And even more sincere answers to stupid questions


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

Yet even more sincere answers to stupid questions


People write the craziest things into google, and then land on Small Pond Science.

Here’s a selection of some of these searches, and the best I can do to answer the queries. The queries are verbatim, in italics. I’ve done this three times before, but it’s been a while. If you’re wondering about the title of the post, I guess you’ve never been a regular reader of Mad magazine.

Continue reading

Even more sincere answers to stupid questions


For better or worse, I am able to see some of the search terms that are bring people to this site. Some are tragic, some are misdirected, and many people attempt to use google as an oracle. As I’ve done a couple times before, her are some sincere answers to some stupid questions entered into google over the past few months.


grading hell

According to yelp, Hell gets 3.5 stars out of a possible 5 stars. Continue reading

Differences between the sciences and the humanities


One of the great things about being on a small campus is that I have lots of opportunities to interact with colleagues in different departments and colleges. One positive side effect of being sucked into university-level obligations is that you get to know people you otherwise wouldn’t interact with.

  • Over the years, I’ve observed some huge differences differences between the research cultures of the sciences and the humanities. Most of these things are obvious, I realize.  Understanding these differences can help bridge cultural gaps.
  • In the sciences, journal articles are the primary metric of productivity and success. In the humanities, it’s books. Scientists can write books, and humanities people can write journal articles, but they’re not as important.
  • In many humanities fields, giving a paper at a conference involves actually giving a paper. Standing at a podium and reading, page after page after page. Science talks are far more informal.
  • Research in the sciences is highly collaborative. Many humanities scholars work solitarily.
  • Student mentorship happens everywhere. In the sciences, students often adopt a piece of a larger lab project, whereas in the humanities more often students work on entirely separate questions from their mentors. On average, science professors take on a greater number of student researchers than in the humanities.
  • Scientists are often expected to fund their research programs with external grants. Humanities researchers aren’t necessarily expected to bring in outside funds in order to be perceived as successful, as long as they create the research products in the end.
  • What constitutes a huge grant in the humanities is a small grant in the sciences. An award of $50,000 from the NEH or NEA is a massive success and a windfall, whereas in the sciences this is useful money but not even close to a “big.”
  • Scientists can get big pools of money to start up their labs. In the humanities, you get moving expenses, a computer, maybe some reassigned time and maybe a little bit more.
  • In the humanities, receiving a PhD from a “top 10 program” in the field is critical for professional success. Program prestige matters in the sciences, but not as much. (I couldn’t even tell you what the rankings are in ecology/evolution.)
  • The academic job market is way more messed up in the humanities. Here are two contributing factors: First, the degree of adjunctification is higher outside the sciences because tenure-line science faculty are more likely to bring in overhead to cover salary costs. Second, the job market for research scientists is more robust than for academic (say) historians. In the humanities, it’s more challenging to parlay a PhD into a salaried academic position outside a university.
  • All worthwhile doctoral programs in the sciences fund the students, so tuition and living expenses aren’t covered by loans. Graduate students in the sciences are paid to teach and do research, albeit poorly. In the humanities, PhD recipients often emerge with substantial debt.
  • Scientists need good library access to get current articles. However, physical access to great libraries is far more important in the humanities, as original papers and actual books remains important for research. The physical location of an institution, relative to an impressive library, is important for the humanities scholar.
  • Humanities scholars use the phrase “digital humanities,” and it means something to them.
  • Science professors are less likely to use elbow patches on their tweed jackets, but professors in the humanities are more likely to smoke a pipe.

Feel free to make new contributions, or disabuse me of any mistaken notions, in the comments.

More sincere answers to stupid questions


Some people find this site by using google as an oracle. Others just ask stupid questions. I had fun the last time I answered these questions with some sincerity, so here’s a new round. The questions are directly copied from what visitors entered into google:

do ants like fake sugar

No. They don’t like margarine, either.

what do you call someone whos an adjunct professor


what to do if we don’t know anything about the subject in exam

You study.

david correia fuck jared diamond

If you have photos, you might consider blackmailing both of them for some serious cash.

are professors at top slac good researchers? –confidential

Some of them are.

should i call him doctor or professor

Assuming that he’s your professor with a doctorate, either will do fine.

is a professor higher than a mr

Probably not me. I’m just 5’3” or so.

effectiveness of field trips graph

Photo on 1-23-14 at 5.11 PM

will i ever get a tenure track job?


life at an r1 vs pui is it better

You can have fulfilling career in both research and teaching at either one. What way do you want to be held accountable? If you want to be held accountable for research productivity and grant acquisition, the R1 is better. If you want to be held accountable by having created the perception of quality teaching, then a PUI is better.

Is being denied tenure the same as being fired?

