Path to Grad School: Take the GRE in October


Many undergraduates pursuing Bachelors degrees in environmental disciplines may be interested in graduate school.   Students who have had experience in undergraduate research may be interested in pushing forward toward a career in science.  For some students, a graduate degree is an important step in their career even though they are pretty sure they do not want science to be a full-time job. Still others simply want to keep their options open.

One of the steps in admission to graduate school is the Graduate Records Exam or GRE.

Here is information about this exam:  LINK

If you are an undergraduate who thinks you might go to graduate school in the near future then you should take the GRE.

My recommendation is that you plan to take the GRE in October of your senior year, or earlier.  Graduate school opportunities can pop up early in the fall and you do not want an opportunity to slip by because you do not have scores in hand.  Also, if you have scores that you are not happy with then you need time to re-take the test in the fall.

There has been some criticism of the GRE, and some universities are eliminating this requirement; however, the bottom line is that most graduate programs do require it.

Programs differ in both the importance of the GRE scores and the standards for admittance.  In the Department of Biology at the University of Dayton (LINK) we recommend applicants obtain a score of 150 or more in the verbal and quantitative sections and a score of 3.0 or better in the written section.  I believe the UD Biology requirements are comparable to other programs; however, I would encourage you to check the details of the places where you are applying.

Applying to complete a research degree in Ecology and the Environment should involve an effort to connect with an individual mentor with whom you have a good fit (LINK).  During your conversations you can inquire as to the importance of the GRE from their perspective and what (if any) standards they might have.

Although the role of the GRE as a gateway to grad school has been diminishing through time and the test itself is under scrutiny (LINK), there are still many programs which require this test.  Therefore an undergraduate who is graduating in the near future should take this test if they want to have all their options open.  Whether or not the test is an egregious boondoggle, if the program you apply to requires it, they almost certainly will not waive it for you as an individual.   So you need the scores in hand.

What if you want to work for a while before going to graduate school?

You probably should take the GRE anyway because (A) you are better at taking tests right now than you will be if you work for a while and (B) you do not know what your circumstances will be geographically, etc.

GRE scores can be used for 5 years (LINK), so if you take the GRE as an undergraduate you will be set for quite a while.

For example, if after graduation you get an awesome internship in the middle of an amazing forest and spend two years measuring science things and then decide to go to graduate school….you probably will need to have GRE scores for your application… and in that moment it may be a much bigger barrier than it is in the middle of fall semester, senior year.

-You might be 200 miles from the nearest testing center, whereas if you are senior at a University there is probably a testing center in your town, maybe on your campus.

-The $$ it takes to pay the GRE might actually be harder to come by in that moment than it is now, for instance, if your internship stipend is small and you are partly being compensated by room and board.

-Test taking is like any other skill, it will fade with time and it might be a lot harder to get yourself up to speed on test taking later than it is while you are an undergrad.  As a senior undergraduate you take tests all the time, but after two years in the woods the whole idea of taking a bubble test might feel like an impossible nightmare!

In mentoring I try to always prioritize helping students develop options and capacity so that they can pursue their ambitions.  In the case of the GRE, regardless of what I might think about the test itself, it is clear to me that taking it early fall of senior year is a good investment for the graduate-school-interested undergrad.  That student’s future self, working on a grad application after two years in the woods in Maine, will probably agree!




See other posts in the Path to Grad School series here:  LINK








Issues surrounding Louisville as an ESA Annual Meeting Site

Note: some factual corrections and word changes are occurring due to helpful comments and critique from the ESA Community.


As Program Chair of the 2019 Ecological Society of America conference, I am alarmed and distraught that the location, Louisville, Ky, has created much negative attention and, indeed, fear among some in the LGBTQ+ community who are interested in attending.

I am aware that the meetings committee more generally is also extremely concerned as is Society leadership.

I am writing now because I want to provide as much information as I can quickly, while continuing to work on the situation.  Views expressed here are my own.

Overview of how sites are selected

The 2019 Ecological Society of America Annual meeting is scheduled to be held in Louisville, Kentucky.   Planning for this meeting has been ongoing for many years and contracts for the meeting have long since been signed.  The Society works many years ahead on selecting the annual meeting location.  Meetings leadership visits with representatives from the city, does site tours and assesses the locations for “fit” with the membership.  At the time it was selected, Louisville fit well with the conditions that the Society was looking for, and also allowed us to venture into a new area of the country.

Kentucky law SB 17 

In 2017 a new law was passed in Kentucky that has serious ramifications for the meeting location.  The law is SB 17 and the full text is here [LINK].  This is effectively a “religious freedom” law; here is a story about the passage of the law [LINK].  Unfortunately, many states across the country have such laws as illustrated by this map from the Indianapolis Star from 2015 [LINK].

From my perspective, the existence of this law and its potential for creating an environment of discrimination toward members of the LGBTQ+ community are extremely troubling.  For this reason, I sought out more information about the law.

To find out more about conditions on the ground in Louisville and how SB 17 might influence ESA members at the annual meeting,  I reached out to the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign in Kentucky [LINK].

According to the director of the Fairness Campaign, the origin of SB 17 was related to Linus’ soliloquy in a public school rendition of Charlie Brown Christmas.  The law is aimed at school groups.  The Fairness Campaign and other groups in Kentucky opposed this law on the grounds that future discrimination may take place as a result of this legislation.  There is careful monitoring by a number of local organizations, but to date, no charges of discrimination have been levied associated with this law.   Importantly, this law was not directed at LGBT issues according to both the director of the Fairness Campaign and public comments from the sponsor of the legislation.

If you are concerned with LGBTQ+ issues in Kentucky and wish to connect with (or contribute to) organizations working on the ground you might consider Fairness Campaign (LINK).

Louisville as a welcoming place for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

I queried the Fairness Campaign director about Louisville as a destination for members of the LGBTQ+ community who may attend our annual meeting.  He shared with me that, in fact, no city in the country has a better rating for LGBTQ+ equity.  I checked and Louisville (perfect score- 100) has a better rating for LGBTQ+ equity than either of the previous two ESA sites (Portland- 88, New Orleans- 89).  I did some research on my own and found support for this ranking including the city’s large gay population and reputation for attracting gay tourists. The Fairness Campaign director told me directly that he felt our Society would find Louisville “incredibly welcoming.”

The travel situation with California.

The State of California has banned travel while on state time or using funds to a set of states, including Kentucky, based on the existence of religious freedom laws.  Here [LINK ] and here [LINK] are stories on this.  We will continue to seek a solution.

Could the meeting be moved?

I have heard many calls for the meeting to be moved.  Here are some of the issues.

