Ask us anything and we’ll answer!

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!

Brian, Meghan, and I are off to #ESA2017; please say hi to us!

Brian, Meghan, and I will all be at #ESA2017. Please say hi to us! Even if we’re outside the convention center, or eating a meal, or chatting with someone else at the moment (maybe just wait a minute for a break in the conversation in the latter case). Please say hi even if you just wanted to say “love the blog” or whatever. Conferences are a good time to meet other ecologists–we’d love to meet you. 🙂

p.s. See here and here for advice on the whys and hows of networking at conferences. And here’s Meghan on wandering alone at conferences and Stephen Heard on conferencing as an introvert.

Thoughts on the ASN Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Award

Earlier this year I had the privilege of serving on the ASN Jasper Loftus-Hill Young Investigator Award (YIA) committee, along with Rebecca Safran (Chair) and Luke Harmon. The award goes to investigators less than 3 years post-Ph.D., or in the final year of their Ph.D., for promising, outstanding research in any field covered by the ASN. Four awards are given annually. The award is in memory of Jasper Loftus-Hill, a promising young scientist who died tragically 3 years after receiving his Ph.D.

First of all, congratulations to the winners: Anna Hargreaves, Sarah Fitzpatrick, Alison Wright, and Martha Muñoz. We had 25 applicants (15 women, 10 men), all of them excellent, so we had some difficult decisions to make. In the end, the committee came to a consensus and the four winners rose to the top. It’s great that the ASN recognizes not just one but four outstanding young researchers, and rewards them with a high-profile opportunity to present their work in the YIA symposium at the next ASN meeting. The Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Award has a proud record of highlighting researchers who go on to become international leaders in their fields, and I’m confident that record will continue.

I believe this is the first time all four awards have gone to women. That wasn’t a deliberate choice on the committee’s part; it reflects the many strong women applicants in this year’s applicant pool. But nevertheless, I think it’s a nice marker of how the fields of ecology, evolution, and behavior have changed over the decades. Over the last few years, the award has gone to a fairly balanced mix of men and women, having tended to go mostly to men before that. The awards committee takes equity seriously and does everything it can to make sure that the applicant pool and the awardees reflect the diversity of the ASN membership, though the gender mix of applicants and awardees inevitably will bounce around from year to year.

The awards committee wants the awardees to reflect the diversity of the ASN membership not just in terms of gender, but in terms of research topic. One thing that struck me about both last year’s applicant pool and this year’s was the predominance of evolutionary work. Some applicants work at the interface of evolutionary biology and other fields, but only a small minority of applicants do “pure” ecology or behavior. And within evolutionary biology, applicants working on sexual selection and sexual conflict predominate over applicants working on other topics. Next year I’ll be taking over as chair of the YIA committee, and my goal as chair is to increase the diversity of fields and research topics in the applicant pool. Which will mean increasing the size of the applicant pool, since obviously we don’t want to discourage the many excellent applicants working on sexual selection and sexual conflict! So if you work on ecology, behavior, or some evolutionary topic that hasn’t been much represented among the awardees lately, please do apply next year—we’d very much like to see more folks like you in the applicant pool!

Here’s the draft introduction to my book about ecology. Please tear it apart. (UPDATED)

If you’re a very avid reader of this blog, you need to get a life will know that I’m writing a book about ecology. It’s for University of Chicago Press. The working title is “Ecology At Work”, though that’s only one of several candidate titles. Other candidate titles include “Ecology Master Class”, “Re-engineering Ecology”, and the joke titles that I and others tweeted recently.

Anyway, I’m very excited by this new challenge I’ve set myself, and also very nervous that I can pull it off. Which is where you come in. Below the fold is a draft introduction to my book. Please tear it apart.

Ok, don’t just tear it apart; any and all feedback is most welcome. But critical feedback and suggestions for improvement are particularly welcome. If you think the style sucks, or that the book sounds boring, or whatever, you are not doing me any favors unless you tell me that!

Feel free as well to ask me questions about the book, suggest things I should read, etc.

I’ll of course be getting feedback from more traditional sources as well. But every little helps.

Since many readers prefer not to comment, at the end there’s a little poll for you to tell me what you thought.

