Un-reclaiming the name – I am not a zoologist

zoologist

[Disclaimer – this is just my opinion. I do not speak for everyone at EcoEvo@TCD]

Recently on Twitter there has been a call to “reclaim the name” of Botany accompanied with the hashtag: #iamabotanist. The response has been really cool – lots of different scientists working on different questions have posted pictures of themselves on Twitter, often with their plants. It’s amazing the diversity of researchers out there who identify as botanists.

But why try to reclaim the name Botany? The issue is that Botany as a discipline is seen as rather old-school and irrelevant to current scientific challenges. For these reasons it tends to be unpopular with undergraduates and also with university governing boards. More and more Botany departments are being closed or merged with other departments, and Botany courses are being revamped and renamed to attract more students. Zoology departments are suffering similar fates. Like Botany, Zoology is considered an outdated discipline. It tends to fare better with undergraduate students because there are always people who want to work in a zoo or think they might get to cuddle a panda!

I appreciate what the #iamabotanist campaign was trying to do, but I’m not sure I agree. I work in a Zoology department, but I am not a Zoologist. This isn’t because I think Zoology is irrelevant as a discipline, it’s because I’m far more interested in the questions I’m asking, than in the taxa I use to test my hypotheses. Yes, the mammals I work on are adorable and fascinating, but what drives me as a scientist is trying to understand their evolution and ecology, and how the two things are connected. I’ve mostly worked on mammals so technically I’m a mammalogist. I’m happy with this label, but it’s not what I’d call myself if anyone asked. I’d identify as an (macro)evolutionary biologist, or an evolutionary ecologist. I test my ideas on mammals because these are the group I have most data for, but I’m equally fascinated by insects, bacteria, epiphytic plants, parasitic helminths etc. I think we do a disservice to the science if we focus too much on one taxonomic group.

Zoology and Botany at Trinity are particularly diverse disciplines. We have a couple of “classical” taxonomists/systematists, but also phylogeneticists, landscape ecologists, behavioural ecologists, demographers, evolutionary biologists, conservation biologists, developmental biologists and parasitologists. We teach courses across discipline boundaries, and often the person doing research closest to our own is in the other department. But sadly the Botany-Zoology divide still exists, mostly for reasons of history and geography (we are in separate buildings). This is holding back science, rather than pushing it forward.

Maybe we need to identify as botanists or zoologists (or any other taxon specific -ologists) less often, rather than more often. Forcing general questions and principles down taxon-specific lines seems rather backwards. It also isn’t helpful to our students if they only learn about animals and not the plants they eat, or only learn about plants and not the animals they are being eaten by. This interconnectedness is particularly important in light of the challenges of global change and the current extinction crisis.

So in conclusion, I think animals are cool, but I’m not a zoologist.

Author: Natalie Cooper, ncooper[at]tcd.ie, @nhcooper123

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PhD students and the cult of busy

 

busyAcademics often remind me of the Four Yorkshire Men in the old sketch (not actually originally a Monty Python sketch, but famously performed by them in their live shows – comedy nerd out over, carry on), except rather than trying to outdo each with how deprived we were as kids, we’re always trying to outdo each other with tales of how busy we are. We do it so often that it becomes hard to draw the line between how much this reflects how busy we really are, and how much is just “bragging” to assert how important we are. Somehow, we associate importance/success with being constantly busy, and think that good scientists work stupidly long hours and rarely take a day off. This is so inbuilt into our working culture that we feel guilty when we only work 9-5 or have the occasional lazy afternoon!

Worryingly the cult of being busy starts with PhD students. It’s insane the number of times I hear PhD students turning down opportunities (both academic and recreational) because they are “too busy”. Of course there are always going to be periods where you are truly “too busy”. The last few days before you submit a paper, the weeks leading up to a conference, or when you’re in the final stages of writing up. But in general there is nothing in your PhD that is so important that you can’t delay it for a few days/weeks/months. Most times your supervisor won’t mind waiting a few extra days for a draft (they are also busy!), and you can always email journal editors for extensions when writing reviews or returning corrections.

Full disclosure – I was the kind of PhD student that drives me crazy now. I refused to go to seminars unless they were completely related to what I was working on, I rarely read papers for lab meetings, and in my final year I stopped going to morning coffee, ate lunch at my desk and bit the head off anyone who came to my office to chat to my labmates (to be fair this got totally out of control when we got an espresso machine in the office and almost every postdoc in the building came by at least once a day! I’m blaming you Ezard! :P). I regret my tunnel vision now. There were so many things I could have taken time out to learn – things that would have saved me lots of time during my PhD and later in my career. This year I finally taught myself LaTeX for example, which would have saved me months of blood, sweat and tears formatting my thesis. I also wish I’d taken more time to learn to program properly. I’m now working hard to improve my coding, but see that if I’d taken a few months to do this in my PhD, I’d have saved myself a lot of heartache.