Planning meetings as large as our annual meeting takes years, and the contracts are signed well in advance.  These contracts include agreements with the convention center, service providers, hotels, etc.  As I understand it, moving the conference at this late date would be virtually impossible due to the tasks of finding a new site, establishing new contracts, etc.  Further, either moving or cancelling would require ESA to break numerous contracts it has signed which would lead to substantial penalties.  These would be in addition to the absence of an annual meeting revenue if we were to cancel.

Also note that many of the hotels we contract with are part of large chains, the convention centers are, to some degree, networked as are the companies that provide services.  Thus, if we break a contract, it could make establishing future contracts more difficult and more expensive for the Society.

Beyond the fiscal issues, it is core to the essence of the Society to have a meeting each year and communicate science, provide platforms for networking, etc.

All of these considerations are far less important than the safety or well-being of membership.  Which is why I thought it was important to investigate the situation in Louisville closely (see above).

What now?

Here is what I am working on right now to address the issue.

First, I plan to continue conversations with Fairness Campaign to see what steps might be taken locally to make the meeting location more inviting to LGBTQ+ members of our Society.  Again, the reviews of Louisville are excellent; however, I want to dig a bit deeper on this.

Second, I have reached out to the Mayors office in Louisville.  He has been a strong advocate for fairness and I am hoping that he will directly engage our concerns.

Third, I am looking into the California travel ban.  I know that the City of Louisville requested an exemption [LINK]; however, I am not sure of the outcome, etc.  I will be inquiring with the Mayors office and the Louisville Chamber of Commerce to see what information they might have on this issue.

Fourth, I will be looking into ways to increase the virtual content of the meeting.  For anyone who would like to attend but cannot travel, or do not want to put on the carbon footprint, it would be helpful if more content was streaming and/or preserved in a kind of virtual library for ESA members.

Fifth, I met with the members of Inclusive Ecology at the New Orleans meeting and have a set of notes from their ideas that I will be pouring through to glean action items.

Last, I am looking for ESA members who are willing to engage issues of inclusiveness and equity for the upcoming annual meeting and, possibly, beyond.  I am thinking of a working group format.

Beyond all of these measures that I am taking, the Society leadership is also fully engaged and looking for solutions.

I want to thank all the members who have been sharing their ideas and concerns with me directly and via social media.  Your input is greatly appreciated by myself and others involved in planning the annual meeting.

Ryan McEwan |@mcewanlab |

Women in Science- fundamental issues, resources and action items

 Three women in science, in the McEwan Lab, winning the day.

Over the last several years the McEwan Lab has had a Women-in-Science lab meeting each year.  These meetings have sparked a lot of conversation.  I have condensed our ideas down to five basic issues that surround Women in Science.  In this post I have collected and collated our thoughts and provided some resources.  In some cases we propose solutions.

By no means definitive, this is a **live** post, a work in progress, that will be modified and cultivated as new ideas and information emerge.




Survival of the Most Cooperative?
Perceptual issues and feminist critique of scientific objectivity.


Let’s start out with the fact that observation is necessarily filtered through the lens of perception which are colored by our experiences, our history, our associations, et cetera.

If we view an object or interaction between organisms we almost certainly will be influenced by our personal experiences, our knowledge base, and our instincts.  Our brains are required to interpret what we are seeing and our brains are pre-conditioned by our experience.  This pre-conditioning is a form of bias –  try as we might, unbiased assessment just isn’t possible.

If we start with the assumption that humans are biased by experience, and add in that pretty much every field of science has been, up to this point in history, either exclusively male, or at least dominated by males, then it is simple to see that our very knowledge of the world as represented by the sum total of scientific discovery may be a gender-biased body of knowledge.  This is one basis for a feminist critique of science.

One thing I have wondered about is how Ecology would have developed as a field if it were not so male dominated.  In particular, as a field we spent many decades focusing on interactions among organisms that were framed as predatory or competitive and, seems to me, quite a lot less on understanding interactions mutualistically.  Evidence of cooperative interactions are abundantly obvious in nature (herds, flocks, pollination) and given what we understand now about the complexity of ecological interaction networks, maybe focusing on one animal eating another has been a distraction. Similarly, we went into the deep end on “allelopathy” as an interaction among plants very early in Ecology (negative, competitive), and relatively recently began unpacking what seems like a vastly more important topic- mutualistic interactions among plants and fungi.  Consider this another of Ryan’s Obviously Unverified Speculations (ROUSs), not a strong claim, but I wonder if the field of ecology had been dominated by female scientists its inception, if we would be working from very different foundations today.

ROUS aside, the antidotes I see are….

Action Items

– Follow best practices to eliminate bias in hiring with the long term goal of increasing overall diversity and arriving at gender balance across the board in every STEM field.

– Bring alternative perspectives to bear on what we think of as foundational ideas in all areas of science.



Feminist critique of science- book chapter from philosopher Helen Longino:  LINK

Bias test from Project Implicit (Harvard): LINK




Gender bias in publication, grant-winning, hiring and compensation.


Abundant literature supports the contention that gender bias appears in all levels of academia including publishing, grant review, hiring and compensation.  The most egregious recent example that we know of is the Moss-Racusin et al. paper (linked below) that demonstrated that (a) SCIENCE FACULTY exhibited heavy bias towards males when faced with identical CVs with only a male vs. female name attached, and also that (b) women science faculty were no less likely than males to favor the “male” CV.  We have work to do people…not someone else, not some other time…us, right now.

The flip side of this bias is the The Matlida effect (LINK) which proscribes contributions of women to men.  There is some reason, for instance, to believe that the DNA helix was not discovered by Watson and Crick  but by Rosalind Franklin, who did the X-ray work and the chemistry but was mistaken for a “technician.”  Look into that story yourself if you want! The bigger picture is that the historical role of women in science is likely obscured by the fact that they were working in a sexist culture.

Action Items

-Double blind peer review of both grants and publications!  I will post on this in detail later…

-Best practices to eliminate bias in hiring.

-Review and equity adjustments to draw salaries to gender equilibrium (we are looking at you Chairs/Deans/Provosts/Chancellors)


New York Times- Gender Bias in Academica:  LINK

Letter of Recommendation Gender Bias Calculator: LINK  or LINK

Inside Higher Ed-  Women are less likely to earn tenure:  LINK

Moss-Racusin et al.:  PNAS-  Gender bias among science faculty:  LINK

Five Thirty Eight- Unconscious sexism and the presidential election:  LINK 

American Association of University Women- Gender Pay Gap: LINK




Maternity timelines and careers in academia/ecology

In this area, we provide an extensive stand alone post:  LINK


Slate article on female academics and children:  LINK

Jessica Shortall, TED talk on paid family leave:  LINK




“Barbie or Granola” the appearance conundrum for women in science


One manifestation of privilege in Science is the fact that men have much lower expectations when it comes of physical appearance.  As is the case in many professions, women face a conundrum where if they dress too flashy they are not taken seriously (#distractinglysexy), while if they dress “down” too much they are also not taken seriously.  Dressing “up” can leave the impression of being too material and potentially “ditsy” while dressing “down” they are sometimes seen as being not serious or a “granola” or even “butch.”  This problem just does not seem to exist for men where the worst outcome of dressing “up” is being seen as very serious, while dressing “down” is a good indication of “efficiency” (all he cares about is his work, a la Zuck).

