Really, faculty jobs in teaching-focused institutions are not inherently less stressful or easier or more balanced

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When I was a postdoc and looking for faculty jobs, I harbored a common misconception about faculty jobs. Even though my mentor definitely schooled me well in advance, it took multiple years on the job for me to get a clue.

I was at a conference this week, and chatted with a lot of folks about career stuff. The misconception that I used to have kept coming up repeatedly from others, so I’d just like to douse it here in the open with a wet blanket. Continue reading

Huge conferences and the potential for alienation and isolation of junior scientists

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This weekend, I had an Experience. For the second half of Saturday, I went down to San Diego to crash the Society for Neuroscience conference. I visited with and learned from the #MeTooSTEM folks, and I got to meet so many wonderful people in person who I’ve only known from twitterbloglandia. I’d heard about SfN before, of course, but never had the occasion to go because, well, the stuff at this meeting is way out of my wheelhouse.

Anyhoo, let me tell you about SfN. As soon as I walked into the poster hall, I was like ZOMG. HOLY MOLY. WHAT THE WHAT. Continue reading

Some science twitter highlights #1

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I’ve found that I’ve learned a lot from twitter. It’s given a window into the lived experiences of others. And hopefully it’s gone the other way a little bit as well.

I see so many useful and/or interesting things on there, and so few of you are on there yourselves. Instead of saving them for recommended reads, here’s a new tack I’m trying out. Over the past few days, I’ve been bookmarking a few highlights to share with you here. And here they are. Continue reading

Is there a shortage of summer research opportunities?

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I’ve talked to a lot of talented undergraduates who have been in search of summer research opportunities, but end up not having any options available.

Doctoral programs expect undergraduate applicants to have meaningful research experience. This might not be on the application checklist, but it’s essentially a requirement. That means if we’re trying to be equitable about access to graduate education, that means we have make sure that access to undergraduate research experiences is equitable. Continue reading

Learning to be a better mentor and leader

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This is a guest post by Helen McCreery, with contributions from: Amanda K. Hund, Amber C. Churchill, Akasha M. Faist, Caroline A. Havrilla, Sierra M. Love Stowell, Julienne Ng, Cheryl A. Pinzone, and Elizabeth S. C. Scordato.

Along with the other listed contributors, I’m part of a team that recently published a new paper in Ecology and Evolution about mentoring in STEM: “Transforming mentorship in STEM by training scientists to be better leaders.” In this work we propose a model for substantial training of grad students and postdocs as a way to improve the overall quality of mentorship in academia. Continue reading

Recommended reads #137

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You might remember how I’ve said How People Learn is a supreme book that is foundational for evidence-based teaching practices, though it’s almost 20 years old and getting a dated?? Great news! The National Academies have now released How People Learn II. And you can download it for free!

This year’s crop of MacArthur Fellows just came out. As always, some amazing people and work are being supported. I was psyched to see developmental psychologist Kristina Olson (whose work was so spectacular, this year she managed to break the long drought of women recipients for NSF’s Waterman Award).

Why UC Merced is not the “dumb” university. I love this. I looooove this. Continue reading

Recommended reads #136

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I think this ¡Hola Papi! column has the bestest science outreach ever.

Perhaps it’s unwise to ask everybody in your class to for their pronouns.

Sharing your research with the public can actually influence public opinion.

Continue reading

Updating pedagogy for the mobile phone era

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I had some unanticipated teaching challenges last spring, when I was teaching a couple sections of an intro-level organismal biology lab. I was befuddled, because on the lab reports, students were getting some straightforward questions wrong. Remarkably wrong in an unexpected manner, nearly all with the same wrong answer. Continue reading

How can we avoid toxic environments?

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A_member_of_the_Marine_Corps_Air_Station_Beaufort_fire_department_is_helped_out_of_his_HAZMAT_suit_as_he_goes_through_a_decontamination_center_at_the_sight_chemical_spill_at_the_trainingIt seems almost inevitable. Good people end up in toxic environments. Once there, they must suffer the consequences, or execute an escape plan, or eventually become the tormentor themselves.

