Why is engaging with ecological & organismal professional societies on LGBTQ+ diversity so hard?

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It’s Pride month, which seems like as good a time as any to pose this puzzler that has been cartwheeling around my brain for the better part of a year now: why is it so difficult to get ecological or organismal professional societies to engage on LGBTQ+ diversity? And why is it when they do, they often muck it up?

For the last 3 years, I’ve been going to/organizing/hosting/thoroughly enjoying the LGBTQ+ STEMinar, a day-long all-STEM conference for LGBTQ+ scientists. It remains one of the absolute highlights of my year. At the most recent edition, a number of professional societies in the physical sciences announced they were banding together to look at diversity of and climate for their LGBTQ+ members, and knowledgeable sources have told me they had a fantastic response. This is a coordinated effort by the UK’s main professional bodies in physics, chemistry, and astronomy.

When July 5th was launched as the International Day for LGBTQ+ folk in STEM, even CERN got on board. CERN! Just look at the supporters on the Pride in STEM webpage… only the Society for Applied Microbiology to represent life sciences. Pathetic, I say. (And yes, I have sent this around to numerous ecology/organismal societies to encourage them to support it, and yet…)

And yet when I broach this subject with their equivalents in non-medical life sciences, it’s met with deafening crickets. On the surface, this seems counterintuitive. Life sciences is traditionally viewed as a more diverse field, particularly so for women, and so it should follow that it’s more likely to engage on other diversity & inclusion topics. But perhaps it’s because of this history of being more inclusive that the impetus to do more just isn’t there.

An equally plausible reason is the fragmentary nature of the professional landscape. There are of course the large bodies, like the British Ecological Society or the Ecological Society of America, but then each taxon has its own group, and even sub-groups (I know groups who focus just on one order of birds, for example). So there’s no overarching body to provide the leadership and demonstrate buy-in.

Or, the larger societies (*cough* ESA *cough*) tend to really get things wrong when they do try and do something. Rainbow “Ally” ribbons in Baltimore, anyone? Or the steps taken are mostly paying lip-service out of the desire to be seen to be doing something. Or they are putting all the labour on their LGBTQ+ members without support.

All is not rosy for LGBTQ+ scientists, dear reader. In a field in which many people spend time in the field, and with increased globalization of research I repeatedly have to explain that there are about 80 countries where being gay is illegal and I don’t exactly like going there. And neither do some other folks. Instead this is looked on as an annoying inconvenience (tell me about it!).

Compared to even 3 or 4 years ago, there has been an uptick in LGBTQ+ events at conferences (though as recently as 9 months ago, one ornithological society insisted that there was no need since everyone was welcome). Utter poppycock of the most foul variety. And it’s great to provide this social & networking opportunity, but a lunch, or evening social to “tick the box” of having done something isn’t sufficient.

So if you’re a member of a professional society in ecology or organismal biology, why not ask them what they’re doing for your LGBTQ+ colleagues? Why not encourage them to do more? And if they won’t, why not re-evaluate the idea of your membership in a professional body that values some members less than others?

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MENSERC continues: men still dominate NSERC’s prestigious prizes

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NSERC (the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) is Canada’s funding council for, well, natural sciences and engineering. And each year they recognize the crème de la crème of Canadian scientific & engineering research. Sort of.

It really helps to be a guy.

I first got riled up about this issue in 2013 (which, shockingly, is 5 years ago), at a time when no woman had ever been awarded the Herzberg Medal, colloquially known as the prize for ’Canada’s Top Scientist’. This changed in 2015, but has since resumed it’s male pattern blindness.

In fact, in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, women were recognizes with 0% (!!!), 13%, 17%, and 19% of the prizes awarded. Hey, a positive trend! </scarcasm>

And I want to highlight that these are not competitive grants for which there is an application, but a nomination process meant to recognize excellence in Canadian scientific & engineering research.

