Metaphorically, that is.
What can you do to increase the representation of minoritized people in your department and in your lab?
Well, the big answer to the question is that anything worthwhile takes work. This is not just worthwhile, it’s important. So, it will require effort on your part. And it means challenging yourself to learn new things, and instead of just adopting new practices, but are open to a new mindset, which means aligning your actions with your values. That’s hard work.
But do you want an easy win? Do you want a practical piece of advice, about something you can do that will work? Continue reading
Authorship is weird. As an instrument to attribute of credit, it’s far too coarse whenever the number of authors is greater than one.
Authorship is a slippery concept, because you can’t really define what constitutes a substantial contribution, in a way that can apply generally. Continue reading
For most grad students in the sciences, their doctoral advisor has an extraordinary level of power over their professional and personal life. This is long overdue for an overhaul. No single person should have that much power over another, particularly in academia where institutions chronically overlook and enable misconduct. Continue reading
I had a great time in grad school. I absolutely loved it. But I’m quick(er than some) to recognize that my experience can’t be generalized. If you listen to enough grad students, you’ll hear far too many hair-raising stories about abuses of power. Continue reading
In the midst of the rush to drop the GRE, I think it helps if we spell out exactly why the GRE is considered to be a problem. Continue reading
For all the concern about pipeline problems, we seem to be fond of creating bottlenecks that filter out the people we’re trying to recruit. Let’s take a quick look at how people get into grad school in my field.
To my knowledge, in most other fields, prospective graduate students apply to graduate programs. And then the selection process happens from there. I don’t have much direct experience with these programs, obviously, because it’s not my field.
But in ecology/evolution and allied fields, it happens bassackwards. Continue reading
What should departments do when running a grad student recruitment weekend — and what should they avoid? Continue reading
With the internet currently atwitter about a new paper in the upstart journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, I have a couple specific thoughts that I’d like to share that go beyond whatever character limit twitter is using nowadays. Continue reading
The moment after students graduate, many resources and opportunities become unavailable. This is a problem. Continue reading
I and my family are now up in Oregon to experience the total solar eclipse. Which will be amazing.
This trip wasn’t hard to plan, but only because we were ready many moons ahead of time. I asked for my buddy’s spare bedroom about a year ago. Also, it’s the first official day of classes on my campus. My spouse’s work has a big exodus for the eclipse, no big deal there, but for our son, that’s the day that the big assignments from summer reading are due. So we all had to sort things out ahead of time.
This is the kind of planning that we need to build for students who we are advising and mentoring. Because applying for opportunities is far, far more than just filling out a form, and students who are not savvy to the mechanics of higher education may not appreciate this reality. Continue reading
Last week, NSF announced they have stopped awarding DDIGs – the Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants in the divisions of Environmental Biology and Integrative Organismal Systems.
How bad is this decision? In the words of Jane Lubchenco:
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
Yesterday, I received an epic comment on a recent post of mine about minority recruitment. I want to share it:
This fits my experience so so well. I am first gen American, started at community college, transferred to a good public university and struggled but ultimately graduated with a 3.2 GPA and did OK on GREs. Had zero “social capital” (and had no idea what that was). I was lucky to have a TA (PhD student) who took me under her wing and had me volunteer in her lab a few hours a week and an excellent professor in my last quarter who informed me about internships and helped me secure one specifically targeting minority students (and it was paid!). Anyhow, after gaining a lot of experience though field jobs , I applied and was rejected from many PhD programs and ended up going to a small CSU, racking up student loans and working full time while getting my Master’s. I then applied to one of the better ecology programs with excellent letters of reference and was flatly denied. Again, luckily I had a greater supervisor at a govt agency who was very supportive and together we published a couple of manuscripts. I re-applied to that same ecology programs and was offered a multi-year fellowship (no TAing, no RAing). The only difference in my application was the publications. Now that I am in the program, I look around at a sea of white faces and most of them I have come to find out are straight out of undergrad, no pubs, very little experience, just great grades and test scores and a lot of social capital and opportunity (paid internships, semester at a field station, paid field methods courses, etc) . What a load of crap.
The last couple weeks have posed a challenge, as several people have contacted me (mostly out of the blue), asking me for ideas about specific steps they can take to improve the recruitment of minority students. This isn’t my field, but, I realize I’ve put myself in this position, because it’s a critical issue and I discuss it frequently. I’m just one of many who work in minority-serving institutions.
I realize that most of the suggestions I’ve given to people (but not advice) are generalized. If several folks are writing to me, I imagine there are many more of y’all out there who might be thinking the same thing but not writing. Hence this post. Just with my suggestions. Continue reading
I’m about to make some statements that I think should be obvious. In fact, everything I say in this post about travel awards will probably be obvious, but I feel moved to write about it since these obviously bad travel awards exist.
Grad students are typically on very tight budgets.
Grad students are expected to attend and present their work at conferences (usually at least one per year).
Departments or schools often have funds available (as conference travel grants or similar) to students to help cover the costs of attending conferences, which is good.
Some of these grants require students to wait until after the conference is over and include all receipts for their expenses before they can apply, which is bad. Continue reading
NSF just announced their Graduate Fellowship (GRFP) awardees. Continue reading
The US National Science Foundation has changed a rule for their Graduate Fellowships. As of next year, grad students can only make one attempt at landing a graduate fellowship, which is intended to increase the proportion of awards going to undergraduates. Continue reading
A couple weeks ago, I emphasized that most PhD advisors are really good.
In a haphazardly conducted poll, one in four people reported their PhD advisor that was not caring or helpful. Crappy advisors may not be the norm, but we still have 1 in 4 too many.
