“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

And even more sincere answers to stupid questions

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Once in a while, I look at the statistics for this site and I get to see some of the search terms that folks use to arrive here. Sometimes these are questions that may have gone unanswered. So, here are some of these queries, and my replies. (I’ve done this plenty before by the way, though it’s been a while.) For each search term, I provide a response. (The title, by the way, is an homage to MAD’s “snappy answers to stupid questions.”

 

how to destroy a bad graduate advisor

Tell them you’re planning to become a sales rep after you finish your dissertation.

 

how to get out of academic dishonesty

I guess you should lie? Continue reading

How do we move beyond an arbitrary statistical threshold?

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In science, we’re used to suboptimal methods — because of limited time, resources, or technology. But one of our biggest methodological shortcomings can be fixed as soon as we summon the common will. The time is overdue for us to abolish 5% as a uniform and arbitrarily selected probability threshold for hypothesis testing. Continue reading

Efficient teaching: frequent assessments

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If your teaching is at least modestly informed by the scholarship of teaching and learning (and, I dare suggest, it should be), then you are probably aware that frequent assessments are a good thing. Students learn better when they have more opportunities to find out if they’re learning what is being taught.

But — as Meg Duffy pointed out last week — some teaching practices are effective but may not be sustainable because they might just require so much work from professors. This resonated with a lot of people. A lot of us apparently feel a genuine tradeoff between our capacity to teach effectively and the amount of time that we are expected to invest into teaching each of our courses. Continue reading

Please focus more on inclusion so that diversity recruitment efforts can work

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I realize that recruiting students from underrepresented groups in STEM is not the most popular broader impact when scientists are actually implementing federally funded research projects. That said, I see a lot of folks putting so much time and effort to recruit minority students. And folks working to provide opportunities to minority students. Continue reading

What’s going to be on the exam?

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Do you love it when students waste office hours with questions that don’t help them learn? Do you want to cultivate anxious emails from students sent at 3 in the morning? Do you want your students to wager their grades by guessing what you think is the most important material?

Then don’t tell your students what is going to be on the exam.

Continue reading

Competition for the “best” REU applicants is outrageous

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On a Friday in mid-March, a student in my department was notified that they were just accepted into an NSF-funded REU program. (For more about REUs, here’s an earlier post.) It’s program with a fair amount of prestige, but definitely not in the highest tier among the folks who keep track of status. Which is everybody, of course.

They were told they needed to accept or decline by Monday. Continue reading

Recommended reads #125

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This case study of search committees demonstrates how downright sexist conduct is pervasive in academic job searches.

When it comes to time management in academia, here is some highly condensed wisdom.

It’s well established that student evaluations of teaching performance are gender biased. Based on that fact, then, here’s an intriguing question: Are they illegal? Continue reading

When the book reps visit

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A couple weeks ago, the students in our department bought lunch for the faculty. It was a nice catered takeout box. I had the Mediterranean Veggie. It reminded me of the time that the students bought us all bagels and coffee, for the departmental office.

But, these meals had a miserable aftertaste. Our students didn’t buy these meals for us out of gratitude. Every student was required to chip in a full day’s wages just for these sandwiches. These meals were brought to us by book reps, who are schmoozing us so that we will choose their textbook. Continue reading

Things I wish other people blogged about

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I make a point to post at least once a week. Sometimes the blog posts are full essays, sometimes they’re just a less ordered collection of thoughts, such as this one.

One of the reasons I helped start Rapid Ecology is that I wanted to see a much broader range of voices in this medium. I think it’s great to get a casual perspective from people other than you, and I think in his field, we need more voices. So, I’m thrilled that it’s taken off so well.

I write about a range of issues here, but there are also a lot of things that I choose to not write about here, because it’s not a fit for the site or because it’s not a fit for my own experience. But there are so many things that I’d love to see other people share. For example: Continue reading

Sizing up competing peer review models

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Is peer review broken? No, it’s not. The “stuff is broken” is overused so much that it now just sounds like hyperbole.

Can we improve peer review? Yes. The review process takes longer than some people like. And yes, editors can have a hard time finding reviewers. And there are conflicts of interest and bias baked into the process. So, yes, we can make peer review better.

As a scientific community, we don’t even agree on a single model of peer review. Some journals are doing it differently than others. I’ll briefly describe some peer review models, and then I’ll give you my take. Continue reading