Action Items

-Do not comment on physical appearances.

-Focus professional interactions on content.

-Check your implicit bias when it comes to evaluating female candidates.  Are you considering how they dressed?

-Consider representation when creating presentations for teaching or scientific communication.

Resources:  Focus on efficiency in tech is underlain by gender bias. LINK

FiveThirtyEight: When women run focus on appearance: LINK



Power hierarchy and sexual harassment & assault.


This is the most depressing and heinous area.  Obviously, the other areas brush up against ethics and morality, whereas this area pushes us into criminal activity.  The sad truth is that many women in science experience some form of harassment or even assault during their career in the workplace.  While science and academia are likely a relatively “safe” place in relation to other types of employment, it remains a fundamental and cardinal challenge for all of us to stomp this completely out of existence.  The first step is talking about it, making it clear that this is not okay, and also making clear that reporting incidents is not only the correct thing to do, but in some cases required.

In some instance, this behavior is simply being an awful human being- injuring and humiliating another person because you can.  In the worst instances, law enforcement intervention is appropriate.

In other grayer cases, one thing that makes this area particularly tricky is the idea of “consent.”  What does consent mean when the structure of the workplace creates an inherent power hierarchy?   I believe this issue can disorient both parties to an interaction.  The classic case is a senior male faculty member  and a young female student/technician- in such cases, if the career progress of the female depends on the males efforts to advance them, consent becomes a highly ambiguous issue.

We will continue accumulating resources, but some of these below are excellent.

Note also we have developed a stand-alone post on inclusivity in the McEwan Lab: LINK.

This includes an anonymous reporting form.  If you experience any form of sexual harassment or discrimination you can report it to Dr. McEwan anonymously here:  LINK.


University of Dayton: Green Dot: LINK

Dr. Hope Jahren:  NY Times Opinion- Harassment& women in Science:  LINK

Dr. Rebecca Ackerman: Tenure She Wrote- Harassment & women in science:  LINK

New York Times:  Harassment in Science:  LINK

Five Thirty Eight: Chat What Trumps’s brag about sexual assault reveals about this election and our culture:  LINK


Ryan’s (banal but, sadly, still needed) rules for not being awful men in Science

  • Never call an adult female “girl.”
  • Never use the salutation “Mrs.”
  • Innuendo and double entendre might sound “hilarious” in your head, but when spoken by you are mostly gross and creepy.
  • Instead of talking over women, create space for them to express their expertise (ie., stop mansplaining).
  • Never comment on a woman’s appearance or body.
  • Never touch female students. Never touch female colleagues without expressed consent.
  • Attempting to “hook up” with students is despicable.



Some general resources on Women-in-Science

University of Dayton Anti-Discrimination Policy:  LINK

He for She:  LINK

Lean in: LINK

Five Thirty Eight: It matters that women come last in Science: LINK

The Economist: The subtle way discrimination works:  LINK

Book recommendations:

Lab Girl

Women in Science


Hidden Figures




Path to Grad School: Some good reasons to become a Master of Science (MS)



For undergraduate students who want to go to graduate school, there is often a special allure to jumping straight from the BS to a PhD program.

This is sometimes encouraged by potential graduate mentors, partly because they get much more productivity from a PhD student than a MS student.  This can also be encouraged by undergraduate faculty mentors because they themselves have a PhD and a good job (de facto) and so think that skipping to the PhD is going to work well for their bright and talented charge.

And it DOES work well in some cases, but there are some good reasons to consider doing an MS.

For the sake of this post, what I am talking about here are Thesis-based MS programs that have a stipend and tuition waiver associated with them.

There are many such opportunities, funded by TA-lines for instance, and though they often have stipends slightly lower than a PhD stipend, taking this path has some significant positives.

Reasons to become a Master of Science

(1) You will find out whether or not you actually want to do a PhD.

For an academically-focused student, one great thing about a Thesis MS program is that it is like a trial run. Many students discover during the MS that the last thing they want to do is a PhD!

Even folks with all the right credentials, the intelligence, the drive, everything just right, can discover that life as an academic scientist is not their cup of tea.

Graduate school is not just harder undergraduate studies. It is a totally new experience. Field work is great but then there is reading literature, grinding data analysis, sorting samples, reading more literature, grinding more data analysis, writing, writing, writing, oral presentations, writing some more, re-running the analysis, writing some more…etc.

The best undergraduate on Earth may be miserable as a graduate student, and many students who have a marginal experience as undergraduates go on to be fantastic in graduate school.

If you think you want to be an academic, but then during the first 2-3 years of graduate school discover that you really don’t, if you are in a MS program you are finishing up anyway!  No problem.  And the MS fits really nicely on a resume.

On the other hand, getting several years deep into a PhD program and discovering this is not the path you want to be on, could have a negative career impact.

If you leave before the PhD is finished, you will not have a degree in hand for the effort, meaning that you will have a B.S. and then a load of other graduate classes but no way to neatly package them for a potential employer.

If you do grind your way to a finish, but want to get far away from academic science, you could end up overqualified for the kinds of jobs that you actually want.  This is a real thing.  If it turns out that what you really want to do in science is be a technician, or do other hands-on work, not scholarship/academics, a PhD behind your name can be a barrier.

For example, if you finish up a PhD, and end up applying to entry level positions in an agency, you will probably be competing with other folks with a BS degree.  Maybe a BS or MS is the highest degree in the whole organization!  You apply for an entry-level position with a PhD on your resume and your application could end up getting set aside under the heading “what is this?”  I am not saying this is fair or advocating for that position, but I know this happens.

So if there is this risk inherent in starting as a PhD student, why not start as an MS student given that…

…(2) if you decide to do stay in research and do a PhD, having an MS is an advantage anyway because you will ultimately have a better scientific record when you enter the job market.

If you do an MS first it will result in pile of good stuff on your CV for later when you need it. Hopefully this will include publications from your MS- that come out during your during your PhD (a very nice thing!).  You will also have other MS professional develop activities, maybe some conferences, etc.  This means that you will compete better for future jobs.

(3) Students who have done an MS are often better Doctoral students.

It is very often (not always, but often) the case that students with Master’s degrees do better work, get more grants, publish more, and generally excel at a higher rate during  doctoral programs than those who come straight from a B.S.