After the first year, NSERC reached out in the comments to highlight that they took diversity seriously, and pointed to several initiatives. But this has not yet manifested in the upper echelons, clearly. So much so that one could easily refer to the organization as MENSERC.

So where do we stand with the 2017 awards announced recently?

  • Herzberg Medal (“Canada’s top scientist”): man (only one woman has ever won this award, and it was in 2015)
  • Polyani Award: man
  • Brockhouse Canada Prize: 6 men
  • Synergy Award for Innovation: 4 men
  • E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowships: 3 men, 3 women
  • Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research: 1 man, 1 woman

For those keeping track at home, that’s 4/20 women winners, or 20%. The positive trend continues! </more sarcasm>

As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. I have no idea what goes in behind the shrouded curtain of NSERC deliberations when it comes to these awards, but something is clearly not working.

Meg Duffy has kept tabs on the US NSFs Waterman Award, with similar results. The comments on that post are particularly good, including the response from NSF.

There is also this article in Nature on the under-representation of women in the worlds national science academies.

So while NSERC is by no means an outlier, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t do better.

Queering one’s science (and more languishing ideas)

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Last week I had a fantastic chat with the Queer Science discussion group based at Memorial University of Newfoundland, which is also where I happened to do my PhD. One of the perennial questions when I talk about being an out scientist is how the LGBTQ+ side influences the science side, and vice versa. As someone not particularly versed in sociology, queer theory, or feminist studies, I lack the terminology and background to put my experiences in a broader context, so I said that I didn’t think it did (because that’s genuinely what I thought).

But I think I was wrong.

As one of the group members pointed out, they felt that some of my writing certainly came from a queer science view of the world, and after a bit of discussion, I think I agree. And seeing as this is a blog for some rambling thoughts, I present some rambling thoughts.

I’ve long been interested in the how of science, whether it’s pointing out that gender and sex are different things (and try as we might, we can’t know a bird’s gender, at least not yet), or looking at the ways in which the current science apparatus tends to disadvantage those who aren’t white cishet men. I’ve even managed a paper or two in this line of work, though the process was fraught with push-back and watering down of statements.

When I started my career as a scientist (which I benchmark as the start of my MSc in 2005), I made a folder on my computer for what I called “Thought papers” (and early readers here will recognize that as a category, though a much neglected one, of posts). These were things that challenged the orthodoxy of the science how, and who, and where, and why. This was initially driven my the philosophy of science course I took as a grad student (and which I did not appreciate nearly enough at the time), but the more I progressed in science, the more I could see its faults.

And I suspect I might not have explored this realm of science (or at least, not with as much effort) had I been straight. I mean, we’ll never know, but somewhere out in the multiverse may lie an answer. Who knows.

One of the more challenging, or frustrating things, though, is the amount of time I’m able to dedicate to this line of thinking. Many journals dismiss the manuscripts on how science is done (yes, there are exceptions, but that’s what they are… exceptions. And my laundry list of rejections will do battle with any anecdata any day of the week). And so the manuscripts take longer, sit longer, go out of date faster, and exact a greater emotional toll. So for some, I’ve just stopped, which is sad.

I still have a few of these half-formed ideas, outlined papers, formatted (but empty) spreadsheets, but the emotional labour to bring them to fruition is often (perceived to be) too great. At least by myself.

This is where you come in.

I’m happy to share ideas. Heck, I’ve been trying (though largely unsuccessfully) to give away data for years. So here’s my attempt for the meta-science (science about science) bits & pieces of languishing projects.

If you’re interested in making science a better place, in pulling back the curtain to see its (often) old, white, male face, and looking for solutions, and you have some time, or need a project, get in touch. It might not work out, but then again it might.

