NSF Bio Directorate announces cancellation of #DDIG program

NSF’s Directorate of Biological Sciences just announced that they are getting rid of the Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDIG) program. Current DDIGs are not affected, but they will not be accepting future DDIG proposals. This is really sad to me, as this was such a great way for students to get experience with writing NSF grant proposals and it was an important source of funding for many graduate students. It also surprises me, since I’d always heard the return on investment (ROI) was amazing for this program. It’s certainly labor intensive on NSF’s part (even though the grants are small, it still required lining up panelists and holding a panel*), but I’d also heard that the bang-for-the-buck was really high for these proposals. They typically funded one small(ish) project that was pretty likely to succeed (or else it wouldn’t have been competitive), usually covering things like supplies and sequencing or other analyses, but not the grad student’s stipend.

I realize that the current state of funding makes it so that NSF has to make difficult decisions (and I have been doing my part to try to advocate for increased funding for NSF). But it’s still really disappointing to see that this program is going to go away. I was going to include this as a Friday link, but split it out into it’s own post to highlight it more and to give a place for people to brainstorm about whether it might be possible to save the program (and to discuss whether doing so is desirable). There’s also a lively discussion going on on twitter, some of it using the #DDIG hashtag.

*I served on the DDIG panel twice and it was my favorite panel to be on — there were always so many great ideas.

Update: Here’s a new Medium post (my first!) I wrote related to NSF’s proposed budget.

Update 2: NSF’s DEBrief blog just posted about the cancellation of the DDIG program.

Update 3: Updated to make it clear that this is referring to the Biological Science Directorate’s DDIG program.

March For Science open thread

Brian, Meg, and I will all have March For Science posts later this week. In the meantime, here’s an open thread. What do you think of the March? Did you attend one, or speak at one? Have you seen any pieces on the March that you think are particularly worth reading? What do you think happens next, or should happen next? Looking forward to hearing from you.

Redacted ecology faculty search (UPDATED)

Duke is hiring an ecologist. And in an attempt to avoid bias, the initial stage of the search will be conducted on redacted applications. Applicants are asked to provide two copies of their cv’s, research statements, and teaching statements: a normal copy, and a copy from which the following information is redacted:

  • All mentions of the applicant’s name, date of birth, birthplace, citizenship, ethnicity, and gender.
  • The names of all co-authors on publications. The only authorship information to be provided is the number of authors and the applicant’s place in the author list. So for instance, your cv would list publications like this: “Second of two authors. 1974. Disturbance, patch formation and community structure. Proceeding of the National Academy of Science USA 71:2744-2747.”
  • The names and contact details of references.

Presumably, you’d also need to redact the names of PIs and co-PIs from grants, the names of co-authors of conference presentations, and various other bits of information, but the ad doesn’t say that.

I think this is an interesting experiment to address an important issue, and I think it’s a credit to the folks at Duke that they take the issue sufficiently seriously to be willing to take a step like this (EDIT: To be clear, I don’t necessarily agree that the specific step they’re taking is the right one. But that they’re willing to take this step is a sign of how seriously they take the issue, and it’s good that they take it seriously). It’s not an unprecedented step. UConn EEB did a version of this for a couple of searches a couple of years ago, though I hear through the grapevine that they’ve now gone back to doing conventional searches (anyone know more about that?) (UPDATE: Mark Urban from UConn has commented on UConn’s experience; thanks very much to Mark for sharing this.)

Some thoughts and questions below the fold.

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E. C. Pielou, 1923-2016

Very sad news: E. C. Pielou has passed away. After earning two PhDs–in mathematics and mathematical ecology–she pioneered multivariate statistics in ecology. Like countless ecologists, I learned multivariate statistics from her classic textbook, The Interpretation of Ecological Data. She wrote several other books on mathematical ecology. Canadian ecologists in particular will feel her loss; she held faculty positions at Queens, Dalhousie, and Lethbridge (that last as a Canada Research Chair), and remained an active environmentalist, naturalist, and nature writer in British Columbia until the end of her life. Among her many awards and honors, she was the second woman to receive the ESA’s Eminent Ecologist Award, in 1986. Fond personal remembrance from Loys Maingon of Comox Valley Nature here.

2016 has been a sad year for ecology–a whole generation of giants is passing on.

