Update on fixing a racist common name for an ant (and a moth)

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A couple years ago, I shared with y’all about an old screwup of mine, and how I was planning to take steps to fix it.

To make the long story short, I explained how I had coined a new official common name for the ant Aphaenogaster araneoides, back in a prior decade. I only realized later that this name was problematic and constituted a racial slur.

The good news is that problem is fixed, thanks to the leadership of colleagues running the “Better Common Names Project” in the Entomological Society of America. So the former common name of A. araneoides is now surpressed as of this week, and now we can just call it A. araneoides. Which is fine with me. After mulling over a variety of alternative common names, I realize this species doesn’t need a common name.

While I’ve been concerned about this for a few years, I wasn’t able to change this when I wrote the original blog post. Because it was an official common name approved by the Entomological Society of America (a status that I had applied for back in the day), then this change would also have to be approved the common names committee of the ESA. After some informal inquiry, I was led to believe that a name change would be contentious and not likely to be approved — in part because there was a moth named with the same slur (and a worse entomological etymology), and the major economic and environmental role of this species, with broad use of the common name, would mean it would be an uphill battle. So what did I do? Well, I have to admit, I did very little. I was mulling over how I would go about my proposal to the committee, and was trying to find a new and better common name, but simply stalled. And then the movement last summer related to civil rights awareness seems to have resulted in a change of heart in the ESA, also with a change of leadership. So now, now only were they open to suppressing the old common name — they took the matter into their own hands and did it without me formally asking. How about that, eh?

It’s nice to see this kind of tangible movement on this issue in my professional society. I realize that of course there is a long, long, long way to go to build an equitable community of scientists, and that we’ve seen very little or no actual progress in the past few decades. Just look at all that money that has been poured into diversity initiatives, that hasn’t changed the composition of our field. So clearly, we need to do more, and do things differently. Is changing a common name going to fix all that? Of course not. But it’s a slight indicator that folks are more willing to change now than they were two years ago.

I’ve talked to a few media outlets about this, and if you wanted to dig into the news about this, that’s straightforward enough. But feel free to discuss this here and I’m glad to discuss this in the comments here.

A personal existential crisis about biodiversity and climate change

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When did you first realize the scope and the scale of biodiversity loss and the impact of climate change? Did it hit you like a metric ton of bricks falling from a pallet at a construction site? Did you feel like you were slowly sinking underwater in a still lagoon when you realized the weight tied to your ankles? Or was it like you finally put the pieces of the puzzle together just enough to make the picture? Was it like you were in a darkroom, creating prints of your negatives and you see what’s been hiding in the shot the whole time? Or was it like you watched the basketball video and saw the gorilla on your second view?

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Time for summerbatical

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After three semesters of fully remote work, I feel like I really could use a sabbatical. I imagine a lot of you feel the same.

Being able to have a sabbatical is kind of quite a professional perk, but I’m not yet eligible to apply for another sabbatical, as I was on sabbatical during 2016-2017. (How did I spend that sabbatical, you might ask? Here you go.)

But I have the next best thing: a combination of tenure and spending this summer off contract. No employer can expect anything of me until mid-August? That’s not so bad, eh?

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You can connect postbacs to research opportunities in biology!

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It’s hard to be a newly graduated student who is trying to get into grad school. Some advisors don’t realize how hard it is to gain access to opportunity once you’ve left the institution. Postbacs can’t participate in summer research opportunities, are not regularly interacting with students, don’t have access to a university writing center, and probably even lost their library access. Just being on campus on a regular basis provides momentum and support towards grad school.

It’s so much worse because of the pandemic. The people who graduated last year, and those who are graduating right now, really need access to opportunity and support. What can we do?

This is where NSF-BIO has stepped up. They’ve launched a new program this week: REPS: Research Experiences for Post-Baccalaureate Students. Here’s the blog post about this on main BIO blog for NSF, and here’s a post with a bit more information on the BIO-DEB blog. And here’s the official Dear Colleague Letter for this opportunity, which is numbered NSF 21-085.

To make the long story short, if you have recently received your bachelor’s degree, then you have the chance to get funded to do research project that is very similar to an REU. You can even participate in an existing REU site!

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Should journals pay for manuscript reviews?

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It’s not rare for people to remark, “Why should journals expect me to work for free? Reviews are hard work and my time is valuable, and journals since people are paying to publish and journals have revenue streams, so I should get paid!” Or something like that. It doesn’t sound unreasonable.

