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 This was largely due to a very outdated set of inherited lectures in one unit and a new set of topics allocated to me in the other unit.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.
I worked in admin before my science career, in many roles, in many sectors. I’ve worked as a corporate receptionist, oversaw corporate communications, worked in document control for engineering consultancies, and managed content translation requests for university students with learning disabilities. I’ve been co-managing an unfunded citizen science project for more than six years.
So I’m no stranger to admin and I have no grudge against admin professionals – they are essential!
But, in some cases, the admin sagas that academics are forced to star in are a bit much.
Universities hire admin staff. Even within our own departments, academics generally have access to department-specific admin, finance and technical professionals. So why is so much of an academic’s time taken up with enforced admin, when it’s not technically part of their job description, and they’re not trained to deliver the desired admin outcomes?
Academia may be unique among careers in its lack of standardised processes or training for so many of the common activities that are essential to being an academic. Instead, new researchers have to bumble blindfolded through the dark room of early career researchhood to work out how to literally do the academic parts of their job. Sometimes we’re lucky to have a supervisor, colleague, or mentor who might guide us to a door (but it may not always be the right door).
Publishing and peer review are part of this bumbling process. Publishing our research in peer-reviewed literature is a key part of our job description, to share knowledge with the discipline and beyond.
The ‘tyranny of the sound bite’ has plagued politicians and celebrities for decades. Pithy one-liners, taken out of context, can be extremely damaging to a person’s reputation.
In science communication, Sexy Science soundbites, condensing complex ecological problems into simple data points or the efforts of single researchers, can damage public understanding of science.
We’ve seen this with Insect Armageddon and the recent ‘3 billion lost birds’ story. Ecology is the science of nuances, and any claim of global patterns or precise data points must be interpreted with context.
Much of the problem with these soundbite disasters lies with the science communication around the story, not necessarily the science itself. Continue reading
After my first year as an Academic Editor at PLOS One, I’ve learned a lot about the peer review process, including what happens to my own papers when I submit them for review, and why sometimes it takes longer than you expect to get reviews back.
Getting editorial experience. How do early-mid career researchers find access to editorial experience? I have no idea what the norm is. But I think access to mentorship in this process is a critical gap for early career researchers. Not only does it enable early career researchers to contribute a vital service to their research community, it also gives us an opportunity to gain some perspective on the editorial process when we submit our own papers for review. Continue reading
Early career researchers are often bombarded with career advice, solicited or unsolicited, from supervisors, peers, senior colleagues, family members, journals, random people on social media; sometimes this advice is helpful, sometimes it’s so ambiguous or outdated it can be potentially damaging.
This article in Nature’s Careers section covers a recently published study in the Royal Society’s journal Interface. The study considers the careers of physics researchers, based on this dataset of authors that have published in the American Physical Society’s three Physical Review journals. The study also looks at Nobel Prize winners in physics. So already, we have two very narrow subsets of ‘researchers’ within a single discipline.
The study found that the focal researchers (i.e. physics researchers who published in APS journals or who won a Nobel Prize) who moved overseas had more citations & therefore greater ‘impact’ on their field. In contrast to the media coverage, the author discusses the results by framing them within contemporary political discussions about immigration, cleverly highlighting that supporting migration from other countries boosts the host country’s social and intellectual capital. This is a completely valid point.
However, the converse is rarely true: you, an individual researcher, don’t have to move overseas to have an impact on your field. Continue reading
I loved this recent blog by Staffan Lindgren. I followed a very non-linear path to my current position and I’ve been struggling a lot lately with defining my research specialisation.
In high school, I failed chemistry, barely scraped through physics and maths, didn’t study biology, excelled at English, geography and history. I loved nature and being outdoors, but didn’t know there was a science career in that. So I went off to uni and did a Humanities degree (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and spent my early 20s trying out corporate communications, office admin, media, governessing on a remote cattle station, but nothing stuck. By this time, I’d discovered that science wasn’t all about lab coats and test tubes, so I went back to uni to study environmental science.
I didn’t plan to pursue a research career – I nearly failed undergrad statistics and never fit the norm of the ‘successful scientist’ promoted within the academic community. For my Honours year, I followed the well-worn path to vertebrate ecology, but had to switch projects halfway through the year because my supervisor disappeared on his own remote field work for the rest of the year without telling me. The only available project I could feasibly do in the 4 months left of my degree was monitoring a tingid biocontrol agent on its host, an invasive environmental weed. An insect career wasn’t even on my radar then, but that’s when I discovered how much I liked insect ecology. After two false starts at a PhD, I finally found a supervisor and project combination that clicked and the rest is history.
So it’s comforting to read of winding roads that have led others to long and inspiring science careers. Fingers crossed! Continue reading
The number of authors included on research papers in many disciplines has increased over time. This editorial in Journal of Applied Ecology is the latest analysis of this trend, finding that published single-author research papers in that journal have declined since 1966 (two years after the journal started publishing). N.B. the authors only quantify research papers (i.e. data papers, but they don’t specify if they include reviews/meta-analyses…see below), and applied ecology should be a multidisciplinary field, so this is a good thing.
The editorial is excellent, and you should read it – the discussion of underlying causes of this trend is mostly reasons why we should encourage more multi-author papers.
But…there will always be a place for single-author papers in research, especially for early career researchers. Continue reading
Yesterday Jasmine Janes posted Part I of our early career perspectives on grant peer review over on her blog.
Now read Part II, where we discuss some potential options for improving the grant peer review process.
And we’re keen to hear other people’s thoughts, so please answer this anonymous survey (link also in the original post)!
This post is co-written with Jasmine Janes & Sean Tomlinson. Some thoughts on grant peer review from the perspective of early career researchers….stay tuned for Part II tomorrow, including a survey!
The current system of peer reviewing grant proposals is recent, relative to editorial peer review. It started informally in the USA around the 1950s, apparently within Defence-related research offices, and quickly spread to the major government funding bodies. Today, peer review of grants is commonplace, because it can assist in justifying government spending on research and vet ideas before expert peers.
But how fair is the process for early career researchers (ECRs)? Grant peer review is a similar process to editorial peer review and many of the same issues apply. We won’t go into too much detail on editorial issues, as these have received in-depth treatment elsewhere. Here we explore some of the issues that we have experienced personally when applying for grants.
Continue reading the full post on Jasmine’s blog….