Tusks or beaks? I’m still crossing my fingers for the bird app

So last week we all jumped ship from Twitter and poured onto Mastodon. After my first few days there, I can see it’s more focused on inreach than outreach. I feel connected with the world when I’m on Twitter, but on Mastodon I feel like I’m sitting at the back of a seminar room at an ecology conference.

Here are a few thoughts from my first experiences.

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Encouraging undergraduate ecology students into insect research

A few recent conversations got me thinking about whether the way we teach undergraduate ecology is doing enough to attract students into research pathways relevant to insect conservation.  

I’m not talking about entomology, the specialised science of insects, which generally attracts students with specific interests and skills. I’m talking about training ecologists and environmental scientists who want to work on insect-related conservation problems.

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How to cold call an academic if you’re a student

Academics receive a lot of unsolicited contact (cold calls) from students of all education stages, seeking advice or opportunities. I try to reply to most, but often I can’t – because it’s unclear what the student is asking and why they are contacting me.

Note, here I’m talking about students at other institutions that I’ve never met or have no prior connection with, not my existing students or students enrolled at the institution where I teach.

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Work-life balance and academic parents

I haven’t written here for a while because I’ve been busy hanging out with my new baby. I’ve also been busy thinking about how we still haven’t achieved a normalised work culture that truly supports parents/carers to build a career around their family. I’m writing from my perspective as a woman and a mother, but most of these points also apply to other parents and carers.

It’s well-documented that academia has entrenched problems with gender diversity at senior levels, partly because of women leaving/being forced out of academic careers due to their choices around having children. A lot has been done to address this, but there’s still a lot more to do.

We need systemic change, not piecemeal initiatives and more cupcakes. We need to normalise ‘having a family/life priorities’ at work. Instead of trying to help parents to maintain pre-baby levels of work productivity, academic work expectations have to change long-term to enable parents to truly find some work-life balance.

Forcing women to choose between relying on childcare to continue working vs. quitting work to care for their child is not equitable.

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Academic stereotypes: where are the positive stories?

I watched The Chair and did not like it. Sure, there were some good moments and important themes, but overall, I found it cliched and frustrating to sit through. North American academic stereotypes and norms already dominate global discourse on academia, even though they don’t always reflect the reality in other parts of the world.  

I was excited when I heard about the show. Academia narratives are rarely portrayed on TV, which I think is a missed opportunity to familiarise general audiences with a sector that is so often misunderstood. But it was just another version of the same clichés – university faculties are backward and stagnant, most academics are nasty, stupid, out of touch, or inappropriate, and social and cultural progress is just not possible in academia.

Imagine a different show reflecting the positive lived experiences of academics around the world, stories showing university departments can be progressive and supportive workplaces. Places where inspiring academics like Professor Kim and Dr McKay succeed in throwing out old stagnant systems and galvanise the next generation of citizens, thinkers, and leaders.

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Reviewer 4, 5 and 6? New reviewers on already revised papers

A fairly typical peer review process goes like this*. Author submits their paper to a journal. If it’s suitable to send to review, the handling editor sources a minimum of 2 or 3 relevant independent experts to review the paper. Very few papers are suitable for publication at first submission, so their review comments are returned to the author for consideration. Author revises the paper in response to the comments and resubmits the revised version. If the revisions are very minor and the response appropriate, the editor might make a decision immediately. Otherwise, this revised version is sent back to the original reviewers, who assess whether the authors have addressed the original comments appropriately and potentially pick up any new issues. The editor then makes the decision whether to accept (or reject) the paper or continue with further revisions.

This process can obviously take many months, but is fairly straightforward when it all goes smoothly.

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Boycotting peer review is just a kind of gatekeeping

The ‘boycott peer review’ hot takes are reappearing on social media. Long-time readers of my blog may remember my post on why I think boycotting peer review is unreasonable, written the last time this hot take was doing the rounds. In that post I mostly focused on the impacts on the system and the editors, which are important reasons not to boycott peer review.

But refusing to review papers also impacts the authors. This is obvious and should not have to be said, but it seems that it is often forgotten when academics shake their fists at Big Publishing.

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New paper: feral honey bees and competition for natural cavities

Our new paper is out in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (open access). We used a combined search of peer-reviewed literature and iNaturalist observations to determine what evidence is available on the use of natural cavities and hollows by feral (wild) western honey bees (Apis mellifera). Our paper addresses an important knowledge gap on how invasive honey bees compete with native species in their introduced range.

The western honey bee (A. mellifera) is one of the world’s most successful invasive species. It has spread far and wide beyond its home range in Europe and the Middle East, and is found on every continent (and most islands) except Antarctica.

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