Beating cabin fever: quarantine reading suggestions for scientists

Looking for something to read while you’re stuck in your house? Check out our great suggestions of novels featuring scientists. And our great suggestions of popular science books that scientists will enjoy. Don’t miss the comment threads, most of the best suggestions are from our commenters!

Hang in there, take care of yourself, take care of each other.

Best examples of ecological theory “anticipating” future data?

Question: what are the best examples of ecological theory “anticipating” future data? Or being “preadapted” to future data?

By that I mean, what are the best examples of ecological theory that was mostly or entirely disconnected from data at the time it was developed, and that didn’t immediately inspire any empirical tests of its predictions, but that turned out to aid interpretation of subsequent data? Examples of ecological theory that, at the time is was developed, seemed to be of purely mathematical interest, or like a solution in search of a problem. But then later, an empirical problem came along to which that theory just so happened to provide a pre-existing solution.

If the possibility I’m asking about seems far-fetched, well, I assure you it’s not. There are actually-existing examples from other fields, on which I hope we’ll have a future post. But for now, let’s all try to think of ecological examples. Looking forward to your comments.

p.s. I look forward to this post getting approximately minus-7 pageviews. 🙂 It’s the sort of niche, non-newsy topic that never draws much interest. Plus, you know, COVID-19. But that’s ok, because (i) we don’t set out to chase traffic, and (ii) Meghan’s advice for grad students and mentors during the COVID-19 outbreak just drew two typical weeks worth of pageviews for us in 24 hours. I feel like we’ve been doing our bit lately in terms of writing useful, timely stuff than people want to read. So I’m fine with indulging myself by posting something that nobody wants to read. 🙂

Guest post: Suggestions from a Wellness Counselor on Coronavirus and Managing Mental Health

Kate Hagadone is the Wellness Counselor at Michigan Medical School’s Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies (OGPS). She sent the information in this post to an OGPS listserv at the end of last week. I thought the information would be of interest to lots more folks, so, with her permission, am reproducing her email here:

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Guest post: Personal journeys towards developing quantitative skills

This post is by Isla Myers-Smith and Gergana Daskalova, from the University of Edinburgh

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Gaining quantitative skills takes you on a journey. When we start, many of us feel like we are behind and can never catch up. Those who feel too overwhelmed may never start the journey at all. And if we want to enhance diversity within the field of quantitative ecology, we need to overcome the fear factor in quantitative training. Reflections on our own quantitative journeys highlight that the major roadblock is taking that first step to bridge the quantitative skills gap. In the following blog post, we tell two interwoven stories of personal journeys towards developing quantitative skills to highlight how things can be different for the next generations of ecologists.

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Ecologists discussing science of coronavirus pandemic – open thread

I don’t know about you but as an ecologist, I am not an expert in disease dynamics nor part of the inner community rapidly exchanging ideas and data. But as an ecologist I have a better handle on notions of population growth, species interactions, individual encounter rates, etc than the average population (and probably the average scientist) and I have felt in a frustrating vacuum of information.

To address this, we’re trying something new here at Dynamic Ecology – an open thread, the main purpose of which is to have a place for the community to have a conversation. Our comments sections have long been the most interesting part of the blog, so now we’re creating a direct path to comments without your having to read 1000s of words of bloviation from me!

First, a few thoughts to give some common terminology/framing to the questions. I think ecologists all know about the power of exponential growth (although this is new and still poorly grasped to most of the world). R0 is the discrete growth rate with no immunity (naive population) and no efforts at social distancing. Best estimates I have seen for Covid 19 is about R0=2.5 which is a good bit higher than flu (and a good bit lower than measles). It seems to be becoming clearer that R0 is as high as it is because people can be infectious before they show symptoms (or even if they never show symptoms like children). Once immunities start to build up or quarantine/social distancing measures start to be put in place a lower growth rate Re (effective growth rate) is observed.  So as far as I can tell there are three strategies.

  1. Squeeze it – extreme social distancing to reduce Re<1. This seems to be what China as well as Japan and South Korea are doing (probably not coincidentally all Asian countries that got hit most by SARS and MERS).
  2. Let it burn – do nothing to lower Re=2.5. Sadly many (all?) countries started down this road – with exponential growth the speed of reaction required seems to be faster than governments can handle.
  3. Stretch it – social distancing to get Re~1.2 (nb 1.2 is an example, not a carefully calculated number, just a wild guess proxy as it is about what influenza does) so that the case load does not exceed hospital capacity. This is what everybody is talking about as “flattening the curve”.

With the stretch it and let it burn strategies the number of people who get sick and then have immunity rises to about 1-1/R0 or about 60% of the population (assuming getting sick once confers immunity – assumed right now but a few counter examples are out there). Then the effective growth rate Re drops below 1 and “herd immunity kicks in”. Individuals can still get sick but it can’t become a self-sustaining epidemic. The primary difference between let it burn and stretch it is the rate at which people get sick which is inversely correlated with how long the epidemic lasts.

I’ve posed several questions below to get this started. I’m not an expert. So the answers to some of these may be obvious in which case, I’d love to know the answer. But I have not seen the answers to any of these despite voracious reading. If they’re not so obvious I expect we could all learn from discussing them.

If you want to respond to a question stay in the same thread (even if the nesting stops at 3 levels). If you want to pose a new question, start a new thread. This is NOT a place for politics, so anything stronger than “many governments have been incompetent at X” (e.g. naming specific individuals, blaming one party or another, or getting distracted off science) will be deleted.

Some Advice for PhD Students and Their Mentors in the Time of Coronavirus

This blog post started as an email conversation between Dana Turjeman and Meghan Duffy. Dana turned her initial outline into a twitter thread (starting here). We decided it would be fun (and hopefully helpful!) to turn this into a blog post that expands on these ideas. So, here are the perspectives of a PhD student and a faculty member who are trying to figure out how to maintain mental health – and also hopefully some productivity, but that definitely comes second to physical & mental health – while social distancing.

First, this assumes that you are not going about your normal routine, but, rather, trying to stay home as much as possible. This is strongly encouraged! If you aren’t sure of why, please read this.

Here’s our advice:

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Only a few days left to apply to the TT asst. professor position in evolutionary/comparative biomechanics at the University of Calgary!

Only a few days left to apply for 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. Application deadline is Mar. 18.

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.

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!