I don’t think having academic journals pay for reviews as a general proposition is a good idea. Is it good for people to be compensated for their work? Yes. However, would it be worth the necessary consequences if it became standard practice for journals to use a fraction of their budgets to pay reviewers? I don’t think so. If you happen to be one of the “I don’t want to review unless I get paid” crowd, please hear me out.

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Competence is underrated

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Academics spent a fair amount of time focusing attention on people who do exceptional things. Fauci’s h-score. Doudna’s career of research that led to the development of CRISPR. Banner’s masochistic desire to stay in grad school. The fawning over Nobel laureates in general.

This makes sense. After all, exceptional things are, well, exceptional. They stand out. It’s hard to not notice this stuff.

But you know what I find really impressive in a scientist? What really makes me jealous and wish I was like them, and what I aspire to? Competence. People who straight up have their act together and do all aspects of their job in a fully professional capacity, meeting the needs of the people they work with and work for.

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Recommended reads #189

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Hey there, Beronda Montgomery’s Lessons From Plants is now out! (indiebound | amazon). Her articles and blog posts are often the most-clicked links on here, so I thought you’d want to know about this.

Cultural capital in undergraduate research: an exploration of how biology students operationalize knowledge to access research experiences at a large, public research-intensive institution. In this new research paper, we learn why some students get access to research opportunities and why others don’t. Guess what makes the difference?!

Preprint: Trends in the representation of women amongst geoscience faculty from 1999-2020: the long road towards gender parity

Audubon has hired a union-busting firm. I don’t think people realize this is where their donations are going?

Resisting the call of exceptionalism. So many great pull quotes that could be taken from this essay from the perennially wise Tressie McMillan Cottom, but I’ll share the kicker: “Sometimes clear writing is a sign of clear thinking, and sometimes clear writing is just a sign of brightly drawn battle lines. You gotta know the difference.”

Here’s a well-done popular article about the discovery of horizontal gene transfer from plants to animals. Specifically, from plant to whitefly (which is not a fly, by the way), who use a plant gene to dextoxify some gunk that plants make to dissuade them from eating. Pretty sneaky, eh?) Here’s the original article in Cell. Wait, have I ever linked to a Cell article before? I doubt it.

Happy birthday to Adelaide! She seems absolutely charming.

Recommended reads #187

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The last time I did one of these posts was early January?? Wow. That says something (not so uplifting) about how things are going for me. But that’s not to say I haven’t made a note of some primo reads! So let’s get to it.

Peer mentorship and bottom-up advocacy

How common is belief in the neuromyth of learning styles? And does it matter?

Dragon hoarding enormous pile of treasure seeks unpaid intern

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Adjusting scholarship expectations after the pandemic ends

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For most of us, academic productivity has taken a huge hit over the past year. And that’s fine. If you’re working from home full time while raising young children doing remote schooling, I can’t imagine how you have done anything above the bare minimum. For the rest of us, it’s entirely reasonable to have not done that much either. I’m glad that many of our universities are scaling expectations based on the reality that academic productivity during a pandemic is difficult, at best.

But honestly, I’m much more worried about what will happen once the pandemic is over. The downstream effects of the pandemic on our academic productivity might be greatest a few years down the line. This varies among disciplines, but for most of us, I think most important publications originate in our research pipeline multiple years before they come to press.

For example, in the past year, my productivity doesn’t look hideous, on paper. I published a couple articles and an actual book. All of those things were deep in the works before the pandemic started. The real cost of the pandemic is going to be seen in the next few years. I’m thinking about all of the projects that we didn’t start during the pandemic, and the ones we had started before the pandemic that haven’t been advanced forward. And even worse, the ones that we started and then because they stalled, and will need even more effort just to ramp back up to where we were. Not to mention all of the grants that we didn’t submit.

Please know that the impact of this pandemic is highly gendered. The data clearly demonstrate that women are submitting fewer manuscripts than men, because of the pandemic. This will have lasting effects on our academic community, especially if our institutions don’t adapt expectations of scholarly productivity not just during the pandemic but for several years afterwards. (It sure would be a lot better if men did equal amount of domestic labor and institutional service work, but apparently that’s still not happening? This is presumably why providing parental leave actually increases the academic productivity of men, and results in higher tenure rates, even though parental leave for women results in causes lower tenure rates? What the hell??)