A 3-click solution to improving the work/life balance of others

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I think it’s safe to say a good number of us struggle with the large amount considerable volume overwhelming flood of email.

emails

And many of us have implemented solutions, and there’s been lots of discussion about how to stem the tide that washes over us almost daily (see this post & the comments over on Dynamic Ecology). But ultimately, the problem starts with each of us as individuals, and the volume of email we send, and when we send it. For those of us who have staff, students, or other trainees, the latter can often send a not-so-subtle message.

With near-constant connectivity comes an expectation of immediate responses. Many of us have email on our phones, or spend most of our working day sitting at a computer with our email client/web page open, where it bings and chimes with each incoming message. Two years ago, I started tracking the outgoing volume of email I generated, and it’s somewhere between 6500-7500 messages a year. And I don’t teach or have student queries.

I’ve also worked in places where I’ve received emails from managers (from my own boss right up to their boss’s boss’s boss) not just outside work hours, but at 10pm, or on weekends. In a sense, this is understandable: it’s quiet time when there are no expectations on them, so they catch up on email. I’ve done it, as I suspect most researchers and managers have. But the not-so-subtle implication is “I’m working this extra time, and so you should be, too”, or at least that work outside the paid contracted hours is necessary to do one’s job.

So to try and combat this, I’ve implemented two strategies, one for me, and one for the people I work with.

1. I don’t respond to work email outside typical work hours

Because I supervise students in different time zones, have managed field staff, and do have some other on-call responsibilities that require me to be contactable, I do have email on my phone, and do check it outside work hours, but unless it’s something that absolutely can’t wait until the next day (or Monday if on a weekend), I read it and deal with it later. Over time, this ingrains the expectation that I’m not instantly contactable outside work hours for work things.

2. I use the “Delay Delivery” function outside work hours

Like I said above, sometimes I do sit down on the weekend with my pot of tea and bash through a bunch of emails that have backed up over the last <period of time>. But there’s a fancy (and easy) tool in Outlook called Delay Delivery that makes sure I’m not creating unsustainable and unrealistic expectations on those I’m emailing.

This is the 3-click solution I mentioned in the title.

This is a feature of Microsoft Outlook, and so far I haven’t seen an equivalent solution for Apple’s Mail, or email sent from a phone. There is a Gmail extension called Boomerang, though. Here’s how it works.

First, write your email/response as usual:

Capture1

Second, click on the Options tab (click #1), and near the right, click on “Delay Delivery” (click #2).

Capture2

And lastly, in the Delivery Options section, you can set the time when Outlook delivers the email in the “Do not deliver before” field, by setting the date & time. Click Close (click #3) and you’re done.

Capture3

The only downside I’ve found is that your computer has to be connected and Outlook open in order to send messages at the defined time, and as I said above, I’m not sure this functionality transfers to other email clients.

It might seem like a small thing, or maybe a giant pain, but it’s a simple solution to help us all walk the walk of improving work-life balance, particularly of those we supervise or manage.

 

UPDATE! Ben Britton pointed me to this VBA code & post of his that will automatically delay delivery!

Prioritizing the flood of ideas

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If you’ve been involved in research for more than a couple of years, chances are you quite quickly start to accumulate a list, even if only in your mind, of Things It Would Be Neat To Do. These could be things that you identify as gaps while pursuing your main research theme, or ideas that spark out of a paper you happened to leaf through while waiting for a meeting to start.

And typically starting around the later years of a PhD, and through postdocs and early career positions, the flood of ideas for things to do keeps, well, flooding. You see gaps, methods that need improving, sites that need investigating, and questions that need answering. And very quickly you realize that you do not have time to do it all.

And so it begins: the search for minions!

Or rather, students, collaborators, or others upon whom you can foist your ideas, your existing data, your passion, in the hopes that they will take the torch and run. At some stage, the list becomes too large for your head, and perhaps like me you make a nice text document on your desktop called “Project Ideas.txt”, and just keep adding to it as the ideas pop in, with the hopes that when a prospective minion comes along, you’ll have just the project for them.

