Choosing reviewers, recognition not recall, and why lists like DiversifyEEB are useful

Last week, I was assigned a paper to handle as an Associate Editor at American Naturalist. After reading through the paper and deciding it should go out for review, I began the task of finding potential reviewers. There were two people who immediately stood out to me as qualified reviewers. But AmNat likes to have a list of six potential reviewers to work from, so I continued through my standard process: 1) try to think of another person; 2) struggle with that; 3) think “surely I can write the editorial office folks and tell them we should just go with these two I already thought of because they’re perfect”; 4) decide I need to try harder before giving up; 5) after some more effort, end up at a list of six (or, in this case, seven) people who would be good reviewers, ranked in the order in which I’d like them to be asked. After going through that process, the two people I originally thought of were still on my list, but they were numbers 4&5. For some other papers, the initial people I thought of didn’t end up on my final list at all. And I have never had the first two people I thought of end up being the first two people on my list of six.

In other words: there were really good options who I only thought of after working at it for a while; those people were better options for this task than the people who initially occurred to me. To me, this is striking, but not really surprising. It’s what motivated the DiversifyEEB list that I created with my colleague, Gina Baucom. We all have biases, and those make it so that the people we think of first aren’t necessarily the best ones. And, moreover, our biases make it so that we’re more likely to think of well-known white men. That’s just how our brains work.

As I thought through this on my walk home, it reminded me of a story Kay Gross told me shortly after DiversifyEEB launched. Kay said that, many years back, she had a conversation with Margaret Davis. What Margaret told Kay is that, when she got a phone call asking her to recommend people for something, she would say, “Let me think about that and get back to you”. She did this because she had noticed that the first set of names she thought of were always men. But, if she thought it over more, she came up with more names and more diverse names. I found it especially interesting to learn that Margaret Davis had created a set of cards, adding a new card whenever she met an interesting woman scientist; during the time between getting the call and getting back to the person, she consulted that set of cards (her own personal DiversifyEEB list!) to think through people who were well-suited but who didn’t initially occur to her.

Back to the specific topic of finding reviewers: Charles Fox and colleagues have done a set of really interesting studies related to gender and the publication process. In one, they found that just 25% of the reviewers suggested by authors were women. In another, they found that only ~27% of the reviewers invited by associate editors were women. I initially thought that perhaps one solution to the problem of lack of gender diversity in reviewers would be to have more journals ask for lists of 6 potential reviewers — perhaps thinking longer about who should review something would increase the diversity of who they think of? But it turns out that Functional Ecology already asks their AEs to come up with 6 potential reviewers, so clearly that, on its own, will not solve the gender balance problem.

After more reflection, perhaps it makes sense that the lists are still pretty biased, even if they have more people on them: these potential reviewer lists still rely a lot on recall (that is, who I think of as I think about a particular topic), not recognition (that is, choosing from a list of names that might be suitable). And the original motivation for DiversifyEEB was learning (from Joan Strassmann) about psych research showing that the best way to come up with more diverse groups is to rely on recognition, not recall. (If you remember nothing else from this post, remember “recognition, not recall” as a strategy for increasing diversity!)

So, if you are an associate editor for a journal (or, really, in any other position where you are trying to come up with a list of scientists for something):

  1. It’s worth the effort to try to come up with a longer list. In that process, you are likely to think of people who are better options. This will lead to better reviews (or a better seminar series or candidate list or whatever it is you’re trying to do.)
  2. Once you have your list, consider the diversity of it. Does it include diversity in terms of race, gender, career stage, and institution type (including non-academic ones)? In some cases, your list might intentionally be lacking a form of diversity (e.g., a candidate list for an endowed chair probably won’t include many early career folks). But, in most cases, a lack of diversity will reflect our inherent biases. (We all have them! The key is to recognize them and work to counter them.)
  3. If your list seems to be lacking in diversity, try to find lists that will give you more ideas. DiversifyEEB is one, but you can also look other places (e.g., if you are trying to think of Darwin Day speakers, a scan of the editorial boards of journals like Evolution, AmNat, J. Evolutionary Biology, etc. might give you ideas). Another great strategy, especially for looking for reviewers, is to go to the webpage of the person you first thought of and look at their grad students & postdocs. This includes looking at recent grads who have moved on to other positions.