I can imagine that a lot of people running universities will underestimate how a 1-2 year interruption of academic research will result in a long-term disruption of productivity. Keep in mind that for many of us, our labs will have lost people with expertise, who haven’t had the opportunity to provide hands-on training to the next generation. A lot of labs operate on momentum, and when that momentum is lost, it can’t just be regenerated quickly, it will take a while to get up to speed. As currently funded projects are being slow in creating results, submitting for a new project is more difficult, too.

In our university system, an organization is providing extremely modest ‘restart’ funds to get our labs ramped back up after having to shut down. But the amount of this funding is very limited. I sincerely appreciate the intent and also the fact that funds are very limited. What we really need more is a recognition that it’s okay to experience disruption, and some understanding that it will take a while to get up to speed.

What we keep seeing — in all aspects of our society, including science — is how `the pandemic is amplifying existing inequities. Just as we mustn’t shortchange those of us who are harmed by the pandemic, we shouldn’t be showering rewards on those who have suffered the least negative effects of the pandemic. Operating with an equity lens in the aftermath of this pandemic will require us to become more informed about how the pandemic is affecting different members of our community. It’s not enough to be open to empathy, we’ve got to do the work to listen and understand, and then translate that into institutional policy.

Are you a chair, or a dean, or on a tenure committee, or on a decison-making body of some sort, or do you have an opportunity to set university policy? Then you’ve got to make sure that all of your prior diversity recruitment efforts are backed up by action and resources to retain and support the people in your community who are experiencing more stress and performing more labor because of the pandemic.

Lessons I’ve learned from goin’ admin

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When I created this site, I was feeling some Associate Professor doldrums. The intervening eight years have brought a lot of professional growth, and I’m very much a different person than I was back then. I had been tenured for a few years, after 10 years on the tenure track, and I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go. I have always been appreciative of the great liberty that faculty have to choose their priorities and directions, but not as secure about whatever direction I was heading. (And at the time, NSF didn’t have a program specifically targeting Associate Professors hitting this stage in their career, eh?)

I was enjoying teaching (in most moments), and I had a lot of research in the hopper, and I didn’t want to do anything other than keep professoring. I had pretty much said so at the time. I didn’t want to be distracted from my classes or from the people and stuff in my lab, by doing admin work.

But then, 2.5 years ago, I changed my mind. I moved into a part-time admin(ish) role. And now, all of my teaching load is reassigned to directing my university’s Office Of Undergraduate Research. This is exactly the thing I said I didn’t want to do. Now that I’ve been doing mostly admin for some while, I thought I’d report on what I learned about myself, about academia, and about doing administrative work in general. Here are some unordered observations.

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Now, let’s replace the SAT and GRE with something more equitable

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Congrats, everybody! Even before the pandemic, the SAT and the GRE were slowly being set aside, and for most of us, it looks like these tests just won’t be coming back.

There were plenty of good reasons to drop these standardized tests. So, yay.

However — and I think this is needs to be a humongous however — we can’t count on the admissions process to become any more equitable just because we’re getting rid of standardized tests. The forces that create biases in test results are also affecting other evaluation criteria just as much — or perhaps even more. Moreover, because these other approaches are less allegedly objective, then these biases are all the more insidious and are more difficult to identify and root out.

Let’s take a look at some common ways that we evaluate applicants for grad school, and the structural biases involved in each of them. To be clear, I’m not saying that we should drop all of these measures. But I am pointing out that they have these biases baked in and we need to be cognizant of them.

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Animal Behaviour Twitter Conference 2021

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This is a guest post by Jessica Cusick.

The first ever Animal Behaviour Twitter Conference is being held Jan 26-27, 2021, hosted by the Animal Behavior Society and the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour! 

Join us for an exciting opportunity to learn about animal behaviour research. We have an exciting schedule with about 140 presentations and four plenaries from scientists at all career stages from around the world. You do not need to have a Twitter account to attend this conference. Learn more about how to attend the conference below!

What’s A Twitter Conference?!

What is a Twitter conference you might ask? A Twitter conference is completely FREE to attend and occurs completely on Twitter! Presenters “tweet” their presentation (i.e., a thread of 5-6 tweets) at scheduled times on Twitter and they are allocated 10 minutes to answer questions from the audience. You don’t have to register and there is no membership required to attend this conference.

