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?
Chimpanzees have a penchant for throwing rocks at trees, and prefer tree species that make cool sounds.
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.
Let’s fix that! How about we crowdsource a list of articles that have great examples of common statistical concepts for us to use in teaching? I’ve created a google spreadsheet for this, please feel free to add to it! I’ve gotten it off a start with two papers that I’ve used a lot. (They date to the mid 2000s, because, well, that’s when I started teaching biostats, but they’re still great examples.) Please check out, and add to, this spreadsheet!
Here are a couple figures from one of the papers I added to the spreadsheet (Frederickson and Gordon 2007):
Hark, what is that I see? A straightforward example of an ANOVA with a Tukey post-hoc, in the wild? Can it be?
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.
A few weeks ago, I was hit by an unexpected gut punch. It was an email from a trusted colleague, obliterating trust to smithereens. It has taken me a while to recover my breath. I’ve been in the process of rethinking who and how I trust. What should it take for a person to be granted trust, and what does it take to maintain or lose that trust?
Shortly after news of the Pruitt affair broke last week, it didn’t take long for a lot of us to ask ourselves: Can we trust all of our peers to be ethical? When our professional success, and the success of our students, rides on successful collaborations, what is the pathway to building successful collaborations? As this worry has been occupying far too much of my mind for weeks now, and current events have triggered discipline-wide introspection into the same question, I don’t feel so alone.
If you’re not one of those folks who pays close attention to social media and the lil’ blogosphere of ecology and evolution, it’s possible you haven’t heard about this, yet. But I imagine you will, soon enough. Before this ends up in the pages of Nature and Science and the New York Times, I have some thoughts I’d like to share (though not in any particular order), but first, I’ll give you the lowdown.
My head spins when I see science opportunities designed to increase the diversity of applicants to graduate STEM programs, they are designed to exclude students who just graduated. I think this filters out a lot of the target population.
Low-income students receive less support as undergraduates, so it’s harder for them to make the transition into grad school while they’re enrolled as undergraduates. Then, once these students graduate, they get even less support!
Based on the things I’ve been reading lately, the answer to the titular question is “mostly no.”
It’s been a whole month since the last one of these? How about I prune this down to the gems, how about that?
You want to write for the public, but about what? This is a short and very sweet guide to being an academic in public. It does a great job of explaining how you need to talk outside what you have been trained to think what your lane is.
Welcome back to a new semester! I don’t know about you, but I am often generally unpleased with how office hours go. Either there’s the crickets/deluge dynamic, or the students who really think would most benefit from coming in don’t. I don’t have any magical cures, but I have heard a variety of suggestions about switching up office hours to make them more accessible. Maybe some of these are new to you, eh?
-Don’t hold office hours in your office. Hold them in a more public location, such as a campus coffeeshop, or a non-quiet part of the library, or (when the weather improves), outside. Why do this? Because professors’ offices are intimidating and they’re our territory. Also, because some students have had bad experience interacting privately with professors, meeting in public is kinder to them.
This is central concept for science outreach. Some interactions today have led me to wonder whether we are all on the same page, so let me ask you:
Early in the days of this site, I started eavesdropping on conversations among experienced science communicators. I kept hearing over and over that we needed to kill “the deficit model” with fire. And then I did a bit of reading, and it was easy to see what they were seeing. For professional science communicators, it’s frustrating to see scientists who dabble in outreach using the deficit model, because they’re just getting it wrong and fouling the environment.
The deficit model of science communication is the idea that the target audience has gaps in their knowledge of science, and that through outreach, we can teach people and fill in these gaps. There’s a long history of research to show that this Deficit Model doesn’t work.
Seriously. Explaining science to people doesn’t lead to them understanding or accepting the science. It’s weird, right? People are irrational. Including us.
I see the irony that I’m here to spread word about the ineffectiveness of the deficit model by simply informing you about it with evidence. According to the deficit model, this isn’t expected to work for people who are simply browsing this blog periodically. So, what am I supposed to do?
