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ECR Spotlight Series: Bob Week

In an effort to showcase and amplify the voices of early career researchers in ecology, evolution, and behavior, we are sharing their stories, in their own words.

Dr. Bob Week

Post-doctoral Researcher, Michigan State University

Can you give us the rundown on your ECR journey thus far, from what type of undergraduate institution you went to, to your current position?

My journey into science began at Clark Community College in Vancouver, Washington. I had developed an anxious curiosity for mathematics and electronics, but was undecided about my career path. So I focused on my passions, taking coursework in mathematics, physics and electrical engineering. I enjoyed the smaller class sizes at the community college and the relationships I developed with the faculty. Towards the end of my time at Clark I decided to pursue a bachelors in electrical engineering at the University of Idaho. I chose Idaho for its smaller size (hoping to retain a similar experience to the community college) and because its electrical engineering program was (and I am sure still is) well respected. However, I was caught off-guard by my interests in mathematics and a growing interest in how mathematics can be applied to understand biological pattern formation. At the time the University of Idaho had a program for Undergraduate research in Biology and Mathematics (UBM). I inquired about an open position and the organizer introduced me to Professor Scott Nuismer, a mathematical evolutionary ecologist studying coevolutionary theory. Scott and I really enjoyed working together and I became fascinated by the world of mathematical evolutionary ecology.

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ECR Spotlight Series: Samreen Siddiqui

In an effort to showcase and amplify the voices of early career researchers in ecology, evolution, and behavior, we are sharing their stories, in their own words.

Dr. Samreen Siddiqui

Post-doctoral Scholar, Oregon State University

Can you give us the rundown on your ECR journey thus far, from what type of undergraduate institution you went to, to your current position?

I got my undergraduate from GBPUAT, Pantnagar, India, and landed in the UK for my first MS degree in Aquatic Ecosystem Management. From there I spent a few years working professionally.  Since a 1 year taught MS was not acceptable to enter into a PhD, I needed to redo a MS in biology with focus on ecotoxicology from Valdosta State University, GA. From there I met my PhD advisor at a SETAC Conference and joined Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi (TAMUCC) for my terminal degree. I graduated with my son last summer and am now working as a postdoctoral scholar at Oregon State University.

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ECR Spotlight Series: Juliano Morimoto

In an effort to showcase and amplify the voices of early career researchers in ecology, evolution, and behavior, we are sharing their stories, in their own words.

Juliano Morimoto, DPhil (Oxon.) FLS FRES FRSA

Research Fellow, University of Aberdeen

Can you give us the rundown on your ECR journey thus far, from what type of undergraduate institution you went to, to your current position?

I started my journey in my home country, Brazil. After completing my basic education in public schools (which in Latin America, are of ever-declining quality), I was miraculously admitted to a public University in 2009, at the age 17, thanks to the social quota system. That was when I started my academic journey in my BSc in Biological Sciences at the Federal University of Paraná. During my first year, I was discriminated in the University and in the society in two ways: by being Latino mixed race and by having benefited from the social quota. In fact, I was denied student housing simply because I came from a low-middle income class family and a few of my classmates told me I did not deserve to be at the University. In addition to this, during my first years of University, I faced several adversities (both financial and emotional) which were difficult to overcome. For example, one of the professors in the course admitted (at the end of the semester) that she “tried to humiliate me in front of the class to prove I wasn’t worth to be there, and did everything she could to give me low grades”. But in 2010, I met my first ‘angel’ – Prof Elaine Benelli – who took me under her wings, mentored me, and gave me not only an undergraduate stipend (which helped with living), but also connected me to her international collaborators in the field of Structural Biology. Despite not speaking English well (in fact, I did not speak at all English until the age of 15), Prof Benelli encouraged me to apply for an international undergraduate scholarship in 2012, to visit my second angel: Dr Silvia Onesti in Trieste. Dr Onesti hosted me and gave me the opportunity to complete my monography in her group (equivalent to an Honours thesis) at the Synchrotron in Trieste, Italy. That was my first international trip – an international trip I never thought it would be possible for me. 

