The importance of saying yes

In July 2012, I received an email that has had a profound effect on my career and life. The email came from Jeremy. He had begun blogging as part of the editorial board of the journal Oikos, but had resigned from their editorial board, so it no longer made sense to blog there. Instead, he had the idea to start a blog written by a small group of ecologists. The blog was to be named Dynamic Ecology, and he wanted to know if I would be interested in writing for it.

I didn’t sleep that night. There were plenty of reasons to say no. I was preparing to move from my job at Georgia Tech to a new faculty position at Michigan, and would, for that year, have labs running in two places. I would be teaching Introductory Biology in my first semester at Michigan, to hundreds of students. I had a toddler and was pregnant with my second child. My first graduate student was working to write up her dissertation. We were setting up new field sites in Michigan. I planned on submitting my tenure dossier the following summer.

Yet, the reason I couldn’t sleep was that I knew I wanted – needed – to say yes, despite all those other things going on. In the months leading up to that, I had been finding myself increasingly interested in speaking out about science and topics related to the process of science, and this was a chance to do just that. I had a hunch that it would end up being an important blog in the ecology community, and that I would regret it if I turned down the opportunity.

So, I wrote back and said yes. I am so glad I did.

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Poll: guess the gender balance of recently-hired North American ecologists (UPDATED; poll now closed)

Many academic fields are staffed by a male-biased mix of faculty. But the existence and degree of faculty gender imbalance varies among fields. Further, those fields often are quite broadly defined in published datasets (e.g., “biology”), which can leave many people wondering how well published data apply to their own, narrower field (e.g., “ecology”). Gender balance of academic fields also changes over time, but only slowly. Published data therefore only give you an imperfect sense of the gender balance of recent hires in your field. And personal anecdotes and experiences provide only a very small sample. Every year there are many dozens of faculty hired in ecology and closely-allied fields, but nobody hears through the grapevine about the outcomes of more than a small fraction of those hires.

So I decided to quantify the gender balance of recently-hired ecology faculty at North American colleges and universities. I’m doing it by going through this very comprehensive list of all ecology & evolution faculty positions advertised in 2015-16, and checking the university websites to identify who was hired. This turns out to be really easy in many cases, and difficult or impossible in the remaining cases (I therefore remove from the dataset). To keep things manageable, I’m skipping positions outside North America, of which there are very few on the linked list. I’m also skipping non-ecology positions, of which there are many. So not, e.g., biology, anatomy & physiology, genomics, evolution, paleontology, museum curator, science education, etc., even though some of those positions might have been filled by ecologists. But I’m defining “ecology” pretty broadly so as to include fields in which people who self-identify as ecologists often apply for and obtain positions. “Ecology” for purposes of this exercise includes wildlife management, conservation, ecological genetics, ecological physiology, evolutionary ecology, microbial ecology, fisheries, etc. My judgments on what constitutes “ecology” obviously are somewhat subjective and arbitrary, but I don’t see why that would affect the results. To focus on new faculty, I’m only looking at assistant professor positions, so ignoring the (very few) ads for heads of department, program directors, endowed senior chairs, etc. See the footnote (*) at the end for more nitty-gritty details on my procedure. UPDATE: To be clear, I’m including positions at all types of institutions, not just R1 universities. And you should do the same when answering the poll below. I’ll present the results broken down by institution type for anyone who’s curious about that.

I’ll present the results in a future post, in a sufficiently-complete form that you can go back and reproduce my work if you wish.

But before I show the results, I’m very curious what you think I’ll find. So below is a little poll. What do you think is the gender balance of recently hired North American ecology faculty? (UPDATE Nov. 10: responses have slowed to a tiny trickle, so I’ve closed the poll so that I can start analyzing the results. We already have 468 respondents–thanks to everyone who responded!)

p.s. Obviously, these data won’t tell you whether the outcome of any particular search was fair, much less whether every individual applicant for every position was evaluated fairly. And I have no way to collect lots of contextual information that you might want in order to interpret the results, such as the gender mix of the applicant pool for every position. In that future post I’ll talk more about what I think we can and can’t learn from these data.

*Failed searches are among those for which I can’t tell who was hired, so they automatically get dropped from the dataset. The difficulty of identifying who was hired mostly has to do with departmental web page design, so I’m confident that the easily-identifiable hires are a random sample of the population with respect to gender balance. A couple of times, I’ve determined that a position that I thought was ecological wasn’t filled by an ecologist; I’m dropping those cases from the dataset.  I’m being careful to remove duplicate ads from the list so that I don’t double-count anyone. I’m including some other recent (2015-16) hires that weren’t on the linked list. I learned about these either from colleagues, or by stumbling across them while checking on listed positions. A few of the hires I stumbled across might actually be 2014 hires, but I’m fine with that because those are still very recent hires. In every case so far, gender has been obvious from the person’s name and photo.

