As most of you know, I compiled a lot of data on the pre-pandemic job market for tenure-track (TT) ecologists in the US and Canada. Obviously, the pandemic changed things. #understatement But what exactly did it change?
Some changes are obvious–no on-campus interviews during a pandemic, for instance. But it’s not so obvious if other things changed. In particular, did the pandemic make the TT ecology faculty job market more competitive?
Yes and no. The answer depends on how you define “competitive”. For the details, read on.
Note that it’s an end, not the end. Brian, Meghan, and I are going to leave the blog up. We hope and anticipate that we’ll post occasionally in the future, when we feel inspired to do so. But we’ll no longer be posting once or twice a week, never mind the near-daily posting we used to do back in the day. Many blogs these days are “slow blogs”; that’s what Dynamic Ecology will be too.
Between the pandemic, and our growing personal and professional obligations, it’s been a long time since any of us had both the time and inspiration to blog well. So Dynamic Ecology has slowly been going downhill, in terms of the number, quality, and variety of posts. That’s reflected in our traffic as well. We now get many fewer pageviews than we used to, both on a per-post basis, and in total. Our posts are no longer widely shared on social media (which may reflect changes to social media as well as to Dynamic Ecology…). We still retain many longtime readers, but other readers have gradually drifted away, and we’re no longer attracting many new readers. For a while, we hoped that all this was just a temporary state of affairs, that we’d eventually get back to normal and feel the urge to post again. But the longer any “temporary” state of affairs goes on, the more permanent it feels. The three of us talked recently, and we all agreed that it was time to read the writing on the wall. Dynamic Ecology’s never going to go back to what it was. It’s time to acknowledge that, and turn it into something else.
Dynamic Ecology has been a big part of our professional lives for the last 9+ years (yes, it’s been that long!). We’re proud of our body of work, and gratified that so many others have found it interesting, thought-provoking, inspiring, and helpful (while also recognizing that we weren’t always perfect…) And even in our current diminished blogging state, we still have a large readership, for which we’re very appreciative. It’s tremendously validating that so many of you have read, shared, and discussed our posts over the years, and we’ve learned so much from your comments. We didn’t want to let Dynamic Ecology just silently peter out, which is the fate of so many blogs. So below, we each reflect on Dynamic Ecology, and say a big THANK YOU to all of you for reading. We hope that you’ll continue to do so in future.
A few additional thoughts from Meghan:
Back when Jeremy first invited me to blog, I knew it was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up, and I’m so glad I’ve had this opportunity — grateful that Jeremy reached out, grateful to Jeremy and Brian for all the conversations we’ve had over the years, and grateful to all the people who’ve read, commented on, and otherwise responded to posts I wrote over the years. Hearing from readers about a post that resonated meant so much!
So why stop? In the past, I would write posts in my head all the time — on a run, walking to daycare, during seminars. During periods where I didn’t have enough time to get them from my head into wordpress, it almost felt like I would explode for not being able to write them. Then the pandemic came.
In general, right now, what feels right for me is to focus my energy and time more locally. (I’ve also been off twitter.) Maybe that will change some time in the future but, for now, I think it’s telling that, for the first time in over a year, I found myself unable to stop my brain from trying to write a post at 2AM. It was this one.
I shall remain forever grateful to Jeremy for inviting me to join this blog and to Meghan for also agreeing to join. I knew when invited that it was one of those things that my career advisors would tell me to reject (if I asked them), but that I was going to say yes to. Hard to believe it’s been 9 years. I’ve said since the first day that the reason I blog is to have discussions with a community I could not talk with through other channels (i.e. more than my university, my colleagues and my meetings). And that has happened in spades. DE has been blessed with what is surely the best commentor community ever. I have agreed, disagreed, and learned a ton from commentors, all while having fun. And Jeremy and Meghan have become very close colleagues. So I am really glad I ignored my head and followed my heart and jumped on board!
For me the transition has been gradual. The pandemic has not helped for sure. But I had been trending to fewer posts even before. Partly other career directions (including the increased levels of service that come with advancing career stage and fun things like working on a book). Partly the shifting social media trends (twitter is where it is at these days, at least in professional academic circles, and I have no desire to move over there and honestly even felt like it robbed the blog of some of its ambience as a place for thoughtful discourse). And a big part is just that I have now already said a lot of the things I most cared about saying (question whether complex statistics are an improvement, do science for science’s sake and ignore attempts to quantify productivity, think deeply about how science works and how science is embedded in society, biodiversity is unsurprisingly showing really complex and varied responses to human impacts and if scientists want to earn credibility we have to do better than sweeping scare stories implying the world is doomed, academic careers are achievable and can be really rewarding, be kind to your peers who are mostly trying to be kind to you, and much more). Probably the thing accomplished that I’m most proud of is that I think all 3 of us did a lot to write down and decode the unwritten rules of how to succeed in academic ecology – I hope there are people still in science today that otherwise wouldn’t have been.