In my experience, students with an MS are less likely to leave a PhD program.  They are more likely to publish early and often, and go on to success. And, critically, when (not if) the PhD project hits rough water, a person with an MS under their belt generally is better able to navigate.  I know of one lab that graduated many PhDs where there was a trend where PhD students who entered the program with an MS finished the PhD in 4-5 years, where those straight from the BS finished in 6-7 years.  The MS folks often had MS-related pubs when they graduated AND equally or more productive PhD projects.  So as they graduated, the MS-first people were quantitatively much stronger than the BS-only folks.

One line of evidence in support of this is the fact that many PhD programs these days are asking for applicants to have an MS prior to starting.

(4) Your professional network will be vastly expanded.

It is cliche to talk about the importance of networking, banal even, and yet the bottom line is that having a strong network is a huge career advantage.  Doing an MS, and then doing a PhD, especially if you move to a different institution is an amazing network booster.  You will meet a whole set of new faculty AND graduate students AND undergraduates. Yes, some undergraduates you meet will eventually be part of your network!  It allows you to have folks from differing perspectives writing your letters of recommendation (crucial). In the future, people in your network will invite you, and be invited by you, to give seminars.  They might be reviewing your papers, launching collaborations, or writing a support letter for you when you apply for promotion.  Investing in your network is critical to career development and doing an MS can be a part of that strategy.

Arguments for skipping the MS (are mostly weak)

Of course, there are plenty of sensational scientists out there who skipped the MS!   Also, if the undergrad has a rich research experience during the BS a lot of the benefits above are already conferred.

Even so, for academically oriented students, I have yet to encounter a durable argument against doing a funded and Thesis-Based MS.  Here are a few:

-The most common one has to do with timing.  It goes something like this: “If you do an MS you will be two or more years later getting your job!” The problem with this argument is that you will have to compete for jobs when you finish your PhD, and for most desirable positions there will be at least 50-100 applicants, and sometime >150. There is no point in racing to join in this competition unless you are ready to win, and skipping the MS will yield a weaker, not stronger, CV.

-I had a friend once who argued that you can develop your pub record during your postdoc-  just add two more postdoc years and you get better training and are making money.  That makes sense, but there is also competition, sometimes fierce, to get into a postdoc slot to begin with.  And, those slots are increasingly rare.

-Probably the best reason to skip the MS is if someone straight out of the BS finds a great mentor match, but the only option is PhD.  The value of a mentor/student match probably outweighs all of 1-4 above.  Love of a project may conquer all, c’est la vie!

My experience becoming a Master of Science was fun and transformational and continues to positively influence my career > 15 years later.  Students in my lab who have done an MS, I believe, found that experience to be incredibly valuable, whether they continued forward to pursue a PhD or left to do other things.

Overall, if you are considering graduate school and have defaulted to PhD programs, I would recommend at least challenging yourself to logically refute 1-4 above.  You owe it to yourself to at least engage the question and weigh your reasons for skipping.


See other posts in the Path to Grad School series here:  LINK










Are you a Giving Tree Academic?

A friend of mine who has an amazing analytical mind and was a Dean at a relatively well known college once told me that “all of my best faculty are doing way too much.”  He regularly gave advice to faculty to take on fewer responsibilities.  In his experience, for the best faculty, taking on fewer responsibilities often increased effectiveness and, paradoxically, enhanced overall impact.

This perspective is quite rare in administrators, but matches well what I have found to be the truth of academic life-  most of us are fully employed–  meaning we already have full-time work to do.   This means when we agree to do new things they are additions to an already full workload.  Unless there are concomitant subtractions, we will be increasingly overworked.  Beyond being assigned work, faculty often volunteer for projects in scholarship, teaching and service that continually extend their obligations, eventually leaving them ineffective, stressed, and thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.

I see the phenomenon of piling loads on top of already full schedules with graduate students, and (bizarrely) with undergraduate students as well. Graduate students who are already overwhelmed by huge science projects taking on some organizing task at the university.  Undergraduate students who dive into a suite of service opportunities beyond classwork and research, eventually driving themselves beyond the brink of exhaustion.  Academics at all levels seem highly prone to drastically overburdening ourselves.

Some academics end up being a Giving Tree. Not being able to say no, even to those who we are fond of, will likely lead, innocently enough to: onlyastumpremains

Learning when and how to say “no” is not a simple thing.

For an academic, effectiveness and activity tend to attract work, and doing well means being asked to do more. Note here that it is critical to differentiate when you are being “asked” to do something from being required to do it.  There are times when you need to find this out, ask specifically if needed!

Leaving aside assignments, and focusing on things where you have a choice: In many cases, the people who are asking you to be involved are admirable people, maybe even friends.  If you are not going to end up a tree stump, you will have to disappoint some of these people, sometimes.

You will have to occasionally say “no” to things that are DEFINITELY worth doing.

You will have to say “no” to things that you, personally, are disappointed in not doing.

You will have to say “no” to things that have potential for impact.

Most of us are terrible at saying “no”, but I do have a friend who is a successful academic and also NOT a Giving Tree.  He is very successful in the classroom, in service, and in research but has managed to keep himself reasonably buoyant and sane.  Here are three things that I know about this person.  These can be taken as action items if you or someone you know is a Giving Tree Academic:

(1) Workload neutrality.  As you consider whether to take on new things, hold yourself accountable to maintaining a stable, total, work load.  What this means is that if you take on new things, others of equal work load must be removed.  Thinking about things along these lines is helpful when someone asks (as opposed to requiring) you to join a committee, or take on a new advising task, for instance.  Will you review this paper?  How about joining the editorial board?  Help organize a conference?  Answers to questions of this sort need to start with asking yourself if in the last 6 months or so you had so much time on your hands that you could have added the task to your schedule to simply fill up the excess time you had available.   If the honest answer is “I didn’t have any extra time and, actually, have been a Red Queen- running like a maniac just to stay in the same place!”  Then you don’t have slack in your work life and simply must either (a) say NO, or (b) subtract other things from your work life to make space.  That is workload neutrality.

(2) Think “Leverage.”  What, precisely, do you want to happen next?  This is a good thing to keep in mind when deciding what tasks to take on.   It might be worthwhile to think of an imaginary scale of 1-10 where doing a 10 task directly contributes to your mission and a 1 is a complete distraction.  If your goal is scientific productivity, for instance, working on a grant would often score a 10 on leverage, whereas joining a committee on campus safety would be a 1.  When someone asks you to do something-  joining a reading group, or help develop a new assessment tool for advising- try to figure out where such an activity lines up on your leverage scale.  Is this high leverage or low leverage?  If low leverage, do you have plenty of time for existing high leverage items?  If not, you must say no!