I guess my message to PhD students is to try and be less busy, and make more of an effort to enjoy the PhD experience! Easier said than done I know! I am sympathetic – I remember how it felt as a student. I remember feeling terribly inadequate compared to the high achieving PhD students and postdocs around me. I remember the crushing sense of panic and stress as my hand-in date approached and I still hadn’t got past my first chapter. I remember thinking that every hour doing something unrelated to my PhD was an hour wasted. But what I should have known, and what I’ll remind PhD students now, is that your PhD is about so much more than your thesis. Yes, you are judged on your thesis, and you will have to defend it. But you should also be training yourself to become part of the scientific community. Whether you stay in academia or not, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll ever work on the exact topic of your PhD again. So you’ll need an awareness of other things that are happening in the world of science! You’ll also need to develop other skills, like presentation skills, teaching, and outreach. You can’t do that if you only focus on your PhD topic and nothing else.

But how can we be less busy (and hence less stressed)? This is something I’m constantly trying to deal with myself (if you think you’re busy as a PhD student, don’t ask a Faculty member how busy they are!). A few things I’ve found useful are as follows:

1. Learn to stop when something is “good enough”
Many of the traits that make us good academics, like attention to detail and the desire to do our best at things, can also lead to terribly stressful perfectionism. Instead try to establish when something is “good enough” rather than “perfect”. This is something I’m trying to improve at myself, and I’ll admit that it’s difficult. However, as a PhD student your supervisor should be able to help. Sometimes you can leave stuff like properly formatting references until you’re ready to submit a paper. If you’re really struggling with one section, maybe send the rest to your supervisor for comments, rather than waiting until it’s all perfect (but ask them first).

I find deadlines help me with this – for example, I have a habit of constantly fiddling with lectures so if I have two weeks to make one, it will take me two weeks. However as time goes on, the amount of improvement approaches an asymptote, so two weeks of effort doesn’t create a lecture much better than one that takes me a week. Therefore I give myself strict amounts of time I’m allowed to work on each lecture. After that time passes it’s done. It’s not perfect, but I doubt the students would notice the difference. The same goes for conference presentations and paper drafts.

2. Use “waiting time” efficiently.
PhD students often forget in their rush to finish something and hand it to their supervisor, that their supervisor will take time to return it with comments. If you know this is going to happen you can use that waiting time more wisely. It’s often a good time to format references, add details to manuscript central if you’re submitting a paper, fiddle around with your thesis template etc. Also talk to your supervisor about when they have time to give you comments. There’s no sense in rushing to hand in a draft chapter the day before your supervisor goes on holiday for two weeks leaving you twiddling your thumbs.

3. Schedule time for non-essential reading or for learning skills
As a PhD student I stopped reading widely near the end of my PhD. However, at postdoc interviews I often got asked about what papers I’d read recently that I’d enjoyed. These questions are designed to see how broad your knowledge is, so citing the technical paper you just read on your PhD subject is not going to impress. Additionally, if you want to stay in science (academia or otherwise), you probably should have a basic knowledge of the current controversies in the field. The only way to do this is by reading. However, it’s hard to read non-essential stuff. The easiest way to ensure you do it is by scheduling a bit of time each week (maybe Friday afternoon or Monday morning) to do it. If you choose a time you usually get very little work done it won’t eat into your productivity. I often use this kind of scheduling to learn programming skills or to play with a new R package.

4. Say yes to opportunities!
Of course there’s a limit to how much you can say yes to. But remember that your time as a PhD student is probably one of the most flexible times of your life, especially if you don’t have kids yet. Your schedule is mostly yours to make. So if you can’t get anything to work, spend the day in a local museum and catch up one evening or at the weekend. If you live in a rainy place (cough cough Ireland) and the sun is out, take the afternoon off and go for a bike ride or a walk – you can work a little longer tomorrow when the sun disappears! If you get offered skills training take it, particularly if it’s free and doesn’t require traveling too far. If your friend wants a hand on tropical field work for a couple of weeks, and you have the money, go with them! It’s a great chance to see an exciting country in a whole new light. Go to seminars and conferences. Talk to your colleagues at coffee time. Take a proper lunch break. It’s amazing how much you can get done in short bursts when you need to, especially if you’ve scheduled in proper breaks.