So if I’m really trying to convince you to drop the deficit model when you talk about science with non-scientists, I really should be doing this by telling a story. And I do have a great story for you! About how when I used the deficit model, it failed miserably! It’s a hilarious story! (Here’s the link to the post with the story about ants and snakes, which you presumably haven’t seen if you are new to small pond within the past five years).
I genuinely think that our understanding of the ineffectiveness of the deficit model is important for the future of our species, because collective action on climate change requires more of us to become passionate about switching to a clean energy economy. And we’re not going to get there by teaching climate science.
When you’re talking about climate change, feel free to mention the evidence, but more importantly, tell stories about how climate change has affected you and people you love, and find out how climate change is affecting the people you’re talking with, and tell that story. If you’re discussing the evidence, there are so many compelling stories about how people have uncovered evidence of climate change and how we are causing it, such as the folks behind the Keeling Curve. And the people being impacted by droughts and floods and fires and wars over access to water and hydrocarbons. For people to believe that rapid action on climate change is necessary, change must come from the heart, which means we’ve got to speak from the heart.
We contain multitudes. Our courses should reflect this.
We contain multitudes. Like an ecological niche, a person’s identity is composed of infinite dimensions that make up a person or group’s collective identity space (Figure 1). However, in science – a discipline that has historically valued objective and unbiased contributors – students and researchers often find it difficult to freely express their identities. Being open and valued because of our identities enhances social justice, makes us more productive, and leads to innovation. Yet, because science is embedded in a biased society, our scientific community is often unwelcoming to people from many backgrounds. Women, people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, and likely many other groups (that we lack data for) are marginalized or underrepresented relative to their global populations.
Figure 1: A person’s identity, like an ecological niche, is comprised of infinite dimensions, some of which are included in this depiction of “identity space”
Who is doing science goes on to influence the research questions that are pursued and how results are framed. This affects whether marginalized and underrepresented students find science relevant to themselves, which also influences recruitment and retention. For example, biology has been weaponized against marginalized groups throughout history and, in many cases, still is today. Students that see these harmful biases may be alienated from pursuing a career in biology or doing research that is inclusive to their identity. This perpetuates the stereotype of who scientists are and what kind of work they can do, thus contributing to a cycle of exclusion (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Explicit and implicit biases act as a selective force against students from underrepresented groups (akin to stabilizing selection). The low diversity of scientist role models has created the scientist stereotype which further fuels the selective force against students from underrepresented/marginalized backgrounds through mechanisms such as stereotype threat. Made with figures modified from Western Michigan University, Fermi Lab, and Your Article Library.
We need change.
I inadvertently created my own archive of pre-internet academic life, and spent some of this weekend exploring it.
It’s typically exciting to find out that your hypothesis is wrong – and I was wrong! Here’s my back-of-the-metaphorical-envelope analysis of the poll that y’all completed a few weeks ago.
I predicted that teaching loads were negatively associated with endowment size. I expected that the more money an institution had, the less that the faculty taught. I also thought that this effect would be most robust at small liberal arts colleges (SLACs). But, nope, that’s not the case.
Would your cat eat your dead body? Now there’s peer-reviewed science to answer this question.
Vanillanomics [highlighted read]
The science of effective mentorship in STEMM – including how to develop individual development plans for mentees.
Of course, institutions with more money have lower teaching loads. I have a specific hypothesis: Endowment size predicts teaching loads, like this:
But is this true? If it’s true, how true is it? How much variance is there? Does enrollment matter, such that it’s endowment-per-student? I’d like an answer to these questions, in the realm of non-PhD-granting institutions. If you have a minute, and you’re faculty at one of these places, could you humor me by filling out this quiz? If you have another minute, maybe pass it to colleagues at other institutions? The reward will be a post with the findings. It’s embedded below, but if you want a direct link, here you go.
Some folks are surprised to learn that cheating is extremely common. I mean, it’s the norm.
On the other hand, even though our allegedly expect or require us to report all incidents of academic misconduct, faculty generally aren’t doing this. What’s up with that?