(3) Outside life.  My friend has made it a point to indulge in a healthy off-campus hobby that makes him happy and is fun.  Many academics end up in a situation where their work life is their whole life.  While that might be good for some people, in others it leads to a Giving Tree mentality.  If there are no guardrails on your work life, it may expand to fill up all the space available…meaning it could come to dominate you.  If that works for you, fine!  But if you are manifestly unhappy, then you will have to build a fence around your work life and do some things on the outside of that fence that you enjoy.

One closing thought that might be a helpful thing for you to embrace, a thought to center on if you feel that you have become a Giving Tree:

It is unacceptable for daily work life to manifest as trying to keep your head above water in a torrent of obligation.”

It does not matter that this seems to be “just the way things are” or that you see others similarly drowning. It is wrong for them, and it is wrong for you and it does not have to be this way.

It is not healthy or sane to live this way.

If you live this way, you will do things poorly that you could do well.

The rational move is to continue to jettison things, and say no, until your life is no longer a torrent, and you are in control.

The Giving Tree is not a sustainable model, and you need sustainability in your work life.  Furthermore, we all need you to stay in science, and be whole, and help move us forward!




Climate Change Conversations


Recently I decided it was pertinent to broaden my engagement in science communication.  It is critically important that those of us scientists who are positioned to do so, extend ourselves to reach out to the public and address basic issues.

Along these lines, I want to start conversations about climate change science and do my best to address questions that arise.

I want to start by addressing a few claims that I sometimes read in the media:

False Claim 1

There are places in the world that are getting cooler through time, which disproves the whole idea of Climate Change!

Sometimes I have heard the argument that Global Warming as a phenomena means that EVERY PLACE on the globe will get warmer through time in relationship to EVERY historical time point.

If there are local areas that are not getting warmer, or are cooler in relation to specific time points in the past.

As a specific example, the map below shows how the temperature has changed across the globe from the beginning of instrumented records (1880) to the present.  That means, from the time that we have records of temperature.  The map extrapolates from the different points in space.  Red colors means warmer, blue means cooler.  The image below is a snapshot that compares 1997 to the long term average and you can see that eastern North America is actually cooler that year (blue colors in the map below mean cooler temperatures- from NASA:  Link.)


One could then conclude, if they only used data from New York for instance, that in the year 1997 it was actually cooler than the long-term average.  This would be accurate in fact!

However, this particular point in space does not overwhelm the overall global pattern.  If you look at that map at Siberia, you would say it is massively warmer through time, and if you average across the GLOBE you would say it is getting warmer. Focusing on one space and one point in time ignores the term “Global” in Global Warming.   In fact, if you look at global temperature, the long term warming trend is easy to see (from NASA):


False Claim 2

Scientists are making money on Climate Change and are funded to be part of a conspiracy, which is why their data consistently supports Climate Change as real.

Climate change deniers act in bad faith when they accuse scientists of generating data to make money.  They sometimes claim or insinuate that the reason a scientist would publish data that supports climate change is that some hidden agency or company is actually giving them money to do so.  Everyone is motivated by money!  Right?

Fine, but in this case it has little to do with the way climate science is done.

The fact is- scientists who do climate change research practically never have financial gain as a part of their project and often end up paying money to publish their Climate Change research (in the form of what are called “page charges”)!

I can speak to this from firsthand experience because I have personally published climate change research.  Here is my article in what is called pre-print form: Link.  And the Link to the article on the publisher’s page.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that:

-No agency, including the University of Dayton, provided any compensation at all particularly for the publishing of this manuscript. In fact, if I remember correctly, I had to spend money from my account to cover the page charges.

-The publication of this manuscript had very little, if any, real influence on my career.  Meaning that I did not NEED to publish this article and that writing a climate change article was neither required nor particularly significant in my career. It was enjoyable, and I think the findings are important and interesting, but I didn’t NEED to publish this.  I have never used this article in a grant application.  It is listed with my other publications on my resume, but whether it is there, or not, matters very little to my career.

-The climate data were acquired from a publicly available source.  Anyone can find those data and run the analyses on the climate variables from our study.

-The results of the study do not necessarily follow some kind of orthodoxy (more on this below).  If you read the paper, it does not claim that all species are being influenced by Climate Change.  Some are, some are not.  It depends.  Further, it depends on which particular climate metric you are looking at!  So there was no “purity test” for this publication.

In summary, I am a climate change researcher, as evidenced by this publication, and I can assure you there was no secret compensation.  I am offended, honestly, by the very idea of it.  I know plenty of people who do climate science and they are like me.  Just asking and answering questions and following the data.  We are paid by Universities to teach classes and mentor students.  We do win grants sometimes, which is awesome, but we spend the grant money on things like salaries for undergraduates and equipment for our projects.   We financially benefit from grants sometimes in the form of “summer salary” which is money to cover months in the summer where we are not employed by our home institution.  Many academics have 9 month contracts that run from August to May, so we can supplement our income in the summer through having the grant cover those months.  If we do not have money to cover that time, any research time we spend in the summer is volunteering!  Summer salary is the only form of financial compensation that we may get from winning a grant, and that is relatively rare.  The money associated with our projects generally just fuels more research.  Also, as a side note, we are super careful with this money!  I imagine that federally funded research grants are the most carefully accounted for dollars anywhere in the federal budget.

It is worth pointing out that scientists who had a heavy incentive to prove Climate Change was false ended up coming to the conclusion that it is in fact real, in spite of their interests.  In fact, according to this story in Scientific American which was followed up by Rolling Stone (here), it has become increasingly clear that oil companies own internal research supported Climate Change as a real phenomenon linked to combustion of fossil fuels by the late 1970s.  In fact, it looks like their models were quite good as their estimates of temperature change and timelines seem to match current models.

False Claim 3

Scientific orthodoxy demands that we generate results that support the Climate Change paradigm and doing otherwise, even with good evidence, would ruin our careers.

This is a common sense argument that appeals to the skeptical public- basically, that scientists would be encouraged toward herding behavior based on self interest.  If you do not “toe the line”, your career could be negatively impacted, which would force scientists, even if they have counter evidence, to support climate change.  The problem here is that it is a complete misunderstanding of how science actually works.  In fact, science is an inherently confrontational system that rewards “transformational” research.  Indeed, the most funding, and highest profile, goes to science that changes the way we view things.  A discovery that changes paradigms is much more important than one which reinforces things that we already knew.  So, actually, a scientifically based refutation of climate change that could withstand peer-review and is rigorous would be an incredible boon for any scientists career!  It could possibly lead to a Nobel Prize in fact.  IF(!!) the science was sound and ended up being true it would upend an incredible body of research and utterly transform how we understand global systems.

Despite the incentive, it is extremely unlikely that this will come to pass because an incredible body of research exists supporting Climate Change.  It has been tested and re-tested, and the indications always end up pointing in the same direction->  the Earth is getting warming and human-caused emissions are an important driver of this warming.