Technically, no, it’s a non-renewal of contract. But for all functional purposes, yes. It sure feels like getting fired.

chances of getting a faculty position at good institution

Ranging from excellent to poor, depending on your definition of “good.”

can i get tenure track without nature paper


does agreeing to a job verbally commit you to anything?


how can you answer if being asked what is your philosophy in teaching

You say what your teaching philosophy is.

why is mcglynn collecting dead insects and leaf litter from the rainforest floor

For what it’s worth, they’re alive when they’re collected.

how to call an old men sir mister

The same way you call younger people sir mister. People are people, you know.

should i take the first r1 job

The question is, do you feel lucky?

antscience name

Myrmecology. Or, if you’re feeling cheeky like my podiatrist, “ant-omology.”

characteristics of a bad elevator speech

body odor, spittle, and a broken elevator.

in my school how is my science laboratory

You might want to start with a reference librarian.

why shouldn’t women be science

Because you’re a sexist pigdog who needs to rot for eternity in his own insecure misogynist hell. No offense intended to pigdogs.

Collected observations from travels among universities


Invited seminars and job interviews offer a unique opportunity to learn (and remember) what grad school is like and how universities work. You get to have a lot of intentional sit-down conversations on a wide variety of topics. Spending time meeting new people and learning new stuff rocks. And when you chat with other people about themselves, and their work, labs and universities, you have a chance to put your own way of doing things in perspective.

I’ve had a few such opportunities in the past month. There were a number of recurring conversational themes and undercurrents. During these visits, you get to have conversations to learn not just about all kinds of research, but about how people chose the directions that led to their current trajectories. And, you often learn about how personal lives shape our research directions and priorities, both by design and by hap.

Here are some of the highlights. None of these observations are shocking news by any measure. But I was struck by the obviousness of these ideas and the frequency with which they emerged, even when I wasn’t looking for them:

  • Research universities are no longer primarily oriented towards training excellent scientists. They are now primarily oriented towards teaching students how to publish and to get grants. If a grad student develops the desire to become an excellent practitioner of science, this is probably going to emerge from the undergraduate experience.
  • Anybody currently building a future in the quantitative sciences needs to learn how to write code to promote their own research success. Being able to manage and analyze super-duper huge datasets (bioinformatics) is really useful.
  • High quantity data will never be a substitute for high quality data.
  • People need to get off their goddamn phones.
  • Genomics is now at the point when all flavors of biologists are in a practical position to figure out heritable mechanisms accounting for phenomena involving organisms in nature. For many kinds of questions, any species can now be a model system.
  • Most ecological theories are ephemeral, and are either myopic or wrong. The parenting of popular, ephemeral and myopic theories is the prevailing route to success.
  • It’s difficult to maintain the presence of mind to recognize the power of one’s own authority.
  • In ecology and evolutionary biology, women fall out of academic careers most heavily in the transition phase between from Ph.D. to faculty. Lots of parties are at fault, but the ones that seem to be the most significant are some senior faculty (of both genders) and some spouses. Deans have many opportunities to proactively make positive changes, but that rarely happens.
  • The number of students who want to do serious, long-term, field biology in the service of contemporary research questions has sharply declined. This limits our potential to answer some major wide open questions in biology.
  • Universities that maintain a strong faculty actively keep their professors from going on the market in search of greener pastures. Universities would not lose valued faculty members as often as they do, if they actually supported faculty commensurate with the degree to which they are valued. Once someone is driven to look for a new faculty job on the market, then it’s impossible to not take a great offer seriously, even when there are many good reasons to not move.
  • The beauty of life – both in biodiversity and our relations with fellow humans – is immense beyond words. Humanity might be ugly, but people are gorgeous.

Sincere answers to stupid questions


This post is based on a classic Mad Magazine feature, Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.

Some people use search engines as an oracle.

The software behind this site doesn’t provide any information about who visits, but it provides a selection of the terms that were entered into search engines that directed people here. I thought I’d deal with some of the questions designed for oracles, that have popped up in recent months.

Some of these questions feature desperation or angst. Some are just stupid. Others have poignance. I don’t know if the people who wrote these questions ever found their answers, so I thought I’d do them the favor of answering these questions, avoiding an excess of sarcasm. Feel free to have a crack in the comments.

students when do you call proffessors sir

          When you are a student at a military academy.

i’m outstanding student but not successful

          That word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

which are you dr or sir


why isn’t the scientific method is not linear

          I’m sorry, I got befuddled by the double negative.

is academic dishonesty going to ruin me

          Unfortunately, no.

is it good to turn in myself after academic dishonesty

          It is good, but probably unwise.

is theory just for theoreticians

          No, theory is for everybody. Work against anti-intellectualism whenever you can.

an instructor has accused you of plagiarizing and has given you an “f” in the course. you believe you have not committed plagiarism. what action can…