Instead of writing about it here, I wrote about it for the Chronicle of Higher Education. If that link gives you a paywall, then this one with Chronicle Vitae should work for you.
I know a lot of people who prevent copies of their exams from leaving their classrooms. I think this is a bad idea.
I understand the motivation. I’ve taught several courses on a repeated basis, every semester or every year, for many years. Writing good exam questions is difficult, and it’s nice to be able to re-use questions.
But even though I understand the motivation, I also see a few major problems.
1. It doesn’t work. Even if you try to lock down your classroom as much as possible, copies of your exams are going to be getting out there. Trust me on this. It takes just a moment or two to take photos of an exam. Even in the days before everybody had a miniature camera or two in their pockets, exams got circulated. And the more adversarial you get about locking down copies of your exam, the more you emphasize their value to students, and the more these exams will circulate (which is the Tarkin Effect).
Here is a sublime profile of biologist Art Shapiro. And apparently, everybody I know who has worked with him says it’s spot on.
A librarian discovers many rare books have had images of beetles cut out of them. It sounds like a disaster, but turns out to be a very cool story.
Some folks really hate pie charts, but I think for some purposes, they can communicate precisely the information we want them to. But, on the other hand, who’s our real enemy? Bar graphs.
Bar graphs tell us the mean, and some kind of measure of variance (standard deviation? standard error? confidence interval?). And that’s it.
You might have noticed ads on the site.
The very short explanation is that I’ve decided it doesn’t matter that much, and I can use the revenue to support student researchers, and perhaps pay people who want to write for this site. If it bugs you, then please consider using an adblocker.
I just saw this, and I think everybody needs to see this. Here it is:
Do you have a funded seminar series? How often can you bring in outside speakers? Do you wish you had the opportunity to bring in people more often?
I’ve recently talked about the hidden labor of academic advising, and also the need to provide an education in academia and academic culture. I think it’s important to discuss how these two things intersect. If we are trying to bring more first-gen and minoritized folks into this academic sphere, then one of the first steps is making sure that folks know* what it means to be a professor, what it means to do research, and what it means to go to grad school. Because I think the typical undergrad really has no idea about this stuff when they go to college, and the sooner they are aware of this, the sooner they have the possibility of choosing this route (or choose against it, of course).
Let me illustrate this with an example. From a conversation that I have had so many times, with so many students.
I do a lot of advising for students who are pursuing teaching careers. And in the past, I’ve served on a lot of interview panels for students seeking to join the Noyce Scholars programs that we run at CSU Dominguez Hills. Here’s a thing I’ve heard, something like:
“I want to be a professor. I want to teach at in a university. I suppose I could teach high school for a while, and then after a while I can get my advanced degree and find a university position.”
I hear this all the time. I mean, it’s possible I’ve heard this a hundred times. Definitely more than 50. At least in the population of students I work with, it’s apparently a very common career plan. It sounds entirely sensible and reasonable in a lot of ways. I don’t think it’s based on many assumptions, but it’s not informed by the hidden curriculum.
It sounds entirely sensible and reasonable. There’s just information that these students don’t have. In a single conversation, it’s not really healthful to dive into all of the ways that this isn’t a common career path that would be feasible for most folks**.
Because so many people of our undergrads have this idea of a career plan, then I can infer pieces of the hidden curriculum that our students aren’t aware of:
-What the job of a professor at a 4-year institution is beyond teaching
-What it’s like doing research, and what research is
-That earning a PhD in a STEM field while teaching a in full time K-12 position is somewhere between extremely difficult to impossible, and that leaving that solidly-paying job for a graduate stipend could be perhaps just as difficult
-How grad school admissions works
-The odds of getting a position as a professor after finishing graduate school
There’s no reason that anybody in college would be expected to know this stuff unless they’ve been in a social role where they would just absorb this stuff from their environment. But for most of my students, I suspect we as their professors are the people who they know best who have PhDs. So that means it’s on us to provide this cultural knowledge so that people know the options they have in front of them.