5. But learn to say no to time sucks…
Not everything people ask you to do is going to be useful, and/or fun. If in doubt, speak to your supervisor before saying yes to things (you can then also use the old “my supervisor is an ogre and won’t let me help you, sorry” excuse). For example, organising an event like a conference or an outreach event, is a great thing to have on your CV. But once you have one of these on your CV the gains of organising a second one are low. These things often take up ridiculous amounts of time and energy. The same goes for teaching. It’s great to get teaching experience, but try and get quality experience with different kinds of teaching rather than saying yes to everything. Be strategic in what you spend your time on, based on filling gaps in your CV, and preferably on what you want to do after your PhD.

6. Talk to someone if you need help.
Finally, if you’re really struggling with feeling busy and overwhelmed, talk to someone! Sometimes in academia we have the habit of not talking about problems. This leads us to believe that everyone else is coping, and we’re the only ones struggling. The truth is EVERYONE struggles sometimes. Talk to your friends/PhD colleagues about how you feel – they’ll soon make you feel less alone. Talk to your supervisor, or another faculty member, about ways of coping with stress. And remember most places have a student counseling service if things are too hard to discuss.

Now go forth, be less busy, more happy and more productive as a result!

DISCLAIMER – Your PhD is not all about your thesis. BUT finishing your thesis on time is the most important thing at the end of the day. This post is not about encouraging slacking off, it’s about encouraging efficient working practices. Research has shown that people working 35 hour weeks get as much done as those working 60 hours (long-term, short-term there are gains in working long hours). So use your time wisely, work hard when you have the energy and motivation to do it, and speak to your supervisor if you’re worried about your progress. They are here to help!

Author: Natalie Cooper, @nhcooper123, nhcooper[at]tcd.ie

Night Life! Friday 26th Sept

Night Life no writing

This Friday, members of EcoEvo@TCD, as well as others from the Botany and Zoology departments and Trinity Centre for Biodiversity Research will present Night Life! in the Zoology building at Trinity College Dublin. The event is FREE to attend and we will be open from 6pm-10pm with the last entry at 9.30pm.

Night Life! is an opportunity to meet researchers and to find out the kinds of things we do. Prof. Yvonne Buckley will give you a taste of our research highlights, Kevin Healy will wow you with his research on snake venom (yes there will be snakes!), Sive Finlay will perplex you with the mysteries of tenrec evolution (if you don’t know what they are, come along and find out, they’re really cute!), Sean Kelly will explain how he discovers new bird species in Indonesia, Deirdre McClean will reveal the fascinating social lives of microbes, Thomas Guillerme will dazzle you with the lasers on his 3D scanner and the jaws of a shark, Claire Shea will amaze you by explaining why babies kick in the womb, Adam Kane will intrigue you with models of T.rex and maybe some vultures, and other students will be available to answer your burning questions about biology, evolution and ecology. So if you’re at a loose end on Friday night, come along and say hi!

Night Life! forms just one part of Discover Research Dublin, an annual event funded by the European Commission as part of European Researchers’ Night. The event is hosted by Trinity College Dublin, in partnership with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. As well as Night Life! the evening will feature over 50 fun, interactive and free events and activities which will give you direct contact with researchers and allow for discovery, questions and participation. The event aims to challenge perceptions about researchers and show the creativity and innovation that exists in research across all disciplines. Activities are grouped under four broad themes – Body Parts, Creativity in Research, Meet the Researchers and Living Thought/Thinking Life.
We encourage you to visit, explore, discover and enjoy!

Author: Natalie Cooper, @nhcooper123
Image: Kevin Healy, @healyke

Creationism in Science Fiction: Artistic freedom or anti-science?

Black_Hole_Outflows_From_Centaurus

In the late 90s and early 2000s science fiction fans such as myself had a bit of a hard time. As happy as I was when the last few years brought, amongst others, the amazingly crafted science fiction spectacles Battlestar Galactica (2004) and the long anticipated Alien prequel Prometheus (2012), the more disappointed I became when I realised that both events based their storylines heavily on creationism.

Now one might argue that these are works of art and therefore subject to artistic freedom, and generally I do agree. But then again, that wouldn’t be much of a blog post. So let me describe why this is not only such a disappointment, but also cause for a bit of a tummy ache.

