A shelf of writing books

Some OTHER good books on scientific writing

If you’ve been hanging around Scientist Sees Squirrel, you’ve surely notice that I’ve written a guidebook for scientific writers.  I’m biased, of course, but I think The Scientist’s Guide to Writing is pretty good – and if you write at all, I think reading it can help.  (Why not go buy yourself a copy?  I’ll wait.)  But if you’re serious about your writing craft, I hope The Scientist’s Guide won’t be alone on your shelf.  It isn’t alone on mine.

Here are a few books that I think could profitably keep The Scientist’s Guide to Writing company. Continue reading


The tyranny of reader expectations

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a sentence I was tempted to be proud of.  It’s part of the Introduction to a paper* about how the impact of insect herbivores on their host plants might evolve over time.  We’d pointed out that insects frequently acquire new host plants and plants frequently acquire new herbivores, and to build on that, I wrote:

That herbivore-host associations are frequently reassorted means that some herbivore-host pairs are evolutionarily well acquainted, while others are strangers recently met. 

And then I had second thoughts. Continue reading


When is a review paper worth writing?

A couple of things have me thinking about review papers lately.  First, I’ve just published one and I’m about to submit another.  Second, over at EcoEvoEvoEco, Andrew Hendry had some fun figuring out how his citation impact would have been improved had he only ever published review papers rather than primary-science ones.

As Andrew points out, writing reviews brings a lot of career benefits.  Among them:

  • They tend to be widely read and heavily cited
  • They build your reputation as an expert in the subfield you review
  • They draw attention to your primary-literature work (presuming your review cites it)
  • They support future grant proposals to fill knowledge gaps they identify.

So the case for review-writing as a career move is strong.  But what about the case for review-writing as a contribution to science?  Not all reviews move science forward much.  Continue reading


The three functions of a thesis

Photo: rows of theses in UNB’s library (S. Heard)

PhD theses are weird things.  Now, it may seem weird that a person is expected to spend five years labouring to produce a single document that determines their career prospects* – but that’s not what I mean.  Instead, I mean that they’re a weird writing form.  They’re important, but nobody ever reads them.  They’re singled-authored, except that they’re not**.  They’re bulked up with trivia, but judged by their importance.  They’re considered publications, except that republishing their content later doesn’t count as double-publication.  What on earth is going on? Continue reading


No, your field isn’t “broader” than mine

Photo: Railway tracks and vanishing point, by annymoamo via pixabay.com, CC0.

It happened again last week.

I was sitting in a meeting, and someone explained that our cell biology course is different from our other courses (like my ecology course) because cell biology “is such a broad field”.  This has been explained to me over the years about cell biology, molecular biology, physiology, earth science, and I’m sure a few more I’m not remembering.  It’s been explained in the context of undergraduate curriculum, faculty hiring priorities, funding levels for granting agencies, library journal budgets, and more.  Every time, it makes me see red. Continue reading

About last week

There’s not much to say about recent global events that hasn’t been said already, and better.  But:

I believe each of us has just one important job: to make the world a better place for others (especially, of course, for those less privileged or less fortunate than us).  We do this in large ways and in small ones; we do it at work and at home; we do it locally and around the world.  It’s why we do science; it’s why we teach; it’s why we parent; it’s why we sing Happy Birthday. It’s why – or it should be why – we do pretty much everything.

Sometimes, events (or our own actions, or those of others) make this job a little easier.  Sometimes they make it a little harder.  Sometimes they make it a lot harder.  None of that changes what our job is, and we all need to go on making the world a little bit better tomorrow than it is today.

© Stephen Heard (sheard@unb.ca) Nov. 14, 2016, licensed CC-BY-4.0

Nametag with knotted lanyard

Are you wearing your conference nametag wrong?

Well, that’s a stupidly arrogant thing I just asked, isn’t it?  Who am I to tell you you’re wearing your nametag wrong?  But here’s the thing: you may not be, but I can make a good case that many of your colleagues are. Continue reading