Monthly Archives: January 2017

Wonderful Latin names: Spurlingia darwini

Photo: Spurlingia forsteriana, from the collection of the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie, Leiden (photo released to public domain).  No photos of S. darwini appear to be online.

“How many species have been named for Charles Darwin?”, I wondered a couple of hours ago, before tumbling down an internet rabbithole looking for the answer.  The answer, as I’m sure you’d guess, is a lot.  This paper lists about 260 animal taxa named for Darwin (I’m excluding the ones named after places that had in their turn been named after Darwin).  But there are plenty of plants, too, so the best answer I can find to my question is the maddeningly imprecise “hundreds”. Continue reading

Early career researchers make great peer reviewers. How can we get more of them?

This is a joint post by Steve Heard and Timothée Poisot (who blogs over here).  Steve is an Associate Editor for The American Naturalist and for FACETS, while Timothée is an Associate Editor for PLOS Computational Biology and Methods in Ecology & Evolution.  However, the opinions here are our own, and may or may not be shared by those journals, by other AEs, or by anyone, really.

Working as an (associate) editor can be rewarding, but it’s not always easy – in part because finding reviewers can be a challenge.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, editors often think first to call on senior scientists; but many of us have learned that this isn’t the only or the best path to securing helpful peer reviews.  In our experience, some of the best reviews come from early career researchers (ECRs).  ECR reviewers tend to complete reviews on time, offer comprehensive comments reflecting deep familiarity with up-to-date literature, and to be constructive and kind while delivering criticism.  Online survey data confirm that our positive impressions of ECR reviewers are widely shared among editors (who nonetheless underuse ECRs), while other surveys indicate that ECRs are very willing to review, with many even feeling honoured by such requests.  [Both sets of surveys mentioned here were particular to ecology and evolution, although we suspect the results apply more widely.]

So there’s a paradox here: we (editors in general) love ECR reviews, but we underuse them.  Why?  Continue reading

Universities that did not hire me (a chronicle of absolutely normal rejection)

Rejection is normal in academia.

One could take that as depressing, I suppose, but one shouldn’t.  Rejection is normal in most everything; if you go through life without being rejected, you’re definitely not trying hard enough.  But this can be hard to remember, especially when the stakes are high – when you’ve submitted your first paper, or applied for your first job at a university you’d love to join. It’s only human to find such rejections weighing you down (and perhaps confirming your imposter syndrome).  One way to lessen the impact is surely to see your own rejections in the context of other peoples’ – and that’s the idea behind the “shadow CV” or “anti-CV”.  (Here’s Jacquelyn Gill explaining the same idea, but better.)*

I don’t have a complete shadow CV, because I haven’t kept track of every time I’d had a paper or a grant rejected.  But I was sifting through a filing cabinet and discovered that I do have a pretty-much complete list of the (academic) jobs I’ve been rejected from.  Continue reading

My plodding journey to better writing (guest post)

This is a guest post by Rob Johns, an entomologist and Research Scientist with the Canadian Forest Service.  Rob and I collaborate, and together try to help our coadvised students navigate their own journeys to writing.

Science at its root is about story-telling and Steve and I have often exchanged stories of our “writer’s journeys” – A.K.A., our paths to becoming better scientific writers. We ‘seasoned’ writers should tell our stories more often and without fear of sharing the gory details. Pondering past struggles and hard lessons can be cathartic and baring these stories openly may offer hope to newer writers facing their own struggles. My own story (or perhaps my mea culpa) follows a classic story arc: it begins hopeful, looks bleak in the middle, and ends in catharsis, with a few lessons mixed in here and there. This is roughly the story I tell my own grad students when they struggle with the grind of writing. Continue reading

This is what a terrible teaching statement looks like

Last month I offered some advice about how to write a terrible teaching statement – or, more usefully, how not to.  The post was inspired by many years of serving on search committees (not, I will point out again, by any particular applicant’s example).  But in researching an upcoming blog post, I stumbled across a copy of my own teaching statement, from the last time I was on the job market.  And guess what?  It was terrible in many of the very ways I mentioned. Continue reading

Populations sign for Gross, Nebraska (population 3)

Small-town mayors,functional traits, and the estimation of extremes

Warning: gets a bit wonkish near the end.

Have you ever noticed that the mayor of a small town is fairly often a bonehead?  There’s a simple reason we’d expect that to be true – and that simple reason has implications for academic searches, the traits we analyze in ecology and systematics, and lots of other things, too (please add to my list in the Replies).  The simple reason is this:  it’s really hard to estimate extremes.  It’s also really hard to understand why so many people act as if they’re unaware of this.

Let’s start with those mayors.  Continue reading