First of all, science fiction is not an art form as such but rather a movement within different artistic disciplines. Lots of disciplines use elements from science fiction. It appears in classic literature such as the works of Jules Verne, and the myriad of other authors following his footsteps, and on the silver screen with the most prominent works being Star Trek and Star Wars. More recently (and not surprisingly) science fiction is prominent in computer games and even in music, especially within electronic music with the best example surely being the robot outfits of French house legends, Daft Punk.

Within all these different art forms there must be a common ground, something that can give such different expressions as sound, word or interaction a common name. So what unites all these art forms under the science fiction umbrella? The most straightforward term that we might could come up with is ‘future’, but that would be too simple. Remember that Star Wars took place ‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far away’, but no one would refute that it is one of the defining works of science fiction. I think that the most important element in science fiction is exploration: take the now, look at our social, scientific and technological achievements and make a step forward. Imagine what could happen, imagine a Utopia, a Dystopia, or a world not so different from our own. It can take place on different worlds or on our own home planet. The defining element is that it is a fictional continuation of our current knowledge, exploring whatever implications the creator of the work wants to explore.

And there lies my problem with Creationism. In order to explore the future consequences of our current state-of-art, we must get the state-of-art right. Among the science fiction fans I know it is usually accepted that the general premise in science fiction is theoretically possible, given the knowledge at the time. Of course not everything has to be realistic: the Force in Star Wars adds a mystical element, and that is completely acceptable since it is defined as mystical within the original movies. However, when Prometheus takes an intelligent design approach, it sets an anti-science premise, and builds a future from it, giving the impression that intelligent design is a scientifically valid theory. Battlestar Galactica goes even one step further, bringing God directly into play as the creator. While one could consider this as an example of the previously mentioned mystical element, albeit in a somewhat convoluted way, the story of the show managed to completely mix up mysticism and hard science in a way that is nearly impossible to disentangle, especially for the viewers who do not have a background in science. (It is beyond this blog to summarise the story of a four seasons show, so for the readers interested in more detail I recommend the following essay by Brad Templeton.)

Using creationism or intelligent design as a creator of works of science fiction has two consequences: it disappoints those fans, such as myself, that have a background in science and it gives those fans who do not have a scientific background a false impression of realism associated with creationism, spreading anti-science further.

Of course this is a personal opinion, but I stand to it when I say that creating a work of science fiction should always take the science on which it is based seriously, whether that be promoting a technological future or warning about its perils.

Author: Jesko Zimmerman, zimmerjr[at]tcd.ie

Image Source: Wikicommons

Learning the art of conferencing

Networking

The start of the new academic year marks the end of my second conference season. I attended two conferences; Evolution 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina and the British Ecological Society Macroecology meeting at the University of Nottingham. They were at the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of size and specificity but they were both interesting, useful and, most surprisingly for me, enjoyable.

The difference is that I knew what to expect. Last summer was my first taste of conferences along with the intellectual and social stamina required to last through a day of talks, coffee breaks, poster sessions and post-conference socialising. I was very lucky that I went to each event as part of a group, so there was always a familiar face to find in a crowd and it made networking easier but I still found the whole experience challenging.

This time around was different; the familiarity made everything easier. For a start, I finally figured out how to plan a sensible schedule which didn’t involve running from one room to another between talks. Most importantly, I’m learning how to “play the game”. I’m slowly figuring out how to give an elevator pitch about my research without making the recipient’s eyes glaze-over and how to talk to other people about their research without sounding like a complete idiot. I’m still a long way off from being a proper conference pro but I’m getting there.

Giving a talk instead of a poster made a huge difference. Last year I brought the same poster to two different conferences. Through the course of each poster session, I spoke to a handful of people, some of whom seemed at least partly interested in my research but mostly they were being nice to the student with no one else at her poster. The experience definitely made me into a more pro-active browser at other poster sessions. People usually appreciate some interaction and it’s always more interesting to talk to someone about their research, even if it’s completely outside my area, instead of just admiring their poster design skills.

This year I gave a short talk at both the conferences I attended. It was nerve-wracking but definitely much more beneficial for my research and also my conference experience. I was lucky to have some useful preparation: we’ve often covered presentation skills in NERD club and I benefited from great constructive criticism during practice talks, especially from Thomas and Natalie who could probably have delivered my talk word for word by the time of the conference! It was worth the effort. My presentation was not ground-breaking in terms of the science content or delivery but I was pleased with how my talks went at both conferences. It was also very beneficial to get the feedback, comments and suggestions from the people in the audience who spoke to me afterwards. You get a lot more feedback after telling an audience your research “story” for 10 minutes rather than hoping to attract passers-by to a poster. Furthermore, at a small conference like the macroecology BES group, giving a talk helped to identify me as the “tenrec girl” so I could speed past the normal elevator pitch opening which marks most initial conference conversations.

