Recommended reads #104


It’s been two weeks already!? Here’s some reads for what remains of the long holiday weekend, for those of us in the US.

In mentorship, a sense of belonging may be most important

Getting past Bloom’s taxonomy in a way that focuses on the minds of the students

This online comic as struck a big chord with a a lot of women I know. It explains how many men don’t share the burden of parenting and running a household by simply thinking that doing stuff when asked is enough. The cognitive load of keeping track of domestic affairs is not a trivial matter.

What actually helps poor students? Human beings.

Daniel Llavaneras is a Venezuelan entomologist who recently moved to Chile to enroll in a graduate program. On his blog, he explains what he was leaving behind in Venezuela. I can’t possibly summarize this in a nugget, please, just read it.

The Antikythera mechanism is a 2,000-year-old computer. This is seriously amazing to me on multiple levels.

From 2012: using ecosystem modeling to understand why women are driven out of research careers.

A professor gets fired for sexual harassment.

Microsoft is blaming girls for not becoming scientists. This could be none more full of crap.

A tenured professor was fired after complaining that the university hid a threat of violence from the minority faculty members who were targets of the threat.

Christian Ott is a sexually harassing professor at CalTech whose suspension from campus expires next semester. He came back for prematurely for a one-day visit, under close supervision, and this led to protests. When there is no shortage of highly qualified astronomers out there who can readily fill Ott’s shoes, why is CalTech sticking out their neck for this guy who fired his own graduate student because he couldn’t control his own crush on her? On one hand, there’s absolutely no excuse for tolerating sexual misconduct. On the other hand, if they let him go, then it’s likely that some other less discerning institution will pick him up, and he’ll receive a free institutional pass on harassment for the rest of his career. What is the place for education and reform for an inexperienced junior faculty member guilty of harassing his students? Then again, Ott has demonstrated a lack of remorse or understanding since he was removed from campus to date. I know if I was working on campus at CalTech, I wouldn’t want him on campus at all, and if I were an administrator at another university, I wouldn’t want CalTech to pass the buck. But I wouldn’t want any measures taken that would damper the slowly rising tide that is outing some of the most egregious harassers.

Is your syllabus student-centered? Here’s a tool to figure that out.

What I didn’t realize then (but seems painfully obvious now) was that universities have a diverse tapestry of priorities that can’t be easily defined by teaching vs. research labels. There are universities in the muddy middle, and those schools may be a wonderful fit for thousands of graduate students who don’t know they are there.” (I think this might be the best piece I’m linking to today that I also disagree with. I think there are campuses that purport to fill that middle ground, but I now have worked in three of such places, and when push comes to shove, are they either about the research or the teaching. A lot of places that say they value teaching and research equally will have a hard time validating that with evidence once you look at resource allocation and hiring/retention decisions. Yes, there are teaching places that are more research friendly, and research places that are more friendly to teaching. But true middle ground is quite sparse.)

Stop asking for permission.

A commencement speech by Richard Lenski

A high school valedictorian didn’t get admitted to UT because her high school was too small. Reading this whole story is worth it just for the kicker at the end.

What makes call-out culture so toxic

Faculty at the University of Illinois do what they can to remove the pedestal from beneath James Watson’s feet. Kudos.

I had no idea that noncompete clauses are becoming a regular thing for regular jobs. This is rather crazy, I think.

University rankings are fake news. How do we fix them?

Here’s a blog post about the mock review panel of Canada’s NSERC Discovery grants. One thing that strikes me here, relative to NSF, is that the process explicitly emphasizes the “excellence of the researcher,” whereas in the US, it’s about making sure that the research is highly qualified to do the work.

Interested in diversifying higher education? Please read about how Rutgers University-Newark is finding success, this is a path that many more universities can take.

Maybe colleges should cut costs instead of investing in marketing gimmicks. On the other hand, the proportion of full-tuition payers is what keeps universities afloat and they can afford to choose campuses on the basis of superfluous amenities.

If you haven’t seen that feature in the NY Times where people in the US attempted to pinpoint North Korea on a map, this might be instructive.

Tips on conducting yourself at an academic conference

WorldClim 2 is out, people!

An embarrassing moment for the skeptical movement

A sociologist calls for getting rid of social fraternities. I can’t say I disagree.

What kind of field scientist would last longest on a hostile alien planet?