Good Sources of Information

There are many great sources of climate information.  Below are three that are excellent and I would recommend to anyone who is looking to communicate with a climate skeptic:

(a) NASA–  Who else!?! Gorgeous, user friendly and data rich.

(b) IPCC– The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a highly respected global information clearinghouse.  Perhaps one of the greatest accumulations of scientific knowledge ever assembled

(c) Real Climate– Climate Science from Climate Scientists.


If you have ideas, please share either in comments or directly to:



Presentation Slides


An invasion biology skeptic meets an invasion biologist: A hopeful dialogue.


Setting-  Back porch in Dayton, Ohio.  Belgian Stout and a beagle mix present. 

Invasion Biologist:  “Thank you so much for coming, I hope this will be a useful exchange…Shall we begin?”

Skeptic:  “Shoot!”

Invasion Biologist: “So you are telling me there is an ash tree standing right in front of the porch?”

Skeptic: “What do you mean?  I don’t see anything but grass… a seedling?”

Invasion Biologist: “No a large ash tree!  It’s 50 feet tall with a large crown?”

Skeptic:  “This is a bad way to start a dialogue – – I have no idea what you are talking about!”

Invasion Biologist:  “There was an ash tree in my yard, 50 feet tall; it stood right there in front of us.  It died because of an infestation of the Emerald Ash Borer…a well-known exotic, invasive, insect.  As an invasion biology skeptic, are you saying that tree actually didn’t die?”

Skeptic: “Come on…”

Invasion Biologist:  “Okay, so we agree that my tree was killed by this insect?  After all the larvae were present and abundant…I chopped the wood by hand once the tree was cut, I saw them!  Can we also agree that I have lost the $1,300 that I spent to have it cut down?  That money is not actually in my wallet?”

Skeptic: “…” frowning, checks his watch.

Invasion Biologist: “I could use $1,300- the AC in my car is broken, are you sure I don’t have it.”

Skeptic: “…” scowling.

Invasion Biologist:  “Okay, so we can agree that the Emerald Ash Borer killed my tree, and also virtually every member of the genus Fraxinus across a large swath of the Midwest?”

Skeptic:  “Hmm, that is a leap- A lot things can cause a tree to die.”

Invasion Biologist:  “Yes, but these mortality rates are exponentially greater than background rates, and the causal factor is well-known, empirically, to be this particular insect”

Skeptic:  “Alright, sure, these trees are killed by the borer.  Can we get on with it?”

Invasion Biologist:  “Please just go along with me for a bit here…. We agree that the tree was killed by the borer and it’s expensive?  My tree cost $1,300.  After talking to the very person who writes the checks, I know for sure that a small park district here in Dayton is spending $250,000 just on ash removal in the next year.   They did not have that money sitting around, it cuts them deep in other areas to deal with those trees, and those are only trees that might fall outside their parks onto streets or houses, not including inside the park trees which will be dealt with in future years.  Everyone living in the region, the municipalities, the people, have trees to deal with along streets or in yards and so forth, it is *extremely* costly for the region.”

Skeptic: “Fine”

Invasion Biologist:  “Okay, so this borer is well known to have arrived in the US via cargo, probably in pallets.  This is known to be a relatively discrete event, and resulted from the insect being transported across the Atlantic Ocean in an airplane.  Fraxinus where the borer normally resides do not suffer mortality to this extent, but the ash trees here in the US have no resistance, resulting in it sweeping through our populations.  The insect was accidentally moved by airplane right into the middle of a vulnerable population.  It could not have leapt over the Atlantic on its own…”

Skeptic: “No, I am not going to agree to this, what about some kind of wind storm or other event, it surely is not impossible for them to have crossed the Atlantic. The adults can fly at least some distance.”

Invasion Biologist: “Yes they fly, but the distances are infinitesimal compared to crossing the Atlantic Ocean with no stopping spots.  We know that dispersal curves have very long tails, but this is almost beyond imagination…can we call it getting here instantaneously, without human help, “exceedingly unlikely?”

Skeptic: “Okay, fine”

Invasion Biologist: “There are a great many insects and other critters that utilize ash trees for some portion of their life cycle.  I am not sure anyone has done a comprehensive survey, but would you agree that at least dozens of insects and animals is a reasonable minimal number to assume (although the number may be very much higher)?  And, can we assume that the origin of this menagerie includes species both from local environment and those that have been transported in by humans in various ways?

Skeptic: “And some of the species that have been moved to the US, and are using ash, are causing no harm, and may in fact benefit the tree!”

Invasion Biologist: “Ohh yes!”

Skeptic: “Fine, I agree.”

Invasion Biologist:  “Okay, so the way this particular insect interacts with ash trees is VERY different from those of the existing menagerie.  Radically different.  It has swept through the range of ash, killing the tree with unbelievable effectiveness.  In some areas where it first arrived the kill rates were nearly 100%.  The genus Fraxinus, which is a very important part of both urban forests and wildlands, is in big trouble in the region.”

Skeptic:  “Okay….”

Invasion Biologist:  “The spread has been rapid, and it seems, so far, wherever the insect gets a foothold, it grows explosively.  It is penetrating into whatever insect communities exist in these habitats with ease, defeats whatever defenses the ash trees have, and establishes populations that drastically reduce the ash populations.  Tens of thousands of trees are dying in here in Dayton OH as we speak…in fact, if you don’t treat your ash tree with insecticide it can safely be assumed that it will perish in the next 5 years or so.”

Skeptic:  “I am familiar with the insect… this is terribly tedious”

Invasion Biologist:  “Humor me?”

Skeptic:  “Fine….”

Invasion Biologist:  “You’re too kind, would you like another bottle?  There….now, can we agree that the biological action of this borer is relatively unique?  That the insect is acting in a way that is different from the menagerie of organisms already here when it arrived?”

Skeptic: “mmmm, not totally comfortable with that…what do you mean unique, that’s vague?”

Invasion Biologist:  “Fair enough, but we can assume Fraxinus was doing just fine living with the menagerie, but when this one insect arrived it has experienced precipitous crashes in population, so in that way this biological action seems clearly unique”

Skeptic: “Go ahead…”

Invasion Biologist:  “Can we say about the biological action of the borer that it is characterized by: rapid population growth and spatial spread and widespread detrimental impact to a long standing member of the local biological community?”

Skeptic:  “Sounds reasonable”

Invasion Biologist:  “Can we agree that this biological action is economically important (if not, can you give me $1,300?)”

Skeptic:  Yes (and no)

Invasion Biologist:  “Can we agree that this biological action is scientifically interesting?  And that studying the reasons why this particular insect acts this way, and members of the menagerie do not, could have both scientific impact and help human society?”

