Cat chasing laser pointer

Can we just put down the laser pointers please?

Photo © Hey Paul via flickr.com, CC BY 2.0.

I’ve been to three conferences this summer, and seen dozens of talks: some short and some overlong; some riveting and some dull; some good and some bad.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the good talks could be even better, and the bad talks a bit less bad?  There are some difficult ways to accomplish that, but here’s an easy one:  let’s all agree to leave the laser pointers to our cats. Continue reading

Man working on the beach

Working on “vacation”

Photo: Working on the beach, © Yuvipanda CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia.org. Not a photo of me – you couldn’t pay me enough to sit on a beach, working or no.

I took a 2-week vacation this summer.  I packed some Dick Francis mystery novels, sunscreen, my swimsuit – and a half-dozen theses and manuscripts to work on.

I gather I’m not supposed to do that last part. Continue reading

Out-of-touch administrators – and their mirror images

I just finished serving on a Vice Presidential search committee. I think we made a great choice (time will tell, of course).  It was obvious, though, that many of my colleagues could never be satisfied because they’re deeply and irredeemably suspicious of anyone willing to take on an administrative job.

One of the most frequent complaints I hear is that administrators are “out of touch” with the faculty and with their roots in academia. Continue reading

Jabberwocky

Fish out of water: a scientist examines a poetry thesis

Illustration by John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky (Carroll 1871, in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There). Public domain.

I’ve been reading a thesis, getting ready for the defence.  I’ve probably been an examiner (internal, external, or opponent) for close to a hundred defences, and I almost always enjoy them.  Most students do, too – at least, those who have realized that their defence is more than (and less than) an exam.  It’s a chance to share their pride in what they’ve done, and as they do so, they know more about that work than anybody else in the room. The defence is new for each student, of course, but by now they’re a comfortable routine for me.

Last year, though, I found myself an examiner for a thesis that yanked me out of my routine.  It was a creative-writing MA thesis in our Department of English.  Continue reading

Four famous introverts

Blogging as an introvert

Photo: Four introverts in far more public eye than I’ll ever be.  Clockwise from top left: Marlon Brando, photo Carl Van Vechten, public domain; Lady Gaga, photo Gabrisagacre14 via wikimedia.org, CC BY-SA 4.0;  Jimi Hendrix, photo A. Vente via Beeld en Geluidwiki, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL; Greta Garbo, photo MGM (work for hire), public domain.

Warning: navel-gazing.

I told the story, a while back, of how I survive conferences, given that I’m an introvert and don’t particularly like putting myself out there.  Quite a few people told me they were surprised to learn I consider myself introverted.  In part, this reflects decades of practice at pretending otherwise, at least when professionally and socially necessary.  But it occurs to me that there’s another reason people might be surprised: I blog (obviously), and that means every week, I put myself out there by posting an opinion for all to read.  Why, one might quite reasonably ask, would an introvert do that? Continue reading

population time series

Why most studied populations should decline

Figure: Time series for two populations, each fluctuating in size. At time zero, I start a long-terms study, and can choose either of the two populations (open circles). At some other time, I recensus (closed circles).  Red arrows show net population change.

On any given day it’s hard not to notice another headline about a population in decline.  Amphibians are in decline, songbirds are in decline, bumblebees are in decline, fish stocks are in decline.  Nature is under relentless human pressure, both direct and indirect, and before I proceed to make my point today, I need to be very clear that this pressure is real and severe and I don’t doubt for a moment that it’s driving down population sizes of many, many species.

But there’s a very simple but pervasive statistical problem with the data behind population declines. Continue reading

Steve presenting at a conference

Conferencing as an old fogey

Photo: Me hijacking my own talk at CSEE 2016 to shamelessly plug my book.  I don’t look all that old, right?  Photo © Alex Smith, with permission.

I’ve just (as I write this) come from my favourite yearly conference: the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution.  It’s my favourite for a number of reasons – among them, really superb science, a broad range of topics, and a lot of friends.  (The latter makes a big difference when you’re conferencing as an introvert.)

I’ve realized something a little bit disturbing.  When I went to my first conference (the Ecological Society of America meeting in 1993, I think), I was young, and a rookie.  I watched the grey-haired old fogeys whose names I knew from the literature, and I knew I should introduce myself and get to know them, but it was hard.  But now, in 2016, I have become a grey-haired old fogey*. Continue reading