When we choose an academic home, for grad school, a postdoc, or a faculty position, how can we sniff out the places that will undermine us rather than elevate us? Continue reading

Becoming a climate reality leader

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Last week was not easy for me, schedule-wise. It was the first week of classes for my campus, my son’s third week back to school, and I was solo parenting, while my spouse was traveling for work.

So what did I do? I made things a bunch harder on myself, and spent the majority of the week at the LA Convention Center, to participate in the Leadership Training for Climate Reality. Continue reading

Goin’ admin

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I once said in the late 1990s, “Shoot me if I ever talk about getting a cell phone.” But the world evolved, and so do we. So, this semester, I’m entirely out of the classroom, and am taking on a part-time acting administrative role. I’ll be applying for the longer-term slot, too.

Four and a half years ago, I wrote on this site:

If I ended up taking on a half-time administrative job at my university, there’s no way the job would end up being a half-time gig. Even if I somehow only spent twenty hours per week working at it (and fat chance at that), far more hours would be sucked away by the seven administrative sausage-makers taking up space in my head. I’d be worrying about preventing one person from trying to gain access to another person’s budget. I’d try to sort out who I could cajole to join a committee. My calendar would have deadlines for reports popping up. Even when not in meetings with people who wear suits, I wouldn’t be able to eliminate the conversations with suits from my consciousness.

I want to think about manuscript revisions, my next lesson, the next grant and keeping tabs on the projects students are doing over the year. This last semester had more admin work than I’m used to, and regardless of the time I spent on it, the administrative stuff handicapped everything else. I could be a part-time administrator by the clock, but not by the brain.

Why would I be doing this? What is the world coming to? I’m not entirely sure, but let me make some sense of this for both you and me.

I’m now acting for the moment as the Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research. Someone stepped down, and I stepped into it, so to speak, until the campus does a more official search. But I think I want to do this for more than a few weeks, and maybe for a few years, if the campus will have me.

Why would I let myself take on this kind of role, and divide my time even further, preventing me from focusing on my research, my own students, and other goals? Not to mention being a responsible parent and spouse? Here I am flouting the advice of EO Wilson, who advised junior scientists to avoid being involved in university governance. But I’m not fond of pulling up the ladder from junior scientists. My work calendar is radically different from what it looked like five years ago, when I adamantly wanted to keep all so many competing interests out of my head so that I could focus on research, teaching and mentorship. It turns out that staying out of admin hasn’t been a recipe for focus. I still have ended up in a variety of leadership roles on campus, and I’ve become more engaged off campus. I think that by stepping into this role, I will be able to have more focus — and in directions that I think will be most effective. If I’m going to be taking on leadership roles, I might as well make it part of my actual job.

I’m still a faculty member — my office is still in my department, and I definitely have an ambitious research agenda, which is as much a part of my workload as it has always been. Let’s see how it goes over the next few months.

Announcing EEB Mentor Match 2018

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There are a lot of students who are enrolled in institutions that lack the resources to provide the mentorship that they need. And, there are so many PhD students and postdocs who would be interested in gaining more experience mentoring undergrads who would benefit from the experience. How about we put them together? Continue reading

How strobe ants do the strobe run

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It’s been a while since I posted about some of the science I’ve been doing, so here’s a fun natural history story for a change.

If you have the fortune of being in the northern end of Australia, you’ll find some ants at your feet that appear to be under a strobe light, paradoxically in the light of day. These gorgeous ants (see above) are colloquially known as strobe ants (genus Opisthopsis). They’re remarkably common, and definitely catch your eye. Continue reading

How do I manage to do all the things?

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Women so often are asked: “How do you juggle family, career, and everything else?” But men are rarely asked about balancing family and career, with the implicit assumption that they aren’t spending substantial time or effort on family affairs. I think this doesn’t represent the actual state of affairs in many households, though it is still true that the average guy doesn’t do his fair share of parenting and household work.

Women-in-science who are parents are typically cast as moms by public and professional eyes, while men-in-science who are parents are not cast as dads. This sets up unrealistic and unfair expectations. Continue reading