As I said above, the key is being aware of the biases we have, recognizing when outcomes indicate biases are at work, and working to counter them. Lists like DiversifyEEB are one way to try to do that, and I love knowing that Margaret Davis had created her own version of a DiversifyEEB list long ago! I’d love to hear from readers about what strategies you use to try to increase diversity when coming up with potential reviewers, seminar speakers, etc!

If there were no barriers to men’s participation, we would all be doing it: a unique perspective on how to be a male ally to women in ecology

Note from Jeremy: this is a guest post from graduate student Anna Vinton and professor, author, comedian, and consultant Christopher Kilmartin.

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While at lunch in the Ecology and Evolutionary biology department, I [Anna] was discussing my position as chair of Women in Science at Yale. As the largest women in STEM organization at the University, we hold events geared towards supporting women in science and advocating for gender equality in all fields. A faculty member expressed his approval of the organization, but when I asked if he had attended events, he responded that it isn’t always clear when it was appropriate for him to get involved. This reaction is understandable, as many of these meetings serve as a safe space for those who don’t identify as men. But the conversation stuck with me, and I realized that once this safe space was established, the next step may be to establish spaces where men could listen in and learn how they can be effective allies.  People in dominant groups (heterosexual, white, cisgendered, wealthy, male, etc.) have important roles to play in the struggle for equality.

It is for this reason that I reached out to Dr. Christopher Kilmartin, an author, stand-up comedian, consultant and professional psychologist (among other things). Kilmartin lectures on the facilitators and barriers regarding men’s involvement with efforts to increase gender equality. He agreed to come to Yale on September 26th to give a public seminar regarding how to be an ally to women in the STEM fields thanks to funding from the European Society for Evolutionary Biology Equal Opportunities Fund. In discussing his lecture topics and workshop, we’ve come up with some take homes that can be useful to those not attending the lecture.

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Crowdsourcing parental leave policies for tenure track faculty

The goal of this post is to provide a place where people can report about the official (and unofficial) parental leave policies at their colleges and universities. The idea is that, while there’s surely no “typical” parental leave policy, it would help to have some idea of what the range of options is. Hopefully by showing what is possible, some people will be able to advocate for improved policies at their institutions!

This survey is specifically about tenure track faculty. We know there are many other positions at universities, including students, postdoctoral researchers, research associates, teaching faculty, and many others, and recognize that policies differ for these different groups. Our goal here is to start by surveying tenure track faculty to get a sense of the range of policies for this type of position. We’re hoping to expand to other position types in the future; please leave suggestions for which types of positions you’d like this resource for in the comments! (Also note that Margaret Kosmala has compiled information on maternity leave for postdocs at several institutions in the US.)

Note: this post was prompted by a conversation with Tracy Teal (Data Carpentry), who provided helpful feedback on an earlier draft. Thanks, Tracy!

In the comments, please leave information on:
Country
College/university name (optional, but helpful to include)
City/town & state name (optional)
College/university type (e.g., SLAC, R1, community college, etc.)
Official parental leave policy, including information on whether it applies to both birth and non-birth parents, whether it includes adoptions, and any other useful information.
Website with official leave policy:
Unofficial leave policy: do people actually take the leave that is offered? If no leave is officially offered, is there a typical workaround that people tend to use? [My guess is these unofficial things will often be department-specific]
Tenure clock stoppage: Is stoppage of the tenure clock linked with parental leave? Is it automatic?
Dual academic career parents: If both parents are at the university, do they share leave time or do each get their own leave?
Consideration for other health issues before or after leave: Is there any official policy if there are health issues during pregnancy or after the time of official leave?
Other information:

Here’s an example from my university, which has a really great leave policy:
Country: US
College/university name: University of Michigan
City/town & state name: Ann Arbor, MI
College/university type R1
Official parental leave policy: non-birth parents (including fathers and adoptive parents) get one semester of modified duties (typically interpreted to mean one semester release from teaching and possibly also reduced service that semester); birth parents get two semesters of modified duties
Website with official leave policy: http://spg.umich.edu/policy/201.93
Unofficial leave policy: many people take the one semester of modified duties. The second semester for birth parents is fairly new, so I don’t have a sense yet for how commonly people take it (but know several people – myself included – who have)
Tenure clock stoppage: Requires clicking a box on the same form that requests the modified duties
Dual academic career parents: Both parents can take their leave. Both parents can be on modified duties in the same semester.
Consideration for other health issues before or after leave: I think that health issues for the mom would get covered under the two semesters of leave. I know one person who used one of her two semesters before the birth of her child due to pregnancy-related health problems. I don’t think she got a third semester because of those health problems, but I’m not 100% sure.
Other information: This piece has a quote from the former dean of Michigan’s Ross School of Management, Alison Davis-Blake, who pioneered the new policy with two semesters of leave for birth mothers:

