April 23, 2012, 12:43 pm

Monitoring Productivity Increases Productivity

Coffee helps too. Photo by Flickr user interpunct.

Recently, I read Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, which I found to be a very enjoyable read. One of the things that resonated with me was the fact that in many experiments when they asked subjects to monitor their own behavior (such as eating or studying habits), that behavior improved. I’ve found this to be true for myself too. I used to keep a spreadsheet where I recorded my daily word count, and what papers I read. But at some point I got tired of keeping up with the spreadsheet and abandoned it entirely—and my writing and scholarly reading went down, too.

The book mentioned a program called RescueTime that will monitor how you spend your time on your computer automatically. You spend a…

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March 13, 2012, 10:16 am

The Reluctant Expert

Photo by Flickr user raider of gin

When you choose a little-studied research topic, you are suddenly regarded as an expert on that topic. I conducted my doctoral dissertation research on a little-known creature in a remote part of the world, encountering many difficulties that quickly made it clear why no one else had done this before. By the time I was done with a year’s worth of fieldwork, another year’s worth of labwork, and compiling every bit of published information that had ever existed on this species, I felt like I had learned very little. From the point of view of the rest of the world, however, I was the leading expert on this animal. Graduate students who were interested in studying the same species, documentary filmmakers who wanted to make a movie about the place, conservation organizations …

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February 17, 2012, 9:42 am

Once again, women reduced to their reproductive organs

In the days leading up to ScienceOnline 2012, a blogger who was irritated at the lack of childcare options at the conference tweeted something like the following (I am paraphrasing — except for the bolded part):

Scio12 needs to consider providing more child care so that more women and dads could attend.

Women. And dads. Not moms and dads, but women and dads. Because, you know, all women have children, right?

Similarly, just about every report I’ve ever seen on women in science/women in academia concludes that the best way to increase the number of women in science and academia is to provide better daycare and flexibility for mothers.

I agree that more family-friendly policies would benefit many women and help level the playing field between men and women. But there’s so much more to be done. For example, when the journal Behavioral Ecology instituted double-blind peer review,

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February 1, 2012, 2:53 pm

How to appear competent in one easy step

Manage your email inbox well. That’s all there is to it.

Photo of cat in a cardboard box

Not that kind of inbox.

I understand that there are faculty members and administrators who receive many, many hundreds of emails a day and find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume. I wish them good luck. However, if you are a graduate student or postdoc, you do not receive “too much email.” You might think that you do, but you are wrong. I’m sorry, but it’s true. You are simply managing it poorly.

If you miss important announcements, if you regularly fail to respond emails from collaborators asking for input, if you can’t get things done in time because you “didn’t know” about them (because you didn’t see the email), you will be perceived as incompetent and a drain on more productive people. However, if you are able to quickly…

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January 25, 2012, 11:19 am

Working It: Valuable Skills You Didn’t Even Know You Had

Given my non-traditional, alt-ac position, I am often asked to give career advice, which still surprises me because I am in no way an expert. I sort of feel like I’ve just fallen into the jobs I’ve had. But there are a few things that I did differently from your average grad student or postdoc that probably helped me get where I am.

I frequently hear graduate students and postdocs repeat the oft-given advice that you should only focus on your research, to the exclusion of all other activities. That anything else will hold you back and delay reaching the ultimate goal of becoming a tenure-track professor. But focusing on your research and publishing like a machine is no guarantee of a tenure-track job. And following this advice can actually harm you if you are interested in any other kind of job – and trust me, even if you think that the only job for you is “professor,”…

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January 17, 2012, 4:37 pm

What I hope to get out of ScienceOnline2012

Tomorrow I’m heading to Raleigh, NC for the ScienceOnline conference – or “unconference,” I should say. I’ve never been to anything like this before and I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I also don’t really fit neatly into any of the categories that describe most of the people attending: while I am a research scientist, I am also the PR person for my center. I am not a science blogger per se – this blog here certainly isn’t about science – but I do maintain the center’s blog and solicit and edit science posts for the center’s blog.

Photo of dog covering face with paw

I'm shy!

I also don’t know very many people who are attending personally. While the explosions of joy over the impending meeting over on Twitter (see #scio12) are cute [e.g. "OMG I'm so excited to see you all again"], it’s actually pretty intimidating. I’m kind of shy,…

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January 12, 2012, 4:47 pm

Blogger’s Block

When I moved my blog over here to The Chronicle, one of the things I was worried about was keeping up with expectations. What on earth was I going to write about? My fellow Chronicle bloggers are a pretty high-level crowd, always writing about Important Issues and stuff. I do that sometimes too, but sometimes I just want to tell you about a funny thing my cat did or post a cocktail recipe. Somehow, that just doesn’t seem right in this venue.


This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this blog post.

And so one thing didn’t lead to another, until I had full-blown blogger’s block. I would come up with vaguely interesting ideas, start drafting a post, and… well, that just seems too dumb. Or too short. Or dumb AND short. And now the blog has sat here for weeks, ignored and unloved. The best way to…

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December 14, 2011, 3:49 pm

I finally have some free time… what do I do now?

Cat surrounded by Christmas wrapping paper

I can do whatever I want? Wow, it's just like Christmas!

Ah, the day I’ve been waiting for has arrived at long last. The huge annual undertakings related to our funding agency are now completed, two of my latest manuscripts are in press, and three papers that I’m a co-author on are finally (finally!) in review. Finally, I can start to focus on some new research projects…

…and I have absolutely no idea where to start.

Does this happen to you too? It’s not that I don’t have any projects planned or any data waiting to be analyzed. I’ve got a pile of data from last summer’s field season just sitting there, and two collaborative projects with people who haven’t been answering my emails lately, and vague ideas for a new grant proposal. It’s just… I don’t have any revisions to do, no feedback to…

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December 5, 2011, 5:44 pm

Academia vs. Roller Derby

Thanks, http://fuckyeahrollerderbyotter.tumblr.com/!

Roller derby! It seems to be everywhere these days, and I couldn’t be happier. Derby 101 has begun at my local league, and I am learning to skate (in between all the times I fall down). I’ve started noticing some important ways in which academia and roller derby are similar — and ways in which they are really, really, different.


1. You’ll fall on your ass. A lot. And you just have to keep getting up over and over again. In academia, it’s metaphorical, but it still hurts.

2. Perseverance is much more important than innate talent. In academia, it’s been noted by many people that finishing your Ph.D. is more a reflection of your ability to keep at something until you finish it, and less a reflection of your intelligence. In roller derby,…

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November 15, 2011, 10:12 am

The Unbearable Tiredness of Being… Introverted

Continuing with yesterday’s theme (which seems to have upset at least one person already, oh my!)…

I’ve been thinking about what it is about my life that wears me out so much these days, and I realized that I interact with people all day long. As a graduate student and postdoc, I often had long stretches of time when I didn’t talk to anybody (sometimes for whole days!) and was able to focus on lab work or writing or whatever without having to deal with anyone else. Professors are often able to have days when they don’t come on campus at all, or at least have set office hours when students can see them, and other times when they can close the door. As an administrator, I have to be constantly available. I am on campus every day (except when I am doing fieldwork for a few weeks in the summer) and my door is always open and I always answer the phone. I answer work emails as quickly as …

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