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ASN GC statement on anti-Black racism

The ASN GC affirms that Black Lives Matter and that anti-Black racism has no place in our community. We encourage all ASN members to read the society’s statement condemning anti-Black racism here. The statement includes a list of actions that we can take, as well as resources.

Importantly, the statement also includes a place to share any ideas you may have about how the society can work to reduce racism and its effects within the scientific community. We are strongly committed to backing up our words with actions, and the society is currently discussing concrete plans for future programs and initiatives.

Please reach out if you would like to be involved in these efforts, or if you have ideas about what we can do as a community. We are also here to listen to anyone who is suffering or struggling in the aftermath of the horrifying recent events. You can reach ASN through the link above, and us on the grad council at ASNgrads ‘at’ gmail.com, or on twitter @asngrads.

Conflict resolution—a hard “soft” skill

We all experience conflicts in our professional and personal lives, and a lot of conflicts can be challenging to resolve for many reasons. Maybe there’s a power imbalance if you have a conflict with your advisor, or maybe there’s scientific and emotional tension if you are having trouble navigating the shared lab workspace. Also, if you are a people pleaser like me, you might be a conflict avoider, but often it can be healthy and productive to work to resolve a conflict. I’m going to outline a technique that you can try, suggest how to prepare for a conflict resolution conversation, and provide ideas for additional resources.

Ready to resolve some conflicts? Here we go!

A technique you can try: Here is one framework that you can use to facilitate having a conversation about a conflict and developing a plan for resolving that conflict. This framework has several steps, but following the whole progression will help to both set up the conversation in the best light and then help to make sure that things change as a result of the conversation. In addition to talking through feelings and experiences, developing a concrete plan is a critical piece of resolving a conflict. I learned about this method from a leadership development course for life scientists that I took at Cornell University. I highly recommend looking for similar opportunities on your campus (more on that below).

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5 Ways to Get your Fieldwork Fix

Kelsey Lyberger (PhD student, UC Davis)

Maybe you are deep in the analysis and writing phase of your dissertation or maybe you do theoretical work. Whatever the reason, I often find myself itching to get outside. Here are some of the ways I get my fieldwork fix.

  1. Small-grant Funding: If you are looking to start up a new field study there are lots of small pots of money you can apply for. For example, many field stations and reserves have graduate student funding opportunities aimed to increase use. Other places to look are societies, such as ASN also offer student research grants, and university or department specific grants. I got my feet wet—literally—by starting up a long-term survey at a pond at one of the UC nature reserves, when they funded my proposal to look at genetic diversity in Daphnia. Now I have the excuse (obligation?) to drive out once a month to sample.
  2. Educational Outreach Programs: My favorite K-12 outreach program (and I’ve participated in a bunch over the years) is the KiDS program, which is run at a low-income, minority-serving elementary school next to one of my study sites. The students first run their own 9-week experiment growing plants in serpentine and loamy soils. The curriculum was created by a past graduate student and aligns with 5th grade learning standards. On the last day of the program, we take them on a full-day field trip to a natural reserve 20-min down the road to see those serpentine soils! Kids spend the day outside participating in activities led by ecology PhD students, many of whom get to talk about the research experiments they’re doing at that very reserve.
  3. TA a field course: This requires some taxon specific knowledge, but maybe less than you would think if you’re enthusiastic about learning more about that group. If you’re on the fence, it might be worth talking to the professor who teaches the class. This job often comes with the responsibility of handling logistics of field trip planning but is definitely worth it when you get to teach outside.
  4. Follow empirical friends: Ask fellow graduate students if they could use a hand. But be prepared for less than ideal conditions. Some of my favorite memories are from doing this because unlike normal people who go out in nature when it’s nice outside, ecologists go out when it’s dark, buggy, and rainy. I’ve identified algae in the intertidal at 4am, I’ve caught honeybees on busy street corners, and I’ve measured plants during a storm. I have also been on the receiving end of this, where grad student friends hiked up mountains to help me and I can’t thank them enough.
  5. No reason needed: Keeping work and play separate can be a good thing. Sometimes doing “real” fieldwork can get stressful. Remembering to record a million details, needing that one last observation or collection to get equal sample sizes, keeping things alive or cold to bring back to lab …the list goes on. It’s easy to start to attach those anxious feelings to the environment. So, every once in a while, I take the time to be outside just for the fun of it and remind myself that one of the reasons I entered into a PhD in evolution and ecology is because of the inherent joy the natural world brings me.