I’m not done done. I’ve still got random posts rattling in my head, and plan to continue to post on an occasional basis. But it is important to recognize the transition. And hence to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the community (who I hope will also continue to check back in) and to my co-bloggers.
The fox knows many things, as our pretentious tagline says. Including when to stop blogging so much.
Some readers will know that I’ve actually been blogging about ecology for even longer than Brian and Meghan–almost 11 years. At this point, I think you have what Meghan calls “old school science cred” if you read my work for Oikos Blog. 🙂 Blogging’s been my main professional identity for years now. At in-person conferences (remember them?), most everyone I meet, friends and strangers alike, compliments me on Dynamic Ecology or else apologizes for not reading it. So you might be surprised to learn that I’m not sad about closing this chapter of my professional life. Indeed, I’m a bit surprised myself to discover that I’m not sad! It feels like the right time to stop–like a retirement.
One small indicator that it’s the right time: I have no urge to go back and total up all the posts we’ve written, all the pageviews and comments we’ve gotten, etc. I know the ballpark figures without having to look–we’ve written 2000ish posts and gotten millions of pageviews. But I can’t be arsed to look up the exact values. I’m sure longtime readers will agree that, when I no longer feel like compiling any data to make my point, something has clearly changed for me. 🙂
So I’m not sad, and I hope you’re not either. I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to start blogging, I tried my best to make the most of it, I had a blast doing so, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from others, and hopefully I’ve had some net-positive influence on ecology. Oh, and last but most: I now count Meghan and Brian as two of my closest colleagues and best friends in ecology. What more can anyone ever ask for, professionally? And who knows, maybe one of these years I’ll finish the book I’ve been trying to write–the ideas for which all grew out of my blogging. Dynamic Ecology is over, at least in its current form, but its legacy will hopefully live on for a little while yet.
I’ve been on a music kick lately, so I’ll leave you with this. It feels apropos.
A few years ago, I reviewed all the data I could find on tenure rates in the US and Canada. The results were broadly reassuring to anyone holding a tenure-track (TT) faculty position in those countries: most TT faculty achieve tenure, either where they were originally hired or else after choosing to move elsewhere. But many of those data are now a decade old or more, and they aren’t specific to ecology. So I decided to procrastinate on real work perform a modest public service and compile some up-to-date, ecology-specific data.
What’s the public face of ecology, by that measure? Books about environmentalism and climate change, I guess. Field guides to birds. Maybe also a bit of classic nature writing–Walden, Sand County Almanac, etc.
Or maybe not. “What’s on the shelf at major bookstores” surely is an outdated way of identifying the public face of any scholarly field, at least in the US (here in Canada, Indigo is still going strong…). But when I search amazon.com on “ecology”, the search returns a bunch of ecology textbooks. I don’t think that textbooks count as the “public face” of any scholarly field.
When I google either “ecology” or “what is ecology”, the top two hits are the ESA’s webpage on “What is ecology?” and the Wikipedia page for “ecology”.* That’s more like it. Surely Wikipedia, and the other top hits from a Google search, are closer to being the “public face” of any scholarly field than the field’s textbooks are. On the other hand, does the Wikipedia page on ecology (or the ESA’s explainer) really capture the gestalt of what the public thinks of when it thinks of “ecology”? There’s a difference between the “official” face that a field presents to the public, and the face the public actually sees.
Or maybe the public face of ecology is defined by nature documentaries. I think there’s something to that. In the past, Meghan has talked about how the #1 misconception about ecology among her intro bio students is the idea of nature as a balanced, harmonious whole, with every organism working for the good of the entire ecosystem. Surely that misconception comes from nature documentaries.
I should probably ask what the public face of ecology looks like if you learn about it from influencers on YouTube and Instagram. But I have no idea. Does ecology even have a public face at all, if “public face” is defined by “whatever influencers on Instagram and YouTube talk about”? How do you do, fellow kids?
So, over to you. What is the public face of ecology? Does ecology even have a public face? Does it need one? If ecologists wanted to change the public face of ecology, is there anything they could do, individually or collectively, that would be likely to have much effect?
*Those searches come out the same way when I search from a private browser window. So it’s not that Amazon or Google knows I’m an ecology professor and personalizes my search results accordingly.
Scientific research programs have life histories. They’re born with the publication of the first paper on the topic. They grow to adulthood as interest in the topic grows. They age as interest in the topic fades. They die once the last paper on the topic is published.
The lives of many ecological research programs are summarized by meta-analyses. Or at least, they’re summarized in part, since meta-analyses can be published before a research program dies. When are meta-analyses typically published in the life of an ecological research program? Are meta-analyses like obituaries–summaries of research programs that are now dead? Are they like retirement ceremonies–summaries of aging research programs whose most productive days are behind them? Or are they like high school yearbooks–summaries of young research programs that have most of their lives to look forward to?