Poll: should #ESA2019 be nothing but Insipire sessions? And should Inspire sessions drop the 15 seconds per slide rule? (UPDATED)

In response to my recent post suggesting that the ESA meeting take a page from social science conferences and have discussion sessions, commenters Aaron Ellison and pheidole replied that it would be better for ESA to just make all oral sessions Inspire sessions. The idea would be to foster discussion and communal learning, reduce the number of parallel sessions, and have more engaging talks.

Personally, I’m fine with the current mix of session types, although I’d also be fine with a few more Inspire sessions. I definitely wouldn’t want to see more than, say, 35% Inspire sessions (that’s the fraction you’d get by replacing most organized oral sessions and symposia with Inspire sessions). But what do you think? Take the poll below!

For reference, at #ESA2018, 11% of all oral sessions were Inspire sessions, 63% were contributed oral sessions, 18% were organized oral sessions, and 8% were symposia.

My only strongly-held opinion about Inspire sessions is that they should drop the 15 seconds per slide rule. Let speakers spend their 5 minutes however they want. But what do you think? (UPDATE: To address a question that came up on Twitter: I’ve given an Inspire talk myself, and over the years I’ve attended several Inspire sessions. My opinion about the 15 seconds per slide rule comes from those personal experiences. But your mileage may vary, obviously.)

Brian, Meghan, and Jeremy will be at #ESA2018–say hi to us!

Brian, Meghan, and I will be at #ESA2018. Please say hi to us! Even if we’re not in the conference center, or not wearing our badges, or currently talking to someone else, or whatever. 🙂 We like meeting people and chatting with them.

p.s. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a compilation of our conference advice. Covering everything from how (and why) to network, to conferencing while breastfeeding, to wandering alone at conferences (tl;dr: it’s normal; nobody notices you or thinks you’re a n00b), and much more!

Ecology conferences should have discussant sessions

Here’s a type of conference session that’s common in economics (and I think in other social sciences), but not in ecology as far as I know: talks plus a discussant.

Here’s how it works. The first part is a conventional symposium: a series of, say, five talks or so by different people on the same broad topic. The difference is at the end. After the regular talks are done, the discussant speaks. As the name suggests, the discussant’s jobs are to (i) discuss the other talks, and (ii) kick off a discussion involving the other speakers and possibly the audience as well.

Which is hard! You need to be familiar with the other talks, which likely means reading the papers or draft mss on which they’re based well in advance.* But you shouldn’t get bogged down in technical details; that’s boring. Just summarizing the talks is pointless After all, everybody in the audience just saw them. Saying how great they all were is boring too. Trying to find a common thread running through the talks is a common mistake, since there may well not be one (and if there is, it may be too broad or obvious to be interesting). And turning your discussion into a plug for your own work is a no-no. Instead, your goal is to say interesting, provocative things about the other talks, which often includes (but isn’t necessarily limited to) being constructively critical. It often also includes putting the talks in a broader context. Basically, think of the best peer review you’ve ever gotten–the really smart, thoughtful one, that zeroed in on the important issues. A discussant’s job is to be like a really smart, thoughtful reviewer for every talk in the session, both individually and collectively. Oh, and ideally you should also be entertaining. Here, here, here, and here are further tips for good discussants (from which my brief remarks are derived).

The idea, as I understand it, is that the best person to kick off a really good discussion or debate in a symposium is someone who’s already familiar with the content of the talks and has taken the time to think up good, challenging questions. Not an audience member or a moderator or even one of the symposium participants, since they’ve all just seen the talks for the first time. It’s harder to think up good, challenging questions on the spot.

I think it would be great to try out discussant sessions at the ESA meeting. Symposium organizers presumably could try it without needing permission from ESA, since they have considerable freedom to organize their symposia as they see fit.

What do you think?

*In the social sciences, conference presentations typically involve the speaker summarizing a single paper or draft paper of theirs; the discussant is expected to have received and read that paper in advance.

Opening in Jeremy Fox’s lab for two grad students–come see him at #ESA2018!

I’m seeking two graduate students (PhD or MSc) to join my lab at the University of Calgary in fall 2019 (earlier start possible).

I do fundamental work in population ecology, community ecology, and evolution, often combining mathematical modeling with experiments in protist microcosms and other tractable model systems. Right now I’m working on spatial synchrony of population cycles, species coexistence, and other projects. If the idea of collecting hundreds of generations of experimental data in a single summer sounds attractive to you, you should definitely get in touch with me. 🙂 Lately, I’m also getting into projects based on synthesizing data collected by others, as in my work applying the Price equation to quantify species selection in macroevolution. Here’s my lab website with more on what I’m working on these days.

The University of Calgary is one of Canada’s leading research universities. The Biological Sciences Dept. has over 50 faculty and 180 graduate students, so it’s an active intellectual and social environment. Calgary is a nice city of 1.2 million people, close to the Canadian Rockies with all the opportunities for recreation that implies. And it’s in Canada, which is a dreamy country. 🙂

All graduate students get guaranteed funding for 2 years (MSc) or 4 years (PhD) (note: that’s long enough to complete your degree; Canadian graduate programs are a bit shorter than in the US).

If you’re interested, drop me a line (jefox@ucalgary.ca)!

Friday links: a link that will kill Stephen Heard, advice on applying for tenure-track faculty positions, and much more

Also this week: tell me again what scientific “originality” is, how scientists running for Congress are doing in the primaries, revisiting Chesson 2000, longest lecture ever, customs agents vs. scientific conferences, man vs. nature, the sad truth about happiness, students back in the good old days weren’t so good, terrible engineering pun, and more! Lots of good stuff for your beach field site wherever reading pleasure this week.

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Tell me again what “risky” or “potentially transformative” research is? (UPDATED)

Everybody complains that scientific funding agencies are too risk-averse (e.g.,here and here).That they prefer low risk, low reward, incremental research to riskier, potentially transformative projects.

I really ought to have an opinion about this. After all, I’m an experienced academic researcher and like all academic researchers I have a professional interest in government research funding policies. But to my embarrassment, I have no opinion. Because in all honesty, I have no idea what “risky” means in this context. And so I have no idea why “riskier” projects should have either higher expected payoffs, or higher odds of “transformative” payoffs.

But at least I’m in good company in puzzlement. Because by their own admission funding agencies don’t seem to know what “risky” or “transformative” mean either!

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How much do you–and should you–tailor your ecology faculty job application to the hiring institution? Poll results and commentary

Recently we polled people who’ve applied for faculty jobs in ecology and allied fields on how they tailored their applications to the hiring institutions (as opposed to tailoring them to the type of institution, or not tailoring them at all). We also polled people who’ve sat on search committees for ecology faculty positions on how much tailoring they like to see. Here are the results, along with some commentary!

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