Not everything about 2020 is horrible: We’re running EEB Mentor Match again! More than ever this year, undergraduates from under-resourced institutions need guidance to help them into graduate school. Undergraduates in minoritized groups can use a boost from those of us who have cracked the code to get into grad school and get funded.
We are pairing up students seeking support for fellowship and grad school applications with more experienced scientists who have agreed to give support and advice throughout the process. If you’re looking for a mentor, or you’d like to volunteer to be a mentor, please sign up!
It must be so difficult to be in charge of a university right now. This is a critical moment for the future of every institution, and every college and university is facing their own unique uncertainties.
In the previous post, I was saying how it is known and obvious that in-person teaching in the Fall is a very bad idea. Considering how many people are actually planning to teach in the Fall, I imagine they perceive this assertion as myopic or simplistic. Because there’s more to be dealt with than the virus.
Taking steps to keep the campus community safe can be expensive. Some approaches are better and more feasible than others, though you can only really know in hindsight. Whenever we resolve this epidemic in the US, the surviving institutions will be in recovery mode, and everybody in charge all want to be positioned well. This kind of forward thinking is necessary for the folks in charge.
In my privilege as a tenured professor in a (California) state university backed by a strong union, I have the luxury of knowing that my own livelihood is relatively well protected. But this isn’t true for everybody I work with, and our students are at very high exposure and face extreme challenges because of this epidemic. Nonetheless, I have some level of dispassionate distance on this issue. Nobody is going to blame me personally if my university bungles the response to the pandemic in the Fall. (And, anyhow, it looks like they’re doing a great job, by the way.)
The people who are making the decisions have some major responsibilities, including:
education of the student body
fiscal health of the institution
institutional reputation and prestige
risk management (safety and health of the community)
In our particular moment, who the heck can attend to all of these responsibilities simultaneously and do a good job for all of them?
In sizing up the pandemic plans of most universities, I have no idea how to identify the boundary between denial and deceit.
Bringing people together on campuses is a recipe for spreading the disease. It doesn’t have to do with the dorms, or frat parties, or any of that. It’s just that teaching in classrooms will circulate the virus. This is known.
When professors hit on students, it harms their academic performance. We know this because a series of experiments have now been published. How can you ethically do an experiment on this? Looks like you gotta read the paper.
“As a minority student, the applicant might serve as a role model to other such students interested in STEM careers. He has participated actively in a wide variety of outreach activities (none specifically targeted at minority students). This application has merits but a number of weaknesses temper my enthusiasm.”
I received this review back in 2014 after applying to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowships Program (GRFP), but its impact has stuck with me since. Growing up in Sedalia, Missouri, a town nearly 90% white and less than 5% black, I imagined academia would be something better, an environment where my color would never be used against me, where I did not have to ever again hear people driving by in their trucks yelling the N-word at me as I waited on the corner for the bus. How naïve. Yes, the visible racism was still there- cotton balls strewn across the lawn of the university’s Black Culture Center, swastikas etched into the library carrels. I was used to this visible racism. What really stunned me was the invisible racism- the sinister biases that were so commonplace, so traditional, that it was hard to believe that they even existed. I felt and lived through their negative impact but there was no calling card left behind- no swastika, no Confederate flag.
I shared this not long ago, but it seems that not everybody is yet aware of or talking about this landmark paper in PNAS. The summary says: “By analyzing data from nearly all US PhD recipients and their dissertations across three decades, this paper finds demographically underrepresented students innovate at higher rates than majority students, but their novel contributions are discounted and less likely to earn them academic positions. The discounting of minorities’ innovations may partly explain their underrepresentation in influential positions of academia.”
When universities start teaching in the Fall, what choices does the pandemic give us? Here’s a full taxonomy of fifteen options. (Including HyFlex, which seems to be popular even though it’s also perhaps the most difficult for faculty to pull off well?) What is your university saying it will do, and what do you think they will actually do when the Fall arrives?
When we made the switch to online because of the pandemic, I imagine we all were asking ourselves: “How can students learn under these circumstances, and how can I possibly teach well?” Now that we’ve adjusted somewhat, I think now is the time for us to consider another consequential question: Which technological tools might be harming the educational environment of our virtual classroom?” In particular, is it a good idea to implement automated electronic surveillance of our students in this time of crisis?
In academia and science we pride ourselves in being evidence-led. Our research stems from countless hours of painstaking work, yet when we give advice or plan our futures we fall back onto ‘common sense’, conventional wisdom and personal experience. However it is important to realise that we are not perfectly rational actors and so often fall afoul of basic logical errors, one of which is forgetting how unrepresentative we and our peers are of those we seek to help.
