Category Archives: academia

The power of “thanks”

Image: Scrabble tiles by Wokandapix via pixabay.com, released to public domain.

Warning: a little saccharine.

My mother, no doubt like yours, was right about a lot of things (although she was wrong about some other things).  One thing she was really, really right about was the importance, and the power, of saying “thanks”.

I know, that seems trivial; but we sometimes forget.  This crossed my radar recently because I saw a tweet exhorting people to thank reviewers and editors (that is, members of journal editorial boards) who had worked, unpaid, with their manuscripts.  A reply* expressed surprise that journal editors might be unpaid (and therefore, implicitly, deserving of thanks).  I had several reactions to all this.

First: some people might think “why should I thank those power-wielding career-destroying gatekeeping mean people”?  I plead guilty to having this thought myself, occasionally and temporarily. Continue reading

Canada’s 150th, and how should we think about incomplete progress?

Image: Map of Canada by Pmg via Wikipedia.org, released to public domain.

Canada is 150 years old today, and there will be parties, and speeches, and fireworks.

I’m Canadian, and proud of my country – we’re mostly progressive, mostly supportive of diversity and human rights at home, and mostly a force for good abroad in the world.  We’re also mostly getting better on all those axes.  But we aren’t perfect on any of them, and like everyone, we have darker history (both pre- and post-Confederation) than we’d like.  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

Stephen King and me

Photo: The Dark Half, and Heard and Kitts 2012 Evolutionary Ecology 26:879

Do Stephen King and I have the same job, or different jobs?

This is, in one sense, a silly question with an obvious answer.  Stephen King is a popular-fiction writer, and I’m a scientist.  Stephen King’s job is to generate novels about the world as it isn’t, while my job is to generate understanding of the natural world as it is.  Clearly, Stephen King and I have different jobs.

At least, that’s how I would have answered my silly question early in my career.  Continue reading

No, your field isn’t “broader” than mine

Photo: Railway tracks and vanishing point, by annymoamo via pixabay.com, CC0.

It happened again last week.

I was sitting in a meeting, and someone explained that our cell biology course is different from our other courses (like my ecology course) because cell biology “is such a broad field”.  This has been explained to me over the years about cell biology, molecular biology, physiology, earth science, and I’m sure a few more I’m not remembering.  It’s been explained in the context of undergraduate curriculum, faculty hiring priorities, funding levels for granting agencies, library journal budgets, and more.  Every time, it makes me see red. Continue reading

A snippet of my 37-page CV

Why I have a 37-page version of my CV (and why you should too)

Image: just the first six pages of the stultifying detail in my 37-page CV

A while back on Twitter, someone asked which details she should keep track of on her CV – in particular, I think, with respect to multi-authored conference presentations.  All the details, I replied, which answer was promptly and rounded derided.  Why, a bunch of people asked, should anyone care about the 13th of 17 authors, the month or date of the conference, or the city it was held in?  Why bother?  Why keep the 37-page version of one’s CV – the version that’s (metaphorically) clogging up my hard drive*?

I couldn’t convince those who were deriding me, and to be fair, they had a considerable advantage: common sense and logic were entirely on their side. Continue reading

SciComm, and who should do it

Image: From Science Borealis’ project “100 Voices for Canadian Science Communication”; © The Vexed Muddler, reproduced with permission.  That’s me as a Cobblestone Tiger Beetle, Cicendela marginipennis – a beautiful beetle, vulnerable because of its locally rare and very scattered distribution in riverbank cobble habitats from Alabama to New Brunswick.

 

Some months ago, the Canadian blogging aggregator Science Borealis solicited thoughts about what lay science communication, or SciComm, is and why it’s important.  I sent in the thoughts above and promptly forgot about it.  Last week I was startled, pleased, and just the tiniest bit uneasy to see my quote making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook (wonderfully illustrated by The Vexed Muddler).

Why uneasy?  Continue reading