The Washington Post “climate advice” columnist, Michael Coren, has a great article up today about his experience trying out apps that identify plants and wildlife [gift link] from smartphone images or audio recordings, like iNaturalist or Merlin. It’s clear from Coren’s description that being able to put names to the living things in his neighborhood gave him a new connection to that urban biodiversity
I’m not a master naturalist, but I have one in my pocket. Thanks to artificial intelligence trained on millions of observations, anyone with a smartphone can snap a picture or record a sound to identify tens of thousands of species, from field bluebells to native bumblebees.
If I’m honest, it’s the kind of thing I would normally miss while walking or pedaling to work. Birdsong might be gorgeous but I’d barely hear it. I’d note “pine tree” as a catchall for conifers.
That has changed. I’m now on a first-name basis with most of my wild neighbors. It has reconnected me to a natural world I love, yet never studied deeply enough to know all its characters and settings.
This is very much the experience I hope students have in my undergraduate plant systematics course, and I’m delighted that smartphone apps are making it more accessible. (This year I actually started providing my plant systematics class with explicit guidance in using iNaturalist as one resource for plant identification, in concert with formal botanical keys like the Jepson manual.) But Coren also illustrates the article with images of plants he’d identified using apps and … they’re not very good?
Our semesters end the week before the Memorial Day holiday, which in practice means I don’t really get out from under the end-of-semester pileup and start my summer until that holiday weekend. Which is sort of nice for me, personally, because my birthday usually lands somewhere in or adjacent to the last weekend of May.
This year it’s a big(ger) round number, and there were any number of moments that seem nicely timed to commemorate it: I joined the University’s first in-person commencement since 2019 as a faculty “marshal”, and the passel of students from my spring botany class who were participating actually tracked me down to pose for photos. I introduced the first in-person thesis defense by a Master’s student from my lab, and she gave a fantastic, polished presentation of work that her committee declared outstanding almost the moment she stepped out of the room to let us confer. Next weekend (since I’ve now widened this moment to roughly a fortnight) I’ll run and probably survive my twelfth marathon. And, after I’d stopped checking email before the holiday weekend, I got the letter from the Provost conferring tenure and promotion, a year ahead of schedule.
It’s all nice and gratifying in different ways: good impressions made, mentorship successful, hard work paying off, employment and a raise secured. It’s really shockingly well in line with what I’d have wanted to have happen by this particular round-number birthday, if you’d asked me a decade ago when postdoctoral research was still fresh and exciting and radically more adult than grad school. (I’m in the midst of hiring the lab’s first postdoc right now, yikes.) However, right now my mind is more on the sheer number of things I’m still planning to accomplish: the big plans for the summer, grant and paper writing and course planning, and the speed with which making those plans chopped that vast expanse of teaching-free time into not enough. I’ve gotten a lot done in the last five years, and I’ve got so much more to come.
CSUN is about as close as possible to the ideal place to do the kind of science and scholarship I want to do — a large, diverse public university with strong support for teaching and research, and great colleagues studying ecology, evolution, and every aspect of the living world. Campus is located within half an hour’s drive (well, maybe an hour with traffic) from sites where I studied Joshua trees as a graduate student, and it has good facilities and an excellent climate for growing my favorite legume, too. (I’d be remiss if I failed to mention, as well, that CSUN should be familiar to fellow fans of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” as the alma mater of one Joshua Felix Chan.)
To extend a metaphor I used in an essay about being a postdoc last year, I feel like I’ve finally been called up to the big leagues. I’ve already submitted my first pre-proposal for NSF research funding with CSUN affiliation, with collaborators from the Joshua Tree Genome Project, and I’m making plans to hit the ground running with that project and others when I officially arrive on campus later this summer.
The world is heating up, and it often seems that the intellectual luxuries afforded to scientists of the past — Darwin’s leisurely publication schedule, Haldane’s dalliances with radical politics — are gone. Lab Girl’s rendition of the daily institutional frustrations of research marks it as a different kind of scientific memoir — but also as a product of twenty-first century science. If you navigate among scientists’ blogs or scroll through their Twitter feeds, you’ll quickly find the same fears and vexations and injustices Jahren describes, intertwined with accounts of the work that excites scientists’ passions. … Jahren does not makes science look like an easy career choice, but it isn’t her job to do so — and if Lab Girl chronicles the real and substantial barriers to becoming a successful scientist, it also makes that life compelling: she shows the fruit that can still grow from the rocky soil of a research career.
Do LGBTQ-identified people remain in the closet in STEM workplaces mainly because they feel a lack of support, or because STEM workplace cultures discourage discussion of personal lives outside the lab? How do LGBTQ-identified colleagues, mentors, and role models affect their careers? Does being “out” in the workplace affect their research productivity?
