About Jeremy Fox

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

How many first-authored papers in “leading” journals does an ecologist need to be hired as a tenure-track asst. prof at an R1 university? Not nearly as many as most ecologists think.

tl;dr: newly-hired TT asst professors in ecology and allied fields at N. American R1 universities have an average (and median) of 4.5 first-authored papers in leading journals, operationally defined as journals with two year impact factor >3. The range is zero (yes, zero) to 14 first-authored papers in leading journals. In a non-scientific poll, most of the respondents guessed that both the minimum and mean of those data are substantially higher than they actually are.

For details, read on.

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It’s ecology faculty job market data week! Here’s how, and why, I compile these data.

For the third year running, I’ve compiled publicly-available information on newly-hired tenure-track assistant professors of ecology and allied fields (e.g., fish & wildlife) at N. American colleges and universities. This week (and probably into next week) I’ll be running a series of posts summarizing the data. I’ve already updated several past posts with the new year’s worth of data.

For those of you who are new to this little exercise, here’s why and how I do it. Think of this as the Introduction and Methods; the Results and Discussion start tomorrow.

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Brief “lab lit” book reviews: As She Climbed Across The Table by Jonathan Lethem and Euphoria by Lily King

Here are my spoiler-free reviews of two books that came up in our epic “lab lit” post and comment thread: As She Climbed Across The Table by Jonathan Lethem and Euphoria by Lily King. As usual, I’m a scientist reviewing fiction about scientists. Which hopefully makes my reviews a useful complement to reviews by non-scientists. Scientists and non-scientists often react differently to fiction about scientists.

tl;dr: Euphoria is great, As She Climbed Across The Table is…odd. And I have some thoughts on the difficulty of dramatizing scientific research that pushes far into the unknown.

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How I write tenure and promotion letters

In the comments the other day, Meghan and I were remarking on the dearth of blog posts providing advice for post-tenure faculty. So I guess we’ll have to rectify that ourselves! Hence this post, in which I talk about how I write tenure and promotion letters, for North American colleges and universities (not sure if my advice generalizes to other continents…). I have general advice, plus some illustrative made-up examples.

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What now-obselete scientific technique, tool, or practice do you miss most?

In an old post, Meghan asked “What is (or will be) your old school science cred?” The scientific thing you’ve done that, in future, will make you seem really old connect you to a bygone era. Here, I want to ask a related question: what bit of your old school science cred do you miss most? What now-obselete technique, tool, or practice do you (secretly?) wish you could return to?

I had to think about this one for a bit, because there are plenty of things I don’t miss. I don’t miss physical slides and the associated slide carousels, for instance. I don’t miss printing out five copies of my ms and mailing them to the journal for consideration.

I miss physical hard copies of journals, mostly because I miss making notes in the margins of the papers I read. And I’m glad that I’m old enough to once have had a paper listed on the cover of Ecology. I know it sounds a bit silly, but I was proud of that. Once a journal goes online-only, it either stops having a cover, or else making the cover doesn’t feel special any more (at least, it doesn’t to me, your mileage may vary).

I kind of miss Statview, my go-to stats package as an undergraduate and graduate student. Yes, R is objectively better in various ways–much more versatile, better for reproducibility, etc. But for doing the simple exploratory and hypothesis-testing analyses appropriate to simple experimental designs, and producing the associated simple figures, Statview was really convenient. I now use Excel to do exploratory stuff I used to do in Statview, which is slower and worse. But the R Commander package is similar enough to Statview that I don’t miss Statview too much.

I also miss Mathcad, Mathematica’s competitor. Or rather, I thought I missed Mathcad, but while writing this post I was shocked to learn it still exists!* Mathcad was is slower and less powerful than Mathematica, but much easier to learn. It had has a unique interface, like a computerized scratchpad. You could type any math you wanted, anywhere on the screen, in notation that looked like math (contrast Mathematica’s command line interface). You could also insert simple programs and various sorts of graphs. And you could drag your equations, graphs, etc. around the screen. When commanded, Mathcad would execute/evaluate everything you’d written, starting at the upper left and reading left to right and top to bottom. It was much more convenient than R for systems of ODEs, and it could also do symbolic math using the embedded version of Maple. R only does symbolic math kludgily.

*Mathcad was bought by PTC and then not updated for years and the support forums were shut down, so I assumed–apparently naively!–that Mathcad was on the way out. But no, it retains a market among engineers. Now that I know it still exists, I may have to buy it!

Poll: how many first-authored publications in leading journals do you think you need to be competitive for a TT faculty position at an R1 university?

Research universities want to hire professors who will run productive research programs. One way that search committees project future research productivity is by looking at past research productivity. And one measure among others of past research productivity is first-authored papers in “leading” selective journals.

So, how many first-authored papers in leading journals do you think you have to have to even be competitive for a tenure-track asst. professor position in ecology or an allied field (e.g., fish & wildlife) at an N. American R1 university? By “competitive” I basically mean “the minimum number with which you could be hired at an R1.” And how many do you think the typical newly-hired tenure-track asst. professor of ecology at an R1 university has? I have the data, but I’m curious what you think I found. So take the two-question poll below!

To make sure that respondents all define “leading” journal in roughly the same way, here’s the “search image” I want you to use. “Leading” journals includes those in all fields in which ecologists or people in allied fields might publish. For general ecology journals, “leading” for purposes of this poll basically means “Oikos and Oecologia on up”. So journals like Ecology Letters, Am Nat, Ecology, TREE, JAE, GEB, Oikos, and Oecologia, but not (say) Ecosphere, Ecology & Evolution, or TPB.* For general science, think Nature, Science, PNAS, Nature Communications, etc., but not (say) Plos One, Science Advances, or PeerJ. And so on for general biology journals, evolution journals, etc. (UPDATE: Science Advances is actually a rough equivalent of Nature Communications, I mixed it up in my mind with another journal. My bad, sorry for any confusion, thanks to a commenter for pointing out my error.)

*Which is not a criticism of those journals! I myself have several papers in journals I would not consider “leading” journals.