Skeptic:  “Sure that sounds true.”

Invasion Biologist:  “Can we agree that there are other species that seem to exhibit a similar biological action?  Some species act this ways, and others don’t, and figuring out why is a useful goal for science”

Skeptic:  “I will go along with that”

Invasion Biologist:  Can we call this scientific study “Invasion Biology”

Skeptic:   “No:  First of all, the language is jingoistic…it suggests actual hate of all species that were not here when Daniel Boone arrived here in Ohio…

Invasion Biologist:  “… Okay how about we call this area of science: Newly Arrived Organisms With Rapid Population Growth and Spatial Spread and Widespread Detrimental Impacts to Longstanding Biological Communities… biology?”

Skeptic: “Now you’re just being a jerk.”

Invasion Biologist: “Sorry, how about we use initials:  N.A.O.W.R.P.G.S.S.W.D.I.L.S.B.C Biology?  Sounds like a good name for a journal, no?”

Skeptic: “grrrrr”

Invasion Biologist:  “Well maybe we can come up with something better…but in the meantime, we agree on every key issue!”

Skeptic:  “You want to wrap up so early…why – Do you need feed your nativist fever by reading Desert Solitaire for the 14th time and staring at some Ansel Adams photos?”

Invasion Biologist: “arrgh…!”

Skeptic: “Relax man, just kidding…but look, seriously,  you have missed the whole point: Not all “exotic” species are harmful and..”

Invasion Biologist:  “…Hold on…that is a Straw Man- you know damned well that Invasion Biologists have always taken as a central tenant that very few exotic species become invasive.”

Skeptic: “Fine, but even the concept of “native” is terribly arbitrary.”  In fact, with the planet rapidly warming the whole idea of “native” is rapidly losing meaning.”

Invasion Biologist:  “Okay…its a fair point…however, would you agree that figuring out why some **tiny fraction** of exotic species become catastrophically harmful while others just nestled down into the biotic community is a useful endeavor?  After all, this work could help us predict or mitigate negative effects, and as we established already, a few invasive species (like Emerald Ash Borer) end up being economically and ecologically devastating.”

Skeptic:  “Sure, of course, but what does “exotic” even mean at this point in history where habitats are such a mess due to human activities (eutrophication, landscape structure changes, etc.) and with the climate changing very fast.  In fact, defining “native” as some date in time, such as 1750, is completely indefensible and arbitrary”

Invasion Biologists:  “Yea, we can agree that a specific year is hard to defend; however, surely you would agree that humans moving species around the globe was influenced by the internal combustion engine, industrialization, and the eventually growth of air and sea traffic such that in modern times the probability of any particular species dispersing across the oceans, and long distances over land, has been unfathomably increased.”

Skeptic:  “Sure, but that just makes the point for me- the native vs. exotic definition is a mess in modern times!”

Invasion Biologist:  “If we agree that dispersal has massively increased due to human commerce (which we did) then picking a particular date to demarcate native vs. exotic is trivial.  The point is that species are moving around the planet in a radically different way than just 200, much less 500, years ago…which is a very short time ecologically!  These terribly Anglo-centric dates such as 1492 or 1776 do not stand up to scrutiny, and deserve your skepticism; however, the Columbian Exchange detailed by Alfred Crosby is a real Biological event and radically increased global dispersal patterns, especially post WWII, in relation to human commerce DOES stand up to scrutiny and IS biologically meaningful.  Right?”

Skeptic:  “Sure, but how can you base policy or management activities on arbitrary definitions.  You have people spraying herbicide from airplanes in order to remove species that are defined as “invasive” only because they are “exotic”, but your definition of “exotic” is weak if not arbitrary.”

Invasion Biologist:  “I am worried about herbicide being sprayed from airplanes and other spillover effects of control…very worried…however, we agreed that some of those species dispersed due to commerce will cause bizarrely massive devastation, and we agreed that the existing menagerie do not cause the same kind of damage, and we agreed that figuring out which species act that way and which do not is a useful scientific pursuit and agreed on the need for Biological research on this phenomenon.  I believe it is an *urgent* task for Invasion Biology to verify harmful effects of species that we are calling “invasive” and further to discern the ramifications for non-target species and overall ecosystem function of various control options for Invasive Species.  These are URGENT problems… within the field of Invasion Biology.

Skeptic:  “Well we agree on the urgency of these issues – so why aren’t you working on these things?!”

Invasion Biologist:  “Yes we agree…and actually, as you can see, we agree on all the issues and always have underneath the semantics.  And, I AM working on verification of negative effects, and issues related to spill-over, but continue to be mighty distracted by arguing with you!  It would be a big boost if you would help me with the difficult and *urgent* tasks ahead of us.  Could we set aside the semantics and get to work on these basic biological questions?  Will you help?”

Skeptic: …(to be continued)


Maternity, timelines and seeking a career in Academia: An overview and 10 action items


A woman in Academia* with her Little One

The path to a tenured faculty position, the first point in the academic career at which you can feel real stability, is arduous and fraught with potential for getting off track.  The process also takes a long time:

Process Years
Undergraduate Degree 4
Master’s Degree/ Other Experience 2
PhD 5
Postdoc 3
Pre-tenure period 6
Sum 20

If you begin as an undergraduate at age 18, then you will finish this process at approximately age 38.  Perhaps one could quibble with some of the details; however, an estimate of 20 years as the length is about average, and going significantly faster than this is unlikely.  So, this is a long and difficult process for anyone; however, it is particularly challenging if you have, or are planning to have, offspring.  When in this process is a good time to have child(ren)?  The only choices are (a) before starting the PhD, (b) during the PhD, (b) during the Postdoc, or (d) during the tenure process.

The timeline is tricky for any potential parent in academia, fundamental differences between being a partner to a woman having a child and being the woman going through gestation, birth and the postpartum experience, make this a unique challenge for a female academic.  Women experience physiological changes during the 9 months of gestation, and sometimes these prevent a full work load.  These changes are separate and apart from the time spent breastfeeding, diaper-changing, keeping them from cracking their heads on the table edges, and all the things partners can help with.  Thus, to achieve a “level playing field” for women in science means, necessarily, creating opportunity for maintaining career momentum while supporting leave time during pregnancy.

Not all parents have partners and not all single parents are female.  There are myriad potential parenting situations, including grandparents taking over primary responsibility for raising a grandchild, adoptions by both heterosexual and same-sex couples or by a lone individual. 

In any case, if you have child(ren) during the the time leading up to tenure there is a chance of reduced productivity in relationship to potential competitors without children or with mates bearing the primary biological or caretaking responsibilities.  Because only women get pregnant and, in general and historically, women have carried the majority of childcare responsibilities, there has been a systematic disadvantage for women in Academia.  A recent article from Slate outlines this very clearly.

