One of my more vivid memories of my graduate studies is a lecture on evolutionary models. Not especially because of the content (something about mutations, maybe?), but because of how it was delivered. Instead of starting with a question, and then showing the model, and then solving it, the beginning of the lecture was “Here’s today’s topic, what question do you want to explore?”. After a (short) brainstorming, we settled on a topic.
Beckett said “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”. It is terse, bleak, and absolutely true. Especially when doing research, failure may be the most efficient way – as long as we fail in creative, novel, and interesting ways.
It is not a surprise that academia is built around gatekeeping. Admissions to undegraduate programs are competitive. Admissions to graduate schools are competitive. Scholarships are competitive. Positions are too. And publications. These are features of the system, which we must live with. But something more pervasive is general statements about what makes a “true ecologist”. There is no such thing.
You guys know about Paw Patrol? It’s a kid’s TV show where a band of pups solve mysteries, help people, and do engage in other kid-friendly antics. It’s pretty great. And a few weeks ago, our son started asking where the pups live. Being dedicated watchers of the show, we replied “Adventure Bay”. But he wanted to know where adventure bay is. Let’s use the power of biogeography to find out.
Up until a few months ago, when people asked what the advantages of Julia were, I usually mentioned its speed, maintainability, and how easy it was to run your code in a distributed way. Now, I usually add that Chris Rackauckas created the best differential equations package available (DifferentialEquations.jl ). Check out the comparison with other packages. I thought it would be useful to give a brief overview of one very useful feature it has when solving ecological problems.
These past few days, I have been re-reading a paper that stimulated me a lot during my PhD. And I found myself wanting to dig in a little bit deeper into the mechanisms of one particular result. Since this paper was published in the 1990s, I never even attempted to look for the code, and started re-writing my own implementation. It made me realize a few things along the way.
Hey, before we start. I know. About grad school. I know it can make you miserable; this is when my first symptoms of GAD showed up. I had no adequate definition of work-life balance. I know there are a number of complex, related, systemic issues that can make grad school and the next years difficult. And then, there’s PhD Comics, and I don’t think it helps.
An invited talk at a symposium or special session is an important milestone in a career. It shows that your work is recognized, to the point where others seek you out to talk about it. And when looking at the lineup, there is often a lack of early career guests. There are a series of steps organizers can follow, to make sure early career scientists are represented, and can be heard. I will walk you through them in a lot of details.
It’s fall term. Do you know what this means? It means I’ll spend the next 12 weeks teaching Scientific Communication to a bunch of students, and thinking a lot about how to communicate efficiently. The first exercise we’ve done was to find an important figure, and discuss, in four slides and four minutes, how it changed the way we thought about science. It was interesting, because it helped me establish a baseline for the class (before approaching presentations in a more formal way), and also evaluate what each student will have to work on. And like the previous years, I think there are a few things that are easy to do, and would immediately improve presentations. Let’s dig in.
It starts, like all great stories do, with Lavender. When I was a PhD student, one of my projects was to study time-series of bacteria-bacteriophage infection networks in the soil. We had a little plot of soil, about 10 cm by 50 cm, in one of the remote university “green” spaces (Montpellier in the summer is the brownish kind of green). On day 1, we got our five soil samples, and started isolating them in the lab. Then after a week, we thought it was time for another sample. Took a fork and some falcon tubes (we were good at improv science), headed down the stairs. No more soil plot. It had been replaced by the loveliest arrangement of rocks,[…]