Monthly Archives: June 2017

Thoughts from a room on the 13th floor

Photo: elevator buttons © Shane Adams via flickr.com CC BY 2.0

 Last month I went to my favourite conference (the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution), and checked into the conference hotel.  The desk clerk gave me room 1310, and I headed for the elevator and pressed the button for the 13th floor.  And then I did a double-take.  The 13th floor?  I don’t remember ever staying on a 13th floor; in North America, at least, buildings usually hop from the 12th floor to the 14th with only a mysterious lacuna in between.

Nothing untoward happened to me on the 13th floor, of course.  But my stay in room 1310 made me think about the 13-is-bad-luck superstition, and what it says about the human concepts of the universe.  What kind of thinking is behind our usual no-13th-floor convention?  First, we have to believe that the universe is constructed such that the 13th of something is disfavoured.  Second, there has to be some agency (whether natural law or supernatural) omniscient and omnipotent enough to keep track of what things are the 13th of something (floors, days, whatever), and to punish us for being on those things.  And third, that same omniscient and omnipotent agency has to be dumb enough to be hoodwinked by our labelling the 13th of something “14”.* Continue reading

Poll: where do you stand on asking for feedback on unsuccessful job applications?

This post is jointly written by Steve Heard and Jacquelyn Gill, and appears in addition on Jacquelyn’s blog The Contemplative Mammoth

A couple of weeks ago, one of us (Steve) posted “How to write, and read, a (job) rejection letter”. (I should clarify that we’re talking here about the university/college academic job market*).  One piece of advice to job candidates got some interesting pushback on Twitter, including from Jacquelyn.  It was this piece:

Finally, realize that the letter isn’t an invitation to further conversation…Don’t contact the letter writer, or anyone else, to ask for further feedback (not even “so I can improve my future applications”).  Believe me, we understand how much you want that feedback, because when we were in your position we wanted it too.   But the same confidentiality considerations that kept the letter short and a bit vague apply to later conversations too. 

Continue reading

“Peer Community In”: Beyond the traditional publishing model (guest post)

I recently learned about Peer Community In (PCI), a new system for reviewing and recommending preprints. I’m really intrigued.  It’s true that I’m an old fuddy-duddy who’s on record as saying that we often exaggerate the problems with the status quo, and as not liking to think outside the box.  And yet there are good reasons to think it might be good to have other ways beyond traditional journals to disseminate science.  We should experiment with a variety of new systems, and PCI seems like one well worth exploring.  Read on to learn more!

What follows is a guest post by Denis Bourguet (denis.bourguet@inra.fr), Benoit Facon (benoit.facon@inra.fr), Thomas Guillemaud (thomas.guillemaud@inra.fr), and Ruth Hufbauer (hufbauer@colostate.edu).  DB, BF, and TG are the founders of PCI, and RH is a colleague and member of the board of PCI Evol Biol.

We believe that the current system of publishing with academic journals suffers from four crucial problems. First, Continue reading

Personality, politics, profile

Photo: Not doing science (© Jamie Heard)

Warning: navel gazing (again).

How much is science something apart, and how much is it connected to politics and human personality?  This question has been in the air a lot lately, for example in discussion around the US (and global) Marches for Science.  My point today isn’t to recapitulate those discussions.  They resonated with me, though, because of my evolving thinking about my presence online.

When I first took up social media, I was determined that I would keep my Twitter and blog profile purely professional.  I would tweet and blog only about science, and put personality, politics, and pretty much everything else aside.  I was even a little derisive about this, making fun of people who live-tweet their breakfasts.  But I think this was wrong, and I’ve started to loosen up a little. Continue reading

Why is our Garden green?

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden.  I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.

 

It’s spring, and our Garden is beginning to turn green.  That sounds utterly unsurprising; and yet, lurking in that simple observation is one of the deepest mysteries in the science of ecology.  Why, exactly, is the world green? Continue reading

How to write, and read, a (job) rejection letter

Photos: Header: (part of) one of my many, many rejections.  Embedded image: the whole thing.

I’ve gotten a lot of rejection letters over my career.  Job rejections, grant rejections, manuscript rejections, fellowship rejections – you name it.  Every scientist does.  I’ve also written quite a few rejection letters – mostly, in my roles as an editor and as Department Chair.  I don’t like writing them much more than I like receiving them.  But if there’s a bright side to this coin, it’s that my all-too-extensive experience suggests that there are better rejection letters and worse ones.  I can suggest a few ways to steer the ones you write, and the ones you read, towards the “better” category (and please add your own thoughts in the Replies). Today, rejection letters for academic job applicants.  In a future post, I’ll tackle rejection letters for manuscripts. Continue reading

Where do I find the time to blog?

Photo: Ladybird clock, by Kristie Heard (photo S. Heard)

 Warning: navel-gazing.

 I get asked quite often, “Where on earth do you find the time to blog?”  It’s a good question, actually; one I often asked myself in the early days of Scientist Sees Squirrel, and one to which I’ve become tempted to change my answer.

There’s no doubt that blogging takes time.  I write about 7 posts a month, each taking anywhere from half an hour to a few hours.  Occasionally, I get sucked down a rabbithole* and take even longer on one.  That’s time I could be spending on research, or with my family, or cooking, or curling, or perhaps even reviewing your manuscript.  How can I justify this? Continue reading