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.

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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

Do field ecologists need field stations to do research?

One of the most limiting factors I have found so far as a field ecologist is getting access to land to collect data. Most of my research is on how insect communities influence ecosystem function. Although I collect a lot of my data on farms, I also work in natural systems.

Finding enough private properties is usually easy enough, depending on the study design. For our recent study of ecosystem services in apple orchards, for which we needed a certain number of specific types of orchard, it took me nearly 4 months of emails and phone calls to find enough suitable orchard growers who were happy for us to visit regularly.

Finding new field sites in natural areas can be a bit harder. In Australia, it can take up to 6 months to get a new research permit for a protected area. Sometimes, the permit is declined, or your application gets lost.

Getting permission is one thing, logistics are another. Balancing the ideal number of site replicates needed to answer the research question, with the funds you are allowed to spend on travel to get there, is one of the hardest tricks in the modern field ecologist’s book. Committing to regular long trips and nights away from home is even harder when you have a family life you want to be part of. Continue reading

Scicomm is not new

‘Scientists shouldn’t have to do scicomm’ is a thoroughly modern misperception.

Communicating science has been ‘normal’ for centuries, from painted messages on cave walls, to classical orators and beyond. From ancient times, scientists took their responsibility to share science with people very seriously.

Yet today, mastery of language and the art of non-scientific communication are rarely taught or encouraged in modern science degrees. History isn’t taught much either.

Instead, many science students and graduates train to be skilled data collectors and ‘facts’ wranglers. Scientists are consistently bombarded with rigid anti-eloquence ‘rules’ that only succeed in suppressing the power of language – never use passive voice, don’t use big words, shorten your sentences, simplify your message etc. etc. God forbid you should sound like you care about your subject matter. Continue reading