UPDATE: In the comments, Meg passes on a link to Jacquelyn Gill’s very nice 2012 piece on E. C. Pielou. Both her piece, and the remembrance linked above, include amusing anecdotes attesting to the value Pielou attached to mathematical rigor and precision. Jacquelyn’s piece also includes detail on Pielou’s remarkable life story, of which I was embarrassingly unaware. She started out as a self-taught amateur in the late 1950s, and was awarded a PhD from the University of London based on papers she’d written on her own without an adviser or supervisory committee.

Overview of NSERC Discovery Grant competition results (UPDATED)

I’m a bit late to this, but I just had a look at the summary of this year’s NSERC Discovery Grant competition results. Summary and a few comments below the fold. For comparison, a summary of last year’s numbers is here.

tl;dr: Basically everything was the same as last year.

UPDATE: I screwed up and initially published a very rough draft of this post that I wrote late last night. My bad. Please ignore that version and go with the version below, which I revised after sleeping on it.

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Thoughts on the ASN Young Investigator Awards (UPDATED)

Recently, I had the privilege of serving with David Pfennig (Chair) and Rebecca Safran on the ASN Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Award (YIA) committee. The award goes to investigators less than 3 years post-Ph.D. for promising, outstanding research in any field covered by the ASN. The award winners have just been announced. Serving on the committee was a very rewarding experience. It also provided an interesting little window into changing research and authorship practices in evolution, ecology, and behavior. Including how things aren’t changing, even though everyone thinks they are…

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Axios Review is working; you should try it

A while back I joined Axios Review, an independent editorial board. Axios Review is a service to which ecologists and evolutionary biologists submit their mss. They get back peer reviews, just like with a journal, along with an editorial decision as to which journals (from an author-supplied list of “targets”) the editor would recommend the ms to (following appropriate revision, if needed). Axios then forwards the ms, reviews, and recommendation to the target journal, asking them if they’d like the paper to be revised and submitted. The service costs authors a small fee ($250 USD), currently payable only after a journal accepts the ms (this will be switching to payment upon receiving the Axios decision in mid-2015).

Axios Review has benefits for both authors and journals. For authors, the reviews improve the ms, and the referral process prevents you from wasting time by targeting a journal that’s too selective or a bad fit, saving you from unnecessary rejection and resubmission. It also prevents you from losing audience and impact by aiming too low. Journals get pre-reviewed mss that are very likely to meet their standards. I’ve used the service myself for an ms that my co-authors and I needed independent advice on, and found it very helpful. I would use it again in a heartbeat.

Tim Vines, a former Managing Editor at Molecular Ecology and the founder of Axios Review, just updated the editorial board on how things are going. With his permission, here are the highlights:

  • Axios had 95 submissions in 2014, a big jump on the previous year. The goal for 2015 is 200 submissions. That seems like a reasonable goal to me, given the current growth rate.
  • About 80% of papers referred by Axios are accepted by the target journal, over half of those without going out for further review. And that’s not because Axios mss are only being written by top authors or only referred to journals with high acceptance rates (see the “published papers” list on their website).
  • Tim is now working full time on Axios, which is a great sign.

I know that in some people’s ideal world there wouldn’t be a market for Axios Review (e.g., because everybody just publishes everything in Plos One or whatever). But I’m an evolutionary, not a revolutionary, and so I like Axios. I think the existing scientific peer review and publication system has a lot of merit, and so I like having a service that helps the system work as it should. If you feel like Axios Review might be useful to you as an author, I encourage you to give it a try.

Sexual harassment and rape in field sciences, part II

A new paper by Kate Clancy and colleagues came out in PLoS One this week, and it paints an alarming picture regarding field work: 64% of survey respondents had personally experienced sexual harassment and 21.7% had been sexually assaulted while doing field work. Those numbers are horrifying, and make it clear that this is a major problem.* As I said in this news piece on the new study, I’ve heard anecdotal reports of sexual harassment and assault in the field, but there was no way of knowing how big the problem was. I can’t say that I’m completely surprised by the numbers, but they’re still eye-opening and a wakeup call that this is a really important problem that needs to be addressed.

Who is being harassed and assaulted? Women were harassed and assaulted predominantly by superiors, whereas harassment and assault of men tended to be primarily by peers at the field site. There is a clear power hierarchy in academia, and this can make people vulnerable to exploitation, perhaps especially in remote locations. Another important result of the study is that survey respondents were generally unaware of how to report such events, or of codes of conduct. Even when the harassment or assault was reported, <20% were satisfied with the outcome of their reporting.

