Research haikus

Last month, the Zoology Department’s Dr. David Kelly launched his first book of Japanese short form poetry, Hammerscale from the Thrush’s Anvil. At the launch of the book, David invited us in the audience to try our hand at writing our own haikus.

Taking him up on his challenge, and taking inspiration from his book, a few of us in the School of Natural Sciences have penned our own poems based on our areas of study. We even have a contribution from David Kelly himself!

Trying not to sacrifice coherency at the alter of syllable number was a rather new struggle for most of us, but we managed and, I’d like to think, emerged with a greater appreciation for the poets in our midst. Read on for our science-y foray into the arts!

(Paula Tierney @_ptierney)


Yellow red fish eyes

Maybe that’s a nematode?

No, it is more fish

Paula Tierney


Carbon fixed by plants

Then sequestered in the soil

Helps to keep Earth cool

Matt Saunders


Hoverflies hover

Syrphidae flying over

Gardens of flowers

Sarah Gabel


Monochrome poets

Curved claws etching musky spoors

Into the cold night

Aoibheann Gaughran Continue reading “Research haikus”

Career planning for PhD students

6a00d8341c761a53ef0120a6330c87970b-piThe Royal Society has published a new set of guidelines for managing the career expectations of PhD students in STEMM subjects (science, engineering, technology, maths and medicine). The publication was the result of a series of roundtable discussions held at the Royal Society with PhD students, supervisory teams and University careers professionals.

This blog post from the British Ecological Society provides a good overview of the document and discussion of how it fits into existing career development opportunities for PhD students.

With ever increasing numbers of PhD graduates and restricted academic jobs, academic careers are becoming the exception rather than the rule in many STEMM disciplines. The report highlights the need for PhD students to be realistic about their career expectations and goals and the importance of continuous professional development during their studies.

The document contains guidelines and recommendations for students, supervisors, career professionals and higher education institutions. It’s very encouraging to see that the training and mentoring of ecology and evolutionary graduate students at TCD already follows many of the principles.

This is mainly due to the success of NERD club, our weekly meeting of ecology and evolution researchers. The primary purpose of this group is to develop research projects and encourage new collaborations but many sessions are also devoted to career development. We have discussed academic careers advice and application tips but also non-academic careers and the transferrable skills such as public communication and teaching that can be applied to any career choice.  As students, we’re very lucky to benefit from the mentoring and advice of enthusiastic and dedicated staff members.

One aspect of the Royal Society guidelines which I hadn’t considered previously is the recommendation that PhD students should seek a mentor who is not their supervisor for career advice. It’s an interesting suggestion, especially since many supervisors have limited personal experience of non-academic careers, and a good thing to consider for any PhD student.

Hopefully these new guidelines will encourage more students, supervisors and institutions to make broad career planning an integral part of every PhD student’s experience.

Author: Sive Finlay, @SiveFinlay

Photo credit:

We’re back!


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


Bumblebees are not deterred by ecologically relevant concentrations of nectar toxins


In a previous blog post I wrote about my work on “toxic nectar.”  This paradoxical phenomenon occurs when potentially deterrent or toxic plant secondary compounds, usually associated with defense against herbivores, are found in floral nectar rewards.  Throughout my PhD I’ve spent countless hours in the lab performing experiments on toxic nectar, discussed this work at Nerd Club, and presented it at conferences.  After what seems like an awfully long time, our first article on nectar toxins has been published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.  Here I want to describe what I think are the most exciting findings of the study, and also talk about how this work came to be part of my PhD.

When I first started my PhD I had what seemed like a never-ending list of questions about nectar toxins: do they impact plant fitness?  What about pollinator survival?  Are there sublethal costs to pollinators that ingest nectar toxins? But before we could tackle these bigger-picture concepts, we kept on coming back to a very simple question: are bees deterred by naturally occurring concentrations of secondary compounds in floral nectar?

We know that many plant secondary compounds, such as alkaloids, phenolics, and terpenes, play a role in deterring herbivores form consuming plant tissues, and that’s why toxic nectar is such a paradox.  Why would plants have deterrent compounds in a tissue that is meant to act as a reward for pollinating flower-visitors?  Nectar secondary compounds, however, tend to occur at much lower concentrations than those found in leaf or floral tissues. Previous work found that whether or not bees will forage on artificial nectar containing secondary compounds depends on ecological context, i.e. the availability of other food sources.  However most work on this subject focuses on only one compound (gelsemine) and tests concentrations that are well above those found in floral nectar.

