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: Dec. 30, 2016. To date, all updates have introduced only tiny quantitative changes to the original results, no substantive changes.

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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Poll: guess the gender balance of recently-hired North American ecologists (UPDATED; poll now closed)

Many academic fields are staffed by a male-biased mix of faculty. But the existence and degree of faculty gender imbalance varies among fields. Further, those fields often are quite broadly defined in published datasets (e.g., “biology”), which can leave many people wondering how well published data apply to their own, narrower field (e.g., “ecology”). Gender balance of academic fields also changes over time, but only slowly. Published data therefore only give you an imperfect sense of the gender balance of recent hires in your field. And personal anecdotes and experiences provide only a very small sample. Every year there are many dozens of faculty hired in ecology and closely-allied fields, but nobody hears through the grapevine about the outcomes of more than a small fraction of those hires.

So I decided to quantify the gender balance of recently-hired ecology faculty at North American colleges and universities. I’m doing it by going through this very comprehensive list of all ecology & evolution faculty positions advertised in 2015-16, and checking the university websites to identify who was hired. This turns out to be really easy in many cases, and difficult or impossible in the remaining cases (I therefore remove from the dataset). To keep things manageable, I’m skipping positions outside North America, of which there are very few on the linked list. I’m also skipping non-ecology positions, of which there are many. So not, e.g., biology, anatomy & physiology, genomics, evolution, paleontology, museum curator, science education, etc., even though some of those positions might have been filled by ecologists. But I’m defining “ecology” pretty broadly so as to include fields in which people who self-identify as ecologists often apply for and obtain positions. “Ecology” for purposes of this exercise includes wildlife management, conservation, ecological genetics, ecological physiology, evolutionary ecology, microbial ecology, fisheries, etc. My judgments on what constitutes “ecology” obviously are somewhat subjective and arbitrary, but I don’t see why that would affect the results. To focus on new faculty, I’m only looking at assistant professor positions, so ignoring the (very few) ads for heads of department, program directors, endowed senior chairs, etc. See the footnote (*) at the end for more nitty-gritty details on my procedure. UPDATE: To be clear, I’m including positions at all types of institutions, not just R1 universities. And you should do the same when answering the poll below. I’ll present the results broken down by institution type for anyone who’s curious about that.

I’ll present the results in a future post, in a sufficiently-complete form that you can go back and reproduce my work if you wish.

But before I show the results, I’m very curious what you think I’ll find. So below is a little poll. What do you think is the gender balance of recently hired North American ecology faculty? (UPDATE Nov. 10: responses have slowed to a tiny trickle, so I’ve closed the poll so that I can start analyzing the results. We already have 468 respondents–thanks to everyone who responded!)

p.s. Obviously, these data won’t tell you whether the outcome of any particular search was fair, much less whether every individual applicant for every position was evaluated fairly. And I have no way to collect lots of contextual information that you might want in order to interpret the results, such as the gender mix of the applicant pool for every position. In that future post I’ll talk more about what I think we can and can’t learn from these data.

*Failed searches are among those for which I can’t tell who was hired, so they automatically get dropped from the dataset. The difficulty of identifying who was hired mostly has to do with departmental web page design, so I’m confident that the easily-identifiable hires are a random sample of the population with respect to gender balance. A couple of times, I’ve determined that a position that I thought was ecological wasn’t filled by an ecologist; I’m dropping those cases from the dataset.  I’m being careful to remove duplicate ads from the list so that I don’t double-count anyone. I’m including some other recent (2015-16) hires that weren’t on the linked list. I learned about these either from colleagues, or by stumbling across them while checking on listed positions. A few of the hires I stumbled across might actually be 2014 hires, but I’m fine with that because those are still very recent hires. In every case so far, gender has been obvious from the person’s name and photo.

Redacted ecology faculty search (UPDATED)

Duke is hiring an ecologist. And in an attempt to avoid bias, the initial stage of the search will be conducted on redacted applications. Applicants are asked to provide two copies of their cv’s, research statements, and teaching statements: a normal copy, and a copy from which the following information is redacted:

  • All mentions of the applicant’s name, date of birth, birthplace, citizenship, ethnicity, and gender.
  • The names of all co-authors on publications. The only authorship information to be provided is the number of authors and the applicant’s place in the author list. So for instance, your cv would list publications like this: “Second of two authors. 1974. Disturbance, patch formation and community structure. Proceeding of the National Academy of Science USA 71:2744-2747.”
  • The names and contact details of references.

Presumably, you’d also need to redact the names of PIs and co-PIs from grants, the names of co-authors of conference presentations, and various other bits of information, but the ad doesn’t say that.

