Tenure-track position in evolutionary/comparative animal biomechanics at the University of Calgary (UPDATED)

I know this is a bit outside our usual beat, but it’s an exciting opportunity: a tenure-track asst. professor position in evolutionary/comparative animal biomechanics in the Dept. of Biological Sciences (my dept.!) at the University of Calgary. Link goes to the ad.

A bit of context and encouragement, especially for our many non-Canadian readers, some of whom will hopefully fit this ad and apply:

  • If you’re interested in this position and think you might fit the ad, you should definitely apply. Yes, like the ad says, we are legally obliged to give preference to Canadian citizens and permanent residents. But I, and several other faculty in my department, are living proof that we do hire non-Canadians. I was a US citizen living in the UK at the time I was hired. So don’t take yourself out of the running by not bothering to apply because you assume, incorrectly, that it wouldn’t be worth your time because you’re not Canadian.
  • Federal funding for basic research is much easier to get in Canada than in the US or most other countries, which makes it much easier to set up and sustain a long-term research program without having to constantly chase money.
  • Canadian health care! (I almost feel like that’s all I should have to say to spark a deluge of applications from Americans…) Plus, the University of Calgary offers good extended health benefits that cover additional stuff on top of what the government covers.
  • Canadian faculty positions are 12 month positions. None of that US summer salary nonsense here
  • Calgary is a great place to do comparative/evolutionary biomechanics. We’re a big public research university. And between the biological sciences department, the geosciences dept., the strong primatology group in Anthropology, the Kinesiology faculty, the medical school, the vet school, and the Royal Tyrell Museum 90 min. drive away, you can’t throw a rock around here without hitting an evolutionary biologist, a vertebrate paleontologist, someone working on human biomechanics, or someone else whose research interests overlap yours.
  • It’s very important to us that the successful candidate be able to teach comparative vertebrate anatomy at the undergraduate level. So if your research/training focuses on invertebrates, you need to explain why you’d be able to teach the vertebrate courses the successful candidate will be expected to teach.
  • If you have any general questions about the department, university, city, or Canada that aren’t specific to this position, I’m happy to answer them. Inquiries about the position should go to Doug Storey, our Head of Department, headbio@ucalgary.ca.
  • UPDATE: In case anyone was wondering, the ad is posting now, and has a fairly short deadline (Mar. 18, 2019) because of when the search was approved. We’re trying to move fast to have someone in place by July 1 if possible.

A bit of broader advice for anyone thinking of applying, but worrying that they might not be “competitive”. Remember that you can’t estimate in advance how likely you are to be interviewed for any given faculty position. That’s in part because recently-hired TT faculty in ecology and allied fields vary hugely on any measurable dimension you care to name, even among recent hires into the same department. The only good predictor of the number of interviews you’ll get is the number of positions you apply for. Remember as well that faculty job seekers (and faculty themselves!) tend to greatly overestimate how many papers a typical new hire has, and how many it takes to be competitive. Don’t fall into the trap of taking yourself out of the running by convincing yourself you wouldn’t be competitive. If you think you could do the job and might take it if offered, apply!


Happy Darwin Day from Charles Darwin himself!

Charles Darwin himself celebrated his 210th birthday a bit early at the University of Calgary’s 34th annual Darwin Dinner last Friday:

me as Charles Darwin

p.s. If you think this looks less like Charles Darwin than like a man who was cut four times from his college improv comedy group and has never gotten over it, well, I can see why you’d think that. But you’re wrong, it’s totally Charles Darwin. 🙂

photo credit: Rachel Tessier

Why should species diversity be highest where organismal performance is highest? (UPDATEDx2)

The question in the post title has bugged me for years. I’ve read and thought about it enough that I think it’s a good question, meaning a question without an obvious answer. But it’s on a topic on which I’m far from an expert, so there might well be some non-obvious answer that I’m unaware of. So I’m going to pose the question and look forward to learning from the comments.

I was reminded of this question most recently by Grady et al. (2019 Science). I emphasize that this paper is merely one among many that could be used to illustrate my question, and that I’m not criticizing this paper or its authors. This isn’t a post-publication review of Grady et al. (2019). This is me thinking out loud about a broad issue, and picking a recently-published paper as an illustration purely because it would be work to look up a bunch of additional illustrations and I am lazy this is only a blog post.

Anyway, Grady et al. report a bunch of data establishing two main claims. First, species diversity of large-bodied ectothermic marine predators is highest in the tropics, but species diversity of large-bodied endothermic marine predators is highest in the subtropics and temperate zones. Second, endotherms outperform ectotherms in colder water–they can swim faster, their neurons fire faster, they can consume more food relative to their metabolic demands, etc.

Grady et al. then argue that the performance pattern explains the diversity pattern–that species diversity of ectotherms is maximized where it is because those are the places where ectotherm individual performance is maximized. And similarly for endotherms.

But why should that be the case? Why should correlation indicate causation here?

Continue reading

A statistical profile of recently-hired TT Canadian ecologists

As regular readers know, I’ve compiled quite comprehensive data on recently-hired tenure-track assistant professors in ecology and allied fields in N. America. Recently, I gave a talk on these data to the EEB group in my department. Inspired by that talk, here’s a statistical profile of the small subset of the recent hires who were hired in Canada.

