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Friday links: Stephen Heard vs. faculty job interviews, Robert Trivers bio and biopic, and more

Also this week: how to suggest reviewers for your next paper, best ecology papers of the last 5 years, xkcd vs. Terry McGlynn, and more.

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It’s Mercer Award time! What’s the best ecology paper by a young author in 2014-15? (UPDATED)

The deadline for submitting nominations for the ESA’s various awards is Dec. 15. One of the highest-profile awards is the Mercer Award, given annually to the best ecology paper by a young author (lead author <41 at time of publication) in the last two years (so, 2014-15 this time around). The paper can come from any journal, and the lead author need not be an ESA member or US citizen. (UPDATE: George Mercer was a young ecologist killed in WW II. The age criterion for eligibility reflects the history of the award–which goes back to 1948–as a way of remembering a young ecologist whose career was cut short by war.)

Hopefully you’re planning to submit nominations! It’s fun to do. It’s a great way to honor deserving colleagues. It feels great if the person you nominate wins. And in the case of the Mercer Award, you’re shaping the direction of the field in a small way by giving honor and publicity to the sort of work you’d like to see more of.

To help you out, in this post I’ll do two things. First,  I’ll toss out some suggestions for papers that should be in the conversation for the Mercer Award. This should be a fun conversation to have–what’s the very best ecology published in the last two years? Second, I’ll address various common excuses for not submitting award nominations.

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Citizen science and data quality (guest post)

Note from Jeremy: This is a guest post by Margaret Kosmala, a postdoc in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and co-founder of citizen science projectsSnapshot Serengeti and Season Spotter.


There’s no doubt about it: citizen science is a growing field. In the past two years, threemajor citizen science associations have been founded, an international citizen science conference was held, a new citizen science journal is on the horizon, and a new cross-disciplinary online citizen science journal has launched. Aggregator SciStarter and citizen science platform Zooniverse have recorded a linear – or faster than linear – increase in the number of citizen science projects and participants.

But before we go any further, a little pre-survey, if you don’t mind:

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Reproduction is energetically costly

At present, I am teaching a large course (~550 students) while 7.5 months pregnant. All semester, I’ve been torn between not wanting to make a big deal of it, since I don’t want it to seem like pregnant women are less able instructors, and feeling like I cannot ignore the biological reality that pregnancy, even an uncomplicated one, is very physically demanding.

I don’t think things have been any different for my students – I still give back-to-back 80 minute lectures twice a week*, I still hold office hours (and schedule meetings with students who can’t make those), I still prepare quizzes and write exams, I still attend prep sessions where we get all our TAs (known as Graduate Student Instructors or GSIs at Michigan) up to speed on the following week’s discussion materials, I still send emails and make phone calls to deal with the myriad of issues that inevitably come up in a class this size. But, while my students aren’t affected, I am completely, utterly exhausted, especially by Friday afternoon.

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Cool pictures of scientists (UPDATED)

Do a few Google image searches for “scientist”, or for specific scientists, or just look at some lab websites, and you’ll find that the pictures run to type. Lots of shots of scientists in the lab or at their field site, or with some obvious stand-in for their lab or field site. For instance, here’s E. O. Wilson with an ant sculpture,

Judging from Google image search results, it’s apparently the law that E. O. Wilson must be photographed next to an ant. Preferably with his head in his hand.

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How intensively do you mentor undergrads working in your lab?

Based on some conversations I’ve had with colleagues recently, I’m starting to wonder whether I should do more intensive mentoring* of the students in my lab, especially related to long term goals and whether they’re on track to achieve those goals.

To start out with what I currently do: almost all of the students who work in my lab are paired with a grad student or a postdoc. That person does the day-to-day mentoring on a particular project. In addition, I meet with students more sporadically, with those meetings focusing more on bigger picture things – what projects they are working on, what their career goals are, applying for summer research positions, applying to grad school, etc. It’s tailored to the student’s interests, but, at the same time, I’m starting to wonder if it’s not specific or intensive enough.

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Are some general ecological concepts TOO general?

Many ecologists, including me, want to discover generalities. We want to see the forest for the trees. That often means abstracting away from certain details so as to focus on features shared by all cases of interest.

But is there such a thing as too much generality, or the wrong kind of generality? It’s a good thing to step back and see the forest for the trees, but what if you step back too far (into deep space, say)? Don’t you lose sight of the forest, or end up mistaking the forest for something else?

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Friday links: Jabberwocky Ecology lives, and more

Also this week: the boy who cried wolf vs. type I errors, pre-registered replication vs. stereotype threat, update on double-blind reviewing at Am Nat, myths of scientific software, scientific texts vs. Google Ngrams, and more.

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