One might hypothesize that secondary compounds at nectar-relevant concentrations should not be deterrent to pollinators.  If nectar toxins do deter legitimate pollinators, plant pollination and hence reproductive success could suffer, leading to selection for lower concentrations of nectar compounds.  In addition, the direct impacts of nectar toxins on pollinators are still understudied; deterrence behavior might indicate a cost in terms of health or fitness for the pollinators.  So we were convinced it was well worth determining deterrence thresholds for several of the most common/popular nectar toxins, and comparing these thresholds to nectar-relevant concentrations, but how did we do it?

The experimental design was very simple (my favorite kind!); we used an economically and ecologically important pollinator, Bombus terrestris, in a series of controlled, paired laboratory bioassays.  In each assay, we offered bees two solutions of identical sugar content, one containing a secondary compound of interest and one without it.  We repeated this 24-hour assay at a range of concentrations that included the nectar relevant dosage for each compound we tested.  The deterrence threshold was determined when bumblebees significantly preferred the sucrose solution over the sucrose solution containing the compound.  We also measured the total food consumed and bumblebee survival.  I spent a lot of time in the laboratory and the bee room, weighing feeding tubes and counting dead bees; I’m not going to lie, I may have succumbed to talking to my bees now and again.  It gets lonely in the lab!  It was all worth it in the end though, because what we found was pretty interesting.

IMG_0038 (1)
These were my friends for many hours!

Our experiments showed that bumblebees are actually rather bad at detecting nectar toxins. The most deterrent compound was the alkaloid quinine, which was avoided at concentrations as low as 0.01 mM.  All the other compounds we tested (caffeine, nicotine, amygdalin, and grayanotoxin) had deterrence thresholds 7-60 times greater than the concentration range naturally found in nectar.  Previous work on the honeybee found that it too has poor acuity for the detection of nectar toxins, especially compared to insects in the orders Diptera and Lepidtopera.  So why is it that social generalist bee species are relatively insensitive to the plant secondary compounds in their food?  One hypothesis we highlighted in the discussion is that the relationship between bees and plants is largely mutualistic, as opposed to the antagonist interactions between plants and herbivores.  There may not be strong enough selection pressure on bees to develop more sensitive gustatory receptors, especially because in eusocial bee species, individual bees are the consumers, but selection pressures act on the colony as the reproductive unit.

For decades, researchers of plant-animal interactions have been asking how and why toxic nectar evolved and is maintained in plant populations.  Our work helps us to better understand the functional significance of toxic nectar.  If legitimate pollinators fail to be deterred by nectar compounds at low concentrations, the plant is less likely to suffer from reduced pollination.  This trait therefore may be maintained in plant populations, especially if it confers some sort of fitness advantage to the plant.  What kind of fitness advantage could these compounds provide you ask?  There are a plethora of possibilities, including antimicrobial resistance and selection against more sensitive nectar robbers or thieves.  Possibly the presence of the compounds in nectar is simply a consequence of defense of other plant tissues.  The results from our study, however, suggest that these other factors affecting nectar secretion and production are more likely to select for the production of toxins in nectar of bee pollinated plants, rather than pollinator preference.

Check the paper for more details and to read the whole story!

Author: Erin Jo Tiedeken, tiedekee[at], @EJTiedeken

Images: Wikicommons and E.J. Tiedeken

Dying without wings: Part II


Last week our newest EcoEvo@TCD paper came out in PRSB  (it will be Open Access soon but currently it’s behind a pay wall – feel free to email me for a copy in the meantime. Code for the multiple PGLS models can be found here). This paper is exciting for me for two reasons – firstly because the science is really cool and secondly because of how it came about. In a previous post I explained the results of the paper. Today I want to focus on how it came about.

The very first seminar I think I attended when I started my job at TCD in 2012 was by Prof Emma Teeling from UCD. Emma works on bats (her research is really cool – check it out) and gave a fascinating talk about echolocation and other aspects of bat evolution. Near the end of the talk she mentioned the “exceptional lifespan” of bats, which was something I’d never heard about before. Bats live, on average, 3.5 times longer than mammals of a similar body size! Wow I thought, I wonder why…

After the talk everyone descended on our tearoom for post seminar beers and discussion. This is generally a lively event, especially when the talk is really good. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one interested in the exceptional lifespan of bats. Many of the students (notably Kevin Healy and Luke McNally) and staff (particularly Andrew Jackson) picked up on this point, and we discussed it at length with Emma and amongst ourselves.

The following week (our seminars are Friday afternoons), the discussion was still raging. Was the exceptional lifespan of bats just due to flight? Was there a way we could disentangle the effects of flight from those of phylogeny (bats are the only mammals that fly). Did statistical methods that declared “bats are special” a priori run the risk of always confirming their bias when they fitted “bat” as an extra factor in their models? [Several simulation studies later we were able to say “Yes” to this question!]. We read a few papers and talked about other things that could reduce extrinsic mortality other than flight. It was a fun couple of weeks!