In these recommended reads posts, I’m going to add something new: I’m going to briefly mention the novels and other non-technical things that I’ve been reading. Sometimes I’ve been including them in the images, but not mentioning it in the post. Now I’ll play a bit of catchup: Zadie Smith’s Swing Time was good – like everything she writes, the prose is gorgeous, evocative, and spare. I’m almost finished with the new George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, which took a long while to sink into but is paying off. I’ve stopped reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new Black Panther comics after the third collected volume. The art is great, the story has a lot of drama, but it’s both dense and moves quickly, and I feel like I needed to have known a lot more of the mythology of Wakanda before diving in. I’ve benefited from reading The Spark of Learning by Sarah Rose Cavanagh, which is about understanding and using emotions in teaching. (I’ve heard folks say that we need to keep emotion of out of STEM teaching, and it’s now clear to me that this just isn’t best practice.)

Making scientific conferences more engaging


In scientific conferences, the talks are often the least constructive part of the meeting. That’s my experience and opinion, at least. This is ironic, because at least in theory, the talks are the raison d’être of a conference.

When people fly in from great distances to be together, should we really be spending most of the day in dark rooms listening to canned talks from our colleagues? Should we be spending our time on things that we could just as easily do in a webinar? Continue reading

When scientists are dishonest


A case of scientific dishonesty has hit close to home and got me thinking. This isn’t a post of the details of the case (you can read more here if you’re interested) or the players involved (I don’t know them more than to say hi in the hallway) or to comment this particular case since I don’t have any more information than what is publically available. So if you’re looking for insider gossip, the following is bound to disappoint. Instead this example has got me reflecting in general about scientific dishonesty and what I can do about it. Continue reading

The deficit model of STEM recruitment


As we train the next generation of STEM professionals, we use a filter that selects against marginalized folks, on account of their ethnicity, income, gender, and other aspects of identity. This, I hope you realize, is an ethical and pragmatic problem, and constrains a national imperative to maintain competitiveness in STEM.

When we are working for equity, this usually involves working to remediate perceived deficiencies relative to the template of a well-prepared student — filling in gaps that naturally co-occur with the well-established inequalities that are not going away anytime soon. These efforts at mitigation are bound to come up short, as long as they’re based on our current Deficit Model of STEM Recruitment. Continue reading

An introduction to writing a peer review


I recently had an exchange with a colleague, who had just written a review at my request. They hadn’t written many reviews before, and asked me something like, “Was this a good review?” I said it was a great review, and explained what was great about it.  Then they suggested, “You should write a post about how to write a good review.”

So, ta da. Continue reading

I am complicit


My academic societies support the March for Science. So do I.

I’m familiar with the arguments for and against the March, from major newspapers and social media. If you’re not familiar, don’t worry, I won’t rehash them for you.

I think it’s possible for some people to have an ethical position to oppose something, and for others to have an ethical position to support the same thing. Nobody’s got a monopoly on being right. Continue reading

Recommended reads #101


When you study arctic glaciers that are rapidly melting away, and your samples at the Ice Core Archive melt away because of a freezer malfunction at your university.

A Neural Networks Approach to Predicting How Things Might Have Turned Out Had I Mustered the Nerve to Ask Barry Cottonfield to the Junior Prom Back in 1997

File this under, “No shit, sherlock”: A study finds that women do more departmental service than men, and that this harms career progression. Continue reading

So, you want to start a science blog?


I’ve been getting more requests for advice about setting up a blog — usually to elevate awareness about one or two particular issues. Now that I’m more than four years into this game, I’ll no longer call myself a neophyte. Regardless, I have no shortage of opinions, some of which might even be useful. Continue reading

Building a Network as an Introvert


Hello. I’m Ian, a shy introvert. And those two things are distinct. Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve worked out a way to network and build social capital that works for me even though connecting to people is not exactly natural to me, as I know it isn’t for many academics.

Being an introvert in a world that seems to favor the expressive and extroverted can seem daunting and unwelcoming. A lot of the usual advice is to just act against type*. In other words, be extroverted for as long as you can sustain it, especially at conferences or other events where connecting with people is the goal.

Part of favoring of extroverts is that they announce themselves and seem like the movers, shakers, and doers in the world. In the United States at least, taking (overt) action is favored over introspection or making the decision to do nothing even though taking that decision may well be the right one depending on the situation. Continue reading