Did you start your ecology PhD by reading and thinking widely and exhaustively for a year?

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.

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?

Reflections on the one-year anniversary of my anxiety post, including thoughts on how to support students with anxiety

One year ago, I was sitting at my computer, working on a post in which I talked* about having an anxiety disorder. My hope was that, by being open about having an anxiety disorder, I could help reduce some of the stigma associated with mental health problems, be a more vocal advocate for mental health in academia, and could help other academics with mental health issues know that they are not alone and that help is available and worth seeking. I think the post succeeded in those goals.

Below, I talk more about how people responded, give my thoughts – as well as some crowdsourced from twitter – on how to be a good colleague or advisor to someone with anxiety, talk about ongoing bias against mental health issues in academia and how that might affect early career folks, and summarize some of the key messages that I think are most important related to mental health, anxiety, and academia.

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Guest post: The day I broke some twitter feeds: insights into sexism in academia, Part 2

Intro from Meghan: This is the follow up to Gina Baucom’s guest post last week on her experience asking on twitter about sexist comments made about women in academia. In that post, she summarized (and categorized) the variety of sexist comments that occur regularly in academia. The responses to her initial tweet were overwhelming, and her original post generated quite a lot of discussion (some of it, unfortunately, sexist). In this post, Gina has thoughts on how to move forward (with some additions from me at the end). Here’s Gina’s post:

“We need to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves. We have to step up as women and take the lead.” -Beyoncé

In a previous post, I summarized how a small first-person narrative gathering exercise went awry and broke my twitter feed, and that of my twitter friends. It also gave people a place to vent and share the crappiest and most unfair thing they had heard said to or about a woman. In this post, I aim to step up and give my two cents on the wtf-ery*, tell you how I choose to think about this moving forward, and provide a potential set of responses for when such statements occur. Further, in the postscript, Meg adds some more thoughts on responding to crappy statements. Add your own ideas in the comments!

While the tweeted crappy statements were flying all over the place, many DM’d me private and/or anonymous examples. Some people told me they had similar experiences** but didn’t feel comfortable airing them. Some women tweeted that this was making them think science wasn’t the right place for them. Before I address this unfortunate outcome and add what I learned from the experience, I want to stop and acknowledge a few things. Stay with me, because acknowledging someone’s experience is the first step in making a space where change can happen.

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What I learned from my visit to Capitol Hill about engaging with policy makers and mentoring students

As I discussed last week, the most eye-opening part of the AAAS Leshner Fellows training that I did recently was the part about engaging with policy makers. This is a new area of engagement for me, and I was really interested in learning more about this. I was surprised to realize how interested I was in it — when I first read Nancy Baron’s Escape from the Ivory Tower, the thought of engaging with policy makers was so anxiety-provoking to me that I felt ill. (It probably didn’t help that I was reading it on a plane going through turbulence.) Last week’s post covered some policy engagement fundamentals (make sure to read this great comment by Elliot Rosenthal on the importance of building community support before doing policy engagement). In this post, I will talk about what I learned on our visit to Capitol Hill. One of the most striking things to me was that, when meeting with two staffers from the House Energy & Commerce Committee, it took me a while to remember which one was the staffer working on the Republican side and which was on the Democratic side. Given all the talk of how divided things are in Washington, I hadn’t expected that! I also hadn’t expected the meeting would leave me not just with thoughts on how to engage with policy makers, but how to mentor students.

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Have you ever included the reviews of your rejected ms when resubmitting to another journal? (UPDATED)

It’s been widely suggested that one solution to the increasing difficulty of obtaining peer reviews is sharing of reviews among journals. If a ms is rejected by one journal, the ms (appropriately revised if necessary) and the reviews can be forwarded to another journal, which can make a decision without the need for further reviews. That’s the idea behind peer review cascades, such as how many Wiley EEB journals will offer to forward rejected mss and the associated reviews to Ecology & Evolution. It was also the idea behind the (late, lamented) independent editorial board Axios Review.

And it’s the idea behind a practice some folks were talking about on Twitter a little while back: authors themselves forwarding the reviews their rejected ms received to a new journal along with the revised ms.

Below the fold: a poll asking if you’ve ever done this, and then some comments from Meghan, Brian, and I. Answer the poll before you read the comments.

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Who pays the publication fees for your papers, when there is a fee? What if it’s a collaboration?

Who pays the publication fee for your papers, when there is one?

When the authors are all members of the same lab, I assume the PI ordinarily pays the fee if there is one. That’s certainly what I do.

Just recently I published an author-pays open access paper with a grad student whom I co-supervised with a colleague, and there’s a second such paper in the works. I had been hoping to split the publication fees with my colleague. But it may come down to whoever has the most grant money.

What about papers by working groups or other big collaborations? Who pays the publication fee then? Does whatever funding source paid for the working group also pay the publication fee? Or does some working group member pay the fee from one of their grants, or from some other source available to them such as an institutional open access fund? What if more than one person in the working group has the ability to pay? In that case I guess the first author, or the first author’s PI, would pay?

Same questions for the data hosting fees charged by some depositories, when depositing data associated with a publication.

ht to a correspondent for suggesting this post idea.

Don’t force your regression through zero just because you know the true intercept has to be zero

Regression through the origin is when you force the intercept of a regression model to equal zero. It’s also known as fitting a model without an intercept (e.g., the intercept-free linear model y=bx is equivalent to the model y=a+bx with a=0).

Every time I’ve seen a regression through the origin, the authors have justified it by saying that they know the true intercept has to be zero, or that allowing a non-zero intercept leads to a nonsensical estimated intercept. For instance, Vellend et al. (2017) say that when regressing change in local species richness vs. the time over which the change occurred, the regression should be forced through the origin because it’s impossible for species richness to change if no time passes. As another example, Caley & Schluter (1997) did linear and nonlinear regressions of local species richness on the richness of the regions in which the localities were embedded. They forced the regressions through the origin because by definition regions have at least as many species as any locality within them, so a species-free region can only contain species-free localities.

Which is wrong, in my view. Ok, choosing to fit a no-intercept model isn’t always a big deal (and in particular I don’t think it’s a big deal in either of the papers mentioned in the previous paragraph). But sometimes it is, and it’s wrong. Merely knowing that the true regression has to pass through the origin is not a good reason to force your estimated regression to do so.

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Why I don’t sign (most of) my reviews

A few months ago, Stephen Heard wrote a blog post that prompted us to have a brief twitter discussion on whether we sign our reviews. Steve tends to sign his reviews, and I tend not to, but neither of us felt completely sure that our approach was the right one. So, we decided that it would be fun for us to both write posts about our views on signing (or not signing) reviews. In the interim, I accepted a review request where I decided, before opening the paper, that I would sign the review to see whether that changed how I did the review. So, in this post I will discuss why I have generally not signed my name to reviews, how it felt to do a review where I signed my name, and what I plan on doing in the future.

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Tips for negotiating salary and startup for newly-hired tenure-track faculty

So you’ve just been offered your first* tenure-track faculty position–congratulations! Perhaps you even have multiple offers–multiple congratulations! As a brand new faculty member, you now have to do the first of many things you’ve probably never been trained to do: negotiate salary, startup, and possibly other things such as start date or teaching duties. Here’s some advice from Meg, Brian, and I.

It’s aimed at ecologists, but some of it may generalize to other fields. And it’s based primarily on our experiences and knowledge about R1 and R2 universities or their approximate equivalents in the US and Canada, but some of it may generalize to other sorts of institutions and countries. In offering this advice, we’re just sticking with what we know. We encourage commenters to chime in with their own advice, including advice applicable to other contexts.

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