Some people take to conferences easily; others have to work a bit more. If you’re part of the latter group then I can assure you that everything becomes easier and more enjoyable with a bit of familiarity, practice and experience. I still have a lot to learn but I’m getting there. I’ve realised that many people, particularly the more junior researchers, also find it tricky to master the art of conferencing. So if you’re feeling awkward standing around the coffee counter or sitting in a seminar on your own, chances are that the person next to you is in the same boat and you will both be happier if someone takes the first plunge into conversation. You will add another name to your list of friendly faces in the crowd or maybe meet a new collaborator. In any case, you’ve got nothing to lose so give it a go!

Author: Sive Finlay, sfinlay[at]tcd.ie, @SiveFinlay

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Gender balanced conferences – we all need to try harder!

gender equal opportunity or representation

Recently a conference on Phylogenetic Comparative Methods was advertised online, and quickly the Twitter community noted that all six of the plenary talks were being given by men. Normally my response to this kind of thing would be some grumpy tweeting and then I’d let it go. However, this time was different; I know one of the organisers, several of the plenary speakers are my collaborators and this is the field I’ve dedicated the last eight years of my career to. Therefore I didn’t think I could let this pass by unchallenged.

I emailed the organisers to complain and got a prompt response. Note that I’m not trying to vilify the organisers of this conference. They were really understanding and genuinely felt bad about the situation. They said they were aware of the problem and had tried really hard to get women to speak, but the women they asked said no. This problem was exacerbated by the fact the conference is linked to a new book they are publishing in which only around five out of 30 plus authors are female (many more women – including me – were asked to write chapters but declined). In the past when people have given me the “we tried but failed” response I’ve taken their word for it. However, this time I had first hand experience of the issue, because I co-organised a symposium with Rich FitzJohn at Evolution 2014 on Phylogenetic Comparative Methods at which we decided to have at least 50% female speakers. SPOILER ALERT – we succeeded, but it was hard. Really really hard.

For our symposium we decided to focus on the assumptions and biases inherent in the methods we use. As such the pool of speakers was quite specialised – we were looking not just for people who *use* phylogenetic comparative methods, but for people who try to understand them and think deeply about their interpretation and correct usage. Unfortunately it is difficult to work out if people do this as most people’s websites and publications tend to focus on empirical questions rather than methods questions, even for people I *know* think about this stuff all the time. We also decided to try and stray away from the “usual suspects”. There are a couple of female speakers (and even more male speakers!) who always seem to speak in conference symposia, so we wanted to give other people a chance (as it turns out I think virtually all the women we avoided asking for this reason are speaking in one of the other symposia…). However both myself and Rich felt we knew the field quite well so finding speakers wouldn’t be too hard.

At this point we encountered our first problem – this didn’t leave a lot of women on our invite list! I suppose in the back of my mind I always knew the field was male-dominated (excuses 1 & 2; see the end of the post for an explanation!), but it wasn’t until I actually started looking for female speakers that it really hit home. We checked through the references in Brian O’Meara’s and Matt Pennell & Luke Harmon’s recent reviews of phylogenetic comparative methods and were fairly horrified by the low number of female authors, and particularly the low numbers of papers with female first authors (excuse 6). This is worrying as if you don’t see female authors in the literature, especially in review papers, then they don’t get invited to speak at symposia or join working groups, so fewer people know about their work, so they don’t end up in literature reviews (excuse 6)! It’s a vicious circle. We also tried a slightly different tack, emailing all our more senior colleagues to ask for suggestions. They came up with some extra ideas, but mostly they overlapped with each other, and all mentioned the “usual suspects”.

After some time we came up with a list of women (and men) we thought would give good talks. The men said yes immediately. Many of the women turned us down (excuse 3), but always for perfectly valid reasons. However, after some effort we got a line up we were happy with and sent off our proposal. We were really excited when it got accepted and proud of our efforts to ensure gender balance. This is when we encountered our second problem – one of our female speakers dropped out (excuse 4). This was through no fault of the speaker, she just couldn’t travel to the USA in June. We then had to start the search process all over again! Luckily the conference organisers were very understanding and said we didn’t need to confirm speakers for a while anyway, so we ended up letting it slide while I did a big chunk of teaching. Eventually the organisers asked for confirmation of speakers and titles, so we emailed the remaining speakers to ask for titles. This is when we hit our next problem – another one of our female speakers dropped out (excuse 4) stating that part of the reason was she was over-committed and burnt out from speaking at lots of other conferences (excuse 5).

