Convenience and ecological knowledge

Do you know the old joke about the fellow who was looking for his keys under a streetlight?  A neighbourly passerby came up and offered to help. “Did you lose your keys here?” he asked.  “No,” the fellow replied, “over there in that alleyway – but the light’s better here”.

This is quite funny until you realize that as ecologists, we do it all the time. Continue reading

So, how’s (semi) retirement going?

I’ve now been semi-retired for one month: I moved to my new 60% appointment on July 1. Already I’m getting asked what it’s like, and how it’s going. I’ll update you occasionally on this journey, but here’s my early answer to “what’s it like?” and “how’s it going?”.  I don’t really know.

Here’s what my summer has looked like so far. I still have 5 grad students (weirdly, my decision to begin retirement didn’t make them suddenly and magically finish up and defend) Continue reading

Going to the archive, and why

I don’t have a new post for you this week, but I’m going to link to an important old one and explain why.

The other day, I had what felt like the mother of all anxiety attacks. Continue reading

Which institutional affiliation should you list on a paper?

There are a lot of bits and pieces in a scientific paper. You’ll find advice for writing most of them in The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, but somewhat to my chagrin I keep finding gaps – most recently when Jonathan Losos wrote to ask me this apparently simple question:

When you publish a paper, where do you list your institution: where you were when the work was done, where you were when the paper was submitted, where you are now, or some combination of the above?

Jonathan, like me, has been in the publishing game for a while, and I think he was a bit nonplussed to realize he had to ask the question.  There don’t seem to be clear guidelines, or at least not universal ones. As Jonathan put it, “A quick google suggested that…everyone, just like me, makes up their own rules”. Continue reading

Effective grant proposals, Part 4: Yes, do sweat the small stuff

Today, the fifth part in my series on writing effective grant proposals. The first three parts dealt with the content of a grant proposal: the important information a grant needs to convey about the importance of the work you’re proposing, its feasibility, and your ability to do it. (Part four, about your reader, comes up below). You certainly need the right content to have a chance at funding, but that’s not all you need – so today, a pitch for presentation.

I know, we’re scientists, and we sometimes tell each other that what matters is the objectively measured quality of our ideas, not the style in which we present them. I hope it’s obvious that that’s both tempting and wrong: Continue reading

I think I finally like writing

Like virtually all scientists, I write a lot. Over the last decade, I’ve written two books (and for one of them, a second edition), a proposal for a third book, about two dozen papers,* a dozen grant proposals, over 500 posts here on Scientist Sees Squirrel, and a basketful of miscellaneous reports, lay articles, and administrative documents. I figured out quite a while ago that it’s quite normal for a scientist to spend more time writing that they do anything else – even if writing isn’t why most of us chose science as a career. What’s surprising about this really isn’t my volume of writing (I write more than some, less than others). It’s that until recently, I really didn’t enjoy doing it. Continue reading

A new preprint, author contributions, and the best kind of collaboration

We’ve just posted a new preprint! Like our recent funny-titles study, it’s a pandemic pivot project. Like our funny-titles study, it’s a little weird – but also exciting. I’ll tell you a bit about the preprint, and then use it to make a point about collaborations.

Have you ever wondered if names only label things, or if they also influence the way we think about those things? Continue reading

Some career news: a(nother) metamorphosis begins

Warning: navel gazing.

I’ve not been noted, over my career, for laser-focused stick-to-it-iveness. Instead, I’ve reinvented myself a few times, changing my research focus – among other things – repeatedly. But I’m about to launch my biggest reinvention yet. I’m retiring – albeit gradually and not right away. Continue reading

Let’s stop (usually) with the second round of review

I’m grumpy today about something that hasn’t even happened yet. Yes, that’s probably unreasonable; but I’m grumpy about something that happens too often, and I’m going to make myself feel better by venting just a little. I claim (at least partly because it’s true) that I have a real point to make.

Here’s what I’m grumpy about: second rounds of peer review. Continue reading

Sure, spiders might be insects, but surely bees aren’t fish?

Two years ago I treated you to the story of how in Alabama, spiders are legally insects.  “Hold my beer”, said California, and two weeks ago a California court declared that bees are fish. I know; that’s ridiculous. It turns out, though, that it isn’t ridiculous in the biological way you’re thinking; rather, it’s ridiculous in a scientific-writing way. At least, that’s going to be my take, and I hope you’ll come along. Continue reading