UPDATE: The comments have already given me some good feedback: it’s not as clear as it should be up front what the book is about and who the target audience is. And for some readers it’s still not totally clear even by the end. So: the book will comprise comparative case studies of what works and what doesn’t in ecological research. It’s not an introductory ecology textbook, it’s not a methods handbook, and it’s not an “ecology grad student skills” manual like How To Do Ecology. If you think of it as “kind of like A Critique For Ecology, but with lots of positive bits to go along with the critical bits and without a single narrow prescription for how to do ecology properly”, you won’t be too far off. The target audience is ecologists and ecology grad students interested in fundamental research.

Continue reading

Apply for NextProf Science 2017 at UMich!

Applicants are currently being sought for NextProf Science, a workshop aimed at future faculty (advanced doctoral students or postdoctoral fellows) who are interested in an academic career in science and who have demonstrated a commitment to diversity. The workshop is May 2-5, 2017 in Ann Arbor, MI.

At NextProf Science, participants learn:

  • how the faculty search process works
  • how to build successful research programs
  • how to form a teaching and mentoring philosophy
  • why a network is important

The NextProf Science 2017 workshop is free to participants, who must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Underrepresented minorities and women are especially encouraged to apply. Travel, lodging, and meals will be covered by the program.

Applicants may nominate themselves or be nominated by a faculty mentor. Find additional information about the workshop and application materials on the NextProf Science website at: sites.lsa.umich.edu/nextprof-science/

The deadline to receive all applications and supporting materials is: February 15, 2017.

Nominate yourself for UMich’s Early Career Scientists Symposium on phenotypic plasticity!

Every year, my department hosts an Early Career Scientists Symposium with a different theme. This year’s theme is the ecology and evolutionary biology of phenotypic plasticity. Here’s the call for nominations:

The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan invites nominations of outstanding scientists early in their careers to participate in an exciting international symposium about the ecology and evolutionary biology of phenotypic plasticity. The symposium events will take place from 10-12th of March 2017, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Eight early career scientists, alongside a keynote speaker, will be selected to present their work and to participate in panel discussions. We welcome nominations of early career scientists who are studying topics in ecology and evolution related to phenotypic plasticity. This symposium will highlight the work of up-and-coming scientists whose research foci span a breadth of subfields and levels of organization. We champion diversity and encourage the nomination of members of groups underrepresented in science.   

Early career scientists are considered senior graduate students (who stand to receive their Ph.D. within one year), postdoctoral researchers, and first- or second-year faculty. A colleague or advisor must provide the nomination.

The nomination consists of a brief letter of recommendation addressing the nominee’s scientific promise and ability to give a compelling talk, the nominee’s curriculum vitae, and a brief abstract of the proposed presentation (< 200 words, written by the nominee). Nominations may be sent electronically (in one file, please) to:
eeb-ecss-nomination@umich.edu using the nominee’s name as the subject line (last name first). Information about Early Career Scientist Symposia held in past years can be found at http://sites.lsa.umich.edu/ecss/.

Review of nominations will begin on December 31, 2016.

Selected participants will be contacted in mid January and will have all expenses covered (registration, travel and accommodation). An official announcement of the slate of speakers will be issued soon thereafter.

For more information, contact Carol Solomon at carollyn@umich.edu.

The 2017 Early Career Scientists Symposium scientific committee includes:

Wei-Chin Ho
Andrea Hodgins Davis (chair)
Jill Myers
Annette Ostling
Mary Rogalski
Sonal Singhal
Carol Solomon
Earl Werner

 

New postdoctoral program at #UMich

The University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (which is the college that includes my department, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) has just announced a new postdoctoral fellowship program. To quote from the announcement:

The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) at the University of Michigan is excited to announce the LSA Collegiate Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, a major initiative aimed to promote a diverse scholarly environment, encourage outstanding individuals to enter academia, and support scholars committed to diversity.

and

The purpose of the LSA Collegiate Postdoctoral Fellowship Program is to support promising scholars who are committed to diversity in the academy and to prepare those scholars for possible tenure-track appointments in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at U-M.

More information can be found here. Note that the application deadline is November 7th. (That’s not far off!)

What papers should be considered for the 2017 George Mercer Award?