I think this is an interesting experiment to address an important issue, and I think it’s a credit to the folks at Duke that they take the issue sufficiently seriously to be willing to take a step like this (EDIT: To be clear, I don’t necessarily agree that the specific step they’re taking is the right one. But that they’re willing to take this step is a sign of how seriously they take the issue, and it’s good that they take it seriously). It’s not an unprecedented step. UConn EEB did a version of this for a couple of searches a couple of years ago, though I hear through the grapevine that they’ve now gone back to doing conventional searches (anyone know more about that?) (UPDATE: Mark Urban from UConn has commented on UConn’s experience; thanks very much to Mark for sharing this.)

Some thoughts and questions below the fold.

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Ask us anything: how to be an ally

A while back we invited you to ask us anything. Here’s our first of these answers, to a question from Kevin Chase. (The question has been paraphrased for brevity, click through for the original.) What is the best way that I, as a white male scientist, can help women and non-white scientists? Most of the AUA replies will be joint posts, but I’m writing this reply on my own.

Disclaimer: I’ve read about this topic a fair amount, but am not an expert in this. So, I present this as my take on the topic, based on my experiences and readings to date, but with the acknowledgment up front that I certainly have more to learn about this area.

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Sciencing with an infant, revisited

A bit over a year ago, I wrote a blog post on sciencing with an infant *, based on a request from a reader. It’s a topic that comes up regularly when I meet people at conferences or on seminar visits; these days, it comes up almost every day. I thought about that post sometimes after having my third child this past winter, and thought it worth revisiting the topic. As I said in that post, “I know that everyone’s situation is different and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another”. One thing I thought about a lot this time is that that sentiment could be extended to say “what worked after the birth of one child won’t necessarily work after the birth of another”. Perhaps that’s obvious, but it was really striking to me this time. The tl;dr is that I had a much harder time trying to get work done with an infant this time, and needed to be reminded that I need to put my own oxygen mask on first.

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Bonus Friday Link: 13th consecutive male Waterman Award winner

NSF has announced this year’s Waterman Award winner, chemist Mircea Dincã. He is clearly an excellent scientist, but I am disappointed to see that NSF’s streak of male award winners continues. Dincã is the 13th consecutive man to win the award, over the past 12 years. (In 2012, two men won the award.)

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DiversifyEEB: Introducing a new resource for ecology and evolutionary biology

Note from Meg: This is a guest post by Gina Baucom, a colleague of mine and my partner in creating DiversifyEEB. Here, Gina has written a guest post describing the initiative. We’re hoping to follow up with more posts in the future!

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Musings of a very tired, still pregnant scientist

Right now, I’m 9 months pregnant and waiting on my baby to decide it’s time to make his entrance. During the semester break, there wasn’t much expectation that I’d do work, so it wasn’t a problem that I mostly didn’t feel like working. But, the semester is starting up again, and I’m feeling more pressure to work. Admittedly, much of that is self-imposed, but I think it’s also driven by a general sense (in the US, at least), that women should generally work right up until having a baby. I suspect that general sense in the US is a combined effect of our culture of overwork, plus our poor parental leave policies. If you take a couple of weeks off prior to having the baby, and you only have a total of 6 weeks to take off for maternity leave (and not everyone gets even that much), then you’ve only left yourself 4 weeks home after having the baby for recovery and bonding. That’s not much time.

In thinking about this, one thing I’ve been thinking about is how I thought about this before having kids. Back then, I think I had the standard US mentality – that, unless there was some health problem, mom would work right up until giving birth. I had heard stories from women who talked about finishing up a committee meeting while in labor, then heading straight to the hospital, or of being in the field collecting soil cores the day before giving birth. Prior to having kids, that seemed like a normal thing to do to me, not something that required being Superwoman.

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Reproduction is energetically costly

At present, I am teaching a large course (~550 students) while 7.5 months pregnant. All semester, I’ve been torn between not wanting to make a big deal of it, since I don’t want it to seem like pregnant women are less able instructors, and feeling like I cannot ignore the biological reality that pregnancy, even an uncomplicated one, is very physically demanding.

I don’t think things have been any different for my students – I still give back-to-back 80 minute lectures twice a week*, I still hold office hours (and schedule meetings with students who can’t make those), I still prepare quizzes and write exams, I still attend prep sessions where we get all our TAs (known as Graduate Student Instructors or GSIs at Michigan) up to speed on the following week’s discussion materials, I still send emails and make phone calls to deal with the myriad of issues that inevitably come up in a class this size. But, while my students aren’t affected, I am completely, utterly exhausted, especially by Friday afternoon.

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