About Jeremy Fox

I'm an ecologist at the University of Calgary. I study population and community dynamics, using mathematical models and experiments.

Where to drink in Portland at #ESA2017 if you’re a beer geek

Later this week Brian will provide a bunch of tips on where to eat and drink in Portland, including several brewpubs. Commenters on our Portland open thread also have great tips. But if you’re a beer geek like me, you’re not going to be happy drinking at whichever decent bar is closest to the convention center. I’d rather go a bit further afield to seek out someplace really good and hopefully also less crowded. So here are the fruits of my background research on beer geek websites like RateBeer, plus a bit of personal experience from the last time ESA was in Portland, plus the suggestions of commenter Brandon Cooper. Please do chime in with your own suggestions in the comments!

Warning: I’m a beer geek, but a slightly atypical one: I don’t like IPAs. I go for English- and Belgian-style ales, wheat beers, bocks, and sours (aside: I was into sours many years before they became trendy, thank you very much). Also, I’m not a fan of really loud bars when I’m out drinking with friends (which is why Bailey’s Taproom and APEX aren’t listed below). My recommendations reflect my tastes. If you want to seek out crazy 100 IBU beers or rockin’ bars, you’re on your own.

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Friday links: the Great Emu War, world’s oldest bar graph, 10 principles of ecology, and more (UPDATED)

Also this week: compile ALL the p-values, grad students vs. abuses of power, Michael Phelps vs. pumpkinseed sunfish, p-hacking with covariates, one year’s worth of data = two year’s worth of data, a canonical R gotcha, and more. Including a contest to win 1000 Internet Points, and links from Brian!

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Poll results: do ecologists start their PhDs by reading and thinking widely and exhaustively for a year? (UPDATED)

Recently, I polled ecologists and evolutionary biologists (that’s you) (mostly) on whether they started their PhDs by following Steve Stearns’ classic advice to “read and think widely and exhaustively for a year.” I followed this advice. But I was curious if it’s less commonly followed today, and if it’s ever followed at all outside the US where PhD programs are shorter and more often involve students being handed pre-designed projects. Here are the results!

tl;dr: about half of PhD ecologists followed Stearns’ advice. But you might be surprised by who does or doesn’t follow Stearns’ advice; I was!

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Here’s how I choose which presentations to see at the ESA meeting. How do you do it?

Occasionally in the past readers have asked me to post the list of talks and posters I’m planning to see at the ESA meeting. I appreciate where such requests come from; there are a lot of talks and posters and I’m flattered that some people would like their favorite blogger to help them choose. But I’m a little uncomfortable with such requests. I choose which talks and posters to see for my own reasons, which are probably not (and shouldn’t be) your reasons.

So rather than post the list of talks and posters I’m planning to see, here are some suggestions on how you can choose which ones you want to see. Please add your own suggestions in the comments!

My advice is oriented toward the ESA meeting, which is the only conference I attend regularly, but most of it should generalize to any conference large enough to have at least a few parallel sessions running at any given time. Continue reading

Poll: did you start your ecology PhD by reading and thinking widely and exhaustively for a year? (UPDATED; poll closed)

Stephen Stearns’ classic piece, “Some Modest Advice for Graduate Students,” includes this excellent advice under the heading “You must know why your work is important” (emphasis added):

When you first arrive, read and think widely and exhaustively for a year…

If some authority figure tells you that you aren’t accomplishing anything because you aren’t taking courses and you aren’t gathering data, tell him what you’re up to. If he persists, tell him to bug off, because you know what you’re doing, dammit.

This is a hard stage to get through because you will feel guilty about not getting going on your own research. You will continually be asking yourself, “What am I doing here?” Be patient. This stage is critical to your personal development and to maintaining the flow of new ideas into science. Here you decide what constitutes an important problem. You must arrive at this decision independently for two reasons. First, if someone hands you a problem, you won’t feel that it is yours, you won’t have that possessiveness that makes you want to work on it, defend it, fight for it, and make it come out beautifully. Secondly, your PhD work will shape your future. It is your choice of a field in which to carry out a life’s work. It is also important to the dynamic of science that your entry be well thought out. This is one point where you can start a whole new area of research. Remember, what sense does it make to start gathering data if you don’t know – and I mean really know – why you’re doing it?

