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

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

“What are you doing on campus in the summer?”

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I’m back from vacation! Anyhoo, a funny thing happens to me every summer.

Campus has an eerie quiet. There are plenty of people around, but compared to the academic year, there are relatively few students. So if I’m walking from the parking lot, or buying lunch in the union because I was lazy, I might bump into someone. Because I serve on a semiplethora of committees, I know folks in lots of roles on campus.

There’s a pretty good chance they’ll ask me: “What are you doing here? Are you teaching a summer course?” Continue reading

An education in academia

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I’m in the field right now. Which means that I’m among many fellow academics, from a wide range of institutions, because we’re working out of La Selva Biological Station to do a short project. At the moment are faculty and grad students from a range of Latin American universities, and USian institutions including a regional state university, small liberal arts college, tribal college, HBCU, military academy, state research university, and some researchers from other kinds of organizations. Many of these folks are old friends, so being here is a great pleasure.

We’re here to run experiments to answer some specific research questions, but just as important, we’re here for the academic training of undergraduates. The two goals are quite complementary. You would think that what the students are getting is research training. They are getting that, but they’re also getting another kind of training: an introduction to the culture, conventions, and social mores of becoming an academic scientist. Continue reading

The mentorship problem in primarily undergraduate institutions

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I’m back down at the field station in Costa Rica (missing my family quite a bit) and I had a very minor realization while having dinner among my students. It’s definitely a cliché of sorts, but I realized that the t-shirt I was wearing was older than some of my students.

I know this because the t-shirt had a specific date on it Continue reading