The George Mercer Award is given annually by the ESA to an outstanding research paper published in the previous two years (so, 2015 or 2016 for this year’s award) with a lead author age 40 or younger at the time of publication. The age limit is in memory of George Mercer, a promising young ecologist who was killed in WW II.

I love awards like the Mercer Award. It’s great that the ESA recognizes outstanding work being done by up-and-coming ecologists. And thinking about potential nominees is a fun excuse to think about what makes for truly outstanding ecological research today. This would be a great topic for your next lab meeting: ask everyone suggest a nominee for the Mercer Award and then talk about them.

I have an old post looking back on past Mercer Award winners to look for common threads (more specific than, you know, “being a great paper”). So have a look at that post, and the list of past winners, if you want help forming a “search image”. Broadly speaking, Mercer Award winning papers tend to be those that powerfully combine multiple lines of evidence (often including both theory and data) to really nail what’s going on in some particular system, but in such a way as to also have much broader implications (e.g.). They also tend to come from a single lab or a small collaboration. But there are exceptions, plus there’s no rule that says future winners have to be the same sorts of papers as past winners. In particular, it’s notable that only one review/synthesis/meta-analysis paper has ever won as far as I know. One of these years, surely we’ll see the award go to an outstanding working group paper led by a young author, or to a paper from an outstanding large collaboration like NutNet. Maybe this is the year? (Although against that, one could argue that working groups are a different beast and deserve their own award.)

So, what papers do you think should be in the conversation for the Mercer Award this year? Below, a few candidates off the top of my head. I’m sure you can think of more–please do share your own favorites in the comments! As you’ll see from the list below, I have somewhat narrow taste in papers; I need other people to chime in and force me to broaden my horizons.

  • Newbold et al. 2015 Nature. Global effects of land use on local terrestrial biodiversity. Suggested by Brian as a candidate last year. Would be the first working group paper to win.
  • Alexander et al. 2015 Nature. Novel competitors shape species’ responses to climate change. Great, creative experiment, involving transplants of whole plant communities (well, whole chunks of them) up the side of a mountain.
  • Williams et al. 2016 Science. Rapid evolution accelerates plant population spread in fragmented experimental landscapes. This is what lab experiments are for–to do manipulations that would be impossible in the field. Here, to experimentally shut off evolution in populations of Arabidopsis, thereby revealing big effects of rapid evolution on the rate of spatial spread. A future textbook example. Would be an unusual winner in that as far as I know no laboratory microcosm experiment has ever won (though a couple of mesocosm experiments have).
  • Kraft et al. 2015 PNAS. Plant functional traits and the multidimensional nature of species coexistence. I suggested this one as a candidate last year. As I said in an old post: Thank God somebody is finally bringing modern coexistence theory into “trait-based” ecology (well, they’re not the first; Angert et al. 2009 is great too). Unsurprisingly, the results undermine popular attempts to use trait patterns to infer coexistence mechanisms. And the fact that the authors had to run a massive competition experiment in addition to compiling trait data is in my view a feature, not a bug. Nobody said ecology was easy. And attempts to make it easy (e.g., by trying to infer process from pattern) have a pretty much unbroken track record of failure.
  • Hatton et al. 2015 Science. The predator-prey power law: biomass scaling across terrestrial and aquatic biomes. A global data compilation uncovering new and unexpected cross-system patterns in trophic structure. Would be a slightly atypical winner, in that it’s not a complete story. The authors discovered the pattern but can’t yet fully explain it, though they can rule out the most obvious explanations. But what they’ve got is already a really important contribution to my eyes; expecting even more from one paper would be a bit greedy.

This year’s chair of the Mercer Award subcommittee is our own Meghan Duffy, so if you have any questions about the nomination process just email her (duffymeg@umich.edu). All it takes is a pdf nomination letter (typically 1-2 pages), explaining why the paper is novel and important, emailed to awards@esa.org with the award name in the subject line. I have a bit of advice here on what to talk about in a good nomination letter for the Mercer Award. Every nomination gets taken seriously, no matter who makes it–I nominated a Mercer Award winner back when I was a little-known postdoc. And as with pretty much all scientific society awards, the Mercer Award subcommittee isn’t overwhelmed with nominations and would always love to have more. So please nominate someone! Deadline is Oct. 15.