One of my goals with this blog is to make evidence-based teaching practices more accessible to scientists who aren’t prepared for a deep dive into educational jargon and theory. I sometimes have been asked to recommend a book that does this, and I couldn’t find one. They say that you should write the book that you think the world needs, so that’s what I did. It’s an outgrowth of Small Pond Science, but it’s all new material.
During my years as an undergraduate student I noticed that different sciences have been moving forward to do more interdisciplinary work and because of this movement, I had the opportunity to work with amazing scientists that redirect the traditional scientific perspective and integrate it with other disciplines. I think this is amazing! My perspective on science is that science aims to understand the different components about life, but life does not only work in one direction. Because of this reason, we, as scientists, have been collaborating and developing new questions with different perspectives. As a result, we have been able to expand our knowledge on how to improve the way we address research questions.
The pandemic is, quite sensibly, consuming a lot of our energy and most of us are stretched quite thin. I thought it would be nice to bring up something of a distraction, but also relevant to our lives right now. What music are you working to? (When you are able to work, that is.)
Thank goodness, nobody I am working with has asked or expected me to maintain my productivity at the level it was before All Of This started. Though from what I’m hearing from others, there’s some folks expressing that this social distancing is a great moment to write a crap ton of papers and grants. Yeah no, it’s not working out like that. For those who are positioned to do so, I wish you well.
Oh, and definitely not least: Stephen Heard’s new book is now out! “Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels” (amazon|indiebound) My copy has still yet to arrive! This definitely looks fun.
Yesterday, I was reading how some K-12 districts were switching to a pass/fail model for this semester. Two beats later, I thought — hey — this is something that looks important to college students too.
This morning, I saw that higher ed twitter has been talking about it, and many universities have already taken action. And it’s part of the discussion in the slack channel for my department (which after some years, is no longer moribund). So, this is a thing (and it’s not my idea), and if your institution isn’t on it, perhaps this would be a moment for some leadership and bring it up with the policy makers?
Here is a rather substantial list of sites with online laboratory modules for a great variety of STEM disciplines. If I was teaching a lab this semester, and was compelled to teach online on very short notice, I’d probably be spending hours combing through what’s available. It looks really useful for this moment that we are in. It was assembled by folks on a POD Network listserv*.
It looks like folks who have more than a tangential relationship to the Pruitt affair are now being quite mum, as Dr. Pruitt has done gone lawyered up and sent out a bevvy of nasty letters bearing what I imagine is letterhead from a very scary law firm. I only know about this from this news story that came out in Science yesterday. The kicker in that article, a quote from the EIC of Ecology Letters, pretty much sums up the slowly unfolding situation: “I don’t think it looks promising that a simple, nonfraud, compelling explanation will surface.”
Some of us have already stopped holding classes in person. It looks like a lot more of us will be making the shift online very soon, as the COVID-19 outbreak will continue to expand in the United States.
We have a couple months left in the semester. I don’t think anybody knows whether campuses that go to online teaching will switch back to campus before the semester is over? It looks like we need to be prepared to stay online through the end of the spring.
I think one of the sillier rituals in academia is composing cover letters to accompany our manuscripts when we submit them to a journal.
We stopped submitting manuscripts by post about 20 years ago. You’d put three copies of your manuscript into a manila folder, and cover these manuscripts with a letter, as a form of explanation. “Hi, I’m sending you these manuscripts because you’re the editor and I’m submitting it to your journal.” And while you’re at it, it doesn’t hurt to write few lines why you think the paper is exciting and relevant for the audience of the journal.
But now that we’re not doing manuscript reviews by post, why are we still doing cover letters?
It often takes a large number of applications for highly qualified applicants to land a tenure track position. Let’s say that many universities signed on to a common application system for faculty applications. What would that look like, and how would it change the job market and the outcomes of searches?
I taught biostatistics for several years. You know what was one of bigger challenges of teaching that class? Finding articles to use in class that had straightforward application of the statistical principles that we were learning in class.
Last week, I had a conversation with someone who was mildly cheesed off about how some universities make tenure-track job offers that expire within a couple weeks. If you don’t really understand how and why this goes down, please let me explain.
But if you don’t want the explanation, I’ll spare you the cognitive load: If you don’t want to be in a position where you might have to accept or decline a job offer in a window of a couple weeks, just save everybody the trouble and don’t apply for tenure-track positions at universities that are not highly ranked.