Serial bullies: an academic failing and the need for crowd-sourced truthtelling

I define a serial bully as somebody who repeatedly bullies new victims and never gets caught or stopped*. I don’t have exact statistics at my fingertips, but it is a definite 90/10 scenario (90% of the bullying is done by 10% of the people) – and it is that small fraction that are the serial bullies. Every campus has a PhD adviser (or three) who repeatedly abuses and victimizes his/her students. And you might have a senior colleague in your department who bullies everybody junior to her/him just because they can. Or you may have met a researcher who will do anything, ethical or not, to “win” at research, leaving behind a trail of people feeling used or abused. And although there are many unique aspects to sexual harassment, it most certainly involves bullying-like abuse of power against someone and it most certainly shares the trait that most offenders repeat over and over without getting called on it (as recent shameful cases to make the news show – just e.g. the Marcy case).You may or may not apply the word bully to all of these cases. But what all these have in common is somebody who is harming other people over and over again with little regard for the consequences, because, well, there usually are no consequences. And that is what I want to talk about.
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Good enough

Last year, when I wrote a post with advice on strategies (and reasons) for working more efficiently, the first strategy on my list was:

  1. Recognize what is “good enough”. As the saying goes, perfect is the enemy of good. And recognize that “good enough” will vary between different tasks. It’s okay if the email you are sending to your lab about lab meeting isn’t perfectly composed.

In this post, I want to go into that idea more, since I think it’s really important (and since it’s one I need to continually remind myself of!)

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Guest post: Life as an anxious grad student

Note from Meg: This guest post (which starts below the break) is a follow up to my post on life as an anxious scientist, where I talked about having an anxiety disorder and some of my strategies for managing it. The post below was written by a graduate student who wishes to remain anonymous. It summarizes that student’s experience with an anxiety disorder, and includes information that I think will be useful to students and advisors. My plan is to have a follow up post in the future with more thoughts on the topic.
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Views on authorship and author contribution statements: poll results, part 2

As promised, here are the results of our recent reader poll on author contribution statements. See part 1 of the results for respondent demographics and their views on authorship.

Part 1 revealed widespread disagreement about what contributions merit authorship. Authorship standards also are changing. And science is becoming increasingly collaborative. All of which would seem to be arguments against the traditional practice of trying to summarize credit and responsibility for a paper solely with an ordered list of authors, and in favor of author contribution statements. That’s been my thinking for a few years: I like author contribution statements and routinely include them on all my papers, even if the journal doesn’t require one.

But it turns out there are widespread mixed feelings about author contribution statements. Which I now share…

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Ask us anything: how to be an ally

A while back we invited you to ask us anything. Here’s our first of these answers, to a question from Kevin Chase. (The question has been paraphrased for brevity, click through for the original.) What is the best way that I, as a white male scientist, can help women and non-white scientists? Most of the AUA replies will be joint posts, but I’m writing this reply on my own.

Disclaimer: I’ve read about this topic a fair amount, but am not an expert in this. So, I present this as my take on the topic, based on my experiences and readings to date, but with the acknowledgment up front that I certainly have more to learn about this area.

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What factors influence views on last authorship in ecology?

As summarized in my post giving the major results of our authorship survey, there seems to have been a rapid shift in views on last authorship in ecology. When I started grad school, the predominant view was that the last author was the person who had done the least work. (Indeed, I am last author on a paper from when I was a grad student because I did the least work on the project.) But the survey found that 43% answered a solid “Yes” to the question “For ecology papers, do you consider the last author to be the senior author?” An additional 43% answered either “It depends, but probably yes” or “Not sure, but probably yes”. Thus, 86% of respondents view the last author as the senior author.

As far as I know, we don’t have great data across time regarding views on this. The best comparison I know of is to a smaller survey done in 2010 by Ethan White. (I based the first draft of my survey on Ethan’s.) In that, only 19% of respondents answered “Yes” to the same question, with an additional 33% answering “Not sure, but probably yes”. (That earlier survey didn’t have the “It depends, but probably yes” option. That was added in based on feedback on the initial survey I drafted.) So, while it would be nice to have more data on this, it seems that views on last authorship in ecology have probably shifted pretty rapidly.

The goal of this post is to explore whether there are factors that are associated with views on last authorship.

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Last and corresponding authorship practices in ecology: Part 1

Who is the last author on a paper? Is it the person who did the least work? Or is it the PI of the lab where the work was done? When I started grad school in 2000, the norm in ecology was still that the last author on a paper was the person who did the least work. But, more recently, it has seemed to me that the norm is that the last author on a paper is the “senior” author (usually the PI). However, if you talk with other ecologists about the topic, it’s clear that there’s variation in views, and that not everyone is on the same page.

Similarly, my impression is that there’s been a shift in how corresponding authorship is viewed. When I was a grad student, the corresponding author was usually the first author, and mostly just indicated who had submitted the manuscript. But there’s been a shift to having the last author be the corresponding author. I am not alone in noticing this shift and in thinking that now corresponding authorship is used to claim leadership for the work.

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