About Jeremy Fox

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

Which bits of science and academia are just fine?

Lots of attention, here and elsewhere, focuses on problems. Stuff that’s “broken” or otherwise Bad, that needs fixing or replacing. That’s for various obvious reasons.

We also pay attention to things that are New or Changing. And we pay attention to things that Great–outstanding in some positive way. Again, for obvious reasons.

Without wanting to downplay the importance of any of that stuff, I think it’s worth occasionally taking time to appreciate things that are Fine (no, not that way). They’re not perfect (what is?). They’re not great. But they’re not bad either. They’re fine. And they’ve been fine for a while, so we tend to just take them for granted and not even think about them. Which of course is a big reason why we have attention to spare for bemoaning and fixing Bad stuff, and celebrating Great stuff, and noticing New stuff. One measure of the health of an institution, organization, or society is the amount and importance of stuff that’s just Fine. It is good to be able to be able to take some perfectly adequate things for granted!

So: which bits of science and academia are Fine? The more broadly-applicable the better. (After all, something that’s Fine for a select few and Bad for most everybody else often isn’t really Fine…) Let’s take a few moments to appreciate the stuff that we needn’t either worry about or celebrate, because it merely needs to be–and is–good enough.

Here’s the first one that occurred to me off the top of my head: the quality of talks at ecology conferences. It’s fine. Are some talks better than others? Sure. Could the average quality be raised? I dunno, maybe. But the overall quality of ecology conference talks is fine. And it’s been fine at long as I’ve been attending conferences, which is…[counts fingers]…[removes shoes and socks, counts toes]…[runs out of appendages]…many years. Which means that whatever we’re doing to prepare our own talks, and teach others how to give talks, is also basically fine.*

But I’m sure y’all can come up with many more examples. Looking forward to a Great comment thread about things that are Fine. 🙂

p.s. If you’re feeling brave, you can also suggest things about science and academia that are in your view basically Fine even though they’re widely believed not to be. My opening bid in that category is “peer reviewers and editors performing the gatekeeping function at selective journals“.

*Note that in other fields the quality of conference talks may not be Fine.

Poll results: are EEB faculty job seekers receiving good advice about the EEB faculty job market?

Recently I polled y’all on the advice you received about the EEB faculty job market, focusing on the prevalence, sources, and nature of bad advice (or what respondents perceived to be bad advice). Thanks very much to everyone who took the poll! Here are the results, with some commentary.

tl;dr: A substantial majority of respondents reported receiving mostly or entirely good advice, though there’s an interesting discussion to be had about how to distinguish good advice from bad. And the very worst advice is…😬. I conclude with some advice on giving advice.

Continue reading

A statistical profile of recent EEB faculty job applicants (UPDATED)

In my continuing quest to know All The Things about the ecology faculty job market, I compiled some data on recent EEB faculty job applicants. How many positions does the typical applicant apply for these days? How many publications do they have? How many interviews and offers do they get? And is there anything besides the number of applications they submit that predicts the number of interviews or offers they’ll receive? For the answers, read on!

Attention conservation notice: long-ish post ahead, but stick with it, the most important and surprising results are at the end. And I think it’s of broad interest to many of you, not just to current EEB faculty job seekers. And there are lots of graphs. 🙂

Continue reading

Poll: are EEB faculty job seekers receiving good advice about the EEB faculty job market?

My recent post on when the ecology faculty job market first became so competitive sparked a lot of good discussion, here and on social media. One point that came up is that, because the ecology faculty job market has changed over time, what might once have been good advice to ecology faculty job seekers might now be bad advice. Anecdotally, I feel like I often see this complaint from faculty job seekers in ecology (and evolution): that too many profs these days are giving bad advice, because they don’t realize how much more competitive the faculty job market is today than it was back when the prof in question was on the job market.

I sympathize deeply with anyone who’s received bad advice about the EEB faculty job market, as some people have. It’s hard enough being among the many people chasing comparatively few TT faculty positions without also receiving bad advice! I was fortunate to receive uniformly excellent advice myself, and so I’d like to do what I can to help make sure others get good advice too.