 

Note: If you want to comment but don’t want your name publicly associated with it, enter a pseudonym in the name field. You can also enter a fake email (such as email@email.com) in the email field to make yourself fully anonymous. If you enter a pseudonym plus your real email address, the authors of Dynamic Ecology (Meghan Duffy, Jeremy Fox, and Brian McGill) will be able to see your email address, but it will not appear in the comments section.

Guest post: The day I broke some twitter feeds: insights into sexism in academia, Part 2

Intro from Meghan: This is the follow up to Gina Baucom’s guest post last week on her experience asking on twitter about sexist comments made about women in academia. In that post, she summarized (and categorized) the variety of sexist comments that occur regularly in academia. The responses to her initial tweet were overwhelming, and her original post generated quite a lot of discussion (some of it, unfortunately, sexist). In this post, Gina has thoughts on how to move forward (with some additions from me at the end). Here’s Gina’s post:

“We need to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves. We have to step up as women and take the lead.” -Beyoncé

In a previous post, I summarized how a small first-person narrative gathering exercise went awry and broke my twitter feed, and that of my twitter friends. It also gave people a place to vent and share the crappiest and most unfair thing they had heard said to or about a woman. In this post, I aim to step up and give my two cents on the wtf-ery*, tell you how I choose to think about this moving forward, and provide a potential set of responses for when such statements occur. Further, in the postscript, Meg adds some more thoughts on responding to crappy statements. Add your own ideas in the comments!

While the tweeted crappy statements were flying all over the place, many DM’d me private and/or anonymous examples. Some people told me they had similar experiences** but didn’t feel comfortable airing them. Some women tweeted that this was making them think science wasn’t the right place for them. Before I address this unfortunate outcome and add what I learned from the experience, I want to stop and acknowledge a few things. Stay with me, because acknowledging someone’s experience is the first step in making a space where change can happen.

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Guest post: The day I broke some twitter feeds: insights into sexism in academia, Part 1

Intro from Meghan: This is a guest post from my colleague Gina Baucom about her experience asking on twitter about sexist comments made about women in academia. It got quite a discussion going on twitter! This is the first of two posts on the topic. In this post, she summarizes (and categorizes) the variety of sexist comments that occur regularly in academia. Next week, she’ll follow up with a post with thoughts and tips related to how to respond to these comments when they occur. (Update: here’s the follow up post. Please read it, too!)

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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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Please help me identify ecologists hired as tenure-track assistant profs in the 2016-17 faculty job season (UPDATED)

Last fall, I compiled data on the gender balance of over 170 newly-hired assistant professors of ecology and allied fields at N. American colleges and universities. The results were good news: 53% of N. American assistant professors of ecology hired in 2015-16 (or in a few cases in 2014) were women.

This year I’m doing it again. To make it easier, I’m asking for your help. This Google Docs spreadsheet lists all tenure-track positions in ecology and allied fields (plus a bunch of other positions) advertised in the 2016-17 job season. If you know who was hired to fill one or more of the listed N. American assistant professor positions in ecology or an allied field, please email me with this information (jefox@ucalgary.ca).

Before you email me, please read the following:

I only want information that’s been made publicly available, for instance via an official announcement on a departmental website, or by someone tweeting something like “I’ve accepted a TT job at Some College, I start Aug. 1!” If you want to pass on the information that you yourself have been hired into a faculty position, that’s fine too. All you’re doing is saving me from googling publicly-available information myself to figure out who was hired for which positions. Please do not contact me to pass on confidential information, in particular confidential information about hiring that has not yet been totally finalized.

Please do not contact me with nth-hand “information” you heard through the grapevine. Not even if you’re confident it’s reliable.

I’m only interested in N. American tenure-track asst. professors who are “ecologists”, broadly defined. That basically means:

  • anybody hired into a position with “ecology” or an ecological term in the job title (including positions like “evolutionary ecology”, “paleoecology”, “biodiversity”, etc.)
  • anybody hired into a position in a closely-allied fields like conservation biology, wildlife, fisheries, rangelands, etc.
  • people who are ecologists, but who were hired into broadly-defined positions such as “biologist”, “plant biologist”, “vertebrate biologist”, etc. A substantial proportion of academic ecologists hold those sorts of broadly-defined positions, so it would be weird not to include them.

