Monthly Archives: June 2015

Are scientists “we” or “they”?

Last week I blogged about what used to be one of my pet peeves: the apparent inability of senior academics to finish conference talks on time. I’ve been forced to move this off my pet-peeve list partly because I’ve joined the ranks of those ramblers-on. That means I’ve got room to add something new to the list, and here it is: why are students (both undergraduate and graduate) so reluctant to identify themselves as scientists?

It may not be obvious what I mean by that, so bear with me. Continue reading

Advertisements

Why do senior academics ramble on?

Last month I was at the annual conference of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution. It was a great meeting, as usual, and contributing to that were a whole lot of great talks.

I’ve seen a lot of conference talks over the years, and I’ve noticed a pattern: surprisingly often, grad students finish early, while senior scientists run long*. What I realized this year is that I’ve become part of that pattern: this year, like the last couple, my talks have run longer than planned (see the nifty little figure above). Nobody had to haul me away from the podium; but my talk, which ran a nice tidy 12 minutes in practice, was 14 minutes delivered (using up most of my 3 minutes for questions). As a grad student, I often had a couple of extra minutes to spare. So why is this? Continue reading

(not so) Wonderful Latin Names, Part 5: Turdus ignobilis debilis

(Image: T. ignobilis debilis, Limones, Venezuela © barloventomagico CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr)

Latin names can roll beautifully off the tongue (the ant Monomorium minimum) or can celebrate the beauty of the organism named (the bird-of-paradise Paradisaea decora). Or not: consider the unfortunate black-billed thrush, Turdus ignobilis debilis. This is a common songbird of forests and secondary growth in northwestern South America. It may not be particularly showy, and it may not sing the world’s most beautiful song, but surely no creature could deserve the name Turdus ignobilis debilis?* Continue reading

The compensations of academic service

I blogged a while ago about being the reasons people go into academic service, in particular as departmental Chairs*. I suggested that the vast majority of academics don’t take on such a job because they’d always dreamed of doing it, or because it comes with prestige or pay or other perks. Instead, they take on the job because somebody has to do it, and because our whole system of collegial governance would grind to a halt if we all depend on Chairs but nobody is willing to do the job.

That argument might seem to confirm your preconceptions about being Chair. You might think it’s largely a thankless job (and you’d be right). You might think you’d have to deal with some very unpleasant problems (right again). Continue reading

Can a scientific paper be too short? Part II

It was really fun to post Part I yesterday, but if you read it, perhaps you found it somewhat unsatisfying. Which is more or less my point, but here in Part II I’ll give myself enough room to develop the argument. The convergence of two things spurred me to write this post – one (at least on the surface) just fun; the other, a recent conversation I had about trends in modern publishing.

First, the fun thing: I came across what seems to be a competition to write the shortest possible abstract, and then to one-up that one, the shortest possible paper. Continue reading

Can a scientific paper be too short? Part I

 

Yes.

 

(Dissatisfied? More here)

Why grant funding should be spread thinly: some followup

Last month I posted “Why grant funding should be spread thinly”.  In a nutshell, I provided a simple mathematical model that I think supports the argument for an agency’s awarding many smaller grants rather than just a few very large ones. The discussion in the Comments section of that post was lively, no doubt because as scientist we’re heavily invested in the way society supports, or doesn’t support, our work. Our grants give us the tools we need to do the science we’re passionate about, and that passion comes out when we talk about granting policy.

My earlier post left some loose ends. Continue reading