          First, make sure you didn’t commit plagiarism. It doesn’t matter what you believe, what matters is fact. Many students plagiarize without knowing that they have done so. However, if you in fact did not plagiarize, then you should consult with your professor, the chair, and the dean’s office before filing a grade grievance. Keep in mind that it typically is incumbent on the student to demonstrate that the professor acted capriciously or is otherwise in error. So, you need to demonstrate that the work you turned in could not have been plagiarized at all, without sound and calm reasoning, and providing very clear rebuttals to any evidence that implies that you did plagiarize.

exam grading versus time

          Exam grading wins and time loses.

 science has done more harm than good to the social a small essay

          Try this.

is it ok to propose a course in teaching philosophy

          Yes, if you’re in a Philosophy department

what is teaching excellence

          Making a difference in the lives of your students

is it difficult to get a job after academic dishonesty

          No, as long as you don’t mention it and nor do your references or your transcript

consequences of assault for people

          They get hurt.

what are the legal consequences of a teacher assualting a student

          Assault charges, if the student is wise.

how to search whether im tenure or not

           I don’t think this information is necessarily public.   

what does dr david foster wallace mean by this is water

          We need to live consciously aware of our existence and fight solipsism. Also, did you write the next question?

why cheating is efficiency?

          Because it gets the job done more quickly

grade 10 term 2 practical task 2 leafy twig memorandum

          I have no idea. Did you write the previous question?

what does it take to get tenure at a research university if you are a scientist? (be as specific as possible)

          Grant money and publications in journals that have lots of papers that get cited within two years after publication

how do teacher get re evaluated after getting the tenure

          They don’t, at least not for real.

should you pay undergrads that work in your lab?

          Yes, if you have the money.

benefit and harm of elevator

          It will take you to your destination but it prevents you from getting a slight amount of aerobic activity.

is it a good idea to use the elevator in school?

          No, please keep it available for a disabled person who might need it and don’t waste electricity when you can use your own muscles.

what if teacher isn’t given tenure

          The teacher is unemployed.

 what to invent in a tropical rainforest that haven’t been invented that needs to be

          Laser-eyed flying squirrels. And a kickass carbon sequestration mechanism that promotes biodiversity.

 how important is a science or nature paper for getting a tenure track position

          Not at all. Unless you want an “alternative” tenure-track position at a research institution, in which case it is very helpful but not essential.

should or shouldn’t teachers read research articles from scholarly journals

          Everybody should. See the answer to the seventh question in this list.

quiz and exchange papers to check

          I wouldn’t recommend it if it is used for a grade. If it’s not, it’s okay. If any student doesn’t want to exchange you might as well allow them to check their own.

didn’t get the research grant

          I’m sorry to hear that. Good luck next time.

abilities of underrepresented students

          They are just the same as overrepresented students, though they might have an underprepared background and you should keep this in mind when working with them.

ponds that can be usd for science field work

          Private landowners are best because you don’t have to deal with permitting, though in the long term you can’t be sure the site will remain undeveloped. Otherwise, look at maps, ask around and contact local agencies. You can do almost whatever you want on BLM land without a permit.

how to figure out if i would like teaching

          Try doing it and see how you feel about it. Do you enjoy the challenge?

how to convince husband to prioritize family over career

          This seriously broke my heart. Maybe communication, love, firmness in your needs and flexibility in the implementation. Emphasize that we all only live life once and there is no such person who, on their death bed, regretted not working enough.

should scientists have work life balance

          Of course we should.

Do you want an office connected to your lab?


Wouldn’t it be great to have your office connected to your research lab?


Wouldn’t it be great to have your office separate from your research lab?

I’ve seen it both ways. I’ve never had my office connected to my lab, and my lab has always been a 30-second walk from my office, give or take a bit. And the lab has always been out of sight of my office, which often means that it’s out of mind.

I’d like to see my research students when they come in, and I want the lab in mind more frequently. And I want to make sure that happens in the lab is research, with a good dose of collegiality.

On the other hand, being in a suite of offices with my colleagues, as long as they’re good people, is nice too. One of the things that makes my small department wonderful is the people, and the casual hallway chats are often valuable. But a faculty office zone isn’t compatible with having our labs connected to our offices, which also is good.

I’m tempted to just move into my lab instead of using my office. If it’s not a good idea, I can just move back.

What do you have, and what would you prefer? Are you aware of any innovative designs that you think work best?

Top seven reasons to read this listicle


1. Everybody loves lists, right?

2. If I had ads, I’d make even more money from you by making you click through this list one item at a time.

3. If information wasn’t in list form, who would read it? Thirty years ago, on its introduction people made fun of USA Today as “McPaper.” Now, USA Today could pass for long form journalism compared to the way most people get “news.”

4. Even NPR takes this idea seriously.

5. You get to go through the list and see if you guessed any of them right! How have you done so far?

6. When I don’t want to think, I can just type up a dumb list and you’ll read it anyway.

7. Everybody loves sarcastic self-referential humor.

8. Bonus: Cats!


I’ll make up for this on Monday, with a genuine post.