Poll: did you start your ecology PhD by reading and thinking widely and exhaustively for a year? (UPDATED; poll closed)

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. (UPDATE: I’m aware that Stearns’ advice often isn’t practical outside of the US, because outside the US PhDs often are shorter (3-4 years) and often involve students taking on pre-designed projects rather than developing their own projects. That’s why the poll below asks where you got your PhD.)

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?

(UPDATE: responses have slowed to a trickle, so the poll is now closed. Post on the results coming soon!)

Have you ever used a professional editor for a proposal or manuscript?

Last week, there was a Nature News piece on time-management that included interviews with several academics, including myself. The article quotes ecologist Richard Primack as saying, “I hire professional editors to help me polish my articles, grant proposals and reports.” he says. “I can do this myself, but it’s more efficient for me to pay someone to help.” This stuck out to me. I had heard of professional editing services that aim to improve the grammar of a manuscript (my impression was that these are generally aimed at non-native English speakers), but that someone in Primack’s position might use a professional editor had never occurred to me. And it made me think: should I be doing this?

It led me to wonder (on twitter) about how common this practice is, and how easy/hard it is to find good professional editors. It sparked a lively conversation, but I was still left wanting to know how common this is. So, here I’m going to do a quick poll to try to find out. Obviously this is not a scientific poll, but I still think it will be interesting to see the results.

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Should ecology papers have guarantors who take full responsibility for a paper?

What does it mean for someone to be corresponding author on a paper? Does it mean they are taking full responsibility for the project, or does it simply mean that they uploaded the files to Manuscript Central? The answer to this question is important because authorship carries with it not only credit for a paper, but responsibility for it as well. At present, there is variation in what ecologists think is conveyed by corresponding authorship (more on this below). In working on a manuscript related to last and corresponding authorship practices in ecology, I have come across the idea of having guarantors of a manuscript — that is, one or more authors of the paper who are willing and able to vouch for the integrity of the project as a whole. This idea has been suggested repeatedly over the years (Rennie et al. 1997, Cozzarelli 2004, Weltzin et al. 2006) but has not been widely adopted. My goal with this post is to explore the idea of manuscript guarantors for papers in ecology, since this is the main point I’m stuck on with this manuscript.

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Most people want their figures in line. Almost everyone wants legends on the same page as figures.

Here are the results of the quick poll I did last week related to whether figures should be placed in line or at the end of a manuscript. I prefer having the figures at the end of a manuscript (because this way I know where to find figures that are referred to multiple times), but I suspected I was in the minority. That suspicion was correct. Below, I also give results of where people want their figure legends placed: almost everyone wants the legend on the same page as the figure itself.

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Does gender influence when people first apply for faculty jobs?

A couple of months ago, a reader of the blog sent me an email containing a figure she’d made from this year’s ecology job wiki, using data from the “anonymous qualifications” sheet. That figure suggested that women might be waiting longer than men to start applying for tenure track jobs — or, more specifically, that men might be more likely that women to apply for faculty positions while still in grad school or within the first year after getting their PhD. After recreating the figure myself and also looking at the 2015-2016 job wiki and finding a similar pattern, I decided to do a poll to see whether this pattern held up with more data. Results are below, but the quick summary is that women do not seem to be waiting longer to apply for faculty positions (at least based on the poll data).

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Should figures go at the end of a manuscript or appear in line? And where should figure legends go?

We’ve been thinking a lot about publishing lately here at Dynamic Ecology, including issues such as whether to sign reviews (I generally don’t), changes in authorship practices, whether all reviewers should be satisfied before a paper is accepted (Jeremy says reviewers advise, the editor decides), and whether reviewers are gate-keepers or editors (Brian thinks that, unfortunately, it’s increasingly the latter). But now I want to tackle two truly weighty topics related to the publication process: whether figures should go at the end of a manuscript and whether figure legends should appear on the same page as the figure. Two polls are below, along with some of my thoughts.

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Poll: have you ever contacted a reviewer about a review before responding to it? Or received such contact?

In a recent post, Stephen Heard noted that he signs most of his reviews because he wants authors to be able to contact him if they have any questions or want to discuss the review. Several commenters on Stephen’s post, and on Meg’s recent post on signing reviews, said they sign their reviews for the same reason (e.g.). And some of those commenters said that they have in fact been contacted by authors wanting to discuss the reviews.

All of which surprised me, because I’d never heard of this practice! The possibility of contacting a reviewer to discuss a review before responding to it had never even occurred to me, even though I’ve been an author and reviewer for 20 years now.

I’m still mulling over what I think about this practice. On the one hand, the reviewers who do it are trying to be helpful, and I’m sure the authors who contact them appreciate the help. On the other hand, that authors appreciate it is potentially a problem–I worry that the practice creates the opportunity for unethical quid pro quos. I’m not the only one who worries about this. So I dunno.

Anyway, I’m curious how common this practice is, and what ecologists as a group think of it. So below is a quick 3-question poll.

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Poll: should all reviewers be satisfied before a paper is accepted for publication?

I was very surprised by the results of Meg’s recent poll on what reviewers mean when they say that, yes, they’d be willing to review a revised version of an ms. 34% mean not merely that they’re willing to review a revised version, but that they want to see a revised version to make sure the authors have addressed their concerns. Like Meg, I had no idea that reviewers who feel that way are such a large minority!

Which got me thinking about the roles of reviewers and editors, and if my own view on their roles isn’t as universal as I had (naively?) assumed. So below is a one-question poll. Do you see reviewers as advisers to the editor? Or do you think editors should ordinarily defer to reviewers, so that all reviewers should be satisfied before a paper is accepted for publication?

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Poll: What does the “Are you willing to review a revised manuscript” question mean to you?

A while back, there was a twitter discussion related to Associate Editors (AEs) sending manuscripts back out for review when the changes are pretty minor. One part of the discussion indicated that there’s some variation in interpretation of the “Would you be able to review a revised version of this manuscript?” question. This topic recently came up again in some emails between Brian, Jeremy, and me (and then again on twitter after I mentioned writing a post on it), so I figured it’s worth a quick poll:

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Poll: What determines when people start applying for tenure track jobs?

A recent conversation I had — starting with a postdoc (not one of mine) and then continuing with others — has me curious about the factors that influence when people start applying for tenure track jobs. I’ve created a poll to try to get insight into those factors. Please fill out this poll if you have considered applying for tenure track positions (or their equivalents in other countries), even if you haven’t actually applied for any yet. I’ll leave the poll open for a few days, and hope to have a post with results appear some time next week.

Update: For the questions, if you applied/got an interview/got an offer before getting your PhD, choose “0”. If you applied/got an interview/got an offer after getting your PhD, but within a year of getting your PhD, please choose “1”.

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