From Meghan: This is a guest blog post by ecologists Isla Myers-Smith and Gergana Daskalova from the University of Edinburgh. I loved their comment on my post on our new lab notebook backup system and asked them if they could turn it into a guest post. I was very happy that they agreed! Isla and Gergana are off to the Arctic this summer with the Team Shrub field crew for another year of hopefully successful digital data collection. To find out more about their research check out the Team Shrub website and blog (https://teamshrub.com/).
Two things have really changed my academic life over the past five years: the first is embracing GitHub for version control of code, data, manuscripts and my research group’s individual and combined science, and the other is switching over to digital data collection. For ecologists who haven’t made the switch from paper field books to iPads and digital data collection it is not as scary as you might think!!!
Caption: Collecting plant phenology data – the recorder sitting in the back with an iPad! (photo credit: Jeff Kerby)
The benefits of going digital
Digital data collection can be more rigorous with error checking as data are collected to prevent mistakes. Data can be better backed up. And finally, it forces us to put thought into the structure of data before we collect it (significant digits, continuous or categorical data, are the data unrestricted or constrained to a particular range or particular set of values, etc.), which helps down the road when it comes time for analysis. Digital data collection has saved days, if not months, of data entry each year for my team and has allowed us to go from ecological monitoring in the field to analysis of results within hours instead of days. Our work flows are streamlined and our iPads are waterproof, so data collection can occur under any conditions – and we work in the Arctic, so we experience it all from wet to dry, hot to cold, rain, snow, you name it.
Note from Meghan: This is a guest post by Merritt Turetsky (@queenofpeat on twitter)
It’s not the first time a survey caught me by surprise. There was that time I glanced through a Cosmo survey – a guilty pleasure on a long flight – and realized that I was now lumped into the oldest age category.
How did that happen?
I actually like being mature, so was able to brush this off fairly quickly. But this survey was different. It somehow felt more personal. And I can’t stop thinking about it.
This survey was part of a department-wide review of gender balance issues. For years, I talked glowingly about my department, with a sense of pride that came from being part of an environment with strong women. When I was hired, I negotiated with a female chair. There was a good balance of female professors across full and associate rankings. Plus, there were several couples in the department. In my mind, this was all evidence that my department supported women in STEM and work-life balance. And as my husband and I accepted separate advertised positions and joined the department in 2008, we became yet another couple in a family-friendly work place. As a group, we seemed like we were on the right track towards gender equity.
Over the past month, we’ve taken on some self-analysis and it has revealed a few surprising trends. Despite our feel-good aura, our gender balance has not budged in the past 20 years. Females comprise 20% of our faculty, and this has been more or less constant.
Note from Jeremy: This is a guest post from Chris Collier. Thank you to Chris for taking the time to share his experiences.
This post is part of our ongoing series on non-academic careers for ecologists.
Note from Jeremy: this is a guest post from Aaron Hall. Thank you very much to Aaron for taking the time to share his experience.
This post is part of our ongoing series on non-academic careers for ecologists. See here for links to previous posts in the series.
Note from Jeremy: this is a guest post from graduate student Anna Vinton and professor, author, comedian, and consultant Christopher Kilmartin.
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.
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.
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?”
Note from Jeremy: This is a guest post from Greg Crowther.
Previously I have whined about the difficulties of getting a good, stable college teaching job. This whining is perhaps justified by the extremely low supply of these jobs relative to the demand. But since almost everyone, including me, likes happy endings, I now wish to present a happy ending. That’s right – I have received and accepted an offer for an ongoing full-time position. At the age of 44, I have finally climbed aboard the tenure track.
Note from Jeremy: This is a guest post from my friend, biologist Greg Crowther. Thanks very much to Greg for being brave enough to share some personal experiences and advice that I’m sure will resonate with many readers. Thanks as well to Greg for only sharing non-embarrassing anecdotes about our time together as undergrads. 🙂
This blog has featured fascinating personal stories (from Jeremy and Carla) on the often-long, sometimes-quixotic quest for a traditional faculty job.
Today I’d like to add another job-search saga to the pile – this one focused on teaching-focused positions – and to extract some lessons, if possible.
Note from Jeremy: this is a guest post from my friend Greg Crowther. Who among other things has been a biochemist, and an instructor in various biology courses including ecology. He’s an unusually thoughtful and creative teacher, for instance using songs to teach anatomy and physiology. Oh, and he has three papers in Annals of Improbable Research (e.g.), which is like the science humor equivalent of having three Nature papers. Thanks to Greg for writing us a guest post on a handy teaching tip.
Most people who think hard about how to teach well accept that students should engage in “active learning,” which has been defined (by Freeman et al. 2014) as follows: “Active learning engages students in the process of learning through activities and/or discussion in class, as opposed to passively listening to an expert. It emphasizes higher-order thinking and often involves group work.”
Sounds good, right? In general, it is good. I enjoy challenging students with hard problems and helping them find their way toward an answer, and they are usually glad to be moving and talking, especially if the problems resemble ones they’ll encounter on tests.
Active learning is relatively easy to include in teaching about a specific research study. For example, after providing some appropriate context, one can simply work through the figures by asking students how and why the data in each figure were collected and what they mean (Round & Campbell 2013).
When teaching basic conceptual material, though, I slip into straight-up lecture mode more often than I’d like. It can be very time-consuming to add nontrivial interactivity to coverage of this material.
However, I do have one fall-back strategy for quickly turning a traditional lecture slide into a mini-discussion. I call this approach the “Dissection of the Imperfect Analogy.” Here’s how it works.
Note from Jeremy: This is a guest post from Mark Vellend.
I was not at the ESA meeting this year, but a handful of advance copies of my book, The Theory of Ecological Communities, were, and Margaret Kosmala was kind enough to send me a photo of the first buyers. I’d like to be able to play it cool and say this was just another ho-hum moment in the life of a scientist, but it wasn’t. I stared at the photo for a good while with a huge smile on my face. Maybe that was just because smiling is contagious and it was instinctual to smile back at the two people smiling at me through the screen. But there was also a sense of deep gratification. Following in the footsteps of some of my scientific heroes, my name was on the cover of a green and yellow book, the book was now born, and at least two people other than my Mom and Dad were willing to pay money for it. Success!
Writing a book is a teeny bit like having a child, but also not like it at all. The similarities: long gestation period, intense anticipation for its arrival, major investment in its success, worry about its uncertain future, and sometimes wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into. The differences: I (gender: male) actually did most of the work this time getting it to parturition, books are decidedly precocial (no diapers, bottles, tantrums, lunch boxes, or swimming lessons), I’m not sure anything I do now will influence its future, and although one might say the journey was difficult at times (f*$%ing index!), it’s not even in the same universe…I’ll just stop there instead of pretending that words can do justice to the difference on this point (just received stink eye from across the room). I guess I’m just trying to say that there’s a bit of emotion involved.
This post is the last (I think) in a short series based on thoughts that grew out of the process of writing the book. The others (here, here, and here) focused largely on scientific issues that flowed directly out of the contents of the book. In addition to the little story and handful of thoughts above, I figured I’d now step back from the content of the book, and share some thoughts on writing books in general. (Pretty thin cover story for shamelessly advertising a just-released book now available from amazon.com, I know.) Before diving into this project, I had a short-lived but intense bout of wondering why anyone would write a really long document that people need to pay for in an age when nobody reads anything they can’t download for free. Now I can think of several reasons: