Recommended reads #166


A guide to academic advising for STEM faculty

Jokes I’ve told that my male colleagues didn’t like. (e.g., “My co-worker asked me why I seem so tense. I asked him why he was massaging my shoulders.”)

The wisdom of letting postdocs work remotely

Navigating undergraduate academic writing: it depends on the professor

When people ask me about my favorite book(s), very high up on my list are the Aubrey-Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brien. This is historical nautical fiction set in the Napoleonic era, following a sea captain and his best friend who is a naturalist/physician/spy. I know, I know, I know. It sounds like a bad cliché to like this, but they aren’t at all what you might imagine. I’ve had a hard time capturing their amazingness when I try to explain it, though sometimes I happen on another person who also has fallen in love with these books (more often politically progressive women, by the way). Brought to my new attention is this very short explainer by Nicola Griffith on the NPR series “You Must Read This,” about why the Aubrey-Maturin series is so special. As she says, “Ignore the jacket copy on Master and Commander. Forget it. And please, just trust me.” And “In these books every reader who loves fiction both intellectually and viscerally will find something to treasure — and every writer something to envy. They will sweep you away and return you delighted, increased and stunned.” If you enjoy reading and haven’t read these, check out this description of them and see if you’re not tempted.

Did you know about the eusocial trematodes, that form entire colonies in the bodies of snails, with specialized reproductive worms, and some that are specialized on defense, and so on? It’s like an ant colony, but they’re worms. (Other non-insect eusocial critters include reef-dwelling shrimp and naked mole rats.) Anyhow, another paper is out about these critters and here’s one of those university press releases about it, disguised as a piece of journalism as we see on, but it’s not so bad considering the genre.

Scientists again warn about global insect decline — but will we act? This an actual piece of journalism about two new review papers. I am placing this here without comment. Not that I disagree, or agree, but I don’t have the wherewithal to discuss this in the level of detail the topic deserves. But it’s something I think we all should be reading about.

How the middle class is missing from the most prestigious private colleges and universities in the US. I was just going to write about based on my own recent anecdotal experiences with this, but now I have to, because this article is about a new report with some substantial data. I’ve been learning firsthand how the campuses with the biggest endowments are the ones that meet “full need.” As calculated by the FAFSA. That sounds great, right? Well, if you’re not low-income, and you’re not the 1%, it pretty much sucks. Because the FAFSA tells a lot of middle-class families that their expected contribution is ginormous. These prestigious schools will meet full “need” but either are stingy on merit-based aid, or they just don’t do merit-based aid (like Reed, for example). So it looks like everybody at Reed who is either paying through the nose, or they’re coming from a low-income background that’s low enough that the parental contribution is relatively tiny. The only middle class folks at places like Reed are the ones who are paying a huuuuge amount of money relative to the funds that are available. Given that kind of choice, a lot of students end up at institutions that are less prestigious and are wiling to give a bigger tuition discount to be able to recruit students. Because the prestigious ones can attract the full payers who are going to be buying the prestige. I know a lot of middle class families who are might be getting their kids into highly prestigious institutions, but then are not sending their kids there because it’s absurd to pay a quarter million dollars for 4 years of college. From my standpoint, the big tragedy here is that diversity is sorely lacking at some of the most prestigious institutions. They have way more uber-rich students, and then they’re taking classes with a small very low-income students, who are under great pressure to not seem like they’re so different from the rich students. Which I imagine really gets in the way of getting a good education and learning about the world around you. Oh, look, I might as well have written a post on it.

So you probably hadn’t gotten this far after that spiel, but if you have, have a great weekend. And if you can, vote early for the person who you want to be president!