The climbing metaphor, or where should we encourage students to send their papers?

This is a guest post by Bastien Castagneyrol.  This is an issue I’ve thought about (as have others), and like Bastien, I don’t quite know what action to take.  I like Bastien’s climbing metaphor.  In a related one, the journey from subscriber-pays paywall to author-pays-open-access crosses a very rugged landscape, with crevasses both obvious and hidden.

Disclosure from Bastien: what follows is not exhaustive and could be much better documented. It reflects my feelings, not my knowledge (although my feelings are partly nurtured with some knowledge). I’m trying here to ask a really genuine question.

The climbing metaphor

My academic career is a rocky cliff. Continue reading

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Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider: a new title for my new book

I’ve mentioned this before: I’m terrible at titles.  That’s why there’s been a long series of title changes for my forthcoming book.  (Look for it in March 2020, from Yale University Press.  You can actually pre-order it now, but don’t worry, I’ll remind you as the publication date approaches.)  The book tells some of the fascinating stories behind eponymous scientific names (that is, species and genera that are named after people).  If that piques your interest, you can read a bit more about the book here.

I took at least four stabs at a title before settling on Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels. Continue reading

Turning our scientific lens on our scientific enterprise: a randomized experiment on double-blinding at Functional Ecology

Image: Experiment, © Nick Youngson via picpedia.org, CC BY-SA 3.0

I’m often puzzled by the reluctance of scientists to think scientifically and do science.  “Wait”, you say, “that’s a bizarre claim – we do science all the time, that’s why we’re called scientists”.  Well, yes, and no.

We love doing science on nature – the observations and experiments and theoretical work we deploy in discovering how the universe works.  What we don’t seem to love nearly as much is doing science on ourselves. Continue reading

Should a paper title tell you what the paper is about? Yes, but not the way Simon/Steve thinks

Image: You know what you’re walking into. © Gary J. Wood via flicrk.com, CC BY-SA 2.0

This is a joint post (argument and rejoinder) from Steve Heard and Simon Leather.  You can find it on either of their blogs.

Should a paper title tell you what the paper is about?  Yes, but not the way Simon thinks.

Steve opens with – A few weeks ago, Simon Leather blogged about one of his writing pet peeves: “titles of papers that give you no clue as to what the paper is about”.   I read this with great interest, for a couple of reasons – first, Simon is consistently thoughtful; and second, I’m terrible at titles and need to learn as much about good ones as I can!  Much to my surprise, I found myself disagreeing strongly, and Simon was kind enough to engage with me in this joint post.

I don’t mean that I disagree that a paper’s title should tell you what it’s about.  That’s exactly what a good title does!  My disagreement is, I think, more interesting.  Simon offered some examples of titles he scored as failing his tell-you-what-it’s-about criterion, and some he scored as passing.  I found myself scoring those examples exactly the opposite way: the ones that failed for him, succeeded for me; and vice versa.

What gives?  Well, most likely, I’m just wrong. Continue reading

I just organized a conference. OMG.

Image: Puzzle pieces CC0 via pxhere.com

Well, not just me, of course.  I co-organized* a conference (this one).  Still.

So, quick post this week – as I write, I’m procrastinating some last-minute tasks; and when this posts, I’ll be on the conference centre floor putting out (hopefully metaphorical) fires.

Here’s what I learned organizing a conference (and it won’t surprise any veteran of the task): the task is much, much bigger than you think; and even after you’ve adjusted what you think because you know it’s much, much bigger than you think, it’s still much, much bigger than that. Continue reading

I hate checking proofs. Here’s how I make it (slightly) easier.

Image: Proofreading marks, by volkspider via flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

Like many of us, I suspect, I have a love-hate relationship with writing.  I love having written.  And I enjoy certain kinds of writing and certain parts of the writing process (oddly, I really like shortening things; even more oddly, I just added this parenthetical that lengthens this paragraph).  Other kinds of writing (Gantt charts, anyone?) I dislike; and there are a few parts of the writing process that I truly despise.  Checking proofs?  I’d rather remove my own gallbladder with a rusty spoon. Continue reading

Why is writing hard, and how can we make it easier?

Image © Sasquatch I via flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

This is a guest post by Katie Grogan.  Her Twitter thread on this topic got lots of traction, but Twitter threads are a bit ephemeral, so I invited her to share her experience and advice here.


Disclaimer: These opinions are my [Katie’s] own, garnered from research and experience. But people aren’t the same, and what works for me may be the worst strategy for you. Remember that as you read.

A few weeks ago, inspired by graduate students struggling to write, I shared some hard-won writing experience in a Twitter thread.  A week later, it was still accumulating likes (>2.7k) and retweets (>1k); and I received >100 requests to join the Writing Support Slack group I mentioned. Apparently, a LOT of graduate students, postdocs, and faculty identified with how HARD it is to write. And that’s the truth – academic writing is incredibly difficult. Anyone who seems able to dive into a manuscript without anxiety, stress-eating, procrasti-cleaning, or hand wringing is either lying or a survivor of an earlier, stress-ridden period in their writing lives that you missed seeing. Continue reading