Now this is the point that most ideas born in the tearoom tend to die. We come up with a set of questions, data that could be collected, papers that should be read, and then no-one comes forward to finish up. And admittedly, although we returned to the topic every now and again, we never went any further with it. Several months passed, the summer came and went, and the idea looked like it would go to the idea graveyard. However, this was also around the time we decided to start NERD club – our weekly Ecology and Evolution research groups meeting. In an attempt to find some topics that could appeal to both zoologists and botanists we brought back the lifespan question, and had an amazing cross-disciplinary discussion about it. This renewed our enthusiasm. Also it provided the perfect test of the NERD club format – could 10 authors (the number of people who expressed an interest in being involved in the project) work together to produce a coherent research paper, or would too many cooks spoil the broth?

We began by having meetings discussing ideas and coming up with clear predictions. I think this was the most important step because with so many coauthors we could easily have ended up with a huge set of variables, and a horribly unwieldy analysis and paper. We split up literature searching across all the students, and then the students summarized what they’d found. We then split the data collection across myself and several students (though a large chunk of extra data was collection by Kevin Healy in the later stages of the project), and had a group of students in charge of the figures and a group in charge of analyses. I took the lead on writing a draft (though again Kevin Healy did a large chunk of this in the later stages).

Quickly we realised that this wasn’t just going to be a paper for all of us, it was also an amazing opportunity to learn from each other about how we do things, and a great teaching opportunity. I personally come from a phylogenetic comparative methods background, and although I collaborate a lot with people from across the world, working on very different questions and very different study groups, they all come from a background where comparative thinking is standard. At TCD this wasn’t the case, so I found myself selling the idea of comparative analyses, phylogenies, and literature-based data collection to the group. In turn Andrew Jackson taught us about how he approaches statistical analyses, and Ian Donohue was invaluable in writing a snappy, jargon free abstract. All of this made the process much slower than it would have been with a smaller group, but with every mistake made collecting data, every misstep in analysis and every argument about the values of broad general answers versus accurate taxon-specific answers, we learnt as a group and improved as scientists and educators.

Eventually it became clear that Kevin Healy was doing the bulk of the work so he became project leader and first author, and pushed the project into its final phases. Thomas Guillerme also took a large role in writing R code and running analyses, including showing us all how to run analyses on the TCD computer clusters. Everyone helped with drafting the manuscript and we presented the work at ESEB 2013, and Evolution 2013. It was truly a group effort from start to finish and I couldn’t be more delighted with getting it published at PRSB. This is the first publication for many of the authors, and hopefully the first NERD club inspired publication of many.

Some of our students with our longevity poster at ESEB2013
Some of our students with our longevity poster at ESEB2013

So all in all it’s been two and a quarter years from the first conception of the idea to the paper finally coming out. But I think even this delay has been an amazing teaching experience – I think as PhD students you see your peers popping out papers left, right and centre, with little understanding of the effort (and the incredible amount of faffing with formatting etc!) that goes into each one. Of course we all have our “quick and dirty” (ok maybe not that dirty!) little publications, but honestly most of mine take at least 2 years. I would definitely recommend trying this in your department! It was time consuming but totally worth it. The only thing I’d change in future is that I’d have the whole project on GitHub to make collaborative coding and editing easier (we only just learned git and I’m super excited about using it next time!), and I think this would enrich the learning experience even further.

I hope this has inspired more people to try a collaborative research/teaching project. Now we just need another amazing idea so we can start our next NERD club paper…

Author: Natalie Cooper, ncooper [at], @nhcooper123



NERD club transferrable skills: reviewers, rejections and responses


Academic publishing: the currency of any research career. It’s all very straightforward; take your most recent ground-breaking results, wrap them up into a neat paper, choose the perfect journal, allow said paper to persuade an editor and reviewers of your brilliance and bask in the reflective glow of getting your research out into the world. Whether you see this rosy scenario as a target or delusional and unattainable aspirations, things rarely work out so smoothly. Instead, every researcher must learn to deal with the topic of one of our recent NERD club discussions; reviewers, rejections and responses. As a collective of staff, postdocs and postgraduate students, here are our thoughts on the dos and don’ts of dealing with the three r’s of academia.

