Academic blogs: knowing where your work ends up

This week, a syndicated article appeared across a number of online media platforms under various different headlines. It covers the doomsday insect apocalypse narrative and appears to cast doubt on the issue of insect decline, largely blaming media and ‘activists’ for promoting the hype. The author links to my blog posts on the insect apocalypse, my BioScience paper co-authored with Jasmine Janes & James O’Hanlon, and my American Scientist article as evidence against the hype, and some sections paraphrase or directly quote from my work. To the average reader, it could appear that I have talked to the author, and that I endorse the article. I did not, I do not, and I was not aware the article was being written.

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More on insect conservation

A few recent panels on insect conservation I’ve contributed to:

Off Track – great program on ABC’s Radio National (Australia) telling stories of nature. This week, the program featured myself and a couple of other Aussie invertebrate experts, Kate Umbers and Nick Porch. We talk about insect conservation in Australia, as well as challenges facing conservation policy and action in Australia more generally.

LISTEN to Off Track: Conserving small things on a big scale

British Ecological Society – the society recently ran a number of events as part of National Insect Week and the Edinburgh Science Festival in the UK. I contributed to an excellent panel discussion on the Insect Apocalypse and insect conservation, along with Adam Hart, Nick Isaac, and Ashleigh Whiffin.

WATCH the panel: Insectageddon: is global insect extinction real?

What the windscreen anecdote tells us about science

The windscreen anecdote has been doing the rounds on social media again.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about why this anecdote is not reliable evidence of insect population trends.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it goes a little something like this. “When I was a kid we would drive long distances for holidays and get bugs all over the windscreen. I don’t see any bugs on the windscreen anymore, therefore….” The interpretation, whether implied or stated explicitly, is that this is yet more evidence that a global insect decline is happening.

There are obvious flaws in this assumption, but the anecdote still strikes a chord with so many people, perhaps through some kind of confirmation bias. We know that biodiversity is in trouble, we know humans are having damaging effects on the environment, so it must be true, right?

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The teaching-research ‘balance’ as an ECR

I’m almost at the end of the tunnel that was teaching this trimester*. It’s not my first time teaching or coordinating. I started this position last year, and I’ve had a few casual contracts before at different unis.

But I found this trimester particularly hard, mostly because of the amount of new content I had to create. This was largely due to a very outdated set of inherited lectures in one unit and a new set of topics allocated to me in the other unit.

I am utterly exhausted. I have had very little time to think about research, do research, write blogs, relax, sew, play my guitar, or do anything non-work-related since February (except for a few days of being unwell!).

This blog is not to whinge. I love my job, I love teaching and I really love the units I teach.

I am not the only academic to experience teaching fatigue. But it is unsustainable and new staff members, particularly early career researchers, seem to suffer this most. Yet it’s a ‘too hard basket’ problem that most academics don’t know what to do about.

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New paper: we don’t know how extreme fire impacts Australian invertebrates

Really happy to see our new paper is now published at Insect Conservation and Diversity.

We present an evidence-based perspective to show how invertebrates, and the ecosystems they support, face major threats as fire severity and frequency intensifies in response to global climate change. Our capacity to make effective decisions about ecosystem recovery and restoration funding after bushfires is hampered by the lack of knowledge on how invertebrates are impacted by fire, directly and indirectly, and how invertebrate communities influence ecosystem recovery.

After last year’s catastrophic megafires, the world’s attention rightly turned to the devastating impacts on our ecosystems and wildlife.

Unfortunately, invertebrates were often overlooked in media coverage and conservation policy responses. Other than a few charismatic threatened invertebrates, the discourse focused on the tiny proportion of animals that are most well-known and loved – vertebrates.

This is largely because there simply isn’t enough information or baseline data about most of our invertebrate species to talk with any certainty about how many invertebrates were lost or impacted by the fires. Listed threatened invertebrates are a rare thing, mostly an artefact of the taxonomic expertise and recommendation activity that was available for the relevant committee, rather than knowledge of new threats facing invertebrates.

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Let’s talk about standards for scholarly opinion articles

I’ve written a lot of posts here about how frustrating it is to try and publish conceptual or expert opinion-style articles in peer reviewed journals. Most journals have very few standards for this article category, and peer reviewers often don’t seem to have the guidance to know how to review them fairly.

Note, I’m not talking about popular media opinion pieces in the general definition.