So what is to be done?

 Action Items:

(1) Health insurance for graduate students including dependent coverage.

Many universities provide health insurance options for graduate students, and in some cases this includes coverage for dependents.  There is a lot of ongoing change in health care related to The Affordable Care Act and other socio-political forces and we don’t know all of the implications for academics having children.  Whatever the case may be with national policy, we strongly urge all universities to ensure that graduate students have health insurance, including maternity coverage and coverage for dependents.  University administrators: Stop talking about how you value diversity in hiring until you remove this kind of basic barrier for women to enter and succeed in academia.  Graduate students: it is entirely appropriate to ask about health insurance prior to joining a university graduate program!  Faculty: find out for yourself what health care options exist for graduate students and be prepared to present that information to students you are recruiting.

(2) Maternity leave for graduate students.

Graduate students should/must be given maternity time off.  We would imagine in many programs there is enough inherent flexibility that maternity time can be assimilated into the program without particular rule changes; however, some policy statement of support could and should be adopted by graduate programs.  Graduate Program Chairs and Faculty Mentors should be ready and willing to help graduate students modify their projects to accommodate leave time.

(3) On-site child care or child care stipends for graduate students.

Once maternity leave is over there are many more years in which child care is a necessity.  It is a tremendous burden to find child care that is acceptable, psychologically difficult to drop off and leave your little buddy; and, it is absurdly expensive if you are living on a graduate student stipend.  Many graduate students have traveled far from their families (many international students are, literally, oceans away) so informal support is lacking.  These barriers to professional success are unique to those who have children, and most of the time women disproportionately bear these burdens.  For this reason, one action that would help equalize the “playing field” for women in academia is institutional support for child care. This policy is also very basically “pro family.”  Support for child care could take the form of on-site subsidized child care or a stipend for off campus services.  Indeed, we recommend that if a particular university cannot provide on-campus child care, they establish relationships with off-campus operations and provide aid for students in finding quality child care. 

(4) Time-line assistance for post-docs (grant extensions, university support).*

A postdoctoral appointee is usually categorized as a full-time “staff” member and will typically have access to health insurance and leave policies that are provided to all other full-time employees.  Even so, a postdoc almost always depends on the availability of grant funds to cover the salary and fringe, and the money itself nearly always has an end date within about 3 years.  Universities and funding agencies need to recognize this reality by adopting maternity leave policies that address these timeline issues.  One straight-forward action would be for major grant funders to create timeline extension policies for grants that include a postdoctoral associate.  Indeed, NSF now requires a postdoctoral mentoring plan be included in grants that seek funding to hire such a person, so infrastructure is in place for: (a) identifying grants that include postdoctoral funding and (b) assessing the quality of mentoring.  A simple additional step is to include a maternity contingency agreement between the award winning faculty and the granting agency.  We further recommend that large granting agencies set aside special funding to help bridge project delays associated with maternity leave.  For instance, any grant that includes postdoctoral funding can promise 6 months additional salary and an automatic one year extension of the grant to cover maternity leave if needed.   

*Thanks to Natalie Wright for bringing this issue into focus for us.

(5) Maternity-related leave and tenure-clock flexibility for tenure-track faculty.

Regardless of industry or occupation, women should get time off to have a baby and be home in the early days.  So it should be a normal expectation that women in academia are offered at least one semester leave from *all* university-related activity as “maternity leave.”  In combination with a summer either prior or following that semester this constitutes a strong maternity leave period.  We further recommend that this policy be extended to include post-adoption periods for new parents.

Some (most?  all?) universities provide faculty with the opportunity to negotiate tenure timelines in response to the development of unique and potentially problematic circumstances.  For instance, if you typically come up for tenure in your 6th year and some significant event occurs, you could argue for a one year delay on the decision and instead come up in your 7th year.  We propose that this be an automatic “offer” that accompanies maternity.  An extra year, with no change in criteria, simply provides for parity in candidate bids for tenure.  Moreover, having it as a built-in policy would remove any “stigma” of having to petition for extra time.  That extra time could be declined by the candidate if pre-tenure reviews indicate success is inevitable, or taken to bolster the case for tenure.  We further recommend access to this policy for anyone involved in a new parenting situation (including adoption).

(6) University-level support for departments to cover maternity leave.

With an obligation to provide one semester leave for maternity and new parents (as proposed above), departments need institutional support to cover the missing activities.  For example, funding to hire instructors or other staff to fill in this gap should be provided.  If it is not provided, and the department is left to bear the burden of the missing faculty member, the pressure will inevitably shifts back to the parents involved because it will be strongly in the best interests of the Department to have the Faculty member decline the offered leave.  This would de facto invalidate the leave policy.

(7) Research assistant support for tenure-track women on maternity leave.

If the new parent is in a research heavy department with high expectations for publication and grant writing, the idea of leave seems absurd…because absence from the research endeavor kills momentum, endangering the program and, thus, the upcoming tenure bid.

This one is extremely hard to manage from an institutional/policy perspective as nothing the university can do can fully replace the research activity of the person on leave.  One thing that may help would be institutional support for a research assistant for the maternity leave period.  Again, that person cannot possibly replace the function of the PI; however, it may be a way to create a bridge.  For instance, it may enable the faculty member to retain a finishing PhD student in a 6 month post-doc position who could get some papers out and maintain lab momentum while that parent is snuggling and sleeping with the new little one (which she should feel free and happy to do!)

(8) On-site child care or child care stipends for faculty.

See the above argument for grad student child care.  Of course, faculty members have a much stronger financial base than graduate students for paying for child care, and yet, the basic issues remain.  It’s very expensive, time consuming, psychologically draining, and logistically complicated to land a child care scenario that works for parent and child.  Universities should seek to develop on-site options and support for faculty in finding child care outside the university if necessary.  If no child care options exist on campus, we suggest universities create a stipend program to cover child care for parents in academia that is separate from salary and a set of relationships with off-campus providers.

(9) Mentoring programs for tenure-track faculty

All faculty need tenured mentors and advocates in their program that can help them navigate the tenure process, especially in cases that involve the maternity experience.  Departments need to make sure this support is available.

– – –

**We realize these 9 action items address but a small part of the social infra-structure that has yielded a male-dominated academy.** 

Even so, we feel strongly that they are structural components to a long-term solution.  Further, these basic items are not only pro-women, they are pro-family, and, to that end, are in everyone’s interest.

One final item that we recommend (10) is that everyone involved in mentoring in academia take part in creating conversations around the issues of gender equity and balance, and parenting in the Academy.  Getting these issues on the table in front of both males and females, starting during the undergraduate experience, will help transform discourse and policy in the future.

This post was co-authored with *Amy L. Goff-Yates, PhD