At this point we had a real panic! We had sold the idea of the symposium partly based on the line up of women, and now there were only two female speakers left (and one of them was me!). We went back through our lists from months ago, and came up against the same problems. Some people weren’t relevant for the symposium (excuse 1), and many of those we asked declined (and frustratingly would recommend male speakers to replace them; excuses 2 & 3). Eventually just before the deadline for confirmations I cajoled April Wright into speaking (and still feel a bit guilty about adding to her already huge workload!) and we added another male speaker to the line up. This meant we still managed 50% female speakers, but just barely.

I’m delighted with the speakers we ended up with, and I’m not annoyed with anyone that turned us down or dropped out. But I wanted to share this story to show that I *do* understand the difficulties involved with getting female speakers (note that I’ve also organised our local seminar series with a 50/50 gender split two years running). Yet my response to “we tried” is that “you need to try harder”! There were many points during this process that we could have just given up and asked one of many men working in the area. But that would have seemed like a betrayal of all the women working in the field. Only having male speakers makes it look like women can’t be methods-developers or advanced methods-users. It also encourages the impostor syndrome that I’m sure contributed to some of our suggested speakers declining our invitations (excuse 7). For the record, none of the speakers who declined invitations, or dropped out, did so due to childcare issues. This problem is *far* deeper than the biological reality that women are the ones who get pregnant and have babies.

Author: Natalie Cooper, @nhcooper123, ncooper[at]tcd.ie

UPDATE
The PCM conference has now, in response to some of this, added a female plenary. They are also trying to attract more female researchers to give “featured” talks. This is a step in the right direction, but really too little too late. Especially as their budget means the “featured” speakers get no financial assistance and also only 15 minutes to talk. Hardly a great achievement to put on your CV…

P.S. The excuses noted above come from the Female Conference Speaker Bingo card. I’ve laughed at this a number of times so was pretty horrified when I realised a lot of these appeared to be valid excuses for our symposium!

1. There aren’t enough qualified female speakers.
2. It’s a male-dominated field.
3. Both women we called were booked/all the women were busy.
4. Both women we booked bailed at the last minute.
5. Female speakers are always burnt out from speaking so much.
6. Who? I’ve never heard of her.
7. Women are shy/Women need to act more like men.

P.P.S. I wrote the above in June 2014 after our symposium. Since then there have been a couple of excellent blog posts detailing similar issues and suggesting solutions: here and here in particular. Come on everyone, let’s fix this!!!

We’re back!

Back-to-School

It’s that time of year again, the quiet before the storm of Fresher’s week and the start of a new academic year.

After our short break, EcoEvo@TCD is back and raring to go. You can expect lots more posts about our research, seminar series, outreach activitiesconferences and fieldwork as well as tips and tricks for surviving in academia.

We’ve already kicked off the year with our second annual NERD club AGM. It was a great opportunity to discuss what we covered throughout the year and to make plans for the months ahead. (For the uninitiated, NERD club is our networks in ecology/evolution research discussion group but feel free to think of it in the true sense of the word too).

Here’s our NERD club prize winners for 2013/14

Best session: Paul for his talk on carnivory in plants

Best blog: Adam for “Flatland” and the “Heat and Light of Science Communication

Best pun (aka the McMahon and Kane memorial punning prize): Adam and Thomas for “Gould Mine”

Contributor of the year: Kevin

Best PI called Andrew: What is Andrew Jackson? (No-one knows!)

We’ve had some excellent sessions about transferable skills, how to navigate the perils of academia and great discussions and collaborations on current research projects. We’ve got lots more interesting topics planned for the year ahead which will definitely make an appearance on EcoEvo@TCD.

It’s also been a very successful year for our blog. We had a winner at the ABSW science writers awards and two semi-finalists in another international blog competition. We’re also on the short list for the best science and technology blog in the Irish blog awards.

So whether you’re packing away your fieldwork gear after another season, dreading the darker evenings or sharpening your pencils for another academic year, rest assured that you can look forward to some more ecology and evolution- related musings from the EcoEvo@TCD team.

Author: Sive Finlay, @SiveFinlay

Image source