But good heavens is that ever difficult. Perhaps I’ve had a skewed view, having never actually worked in a university, but I have tried several mechanisms to try and get homes for existing datasets, or convince others that the project ideas I’ve had are worth pursuing and met with exceptionally low success.

A few years ago, I tried setting up a page here called Languishing Projects, and every 6 months or so I would update it, send around some tweets or emails, and I might get one or two queries. Usually, though, the query didn’t go anywhere because the querier wasn’t at the right career stage (I had several emails from first or second year undergrads – and not to say that those cohorts aren’t suitable for research, but as they would have been in different cities than I, I couldn’t provide them with the mentorship and guidance needed for projects done at that career stage).

It seems ironic, but I just couldn’t give away data.

Now, some of you would surely suggest simply posting the data somewhere like figshare and someone, somewhere would use it. This wasn’t practical because I wasn’t the sole owner of these data, and in many cases, the data would have needed some significant attention before I would want them released into the wild.

A particular challenge I’ve found is funding and recruiting to studentships. I do marvel at PIs who seemingly receive countless emails asking about being a student in their lab – I can’t remember the last time I had one, let alone one that was in my field (again, though, I’m not at a degree-granting institution). And in the few cases where I’ve been able to find a partnering faculty member, the number of applicants, despite quite broad advertising, has been quite low. And university faculty also have their own flood of ideas, so why would they want to take on yet more?

And then there’s the funding. The way the UK funds postgraduate research is, in my view, quite silly. Students don’t apply to PIs, but to thematic or regional Doctoral Training Partnerships, and those admitted to these DTPs then must be wooed by PIs with projects in the hopes that the student will finally settle on theirs. There’s nothing wrong with a little competition, but it means that if a prospective student contacts me, and I think they might be a great fit for a project I have, they can be rejected by the DTP and that’s the end of that. The success rate, particularly for some (like the London DTP) is more akin to a major NERC or NSF grant, <7% last year.

To say nothing of funding for postdocs.

I think that part of the difficulty is that while I work on seabirds and islands, many of the project ideas are desk- or collections-based. This is advantageous on one hand because they involve very little cost, but at the same time, most students in ecology & conservation are in it (largely) for the field work. Which costs money. Sigh.

So as I often, too, I took to Twitter to ask folks how they dealt with the flood of project ideas. The response were basically to prioritize those that had either students or money associated with them. Not great for me, since mine had neither. And without either of those, partnering with a university PI becomes increasingly difficult (because, well, students and money are hard to find, it seems).

But rather than have this a whinging tirade, my question, dear reader, is what do you do with the projects for which you have no time? The bits of data that could be something if they just had some time put into them (time that none of us have)? Are you resigned to letting them slide off this mortal coil?

And lastly, many of my languishing projects or Ideas That Have Little Chance Of Being Realized are perfectly suitable for honours or UK/Australian MSc/MRes degrees, and some could be bundled up into a nice PhD. So if you fancy collaborating, or have a steady stream of students in need of projects, let’s chat!

2018 goals

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Ive already done 2017 by the numbers, and inspired by Auriel Fournier, here are some goals for 2018, in no particular order…

 

Get two long-languishing papers submitted. One is from my postdoc (and formed a pretty bit part of it), and the other is a long-standing collaboration that just needs some dedicated attention. I’m reminded of this lovely cartoon.

BatmanPapers

Kick-start my own research again. This may sound silly, but when I worked for the RSPB, the research was driven by the organization, so lots of things I wanted to do get dropped, or I passed along to others.

Submit one grant application (in reference to the above).

Find funding for, and recruit, my first student as primary supervisor.

Acquire a typewriter.

Make serious inroads into digitizing the NHM collection. This is a big part of my job, and hopefully it will take off in 2018 in a major way.

Submit 2 natural history papers. I think I know what one of them might be, but to get #2 I’ll clearly need to get out and do some natural history-ing!