Queer in STEM 2.0 aims to answer these questions with a new online survey designed for more specific hypothesis testing. We hope to hear again from participants in the original Queer in STEM survey, and to achieve an even bigger sample from LGBTQ-identified STEM professionals across the U.S. and Canada. Finally, in our biggest innovation from the original study, we will also ask STEM professionals who don’t identify as LGBTQ to answer many of the same questions we will ask LGBTQ-identified participants, to provide a powerful new tool for understanding the survey results: a control sample.
Joey’s taken the lead in developing a new, more focused questionnaire that adjusts the questions it presents based on initial responses — so, hopefully, it’ll be a smaller time commitment for participants. We’ve also had help and input from Daniel Cruz-Ramirez de Arellano, a chemist at the University of South Florida who’s already worked with Allison to analyze one-on-one interviews from the first study. We’re also grateful to have the continued support of NOGLSTP, and now oSTEM, too.
As an aside: We’d originally planned to announce the new study on Monday, but we held off for a bit in the wake of the horrific mass killing at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It’s hard to think that a project like Queer in STEM matters much, in the face of that kind of hatred. I do believe, though, that working to understand individual queer experiences — the nitty gritty details of our lives and careers — is part of the much bigger project of making society kinder to all people. The Pulse massacre is only the latest act of anti-queer violence to add to the fears that LGBTQ-identified folks carry with us every day — including in our laboratories and classrooms. I know I speak for all my collaborators when I say that we hope Queer in STEM can help to make those spaces feel safer.
We’ll officially open the new survey for responses on Monday, 20 June — look for notice here, on the study site, or on social media.
I’ve got a new piece up on Vitae looking at some inspirational (and not-so-) examples of mentoring in popular culture. Leslie Knope (duh) and Miranda Priestly (yikes) make appearances, plus I have officially managed to shoehorn Star Trek into the careers blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education:
When DS9 and the Federation are threatened by deteriorating relations with the Klingon Empire, [Benjamin] Sisko recruits the Klingon Starfleet officer Worf (Michael Dorn) to the station’s crew for his unique combination of security and tactical expertise and cross-cultural competency.
Perhaps most excitingly (terrifyingly?) we’re going to raise some of the funds to do the genome sequencing by crowdfunding, using the Experiment.com platform. So please keep an eye on the project site, follow our Twitter feed, and Like our Facebook page to make sure you don’t miss your chance to help understand Joshua trees’ evolutionary past and ensure their future.
The challenge with receiving and applying advice is to distinguish real, general principles from what may simply amount to another person’s recollection of a series of events that ended well. … Certainly in academia, as in any career, there are habits and choices that improve the odds of survival from graduate school to tenure. But simply making it to a particular stage doesn’t actually mean that you had all the right habits or made all the right choices — or even know which habits and choices will work for most other people.
In keeping with my established approach to these columns, I actually do circle back around to a way in which you can learn from other folks’ personal experiences, but you’ll need to read the whole thing to find out how.
In the field during the first year of my Ph.D. research with my dissertation advisor, Olle Pellmyr (centre) and collaborator Will Godsoe (left). (Flickr: jby)
Over at Vitae, I’m contemplating an appropriate topic for the week of U.S. Thanksgiving: how much I owe to the many senior colleagues who’ve mentored me over the course of my scientific career.
In graduate school and as a postdoc, I’ve been exceptionally fortunate in my formal and informal relationships with senior colleagues. As I’m nearing (I hope) the day when I will begin teaching, training graduate students, and supervising postdocs myself, I’ve tried to keep track of specific ways that my mentors have aided me. It’s helped me define what I want to do as a mentor myself, but it’s also good, I think, to remember how much my career has depended on others’ support.
No, I don’t know why the piece is illustrated by men carrying turkeys, apart from the seasonal connection. Maybe the men are mentors and the turkeys are mentees? Maybe just go read the whole column and don’t over-think it.
Do you really need to receive letters of reference with my application? Yes, of course, you want perspectives on candidates from people who have worked with us in the past. Will you use their letters in the very first round of sorting through dozens (or hundreds) of applicants? Probably not. I have met a few faculty members who tell me that they do read letters for that first-stage decision — but those professors are the rare, possibly superhuman, exceptions. For candidates, making sure letters get delivered means making sure that three-to-five usually very busy senior collaborators know the general description of the job opening in question, the idiosyncratic method by which letters should be submitted, and the deadline for submission — then following up to ensure they meet that deadline.
I’d like to think this column is both a (reasonable) extended complaint, and a #SlatePitch-y rebuttal to said complaint — because I kinda think, actually, that as maddening as tenure-track applications can be, they might be pretty good at identifying people who will do well as faculty. To find out why, go read the whole thing.