Did you start your ecology PhD by reading and thinking widely and exhaustively for a year?

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.

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?

Some thoughts on The Undoing Project, especially related to science, academia, and mentoring

I recently finished Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project, which focuses on the lives and work of psychologists Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky. They changed how we think about how we think, with their work on psychology having major influences in economics and medicine, in particular. I really enjoyed the book, and there were a few points I wanted to write about here, as I think they are important for scientists, mentors, and/or academics to consider. It’s not a full review of the book* – I’m just focusing in on a few areas that I thought were particularly notable.

undoingprojectimage

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Guest post: Got a professional editor?

Today we have a guest post from Richard Primack of Boston University. Last week, I did a poll asking whether readers had used a professional editor for a grant proposal or manuscript, based on a Nature News piece that quoted Richard 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.” I was surprised by that, since it never occurred to me to use a professional editor. The poll suggests I was not alone. 62% of respondents said they’d never used a professional editor for a manuscript because it had never occurred to them; 67% said it never occurred to them for a grant proposal and 68% for their dissertation. In this guest post, Richard talks more about the process.

Richard’s post appears below the break:

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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.

Have you ever included the reviews of your rejected ms when resubmitting to another journal? (UPDATED)

It’s been widely suggested that one solution to the increasing difficulty of obtaining peer reviews is sharing of reviews among journals. If a ms is rejected by one journal, the ms (appropriately revised if necessary) and the reviews can be forwarded to another journal, which can make a decision without the need for further reviews. That’s the idea behind peer review cascades, such as how many Wiley EEB journals will offer to forward rejected mss and the associated reviews to Ecology & Evolution. It was also the idea behind the (late, lamented) independent editorial board Axios Review.

And it’s the idea behind a practice some folks were talking about on Twitter a little while back: authors themselves forwarding the reviews their rejected ms received to a new journal along with the revised ms.

Below the fold: a poll asking if you’ve ever done this, and then some comments from Meghan, Brian, and I. Answer the poll before you read the comments.

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How changing our healthcare system impacts science: my experience as a postdoc looking for insurance

In 2005, I heard that I had received a National Science Foundation (NSF) postdoc to go work at the University of Wisconsin. I was thrilled about the opportunity, and really looked forward to starting. But, as I worked on the logistics of moving, I discovered a major hurdle: because the National Science Foundation would pay my stipend directly to me, the University of Wisconsin didn’t consider me an employee, even though NSF was also sending them an institutional allowance in exchange for hosting me. The biggest impact of this was that I was not eligible for health insurance through the University of Wisconsin. Instead, I had to try to purchase health insurance as an individual. At first, I was denied coverage.

Based on conversations I’ve had over the years and replies to some tweets I wrote, there are a lot of people who have found themselves in similar situations. In this post, I’ll talk about my experience more and talk about some of the ways this might impact science.

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Who pays the publication fees for your papers, when there is a fee? What if it’s a collaboration?

Who pays the publication fee for your papers, when there is one?

When the authors are all members of the same lab, I assume the PI ordinarily pays the fee if there is one. That’s certainly what I do.

Just recently I published an author-pays open access paper with a grad student whom I co-supervised with a colleague, and there’s a second such paper in the works. I had been hoping to split the publication fees with my colleague. But it may come down to whoever has the most grant money.

What about papers by working groups or other big collaborations? Who pays the publication fee then? Does whatever funding source paid for the working group also pay the publication fee? Or does some working group member pay the fee from one of their grants, or from some other source available to them such as an institutional open access fund? What if more than one person in the working group has the ability to pay? In that case I guess the first author, or the first author’s PI, would pay?

Same questions for the data hosting fees charged by some depositories, when depositing data associated with a publication.

ht to a correspondent for suggesting this post idea.

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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I just got my first papers accepted in almost two years. Which is ok. (UPDATED)

If you look at my publications list, you’ll see that it doesn’t look up to date. The most recent paper on it came out in 2015. And it’s true that it’s not up to date–but only because I’m a co-author on a couple of papers that got accepted in the past week.

Which means that in terms of publishing papers, I went 0-for-2016. I went almost two years between acceptance letters.

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Why I don’t sign (most of) my reviews

A few months ago, Stephen Heard wrote a blog post that prompted us to have a brief twitter discussion on whether we sign our reviews. Steve tends to sign his reviews, and I tend not to, but neither of us felt completely sure that our approach was the right one. So, we decided that it would be fun for us to both write posts about our views on signing (or not signing) reviews. In the interim, I accepted a review request where I decided, before opening the paper, that I would sign the review to see whether that changed how I did the review. So, in this post I will discuss why I have generally not signed my name to reviews, how it felt to do a review where I signed my name, and what I plan on doing in the future.

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