If in doubt, contact me with the information and let me decide whether to count the hire in question as an “ecology” hire.

I’m interested in positions at all institutions of higher education, not just research universities. Even if the position is a pure teaching position with no research duties.

UPDATE: I emphasize that I’m only looking for hires at the assistant professor level. Hires at higher ranks are senior people moving from one faculty position to another, which isn’t relevant for my purposes.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

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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Thoughts on the ASN Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Award

Earlier this year I had the privilege of serving on the ASN Jasper Loftus-Hill Young Investigator Award (YIA) committee, along with Rebecca Safran (Chair) and Luke Harmon. The award goes to investigators less than 3 years post-Ph.D., or in the final year of their Ph.D., for promising, outstanding research in any field covered by the ASN. Four awards are given annually. The award is in memory of Jasper Loftus-Hill, a promising young scientist who died tragically 3 years after receiving his Ph.D.

First of all, congratulations to the winners: Anna Hargreaves, Sarah Fitzpatrick, Alison Wright, and Martha Muñoz. We had 25 applicants (15 women, 10 men), all of them excellent, so we had some difficult decisions to make. In the end, the committee came to a consensus and the four winners rose to the top. It’s great that the ASN recognizes not just one but four outstanding young researchers, and rewards them with a high-profile opportunity to present their work in the YIA symposium at the next ASN meeting. The Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Award has a proud record of highlighting researchers who go on to become international leaders in their fields, and I’m confident that record will continue.

I believe this is the first time all four awards have gone to women. That wasn’t a deliberate choice on the committee’s part; it reflects the many strong women applicants in this year’s applicant pool. But nevertheless, I think it’s a nice marker of how the fields of ecology, evolution, and behavior have changed over the decades. Over the last few years, the award has gone to a fairly balanced mix of men and women, having tended to go mostly to men before that. The awards committee takes equity seriously and does everything it can to make sure that the applicant pool and the awardees reflect the diversity of the ASN membership, though the gender mix of applicants and awardees inevitably will bounce around from year to year.

The awards committee wants the awardees to reflect the diversity of the ASN membership not just in terms of gender, but in terms of research topic. One thing that struck me about both last year’s applicant pool and this year’s was the predominance of evolutionary work. Some applicants work at the interface of evolutionary biology and other fields, but only a small minority of applicants do “pure” ecology or behavior. And within evolutionary biology, applicants working on sexual selection and sexual conflict predominate over applicants working on other topics. Next year I’ll be taking over as chair of the YIA committee, and my goal as chair is to increase the diversity of fields and research topics in the applicant pool. Which will mean increasing the size of the applicant pool, since obviously we don’t want to discourage the many excellent applicants working on sexual selection and sexual conflict! So if you work on ecology, behavior, or some evolutionary topic that hasn’t been much represented among the awardees lately, please do apply next year—we’d very much like to see more folks like you in the applicant pool!

A bit of good news that most ecologists weren’t expecting: recent ecology hires are gender balanced (updated periodically)

Most recent update: Aug. 31, 2017. To date, all updates have introduced only tiny quantitative changes to the original data, no substantive changes. A recent update adds an additional analysis (finite population confidence intervals). A second recent update slightly corrects the analysis of R1 vs non-R1 institutions because I originally misclassified one institution.

Recently I decided to quantify the gender balance of recently-hired ecology faculty in North America. “Recent” being operationally defined as “hired in 2015-16, or in a few cases in 2014”. Data on the gender balance of faculty is widely available only at the level of very broadly-defined fields like “biology”. Current faculty gender balance mostly (not entirely) reflects the long-term legacy of past hiring and tenure practice rather than current hiring practice (Shaw and Stanton 2012; ht Shan Kothari via the comments). And nobody’s anecdotal experience informs them about the outcomes of more than a tiny fraction of all ecology searches in any given year. So this seemed like a topic on which many people would welcome some reasonably comprehensive data. Follow the link for more details on how I compiled the data. In that old post, I also conducted a poll asking readers what they expected me to find.

Here are the answers: what fraction of recently-hired North American ecologists are women, and what do ecologists think that fraction is?

Many of you are going to be pleasantly surprised…

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