Over the last two years, I checked 32 Canadian TT asst. professor positions that, based on the job titles, might’ve been filled by ecologists. Of these, I identified 18 that were filled by ecologists. This is a very small number of hires, reflecting the fact that Canada is a small country compared to the US. So these are barely “data” rather than “anecdotes”. Even though my sample includes most recently-hired TT Canadian asst. profs of ecology and allied fields, the statistical features of that population may well bounce around a fair bit from year to year just because it’s such a small population. That’s in contrast to N. America as a whole. The statistical features of the entire cohort of newly-hired TT N. American ecologists do not change much from year to year, because it’s a much larger population of people.

Anyhoo, here are the results:

  • 11/18 were women. Statistically, that’s similar to N. America as a whole.
  • 11/14 for whom I identified their PhD institution got their PhDs in Canada. The other three got their PhDs from Australia, the US, and the UK. That’s similar to the US, in the sense that most recent TT ecology hires in the US have a PhD from a US university, and the few who don’t mostly have PhDs from other English-speaking countries.
  • 5/6 for whom I identified their undergraduate institutions got their bachelor’s degrees in Canada. The Canadian bachelor’s degree holders include one person with a US PhD; the others have Canadian PhDs. The non-Canadian bachelor’s degree holder got both a bachelor’s and a PhD in the UK. Again, that’s similar to the US; most recently hired TT ecology profs in the US got their bachelor’s degrees in the US. Note that you can’t necessarily infer where someone is a citizen from where they got their degrees. I suspect that most but not all recently-hired TT ecologists in Canada were already Canadian citizens or permanent residents at the time they were hired, and similarly that most recent US hires were US citizens or permanent residents when they were hired. But that’s an inference with some assumptions behind it.
  • On average, the recent Canadian hires were about 3 years post-PhD, very similar to recent hires for N. America as a whole.
  • The 15 recent hires with Google Scholar pages had a mean h-index of 8.5 at or around the time of hiring, similar to N. America as a whole.
  • 7/8 for whom I was able to identify employment at the time of hiring were postdocs at the time of hiring; the other was a graduate student. Again, that’s not too different from N. America as a whole.

In summary, these results don’t surprise me at all (do they surprise you?). Statistically, recently-hired TT ecology asst. profs in Canada look just like those in the US.

p.s. I confess I feel a bit embarrassed to have published this fairly boring post the day after Meghan published an interesting, important post.


Guest post: Advice I’d give to a young ecologist considering a career in US government science, in light of the recent government shutdown

Note from Jeremy: this is a guest post from Jim Grace, who has worked in both academia and US federal science. It was written last week, during the then-ongoing US government shutdown, which is why the post refers to the “ongoing” shutdown. Thank you to Jim for sharing his personal views.

If you’re interested in this post, you might also want to have a look at our previous guest post from NOAA’s Wendy Morrison on a career as a US government scientist.


Jeremy, thanks for inviting me to post on the topic of, “Advice I’d give to a young ecologist considering a career in government science, in light of the ongoing shutdown.”

I think that rather than give a long narrative, I will try to offer some nuggets for folks to consider. I will point out that this is challenging for me because I respect that there can be many exceptions to any generalization. To narrow things a bit, I will admit that my advice is aimed towards folks considering US Federal positions, since this is the domain I know the most about. Also, very relevant to what I say below, I am confining my thoughts for people in permanent positions. The business of being in a non-permanent position comes with a whole different set of concerns that can override the points I make below (as true in academic positions as in non-academic ones). As the reader who sticks with the post will find out, my advice is not heavily focused on the current shutdown, but is intended as a more general set of points.

Continue reading

Great-but-uninfluential scientists?

In the comments on a recent post over at Crooked Timber, John Holbo remarks that Dr. Seuss hasn’t had much influence as an illustrator. His visual style is instantly recognizable, but hasn’t been much imitated. At least, according to Holbo, but I’m happy to take Holbo’s word for that since I don’t know anything about the history of illustration and he does. Assuming he’s right, it’s very surprising, given Dr. Seuss’ massive popular success. How can someone so successful and widely admired be uninfluential?

Which got me to wondering: are there great uninfluential ecologists? Or uninfluential scientists more broadly? By “great” I don’t mean undiscovered or underappreciated people. And I don’t mean people who were influential for a time but aren’t any more. I mean people who are/were very widely known in their field and have/had massive professional success–but yet no one ever followed in their footsteps.

My first instinct is that we’re looking for geniuses famous for unusual, “one-off” ideas or discoveries. Discoveries that are both famous, and hard to follow up, because something about the discovery, or the approach that led to it, places it far outside the mainstream. For instance, Solomon Feferman refers to Philip Davis’ “Paradox of Irrelevance”: many of the most famous mathematical theorems of the 20th century led to little if any subsequent research building on them. Feferman cites Gödel’s incompleteness theorems as prime examples of the paradox of irrelevance. Thus arguably making Gödel himself an example of a great-but-uninfluential mathematician, at least within pure mathematics itself.

I guess Lynn Margulis might be a candidate from evolutionary biology? Her hypothesis of endosymbiosis made her famous after it was confirmed by the endosymbiotic origins of chloroplasts and mitochondria. But as far as I know no other organelles have been shown to be of endosymbiotic origin, and there’s not much research pursuing her broader claim that “symbiogenesis”, not evolution by natural selection, is the “creative” force in evolution.