I followed this advice. I spent a lot of time my first year in grad school reading any paper that caught my eye, in every one of the many leading ecology and general science journals to which my supervisor had personal subscriptions. Including many papers that realistically weren’t going to form the basis for any research project I might possibly propose. (UPDATE: I’m aware that Stearns’ advice often isn’t practical outside of the US, because outside the US PhDs often are shorter (3-4 years) and often involve students taking on pre-designed projects rather than developing their own projects. That’s why the poll below asks where you got your PhD.)

I’m curious whether this makes me unusual, especially compared to current grad students.

So below is a 4-question poll, for PhD students and PhD holders in ecology and evolution (the fields in which Stearns’ advice is most widely-known). Did you follow Stearns’ advice to begin your PhD by reading and thinking widely and exhaustively for a year?

(UPDATE: responses have slowed to a trickle, so the poll is now closed. Post on the results coming soon!)

Friday links: women in science x 5, and SO MUCH MOAR (UPDATED)

Here’s a picture of what Meghan and I did this week:


Also this week [inhales deep breath]: how to think new thoughts, thinking like an ecologist (?), dean vs. Pulp Fiction, pick your battles (but not too many), PI vs. 7 year postdoc, [gasps] [inhales] British grade inflation, scicomm resources, awkward faculty job interviews, in Hollywood medicine nobody knows anything, incentives for replication, and MOAR! [passes out]

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Book review: The Signature Of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

On the recommendation of our commenters, I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature Of All Things. Here’s my (brief) review.

tl;dr: This is one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

Warning: a few very mild semi-spoilers ahead. Honestly, I wouldn’t consider them spoilers myself. But I know some people don’t like to know any details about a book before they read it.

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Why functional trait ecology needs population ecology

I have an embarrassing confession: I’m just not that into you trait-based ecology.

Which doesn’t feel like confessing a murder, but does feel like confessing, I dunno, not liking Groundhog Day.* It’s slightly embarrassing. For years now trait-based ecology has been one of the biggest and fastest-growing bandwagons in ecology. Plenty of terrific ecologists whom I really respect are really into it. Which doesn’t mean that I have to be into it too, of course–but which does mean that if I’m not into it, I’d better have a good reason.

Which is a problem, because honestly I’m not sure why I’m not into it. In a field like ecology, where there’s no universal agreement as to what questions are most important to ask or exactly how to go about answering them, I think it becomes more (not less) important that each of us be able to justify our chosen question and approach, in terms that others can appreciate if not necessarily agree with. And also justify not liking any questions or approaches we don’t like. It really bugs me when people object to my own favorite approach for weak reasons that don’t stand up to even casual scrutiny. So I’m embarrassed to admit that there’s lots of trait-based ecology that I just vaguely think of as uninteresting or not likely to go anywhere, even though honestly I don’t know enough about it to really have an informed opinion. It’s embarrassing to not have an informed opinion on what’s probably the most popular current approach to topics that I care a lot about (e.g., species diversity, composition, and coexistence along environmental gradients).

This post is my attempt to do better. I want to think out loud about what I like and don’t like about trait-based ecology. My selfish goal is to clarify my own thinking, and to get comments that will teach me something and help me think better. My less-selfish hope is that buried somewhere within my half-formed thoughts are some useful ideas that trait-based ecology could take on board.

Here’s my plan: I’m going to talk about a body of work in trait-based ecology that I actually do know well and that I do like a lot. Then I’m going to go back to Brian’s old post on where trait-based ecology is at and where it ought to go and see how this body of work stacks up. How do my reasons for liking this particular body of trait-based ecology line up with what an actual trait-based ecologist–Brian–looks for in trait-based ecology?

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