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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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 This was largely due to a very outdated set of inherited lectures in one unit and a new set of topics allocated to me in the other unit.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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Teaching resources: history and philosophy of ecology

I’ve just written a few lectures for a first year ecology unit on history and philosophy of ecology. I remembered my own undergrad education, dominated by the male European history of science, and didn’t want to repeat that history. Ecology is so much more that!

Modern science is founded on western philosophy, so it’s understandable that European science gets most of the attention. But despite what most of us learned at school, scientists aren’t all male and there were many non-European scientists that contributed to the development of modern scientific knowledge.

Most importantly, Indigenous people’s knowledge is tied to place, and we often ignore the wealth of knowledge about ecological interactions and processes that Indigenous cultures hold, as well as the respectful environmental interaction (management) that is embedded in country and culture.

This is a list of some good resources that I found useful to highlight an inclusive history of the development of ecological science, at an introductory level. There are more nuanced details, but these resources simply highlight the important fact that science has developed from diverse minds, not just a select few white guys. Some of those famous guys deserve the credit, others don’t so much.

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Agriculture vs. Environment: another false dichotomy

Recently, protecting the environment has been portrayed as a hindrance to economic growth, a fluffy sideshow, or a bureaucratic obstacle to hardworking families. Ironically, the absolute opposite is true. It’s just another false dichotomy.

I grew up around Agriculture. Being a farmer was one of the first career choices I can remember as a primary school kid. I’ve hand-fed calves, shown prize dairy cattle at local shows, helped friends pick fruit, and worked as a governess on a remote beef cattle station. I did university twice, and ended up where I am today, because I learned first-hand from so many farmers that a healthy environment is essential to agricultural production.

So, very personally, I’m a bit upset that the Agriculture vs. Environment dichotomy has blown out of proportion. Continue reading

Times have changed: dealing with dodgy science in the internet age

Dodgy science, dodgy scientists and dodgy humans are not a new thing. And dodgy scientific papers have been published since the dawn of scientific publishing. In 1667 an article on ‘snakestones’, a pseudoscience medical cure with absolutely no basis in truth, appeared in one of the first issues of the oldest known scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (now Phil Trans A, one of the most prestigious modern scientific journals).

Since then, disreputable papers have made regular appearances in reputable journals. And there are different scales of disreputable. The paper claiming that octopi originated from outer space was clearly far-fetched, while the scholars who recently argued there was a ‘moral panic’ over free-ranging cats simply highlighted how interdisciplinary research is often challenged by opposing methodological approaches (note: I agree with most ecologists that free-ranging cats are not good for wild animals, including insects). Continue reading

More women and girls in ecology and environmental science careers

Today is the United Nation’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This year’s theme is “Investment in Women and Girls in Science for Inclusive Green Growth”, so I’m sharing some thoughts from my own roundabout journey into science.

Science was never a career option for me as a child. This was purely an accident of circumstance, rather than any obvious exclusion. My amazing single mum prioritised my and my sister’s education, sacrificing her own career to provide the best education opportunities for us. I grew up in a rural area, surrounded by forest. We had no television, so I spent my childhood reading books or outdoors in nature. Every opportunity, mum bought us books and games about natural history, wildlife, and geography. I loved studying maps, reading history, learning about landforms and biodiversity, and devouring stories of people living on the land. But I was picked on at school for knowing these things.

At no point during my formal education do I remember thinking that I could ever pay the bills through my affinity with nature. And I definitely didn’t think of nature study as ‘science’. Continue reading

How a journal turned potential predator. The sad demise of the International Journal of Environmental and Science Education

This is a guest post from a colleague, Neil Taylor, who is Professor of Science Education at UNE. We hear a lot about predatory journals from an author’s perspective. But I found this combination of editorial & author experience interesting.


The International Journal of Environmental and Science Education (IJESE) began in 2006 under the editorship of Dr Huseyin Bağ of Pamuakkle University, Turkey. I was asked to be on the editorial board and for a number of years I reviewed for the journal, published some articles in and co-edited a Special Issue on Scientific Literacy in 2009. After 2012 when I published my final article in IJESE, I lost touch with the journal and received no further requests to review. However, at the beginning of 2017 I wrote an article about a school gardening project in Oman that seemed to be a good fit for the readership of IJESE. As is often the case these days, as part of the submission process I was asked to provide the names and contact details of three potential reviewers. About six weeks after submission, I received notification from the editor that the article had been accepted without revisions. This was surprising but I was busy at the time (and perhaps a little vain), and given that IJESE was a reputable journal – I just accepted this outcome. Good quality galley proofs subsequently arrived and all requested changes were made efficiently and the article was published on the IJESE website. Continue reading

Google Scholar is an awesome research tool

As undergraduate students, most researchers are taught to use their university library’s journal databases for researching assignments, projects and papers. The best database for your needs varies by discipline, because most cover a subset of ALL academic journals based on disciplinary area.

Journal databases are great, and I strongly recommend researchers talk to their library liaison person to work out the best databases to use for their research. Seriously, librarians are awesome and know things about research tools that many academics don’t.

But sometimes journal databases don’t cut the mustard. I’ve become quite a fan of Google Scholar for a few reasons. GScholar is not just another professional social media for researchers; it’s a complementary research tool with huge benefits. Continue reading

The Wilderness: Amy Eleanor Mack

Stories build a relationship between subject and audience that is deeply emotional and personal. Art can enhance the audience’s nature connection, and stories about natural systems and wildlife can determine how the reader connects with those systems. This is particularly true for children.

Australia has a wonderful heritage of nature writers, many working before nature writing was ‘a thing’. The national collection of Australian children’s books about native wildlife is inspiring. Even more inspiring, many of Australia’s best nature stories were written in the early-mid 19th century, and mostly by women.   Continue reading

Building local citizen science networks

This post was co-authored with Bindi Vanzella, Regional Landcare Facilitator for Riverina.

Citizen science is a great way for non-scientists to contribute valuable information to scientific knowledge. It’s a new term – people have been doing citizen science for centuries under different names. But it’s all the same valuable contribution.

Citizen science isn’t about volunteers doing all the hard work for scientists. Yes, the origins of this recent term are in academia. But many citizen science programs are based foremost on engagement and education, with data collection as a secondary aim.

And engagement and education tend to work best when they are based locally or regionally. Many species have local or regional ranges, and the social and cultural connection of a species can change across larger geographic scales. Continue reading