Hardly any ecology faculty jobs are filled by internal candidates. And you can’t identify the ones that will be. (UPDATED)

If you’ve ever looked at the ecoevojobs.net faculty jobs board, you’ve probably seen speculation that position X has an internal candidate, the implication being that others maybe shouldn’t bother applying because the internal candidate will have an edge or even be a shoo-in. Sometimes, the speculation is not merely that a strong internal candidate exists, but that the position is intended for the internal candidate, so that the entire search is a formality with a pre-determined outcome.

But internal candidates have factors working against them as well as for them. As illustrated by the fact that they don’t always get the job–even when they’re confident they will! For instance, see here, here, and here. Those are anecdotes, though, so it’s hard to say if they’re typical. How often are internal candidates hired for ecology faculty positions? And is there any reliable way for outsiders to identify positions for which internal candidates will be hired?

According to the data I’ve compiled, the answers to those questions are “hardly ever” and “no”.

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Ask Us Anything: the demand for field biologists

A while back, we invited you to ask us anything. Here are our answers to our next three interrelated questions, from Jeff Hean plus a related fourth question from Andy Park:

  1. Why are biologists paid so little compared to other fields of science and the private sector?
  2. Why do the majority of advertised research positions, particularly in N. America and Europe, seem to require a modeling component these days? Especially when so much baseline empirical data still needs to be collected?
  3. In my personal experience, field biologists don’t make good modelers, and vice-versa. Do field biologists still have a place in ecology, in light of the high demand for young scientists who can “do it all”?
  4. Can we really call someone a biologist if their training has failed to teach them any taxonomic skills whatsoever?

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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!

If there were no barriers to men’s participation, we would all be doing it: a unique perspective on how to be a male ally to women in ecology

Note from Jeremy: this is a guest post from graduate student Anna Vinton and professor, author, comedian, and consultant Christopher Kilmartin.

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While at lunch in the Ecology and Evolutionary biology department, I [Anna] was discussing my position as chair of Women in Science at Yale. As the largest women in STEM organization at the University, we hold events geared towards supporting women in science and advocating for gender equality in all fields. A faculty member expressed his approval of the organization, but when I asked if he had attended events, he responded that it isn’t always clear when it was appropriate for him to get involved. This reaction is understandable, as many of these meetings serve as a safe space for those who don’t identify as men. But the conversation stuck with me, and I realized that once this safe space was established, the next step may be to establish spaces where men could listen in and learn how they can be effective allies.  People in dominant groups (heterosexual, white, cisgendered, wealthy, male, etc.) have important roles to play in the struggle for equality.

It is for this reason that I reached out to Dr. Christopher Kilmartin, an author, stand-up comedian, consultant and professional psychologist (among other things). Kilmartin lectures on the facilitators and barriers regarding men’s involvement with efforts to increase gender equality. He agreed to come to Yale on September 26th to give a public seminar regarding how to be an ally to women in the STEM fields thanks to funding from the European Society for Evolutionary Biology Equal Opportunities Fund. In discussing his lecture topics and workshop, we’ve come up with some take homes that can be useful to those not attending the lecture.

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Bad coauthors: how to avoid them and what to do when you have one

Note from Jeremy : this is a guest post by Abe Miller-Rushing and Richard B. Primack. Richard was Abe’s PhD advisor, and they continue to collaborate on many projects.

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BadCo-Authors

In this staged photo, Richard Primack and his research team exhibit disagreement and conflict.  In practice, weekly lab meetings and social activities (lunches, pot-luck dinners, walks, etc.) create opportunities for communication and shared goals.

We have written 45 articles together over the past 15 years. We know each other well and trust each other a lot.

But we (and probably most of you) have had experiences working and coauthoring papers with people we don’t know well—sometimes people we don’t know at all before a project begins. Most of the time the result is great! There are a lot of awesome scientists out there. And even when coauthors don’t click, it usually works out just fine—not everyone is going to be best friends, but most ecologists can get along well.

Occasionally, however, we have worked with bad coauthors: people who make doing research and writing papers way more complicated, difficult, and unpleasant than it needs to be. We have witnessed others work with bad coauthors, too. As editor-in-chief of a journal, one of us (Richard) has had to step in and mediate failed coauthor relationships too many times.

What makes a “bad coauthor?”

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Ask us anything and we’ll answer! (UPDATED)

It’s an annual tradition: ask us anything! Got a question about ecology, academia, or anything else we blog about? Ask in the comments! We’ll compile the questions and answer them in future posts.

Past questions have ranged from how to be an ally, to what statistical methods ecologists need to know, to when to accept a “starter” job, to how we’d fix the entire US scientific funding system, to our worst moments in science. So ask away!

UPDATE: This AUA is now closed, we have all the questions we can handle. Thank you to everyone who asked a question, look for our answers in upcoming posts.

Useful links related to tenure-track job searches in ecology (and other job searches)

It’s faculty job hunting season, so I’m reupping Meghan’s very useful, recently-updated compilation of links related to tenure-track job searches in ecology.

As an aside, you might also be interested in our series of posts on non-academic careers for ecologists. Starts here.

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!)