I’ve seen a variety of situations, choices, and outcomes over the years, and would like to share some thoughts with grad students who are experiencing a bad PI. I’m hoping those of you who have gone through nasty experiences might be able share insights as well. I’ve just been a bystander, and there should be many more voices than my own.
When dealing with a bad PI, I think there are two big questions:
- What can be done to ameliorate the situation?
- When should you bail on your PI and move to a new lab or even a new institution?
I just returned from a tremendous meeting of the Entomological Society of America. I experienced a lot of moving moments.
I attended my first EntSoc meeting twenty years ago, as an early grad student. I’ve skipped the last few years (because family). This return brought a flush of friends and close colleagues that I don’t see on a regular basis. I got to meet PhD students who are being advised by my own former undergrad students. When I was in grad school, my advisor had two small kids. At this meeting, I got to see his older daughter, now in a MD/PhD program.
There are so many scientists who made a difference in my life — professionally and personally — and having so many of them gathered under one large roof was overwhelming. Continue reading
Recently I attended the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of Canada, which this year was held jointly with the Société d’entomologie du Québec, in Montréal. While chatting with a (professor) friend at the conference it came up that we both don’t really like attending conferences for a lot of reasons, but attend anyway because we think it is important to do so. At the time I remarked that I thought there were few tangible benefits of attending conferences as a student. Since then I’ve been thinking a bit about the costs and benefits of attending academic conferences as a student, and here I will summarize my thoughts.
The obvious costs of attending conferences are time, money, and energy. Continue reading
In my last post I complained that grad students don’t generally get taught how to teach in grad school, despite the fact that they are (arguably) there to be trained for a career that requires them to teach. Thanks very much to everyone who commented! As a result of both the comments and getting more information about TA training at my current university, I’ll now write about how there are in fact a lot of opportunities for grad students to learn how to teach. You just have to put a bit of effort into going out and finding them. Continue reading
The Ecological Society of America has wonderful program called SEEDS, which is designed to support and mentor underrepresented undergraduates who are pursuing careers in academic ecology*.
Let’s extend the metaphor of undergrads-as-seeds further. Continue reading
How many undergrads in your department want to go to grad school?
Do all of them know what grad school is about?
Are there any students who might benefit greatly from grad school but aren’t even aware of the option? Continue reading
Guest post by Rosie Burdon, a PhD student at Uppsala University in Amy Parachnowitsch’s lab. She is studying interactions between Penstemon digitalis and its pollinator Bombus impatiens in eastern USA. Here she shares her experiences of spanning multiple countries for a PhD and the benefits and challenges of having the USA as your long distance fieldsite. You can find her on Twitter at @RealRBurdon.
I love my job, it’s a 4-year contract asking questions about nature and ultimately answering some. Yes, it is a real job mum. Specifically, I get paid to ask questions about what plant volatiles and nectar rewards mean to bees/plant reproduction. I don’t do this in the country that employs me, or even the country I was born in. I moved from the UK to Sweden to work (where I spend most of my time) but I do my fieldwork in the US or else dwell in university of Salzburg labs. Continue reading
Chatting with people at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, the topic from a recent post came up: that journals have cut back on “accept with revisions” decisions.
There was a little disagreement in the comments. Now, on the basis of some conversations, I have to disagree with myself. Talking with three different grad students, this is what I learned:
Some journals are, apparently, still regularly doing “accept-with-revisions.” And they also then are in the habit of rejecting those papers after the revisions come in. Continue reading
A recent conversation* on twitter made me think about academic customs. The conversation centered on PhD comprehensive exams (PhD candidacy in the US system that happens about halfway through the PhD) but applies to all gate keeping parts of a PhD (or Masters) program. These can vary a lot between countries, universities and even departments (I wrote about the defence a while back). But this conversation was basically about how these hoops/tests can drift towards a hazing function rather than a learning or career building function.
Let me just get my opinion out from the first. I don’t think hazing is useful, respectful or professional. Full stop.
But one of the things that struck me is the difference between true hazing and an experience that can feel like hazing or at least slightly ritualized torture but in hindsight really isn’t. I’m one of the lucky ones it seems in that my experience was more the latter. Continue reading
Students who did their undergraduate work at elite universities are dominating access to federally funded graduate fellowships in the sciences. I pointed out this obvious fact at the beginning of this month, which to my surprise caught quite a bit of attention. I also got a lot of email (which I discuss here — it’s more interesting than you might expect).
A common response was: Okay, that’s the problem, what about solutions? Hence, this post. First, here are some facts that are are germane to the solutions. Continue reading
I’ll be soon be sharing specific ideas about what can be done about the disadvantages experienced by talented students who attend non-prestigious undergraduate institutions. But first, I thought it would be useful for me to share how this topic has affected my inbox.
I barely get any email related to this site. Aside from the site stats, and some interactions on twitter, I wouldn’t have any other indicator about readership. So when I receive the occasional email related to this site, it stands out.
In relative terms, I got several metric tons of emails about last week’s post about NSF graduate fellowships. Continue reading
I had a conversation a couple months ago about the fact that I’m a bit wary of taking Straight-A students into my lab as research students. Here’s an explanation. Continue reading
At one point I thought about writing a post about the difficulties that academia wreaks on friendships. All that moving about means picking up, making new friends and leaving behind the old. It is tough in many respects and it is easy to see the negatives of that part of the career. Check out #academicnomad for the joys and sorrows of traveling/moving so much. Needless to say the post slipped by and I never quite got around to writing it. Continue reading