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Should I be working in the middle of a coup attempt?

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I have to admit, I feel a little dirty right now. Because I’ve just spent two days dealing with everything that’s accumulated for a few weeks, before hunkering down to finish a grant before an upcoming deadline.

And as I settle in to work, domestic terrorists have seized the US Capitol in a coup attempt. Lawmakers have fled for safety, the building is being looted, and much of the police are in cahoots with the terrorists. And the President just released a video fomenting his militia, saying how he loves the terrorists, and claiming that when he lost the election, it was fraudulent and stolen from him.

I feel bad for even thinking about work. But then, I really do have to work. This grant has a deadline, and I don’t know if NSF is going to extend it because of terrorism? And I also feel bad for writing about this.

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Reaching across the aisle: the inner and outer lives of religious scientists

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This is a guest post by Elizabeth Haswell.

Science and religion are two different ways of understanding and interacting with the world, each of which holds incredible power to change lives and influence the course of history. They are often understood to be in complete opposition to each other—and nowhere does this dichotomy play out more clearly than in contemporary US politics. Religious leaders oppose policies based on scientific consensus regarding women’s health, teaching evolution, and, most recently, controlling the spread of COVID-19. 

The need for scientists to communicate effectively outside their fields has never been more important—and has never seemed more hopeless. How can we (scientists) convince them (religious people) to listen to the facts? 

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A sign that we don’t care

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When I was in grad school, down the third floor hallway at the other end of Ramaley Hall, was the office of a professor who did a lot of undergraduate advising. He had a sign posted on his office door:

It's a sign outside an office in large Times New Roman font that says, "A lack of preparation on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part."

I hadn’t heard this particular phrase before.

Since I saw this sign in 1994, I’ve walked past a lot of offices, and I’ve seen this sign plenty of times. Maybe it’s on a door at your own institution. I also saw it last week in a posting on a higher education group in Facebook. I’ve worked in a place that embraces this kind of ethos. Earlier in my career, in a bout of Stockholm syndrome, I might even have said this myself.

Nowadays, when I see one of these signs, I identify it as a red flag, and mentally translate it as: “Inside this door resides a person who doesn’t care.”

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Recommended reads #183

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Has more than a month passed since I’ve done a rec reads post? My gosh. Which in 2020 time, is, like, 27 years? This is a relatively condensed list of things I’ve bookmarked since the last one. And there are no takes on the election. (Though if you do find a 10,000 word insider’s view of exactly how the Four Seasons Total Landscaping thing went down, because oh man, this will be such a hilarious and pathetic story, please let me know? Because I don’t want to miss that.)

From panic to pedagogy: Using online active learning to promote inclusive instruction in ecology and evolutionary biology courses and beyond

The science of learning vs. proctoring software

Our HyFlex Experiment: What’s Worked and What Hasn’t

The pedagogy of anxiety

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Science Has an Intellectual Elitism Problem

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This is a guest post by Joshua M.A. Stough.

Over the last few weeks, science twitter has been…let’s say “discussing”, the place of religious faith and spiritualism in the scientific community and society in general. The source of the argument is a simple, but often aggressive assertion that religion is antithetical to science, presented as a binary choice: either you are an intelligent, free-thinking individual who accepts only that which can be empirically tested and validated, or you are a superstitious moron who mindlessly believes the dusty words of ancient charlatans. For many this will sound all too familiar, as it is frequently trotted out by a specific brand of atheists on Twitter, Reddit, and some of the seedier corners of the web. 

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Q & A about jobs in primarily undergraduate institutions

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This morning, in the midst of all this election fear, I got to liberate my brain for a bit by participating in a Q&A workshop run by the Genetics Society of America on PUI careers. There were a lot of folks there, and it was brimming with questions, it felt like we could have gone on for many hours more.

So, I thought, for all y’all, I could set up this post where you could ask Q&A in the comments, and I will answer them! And, of course, the diverse readership here could also answer as well! Because obviously multiple perspectives based on different experiences are important.

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A Practical Guide To College Science Teaching

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I’ve occasionally seen photos of new authors unboxing the shipment of their first book, and I thought, wow, that must be exciting.

And, hey, look!

It was kind of exciting. Also, it was very imposter syndrome-y.

Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I wrote the book that I wish I was handed when I started teaching in grad school, and that I could reference as I became an instructor of record.

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