Learn what “genetic barcoding” means, and how to do it.

Get back into photography after a 4-year hiatus.

Write 18 new posts for The Lab and Field. This blog has really slowed in recent years, and I’d like to rejuvenate it a bit. It’s been a struggle lately to write things that aren’t making me cranky, or to find the time to write at all.

 

Whatever your goals, here’s to a happy and productive 2018 (defined however you want)!

2017 by the numbers

Read previous years’ By the Numbers: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013

 

12

The number of new posts this year. Definitely a low, but some classics remain popular. The top 10:

  1. Personal academic websites for faculty & grad students: the why, what, and how
  2. How did we learn that birds migrate (and not to the moon)? A stab in the dark
  3. Beware the academic hipster (or, use what works for you) UPDATED
  4. Volunteer field techs are bad for wildlife ecology: the response
  5. How much to charge for independent consulting work
  6. The advantages of Google Scholar for early-career academics
  7. How to apply for a field job
  8. Amusing bird names: The Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler
  9. Another year of male-dominated NSERC prizes
  10. On the loss of a friend

 

31,000 (±)

The number of visitors to The Lab and Field. Thanks, all!

 

160

The number of countries/autonomous regions from which those visitors came. I can’t query these for individual posts, but I often wonder how many of them landed on pages about being an LGBTQ+ scientist.

 

72(ish)

Countries where there are legal impediments to being out, including but not limited to jail time and execution. And something I’ve spent a fair bit of time thinking about in the last year, for various reasons.

 

21

Days spent in the field this year. Not brilliant by my estimation, but plans are afoot for some more field work in 2018. (Including in a couple of days, hence the slightly earlier posting than usual)

 

15

New papers this year, again driven by some fantastic co-authors, and research students. High fives to everyone!

 

51

The rank of the Altmetric score of our paper on plastic accumulation on the remote Henderson Island among all papers in 2017. We knew this would be a big one, but had no idea we’d spent a week doing nothing but media from two sides of the globe.

 

2414

The paper’s Altmetric score (which has increased since the list came out)

 

1 in 61 trillion

The odds that the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, still persists, as calculated in one of my favourite papers from 2017.

 

0

The number of papers on which I was first author. A sign of career progression, or of heavy investment in future work? Time will tell. Also, transitioning to a new job took a little bit of time. There is one book chapter, though, which started as a blog post!

 

54

The number of amazing coauthors I worked with in publishing those 2017 papers <waves!>

 

0.86

My Gender Gap. A marked improvement on 0.48 last year, and 0.29 in 2015, but lower than the 0.96 I had in 2014. My coauthors were 25 female and 29 male this year.

 

4

Countries / autonomous regions visited in 2017 (not counting airport stopovers): Australia, South Africa, France, Faroe Islands

 

ca. 50,000

Number of bird encounter records that I databased as my last big job at the RSPB. These are from ringing and resights on Gough dating back to 1955, and was the major source of my #OtherPeoplesData frustrations. I really hope something good comes out of this work, because it’s one of the accomplishments from my time there of which I’m proudest.

 

6697

The number of emails sent in 2017, a 15% drop over last year. The battle continues!

 

>1 million

The number of avian specimens at The Natural History Museum, where I now work. A treasure trove of science, history, and the natural world.

 

Here’s to the successes, and struggles, of 2017, and best wishes for a safe, positive, and productive 2018!

FAQ, and answers thereto (Christmas 2017 edition)

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The latest summary of amusing search terms (and some often facetious answers) that brought people to The Lab and Field in 2017. Find previous iterations here.

 

Who are scientists

We all are!

 

how do people learn about migratory birds

Blog posts, ornithology classes, naturalist societies, spear-throwing competitions…

 

data error in published paper

*clutches pearls* SURELY NOT!. Eh, it happens. Most of the time it’s not intentional.

 

easy scientific names for lab

Repetition is nice. Puffinus puffinus, Gorilla gorilla, Crex crex. You get the idea.

