New place, new project

Lodgepole Pine, Pinus contorta

Lodgepole pine, up close. (Flickr: J. Maughn)

I’m very excited to announce that I’ve accepted a new postdoctoral position as part of the AdapTree project at the University of British Columbia, starting in mid-August. The work I’ll be doing with AdapTree is a dramatic extension of the landscape genomic research I’ve done with Medicago truncatula, studying the genetic basis of adaptation to different environmental conditions. For AdapTree, the focal species are lodgepole pine — Pinus contorta ssp. latifolia — and two species of spruce — Picea glauca, P. engelmanni, and hybrids between them. Using genetic data from thousands of trees at hundreds of sites across British Columbia and Alberta, and growth and performance measurements in big climate-controlled experiments, I’ll get to help figure out what it all means for the future of northern forests.

Apart from the sheer awesomeness of the data, it’s going to be fantastic working with the AdapTree collaborators, which include many biologists whose work I’ve long known and admired: Sally Aitken, Michael Whitlock, Loren Rieseberg, Jason Holliday, Katie Lotterhos, and Sam Yeaman, among others. On top of all that, I get to do it at UBC, one of the premier North American universities for evolutionary ecology, and in Vancouver, one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited. Really, this will be a return to the northern Pacific coast community of biologists where I “grew up” as a graduate student at the University of Idaho, but I’ll be coming back with four years of great experience and learning from my time at Minnesota.

I can’t wait to get started.

An open letter to Jack Andraka, the Advocate, and, what the hell, OUT magazine while I’m at it


I think I speak for the every gay science nerd when I say that we’re exceptionally proud to count you among us. The initiative you took, while still a high school student, to join a research lab and design a new rapid test for cancer is incredibly inspiring, and you’ve taken to the role of public advocate for science with aplomb.

So I was disappointed to read your recent op-ed on the website of The Advocate about the lack of queer role models in science — not because you’re wrong about the problem, but because you missed a big opportunity to start fixing it.

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Manhattan is a great drama about the problems of science careers

Two bodies: Liza Winter (Olivia Williams) and Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey) are both Ph.D. scientists—but only Frank works in a field useful to the Project. (WGN America)

Two bodies: Liza Winter (Olivia Williams) and Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey) are both Ph.D. scientists—but only Frank works in a field useful to the Project. (WGN America)

Some of the best dramatic fantasies project otherwise commonplace struggles and worries into extraordinary circumstances. Make that awkward teenage girl a vampire slayer, and put her in a high school that is literally built over a gateway to Hell. How do we feel about that military occupation if it’s reimagined as humans subjugated by their out-of-control cybernetic creations? A love affair is a lot more compelling if it involves the President of the United States and the woman who helped fix his election. So maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising that the most compelling television show about the daily drama of academic science is a historical drama about building the first atomic bomb.

Manhattan, which airs on WGN America and streams on Hulu, follows physicists designing what will become the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, starting about two years before August 6, 1945. The project staff and their families are living in a laboratory campus built and hyper-secured by the U.S. military in the desert near Los Alamos, New Mexico, but in many respects they could be working at any research university today. Here’s my (spoiler-y) list of the parallels, which are sometimes dangerously on-the-nose:

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The Molecular Ecologist: From postdoc to faculty

Metamorphosis: Free as a Butterfly and Ready to Fly The postdoc-to-faculty metamorphosis: mysterious, magical, sometimes kind of gross. Photo by chekabuje .

Over at The Molecular Ecologist this week, K. E. Lotterhos has been writing about making the jump from a postdoctoral research position to being an actual, honest-to-gods faculty member. It’s in two parts, one about finding the faculty job and the other about getting started once you land it.

After I took the job, everyone told me how relaxed I must be to have a job lined up. Relaxed? There has been a substantial amount of busy work (ramping up the conference schedule, fielding emails and scheduling skype conversations with potential graduate students, dealing with lab renovations…). Plus, I’m still trying to work on my postdoc research and get it published, so more people will know who I am and so my grants will be more competitive. Everything I do now has a sense of urgency.

Congratulations! You have a job. Now get to work! But seriously, this all covers the career stage I’m hoping to enter myself, any year now. It’s definitely worthwhile reading, and bookmarking, the whole thing.◼

New project: Surveying LGBTQ folks working in science

Rainbow leds Photo by Julio Martinez.