Reading the Clancy et al. article reminded me of this recent post by Acclimatrix, in which she describes her deliberations about whether to go to a remote field site that would provide her with incredible research opportunities, but about which she had serious safety concerns. Needing to worry about personal safety in the field clearly cuts off research opportunities, especially for women.

What can be done about this? The comments thread on my earlier post on this topic (based on the first phase of the Clancy et al. study) has some good suggestions. This comment by Katie Hinde (one of the authors of the Clancy et al. study) has particularly good suggestions: set expectations by establishing principles of community; revisit these principles if you see questionable behavior; provide multiple pathways of reporting. This last one is very important, especially given that the perpetrators tend to be superiors. If someone’s only option is to report to a superior, that is obviously a problem if that superior is the person who is harassing her.

I am still thinking of exactly what to do in light of the results of this study. The first thing is to work on a Principles of Community statement, though I’m unsure of what scale this should be done at. The lab? The department? Another obvious thing is to make sure that people in my program are aware of how to report harassment. Michigan’s standard practice guide related to sexual harassment is here. That guide includes information on where people can report harassment, as well as information on where to receive confidential counseling. According to that site:

An individual may complain to the University about alleged sexually harassing behavior or retaliation by contacting a University official, such as a supervisor; Dean, Director or department head; the Office of Institutional Equity; the appropriate Human Resources Office; the Dean of Students (for students); the Dean’s Office of the Horace H. Rackham Graduate School (for graduate students); the Center for the Education of Women; and the Department of Public Safety. . . . In addition, any member of the University community may utilize appropriate University resources for guidance and support during the investigation process (e.g., Center for the Education of Women, Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, etc.).

As I said above, given that women tend to be harassed by superiors, it is important to note that there are multiple paths for reporting. But, as was discussed in the comments of my earlier post, and as is noted in the Clancy et al. study, people are often dissatisfied with the outcomes of reporting. I don’t know what can be done about that. But hopefully having more discussions about this and bringing it out into the open more will both make people feel more comfortable with reporting, and will send a message to the perpetrators that this behavior will not be accepted.

Will all of that help? I don’t think this problem will go away, but I do think we can make progress, and any progress on this issue is valuable.

What are your thoughts on this study? Are you (or your department) doing anything in response to it?


*I realize that some people will focus on whether the specific numbers are accurate. The authors go into the limitations of their survey method in the paper, which I encourage you to read in full. But something that is important to note is that the authors of the study were told by colleagues that they did not fill out the survey because reliving those experiences would be too painful. These numbers are not necessarily over-estimates, as many people assume.

Visiting scholar opportunities at Kellogg Biological Station

Former Dynamic Ecology blogger Chris Klausmeier passes on word of the visiting scholar program at famed Kellogg Biological Station. Basically, it’s free housing at KBS outside the summer months. Application deadline for the fall term is Apr. 1. Here are the details:

The W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) of Michigan State University invites applications for short term Visiting Scholars to be in residence fall 2014-spring 2015 semesters. KBS will provide Visiting Scholars with desk space in the academic building and family-friendly housing in the Caretaker’s Cottage on the KBS grounds for visits of one to eight weeks. Visiting Scholars can use their time at KBS to pursue collaborations with KBS and other MSU faculty and to work on their own projects. The KBS environment provides an ideal place for scholars to pursue new and ongoing projects away from the distractions of their home institutions. Visiting Scholars are expected to give a research seminar and otherwise participate in the academic life of the KBS community while in residence. To apply, first identify and contact a KBS faculty member to serve as a host. Then send to vistingscholars@kbs.msu.edu your CV and a letter explaining the goals of your visit, how you might contribute to the KBS academic environment while in residence, and a range of dates you’re available. Indicate any specific needs (research or housing) you may have. Arrange to have your KBS faculty host send a letter to the same address in support of your visit. Preference will be given to applicants with the most potential to contribute to KBS academic life (research expertise, potential for collaborative research, offering a short course or public lecture, etc.). Visiting Scholars should have a Ph.D. or equivalent experience.

Applications for visits for Fall Semester 2014 (October 1-December 19, 2014) are due April 1, 2014, with decisions made by April 30, 2014. Applications for visits for Winter/Spring 2015 (January 1-April 30, 2015) are due June 1, 2014, with decisions made by June 30, 2014. Early applications are encouraged. Applications received after the deadline will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis, given availability. A few opportunities are available for Visiting Scholars before April 30, 2014; please inquire about availability. Contact vistingscholars@kbs.msu.edu for further information.