 

how to host any sceince confrence

ANY science conference? I’d suggest a TARDIS as the venue given the difficulty in estimating attendance.

 

charles morton swallows moon

… Is then hospitalized when moon appears in his orbit.

 

people who study birds are called

Indeed they are. Frequently, too.

 

institutional homophobia in academia

Heck yes (and outside academia, too). Sometimes not intentional, or even malicious, but always eternal. I think about/experience this at least once a week, and it’s tiring.

 

tit

This search term is exceptionally broad, and yet it brought you here. The chances of disappointment might be high.

 

when seminar gets suck

Make it not suck. Some tips.

 

published paper no affiliations

I don’t actually know of an ecology/conservation paper without an affiliation. Do you? Put it in the comments!

 

always have a plan b dave. always have a plan b

And watch out for Winnebago!

How much to charge for independent consulting work

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A significant non-zero number of scientists do additional paid work on top of their day job in the form of consulting, or being paid for their expertise by someone other than their main employer (a university or research organization, for example). This inevitably leads to the question of how much a given service/task will cost, and as a the usual outcome is an under-estimate on the part of the would-be consultant.

As someone who’s done a bit of this in the past, and in both the scientific & artistic/theatrical side (two areas where professionals, especially early in their careers, low-ball their own value), here are a few tips to get yourself started.

There’s all sorts of geographic variation in how much a given service costs, and that’s a horrendously complex factor that will obviously depend where you are. As a starting point, though, salaries are an imperfect but widely interpretable proxy. I suggest making a spreadsheet. We’ll make two column: one for your day job and one for consulting.

In the first row, enter your gross annual salary (i.e., the pre-tax, pre-deduction “advertised price”).

In the second row, enter your net annual salary (i.e., after tax & other deductions).

From these, you can easily calculate monthly net & gross (divide by 12), weekly (divide by 52), and an hourly rate (divide weekly by something between 36-40 depending on the norms of your area).

In the next column, we’ll calculate the starting point for consultancy pricing. First, multiply all these rates by at least 1.5. Why? Because you cost more than your salary. Organizations recover some/all of this in overhead/incidental costs or some other accounting term. Electricity, furniture, phone, computer, heat, and the general support like admin & finance, HR, IT and everything else. And in some places, this also includes the employer’s pension and social safety net (e.g., National Insurance, Employment Insurance) contribution which you as an individual also need to manage.

Taking the consultancy hourly gross rate, figure out what 2 days would cost. This is the absolute minimum to charge. Admin burden & infrastructure don’t scale well with length of consultancy. It takes just as much time to deal with the paperwork for a 1-day contract as a 1-month contract. One option is to use this (or some variation) as a base price on top of which any hourly work is billed. Admin carries on after the contract is over, remember, when filing taxes, or maintaining records.

And of course, this assumes your work is based at your home and on a computer. Travel and field work costs would be extra, of course.

When estimating the time tasks will take, I generally adopt the Montgomery Scott Method for Time Estimating (MSMTE): multiply your original estimate by a factor of at least four (two may be more realistic), particularly for more complex projects. And don’t forget to track your time using a timesheet or other method so you know how much time the task is taking. If you think it’s going to go over, flag this with your client. Chances are it will rarely (if ever) be under.

So let’s walk through an example.

You’re asked to do some desk-based analysis or writing, and you reckon it would take you a week to do (that is, about 40 hours of work). Your current annual gross is $50k (which is about $25/hour), so your consulting rate is $38/hour. The base cost is $1520. Add 2 days’ for admin ($570) and the total contract would be $2090.

This is, of course, just a starting point. It’s at your discretion to change any of the parameters here, of course, and they may also vary depending on the situation (NGO vs government agency vs corporate body for example). But my suggestion here is to simply alter the multiplication factor (for example, 1.3x for NGOs & non-profits, 1.5x for universities/government, 2x for for-profit companies). And this also assumes that you feel your salary accurately reflects the job/skills that you do (which may not always be the case, though I suspect few of us would describe ourselves as overpaid).