So I’m sitting in my office with a student who has just finished on semester of lower division biology. And is interested in becoming a professor. And who has no prior exposure to research. They haven’t expressed an interest in research, because they haven’t really been aware that this is even one of the options open to them. They’re into organismal biology (including plants! and bugs! and chemistry! Three things that go so well together!), and so we talk about finding opportunities to do some research. About applying to REUs. About finding a chance to work in someone’s lab. About how students can get paid to do research. And that if you are interested in doing a PhD, this is the perfect time to get the research experienced needed to land into grad school.
I could have limited my advising for this student to the pathway towards teaching biology at the high school level. Which is not any less than being a professor, it’s just different. But I would really like this student to be able to make that choice. And a real choice is a fully informed choice. And you can’t make that fully informed choice based on a conversation, it takes some tangible experience to know the many differences are between K-12 teaching and the professoriate, and what each of these professional routes looks like.
When people talk about increasing diversity in STEM, what that really means is changing the fundamental composition of the pool of people who are applying to grad school, who are applying for postdocs, and who are applying for faculty positions. To change the composition of that pool, we have to bring people into higher ed who don’t even have grad school on their radar. I’ve met so many students in their last semester of college who are only learning that research is cool, and what grad school is. Those conversations have to happen early earlier than that. And opportunities need to be presented earlier. Which means that when these students are applying to your labs and your REU programs, it’s your job to provide that training. This is a lot of work. That’s okay, because, as someone one said, nothing truly worth doing comes easily. I’m not sure how true that is (after all, going out for eggplant parmesan tonight sounds very worth doing, and it’s not that difficult), but maybe it applies this this situation.
*To be clear, it’s just as important for folks in academia such as myself to evolve so that it shouldn’t be necessary for people to adopt a different identity and conform to the homophilous mold of academia. It’s our job to make this “pipeline” more accessible and remove these barriers tied to social capital. But still, folks gotta know what the career pathway looks like.
**I know of a few people who were K-12 teachers before getting their PhD in a STEM field and them became a professor in a STEM department. (Though think this is common in Education, right?) But in STEM this definitely not a standard approach and the capacity to do so often involves leveraging a substantial amount of financial and familial privilege. This seems to be a little more common for community college positions, maybe?
I sat down to my laptop this morning and was looking forward to getting to work. But then I looked at the news.
And I saw this:
The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) came out with a report last week about biases against women in the publication process. The highlights — or rather, the lowlights — are in the story in Nature about this report. It’s a one-minute read, please read it.
This might as well be straight from a science fiction novel, but it’s our reality: Scientists around the world have banded together to write a major warning to everybody on the planet about the climate emergency (again).
At mid-career, a lot of the research techniques and approaches that people in use today today didn’t exist when we were in grad school.
When I started my own lab around the turn of the century, we didn’t have R but there was S, microsatellites were a cutting edge technology replacing allozymes, the browser we used was Netscape Navigator, GPS units couldn’t get a read through a dense forest canopy, phones were only used for calling people, the number of genomes we had sequenced was around zero, and Transcriptomics might have been a ska band.
This post tells you about a couple routes for funding to retool.
Based on some recent conversations, I’m realizing that an underappreciated piece of professoring is academic advising. I don’t think I’ve written about it on here yet (?), but a substantial piece of work by faculty in our department is advising our majors. Just like the unseen labor of writing recommendation letters, doing quality academic advising is very important but how much and how well we do this (or not) generally gets overlooked.
If you’re at a small liberal arts college or a smaller regional state university, then you probably are doing a lot of advising.
Metaphorically, that is.
What can you do to increase the representation of minoritized people in your department and in your lab?
Well, the big answer to the question is that anything worthwhile takes work. This is not just worthwhile, it’s important. So, it will require effort on your part. And it means challenging yourself to learn new things, and instead of just adopting new practices, but are open to a new mindset, which means aligning your actions with your values. That’s hard work.
But do you want an easy win? Do you want a practical piece of advice, about something you can do that will work?