I’m talking about the peer reviewed articles that many journals publish in various ‘non-data’ categories, depending on the journal, often called e.g. Opinion, Perspective, Forum, Viewpoint, Essay etc. They are a separate category to standard research data papers or formal literature reviews. The journals that publish these articles generally only provide vague instructions, which may contribute to the confusion over how to review them.

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Applying for a PhD: worth it, why, and how

Last year I wrote about how Academia isn’t all bad, and a PhD is definitely worth it. PhDs are definitely a degree worth having, but how do you know if it’s a degree worth applying for?

This post is a bit more about how to actually apply for a PhD and what it involves, once you’ve decided you might be interested. Most academic structures and processes are unfortunately still influenced by a privileged history based on personal connections. How to find and enrol in a PhD can be a mystery to most prospective candidates interested in further training in the research side of science. Don’t be put off…

As a first-gen academic, I didn’t even know what a PhD was (or that it was a career pathway) when I started my environmental science degree. It wasn’t until I graduated from my undergraduate degree and worked for a year that I realised I really missed the investigative part of science. I didn’t really know what to do about this, so I got back in touch with one of my favourite lecturers to find out my options, and she encouraged me to pursue a PhD. After a few applications and false starts (on available but unsuitable projects), I found a primary supervisor and project that aligned with my interests and goals, at a university I didn’t know much about, in a town I’d never been to.

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Do academic book reviews deserve more credit?

I’m currently collating my research outputs for a grant application, and I got to thinking about academic book reviews. I’m on the transition end of early career researchhood (where number of publications are counted and judged by funding bodies), and five of my ‘scholarly journal publications’ are book reviews – they appear in all the database publication lists, but you can’t technically count them as legitimate publications, because they aren’t peer reviewed.

If you’re not familiar with academic book reviews: publishers send academic journals copies of newly published books; the journal asks academic readers to volunteer, or invites them personally, to read and review said book in their field of expertise; the journal publishes the review, without formal peer review (unless you count the editor’s comments).

The academic reviewer gets a free book, the book author gets a (hopefully positive) review of their book, the publisher potentially increases sales, and the journal gets…actually I’m not really sure what the journal gets out of it, other than potential exposure (book reviews are free to publish, so the journal isn’t making money directly from publishing it).

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Last year

A lot happened last year.

Twelve months ago I’d been breathing bushfire smoke for months and I was struggling with despair and anxiety (personal and empathetically global) over Australia’s devastating bushfire summer, after our hottest and driest year on record, and the lack of responsible climate action our government maintains.

Now, we’re on track to have experienced one of the wettest years on record for our region, with some areas flooding in recent months, others seeing welcome regrowth in farms, forests and gardens. After severe drought and bushfires, some places may not find the sudden deluge so exciting. While our new garden is loving the conditions, our garage has suffered some minor flooding as the dehydrated clay soils slowly drown under the weight of water. (Nice reminder that climate change brings rapidly changing extremes, not static increases or decreases.)

In between, we’ve suffered from pandemic anxieties, losses and inconveniences, along with the rest of the world.  

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Post-fire recovery of threatened plants at Torrington State Conservation Reserve NSW: first observations

In late September, we found out that our Australian Government Bushfire Recovery grant application (submitted back in May 2020) was successful. Our team have been funded until June 2021 to help protect 21 threatened plant species, many of which are endemic to the Torrington and/or Bolivia Hill districts in northern New South Wales.

The 2019-20 summer fires were devastating. Collectively, the season’s fires burned through 10.3 million hectares of land in southern and eastern Australia (this doesn’t include the impact of fires in Western Australia and Northern Territory). About 82% of the burned area in the south/east was forested ecosystems, and hundreds of threatened species were impacted across the country.

In northern NSW, Torrington State Conservation Area was impacted by fire in November 2019. This unique protected area supports a high proportion of endemic plants, many of them listed on state or commonwealth threatened species lists. After reports that the entire reserve was impacted by fire, we wanted to know how many of these species had survived and which were in most urgent need of protection to reduce extinction risk. Nearby, Bolivia Hill Nature Reserve escaped the 2019 fires, but has been impacted by uncontrolled burns in recent years.

These two reserves are both part of the New England batholith, one of the most significant areas of granite outcropping in Australia. While they are similar in geology and habitat characteristics, they have very unique plant communities, each with their own collection of endemic species.

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