One final note – be prepared for there to be negotiations, and don’t undervalue yourself. It’s ok to turn down some work if you don’t think it’s worth your time, but equally there may be personal/professional situations where you might take on a piece of work at a lower rate than you would do otherwise (e.g., when first starting up). And recall that these numbers/figures I’ve thrown around are just a starting point, and will depend on where you are, the kind of work you do, the field, and the competition. But they’re a good place to start.

See also this post by Emilio Bruna on the same topic.

Happy consulting!

 

On generality, centrism, and science blogging

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There has been much discussion in the last decade about how to better prepare graduate students for jobs outside the research-driven ivory tower, so called “alternative academic” or “altac” jobs, for example those in corporate, government, or NGO organizations to name just a few. And I think it’s generally recognized that not every graduate student defending their thesis or dissertation, and passing their oral exam or viva will end up a tenured research professor. Which is fine and good and a simple fact.

I’ve taken one such route. Not intentionally, but just because that’s where the opportunities lay. After my PhD, I did 2 postdocs in a government lab, then worked for a larger NGO, and now a museum. All involved research, writing papers, supervising staff, managing budgets, serving on committees, and just about everything a tenured professor does, aside from teaching, just in different proportions and with a different aim (usually to provide the science to inform the organization’s decisions, directions, and objectives).

I’m also a Canadian living in the UK. Yes, the US produces a large amount of science and research, and influences many aspects of the associated culture, but Canada and the UK also punch above their weight in terms of research output and initiatives.

Why then are so many blogs aimed at graduate students, researchers, and scientists written with only US (or North American) university academics in mind?

“Write what you know,” sure, and many of the most prolific and widely-read bloggers, at least in ecology, conservation, and general biology are US university faculty. But at the same time, occasionally the assumptions that go into that writing assume that the audience is the same, or at least striving to end up in the same place. I’m not going to name names, but simply look at your favourite blog author, and how they use these terms:

  • scientist
  • academic
  • researecher
  • scholar

Do they use them interchangeably? Do they use “researcher” when in reality they mean an “academic”? Do they write “scientist” when they mean “researcher”? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a terrible Venn diagram to try and draw, and there’s no giant all-encompassing circle into which those all fit. But I quite often get excited about a post by reading its title, for example, only to see that the information is directed exclusively (or very largely) at academics or those wanting to become academics. The same is particularly true when soliciting information from readers about jobs, working conditions, career stage, or questions that include those variables to illustrate the demographic make-up of the sample. And I readily admit that I have fallen into this habit.

To say nothing of non-US readers. It won’t be surprising to know that universities and degree programmes differ among countries, as do the norms, expectations, consequences, and even more fundamental things like how classes are taught, or even how long the degree programme is.

Yes, I understand that for many of these sites, that group of American university faculty (or those interested in the views of that group, or their trainees/staff) is a significant proportion of the readership, so why not write for that biggest group, which also happens to contain the author? In a sense, though, that’s a circular argument… that’s the biggest readership because that’s the content that’s being written about.

Now, this is by no means a criticism of any particular writer or site in particular, but a broader trend. Many of the issues that are regularly discussed (e.g., careers, mental health, reviewing papers, women in science, under-represented groups) are issues outside American universities and their associated people. But sometimes, the solutions proposed, or the angle taken betrays the writer’s narrow focus.

It’s difficult to try and include everyone that you think would fall into the four vague, nebulous, and highly overlapping categories in the list above. But simple things like word choice, and how some ideas or questions are framed would make them more relevant to those of us outside both the US, and its ivory tower. And if we want to ensure that students are prepared for as broad a selection of careers as is feasible, and that science blogging helps in that regard, we need to think much more widely.