Choosing Our Words Carefully: Challenges in communicating science

Emma Lehmberg, PhD student
Rosenthal Lab, Texas A&M University

Currently, I am engaged in a truly arcane, largely benign dispute with my PhD advisor. 

In phylogenetics, sometimes you’ll see the phrase “true tree” written – this is the tree that represents the relationships as they have existed in nature. They are not hypotheses but the ideal truth of how these organisms have evolved. 

To my advisor, a true tree is undiscoverable because we cannot observe – or indirectly observe through precise modelling – the evolution of each taxon in a tree.  We can only ever estimate the relationships. I, on the other hand, believe that this tree is a possibility, that each phylogeny that is published with additional data is a step towards what these relationships truly are.

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Enhancing Figures: ggplot2 to Adobe Illustrator

Simon Tye, PhD student
Siepielski Lab, University of Arkansas

Introduction

Many graduate students use the open-source programming language R to compile, examine, and visualize data. For visualizations, online resources (e.g., R Cookbook) and major R packages (e.g., ggplot2, lattice, leaflet, plotly) are often the first steps taken. While these packages allow users to create a wide variety of captivating figures, it may be cumbersome to write code that performs the required task within a specific package’s framework.

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Electronic Lab Notebooks: Hope or Hype?

The lab notebook has long been hallowed as the fundamental unit of scientific research. From the cuneiform tablets to meticulous scrolls, written records of scientific discoveries have played a key role in human innovation. Because of this importance, before I switched to an electronic lab notebook, I would often wake up in a cold sweat, dreaming that fire, flood, or calamity had befallen the lab overnight and all of my treasured data and lab notebook had been forever lost. But in the wonderful age of cloud computing and digital documents, my fears are assuaged. In case of emergency, my trusty electronic lab notebook has my back.

What is an electronic lab notebook?

An electronic lab notebook is a complete and semi-digital set of documents that are stored on a device and often also in the cloud. Entries could be entirely stored in an app (either made for lab notebooks or a generic note-taking app) or exported in a generic file format (i.e. .pdf) and stored in your normal file system (i.e. Finder/Documents). These files, whether in an app or in your own filing system, are typically backed up in the cloud. This increases security (in case of loss/destruction/theft of your device) and also allows you to access your entries from other devices (such as at home or on the go from your phone). I will go into detail about how I manage each of these aspects in this blog post.

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Exploring Careers Outside of Academia

by Shengpei Wang

Determining which career you want to pursue can be a daunting task. In addition to loving research, part of my motivation for getting a PhD was to kick that decision down the road a bit. However, I need to find the path that’s right for me eventually, and it’s better to start early. Whether you have interests in staying in or leaving academia, I want to urge you to start to consider your future and take action, now.

There are many career options after getting a PhD. The most traditional route is to pursue a tenure track position at a R1 University. However, the supply of qualified PhDs greatly outnumbers available tenure track positions, especially in Biology. Just think about how many students your lab will train throughout your advisors’ career, that number minus one is the oversupply your lab produces (see this blog https://lucklab.ucdavis.edu/blog/2018/7/4/job-market for more involved calculations). Most of us will develop careers other than becoming a tenure track faculty. Within academia, there are roles such as non-tenured teaching positions, university administrators, student services, lab managers, staff scientists, etc. There are even more opportunities outside of academia, including non-academic research scientists, medical science liaison, science writers, management consultants, etc. I am not trying to persuade you to stay or to leave academia but to point out that only a very small number of us will reach the goal that most of us set out to achieve. Making a career choice may not be easy, but you will be better off if you start early.

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