I’m pleased and excited to announce that a project I’ve been working on for the last few months is finally ready to launch: A new, nationwide survey of queer folks working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

You may recall that back when I hosted the first Pride Month edition of the Diversity in Science Carnival, one of the recurring themes was that, although we know lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and trans* folks work in STEM fields, our presence isn’t very visible. A few months ago, I started poking around the peer-reviewed literature, looking for studies of LGBT folks in science. I didn’t find much. Studies of LGBT folks in academia either focus primarily on undergraduate students, or consider faculty and staff across all academic disciplines as a group, or they consider very small, localized samples. And careers in STEM extend well beyond the campuses of research universities—what about folks outside the ivory tower?

I brought this up with my friend Allison Mattheis, who just happens to be the perfect person to talk to about this kind of thing: she’s just finished a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development, and who is starting a faculty position in the College of Education at California State University Los Angeles this fall. Together we decided that, yes, there’s a real gap in the existing literature—and we want to close that gap.

So, in our not-very-considerable spare time, Alli and I have been putting together the first stage of a study to answer the questions we have about queer folks in STEM: who we are, what we study, and how our identities have shaped our interest in science and our experiences of working in research. That first stage is an online survey, which we’re hoping to distribute as widely as possible using a strategy called (heh) “snowball sampling”—asking folks who take the survey to pass it on to their friends and colleagues.

As of today, that survey is live and accepting responses at a dedicated website, If you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans*, have at least a Bachelor’s or technical degree, and are currently working in a STEM field in any capacity—from grad school to tenure-track faculty to corporate R&D to government employees to teachers—then we want to hear from you. Go take the survey, and then help us spread the word by sharing the short-link on Facebook and Google Plus, tweeting it (with the hashtag #QueerSTEM, if you please), or e-mailing it to folks who should contribute.

The plan is to leave the survey open for sampling until we’re satisified that we’ve collected a large, thorough sample of queer folks working in STEM in the U.S. I’ll share prelminary results as they become available—both here and on the blog at—and, with any luck, we’ll ultimately publish what we find in an appropriate scholarly journal. We’re very excited to see the picture of sexual diversity in scientific careers that emerges from this work.◼

The Molecular Ecologist: The Carnival of knowing what I know now

This advice won’t even cost you five cents. Image via

That carnival of advice based on personal experience from previous career stages? Yep, it’s online today at The Molecular Ecologist. Head on over for a heaping helping of introspection, snark, and (mostly) sober reflection from across the science blogosphere.◼

Knowing what I know now: Let’s make it a carnival!

County Fair Photo by Justin in SD.

Cross-posted from The Molecular Ecologist.

So, not long after I posted my advice for grad school, and said I hoped that The Molecular Ecologist ultimately collect similar posts from a whole bunch of people, Scicurious e-mailed to point out that there’s a thing we do in the blogosphere when we want to collect a bunch of posts on a particular topic: we hold a carnival!

So the plan is now that The Molecular Ecologist will host a “Knowing What I Know Now” carnival on Monday, December 10, and if you’re working in science at any career stage, you’re invited! All you need to do is write up a few things you wish you’d known in your previous career stage that would’ve helped you prepare for your current career stage. (i.e., grad students, write about undergrad; postdocs, about grad school; and so on.) In my original post I may have over-emphasized the academic career track — we’d love to hear advice about preparing for work in industry, or with a non-academic nonprofit, or in government, too.

If you have a blog, write up your advice as a post and either e-mail the link to me or post it in the comments below. If you don’t have a blog, we’ll be happy to post your contribution at The Molecular Ecologist — again, e-mail me to set that up. Please send all your links and post contributions by Saturday, December 8, and I’ll pull them together for the carnival post on the 10th.

Ready? Set? Start your advice-ing.◼

The Molecular Ecologist: Knowing what I know now (about grad school)

2007 - Day 113 - This England Tea. It’s important. Photo by Jonathan_W.

In what I hope will be the start of a whole series of posts about careers in science, I’ve taken a stab at writing down what I wish I’d known to do (and what I’m glad I did) during graduate school, over at The Molecular Ecologist:

I can’t claim to have any blinding new insights — my own career is very much still under construction. But I’ve been interacting with a number of freshly-arrived graduate students this semester, and I’ve found myself thinking, after conversations with them, about what I might have done differently back when I was looking ahead to five (oops, six) years of grad school — and about what I did that worked out pretty well.

And no, I will not apologize for the choice of videos I’ve used to illustrate the complete post.◼