In order to improve the advice that EEB faculty job seekers receive, it would help to first know something about what advice they’ve gotten, from what sources, and how good it was. So I got to wondering: how common is it for EEB faculty job seekers to receive bad advice, or at least what they consider to be bad advice? From what sources does bad advice most commonly come? In particular, how common is it for EEB faculty job seekers to receive outdated advice, as opposed to advice that’s bad for some other reason? I wonder about that last one because, as best I can tell, almost everyone who currently holds a tenured or tenure-track faculty position in ecology experienced a very competitive job market as an applicant (i.e. was hired in 1980 or later). Plus, it’s not as if current profs only know about the faculty job market from their own experience as applicants–many have since served on search committees, for instance.

Hence this short poll! This completely anonymous poll is for everyone who holds, has held, seeks, sought, or plans to seek a tenured or tenure-track faculty position in ecology, evolution, or an allied field. Please take 60 seconds or so to fill it out! I’ll summarize the responses in a future post.

Friday links: statistical significance vs. statistical “clarity”, philosophy of science vs. cell biology, and more (UPDATED)

Also this week: peer reviewers vs. peer reviewers, the history of logit models, philosophy vs. the Cleveland Browns, and more.

UPDATE: At the last minute Meghan added the best link of the week and I didn’t get the chance to blurb it until now. How much do you know about the “Menten” of Michaelis-Menten equation fame? If the answer is “nothing” (as it was for me, to my embarrassment), you need to follow Meghan’s link, it’s amazing.

Continue reading

Only a few days left to apply to the TT position in evolutionary/comparative biomechanics at the University of Calgary!

The Dept. of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary is hiring a tenure-track asst. professor position in evolutionary/comparative animal biomechanics. Link goes to the ad. The application deadline is Mar. 18.

If you think you might want this job, you should totally apply! Here’s why:

  • We are taking non-Canadian applicants seriously. I, and several other faculty in my department, are living proof that Calgary does hire non-Canadians. Don’t take yourself out of the running by not bothering to apply because you assume, incorrectly, that it wouldn’t be worth your time because you’re not Canadian.
  • You’ll be able to get research funding. Federal funding for basic research is much easier to get in Canada than in the US or most other countries, which makes it much easier to set up and sustain a long-term research program without having to constantly chase money.
  • Calgary is a great place to do comparative/evolutionary biomechanics. We’re a big public research university. And between the biological sciences department, the geosciences dept., the strong primatology group in Anthropology, the Kinesiology faculty, the medical school, the vet school, and the Royal Tyrell Museum 90 min. drive away, you can’t throw a rock around here without hitting an evolutionary biologist, a vertebrate paleontologist, someone working on human biomechanics, or someone else whose research interests overlap yours.
  • Canadian health care! Plus, the University of Calgary offers good extended health benefits that cover additional stuff on top of what the government covers.
  • Canadian faculty positions are 12 month positions. None of that US summer salary nonsense here.
  • The Canadian Rockies. They’re a 45 min. drive from the university. Here’s what they look like. Don’t you want to ski and hike and bike and camp and climb rocks and fish and raft and snowshoe and stuff?
  • Calgary is a nice, affordable city. Housing in Calgary isn’t nearly as expensive as in Toronto or Vancouver. You’ll be able to buy a house as an asst. prof.

A bit of broader advice for anyone thinking of applying, but worrying that they might not be “competitive”. Remember that you can’t estimate in advance how likely you are to be interviewed for any given faculty position. That’s in part because recently-hired TT faculty in ecology and allied fields vary hugely on any measurable dimension you care to name, even among recent hires into the same department. The only good predictor of the number of interviews you’ll get is the number of positions you apply for. Remember as well that faculty job seekers (and faculty themselves!) tend to greatly overestimate how many papers a typical new hire has, and how many it takes to be competitive. Finally, you have no idea who else will apply (and neither does anyone else, because the application deadline hasn’t passed yet!). Don’t fall into the trap of taking yourself out of the running by convincing yourself you wouldn’t be competitive.

If you have any general questions about the department, university, city, or Canada that aren’t specific to this position, I’m happy to answer them. Inquiries about the position should go to Doug Storey, our Head of Department, headbio@ucalgary.ca.