists of a brief letter of recommendation addressing the nominee’s scientific promise and ability to give a compelling talk, the nominee’s curriculum vitae, and a brief abstract of the proposed presentation (< 200 words, written by the nominee). Nominations may be sent electronically (in one file, please) to:
eeb-ecss-nomination@umich.edu using the nominee’s name as the subject line (last name first). Information about Early Career Scientist Symposia held in past years can be found at http://sites.lsa.umich.edu/ecss/.

Review of nominations will begin on December 31, 2016.

Selected participants will be contacted in mid January and will have all expenses covered (registration, travel and accommodation). An official announcement of the slate of speakers will be issued soon thereafter.

For more information, contact Carol Solomon at carollyn@umich.edu.

The 2017 Early Career Scientists Symposium scientific committee includes:

Wei-Chin Ho
Andrea Hodgins Davis (chair)
Jill Myers
Annette Ostling
Mary Rogalski
Sonal Singhal
Carol Solomon
Earl Werner

 

What are the key ecology concepts all Intro Bio students should learn?

When I started at Georgia Tech, the “large” (80-90 student) course I was involved in was General Ecology. My first year there, I co-taught the course with my colleague Lin Jiang. I did what is probably fairly typical: I asked him for the materials he used when he last taught the course and then modified those. So, it was pretty eye-opening to me when, after that first semester, we (“we” being the people involved in teaching General Ecology and related courses) decided that we should try to assess what our students were learning. We couldn’t find a good ecology concept assessment*, so we decided to try to create our own. That involved deciding what the key concepts were that we wanted all students who had completed ecology to know. Coming up with that list was incredibly useful and changed the way I taught the next time.

I’ve been thinking about this again as I spend more time thinking about how to teach ecology to introductory biology students here at Michigan. I’ve thought about this before – we recently overhauled the course, and that involved a lot of thought about what to teach. But I feel like I want to think more about the core concepts again. I want to revisit the core ecology concepts that my GaTech colleagues and I came up with for a sophomore-level (that is, 2nd year) ecology course and figure out how to modify those for a freshman-level (that is, 1st year) course. With this post, I’m hoping to think more carefully about what the core concepts are, and to get feedback from others about the list I came up with.

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On finding errors in one’s published analyses

Dan Bolnick just had a really important – and, yes, brave – post on finding an error in a published study of his that has led him to retract that study. (The retraction isn’t official yet.) In his post, he does a great job of explaining how the mistake happened (a coding error in R), how he found it (someone tried to recreate his analysis and was unsuccessful), what it means for the analysis (what he thought was a weak trend is actually a nonexistent trend), and what he learned from it (among others, that it’s important to own up to one’s failures, and there are risks in using custom code to analyze data).

This is a topic I’ve thought about a lot, largely because I had to correct a paper. It was the most stressful episode of my academic career. During that period, my anxiety was as high as it has ever been. A few people have suggested I should write a blog post about it in the past, but it still felt too raw – just thinking about it was enough to cause an anxiety surge. So, I was a little surprised when my first reaction to reading Dan’s post was that maybe now is the time to write about my similar experience. When Brian wrote a post last year on corrections and retractions in ecology (noting that mistakes will inevitably happen because science is done by humans and humans make mistakes), I still felt like I couldn’t write about it. But now I think I can. Dan and Brian are correct that it’s important to own up to our failures, even though it’s hard. Even though correcting the record is exactly how science is supposed to work (and I did corrected the paper as soon as I discovered the error), it still is something that is very hard for me to talk about.

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Inbox insanity: A way to unsubscribe?

You’ve got mail. Lots of it, especially if you’re a faculty member. And it’s overwhelming. Those were some of the results of the email poll I did recently. I wrote the post because I am often overwhelmed by email. I was curious to know if others were, too. (My guess was yes.) I was also hoping that someone would have magically figured out how to make the email problem go away. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a magical solution, but there were some useful tips. In this post, I’ll first give the results of the poll, which I think were interesting. Then I’ll get to some of the suggestions that came in on the blog and via twitter.

The poll

In the poll, I asked:

  1. How many work-related emails are in your inbox now?
  2. What is your goal for the number of work-related emails you aim have in your inbox?
  3. How often do you feel overwhelmed by email?

and then asked for information on the respondent’s current position and age. (I was originally also planning on asking about gender, because I thought it would be interesting to see if there was a difference, but I forgot when I set up the poll. Whoops.)

Before getting to the poll results, a little more on the data, code, and analyses: If you’re interested in the full data set and/or the code I used to analyze it, those are available here. I especially want to focus in on the cross-factor analyses, which I think are the most interesting. These rely on the Likert package by Jason Bryer, which I first learned about from Rayna Harris. It makes really cool figures for this sort of data!

Now, the results:

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The importance of saying yes

In July 2012, I received an email that has had a profound effect on my career and life. The email came from Jeremy. He had begun blogging as part of the editorial board of the journal Oikos, but had resigned from their editorial board, so it no longer made sense to blog there. Instead, he had the idea to start a blog written by a small group of ecologists. The blog was to be named Dynamic Ecology, and he wanted to know if I would be interested in writing for it.

I didn’t sleep that night. There were plenty of reasons to say no. I was preparing to move from my job at Georgia Tech to a new faculty position at Michigan, and would, for that year, have labs running in two places. I would be teaching Introductory Biology in my first semester at Michigan, to hundreds of students. I had a toddler and was pregnant with my second child. My first graduate student was working to write up her dissertation. We were setting up new field sites in Michigan. I planned on submitting my tenure dossier the following summer.

Yet, the reason I couldn’t sleep was that I knew I wanted – needed – to say yes, despite all those other things going on. In the months leading up to that, I had been finding myself increasingly interested in speaking out about science and topics related to the process of science, and this was a chance to do just that. I had a hunch that it would end up being an important blog in the ecology community, and that I would regret it if I turned down the opportunity.

So, I wrote back and said yes. I am so glad I did.

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New postdoctoral program at #UMich

The University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (which is the college that includes my department, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) has just announced a new postdoctoral fellowship program. To quote from the announcement:

The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) at the University of Michigan is excited to announce the LSA Collegiate Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, a major initiative aimed to promote a diverse scholarly environment, encourage outstanding individuals to enter academia, and support scholars committed to diversity.

and

The purpose of the LSA Collegiate Postdoctoral Fellowship Program is to support promising scholars who are committed to diversity in the academy and to prepare those scholars for possible tenure-track appointments in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at U-M.

More information can be found here. Note that the application deadline is November 7th. (That’s not far off!)