1)     Reviewers

Some journals invite authors to suggest reviewers or editors for their papers. If this happens, pick who you think is the “best” person whether that’s because the person is an expert in your field (although see our final point below), likely to give a fair review or because they are familiar with your work. Only suggest people to be reviewers if they have published themselves i.e. aim at the level of senior graduate student or from post-doc upwards. It’s also a good idea to choose someone that you’ve cited a lot in your manuscript (no harm to get on their good side). Equally, if you gave a conference talk recently, remember that person who seemed so interested in and enthusiastic about your work in the pub afterwards – chances are that they might be a fair and favourable reviewer. We also thought that, if you feel it’s necessary and you have a good reason, it might be a good idea to make an editor aware of people who you would prefer not to review your paper. However, be warned of the rumours that some editors may prefer to ignore such preferences and deliberately choose people from that “exclusion” list as reviewers.

In contrast, when selecting potential reviewers or editors, don’t choose someone who you have thanked in the acknowledgements of your manuscript. These are usually people who helped out or offered advice at some stage during the research so they would have a conflict of interest when it comes to reviewing the manuscript. Of course, you can also use this guideline to your advantage by seeking advice from and therefore acknowledging people who you definitely want to avoid as potential reviewers… Also from a conflict of interest point of view, don’t suggest your main collaborators, close friends or people from your own institution as potential reviewers. Similarly, for obvious reasons, don’t choose someone as a potential reviewer if you know that they dislike you or your work!

Once you have considered all these points, our final piece of advice about choosing reviewers or editors is don’t get hung up on it! Your preferred reviewers may not accept the manuscript, particularly if they are the senior, time-limited experts in your field. Finding reviewers for a manuscript is ultimately a lottery so, having thought about a few of our suggested guidelines, there’s no point in agonising over the process too much.

2)     Rejection

It’s never pleasant to think about but your chances of rejection in all aspects of academia are high. Rejection of a manuscript can be particularly disheartening as it represents a dismissal of months if not years of your hard work. Our main piece of advice is not to do anything hasty. However unfair, pedantic or ridiculous the reasons which “justify” the rejection may initially seem, their bitter sting usually mellows if you take the time to sleep on it (after getting cross and having some comfort food/drink/other activities…). Similarly, don’t ruin your Friday evening/weekend/holiday by obsessively checking your emails for an editor’s response which will more likely than not be negative.

After hopefully returning to a somewhat more rational state, try to take the reviewer’s comments on board. The constructive ones will help you to make a better paper and parts which reviewers didn’t understand are often because you could have clarified your points better. Ultimately, it’s important to be realistic; the chances of rejection of a manuscript are high so be prepared to resubmit elsewhere (think back to our previous advice about working down the list of journals for which you feel your paper is suited). You could even have another version of the paper drafted and formatted for the next journal on your list even before you receive a response from your initial submission. It may take an initial investment in time and energy but at least the next version of the paper is then ready to go if you’re unlucky enough to receive a rejection from your first journal of choice.  The most important advice to emerge from our discussion was to be thick skinned and not to take rejection personally. You can’t publish without experiencing rejection so it’s important to share your experiences (both good and bad) and to listen to the advice and woes others. You’re not alone!

Our final cautionary point was that you don’t necessarily have to accept rejection. If your paper was rejected on the basis of reviews which you think were poor, biased, unfair or just completely off the mark, it might be worth arguing your case with the editor and/or reviewers. HOWEVER, only take up this tactic in exceptional circumstances where you have a VERY strong case to back up your points. If you get a reputation for being petulant, argumentative, obstinate or just downright rude it can only serve to seriously aggravate an editor and damage your future publishing prospects if not your wider research reputation.

3)     Responding to comments

Hooray! You’ve got through the reviewing gauntlet, dodged the cold blow of outright rejection and now there are just a few reviewers’ comments standing between you and potential publication glory. We came up with lots of dos and don’ts for how to deal with reviewers’ comments.

Most importantly, be polite and positive. No one was obliged to review your work so thank the reviewers for their comments and suggestions and consider adding them into the paper’s acknowledgements. Never be aggressive or rude and only write responses which you would be happy to say to a reviewer or editor face to face. Respond to all comments, no matter how trivial they may seem and show that you’re willing to make more changes if necessary. Don’t just ignore the bits that you don’t agree with. Show the editor that you have dealt with every comment by cross referencing the changes you made to the manuscript. To do this, either refer to the revised line numbers or, more preferably, cut and paste the sections that you have modified into your responses so that the editor doesn’t have to keep moving among different pages to check what has been changed.

Being polite and positive doesn’t mean that you have to be a push-over. If you receive a comment which is impractical, beyond the scope of your paper or just downright wrong, argue your point (with legitimate back up) but always retain a courteous tone throughout. If you have to deal with a whole slew of comments which are particularly off the wall or aggravating, ask someone to read your response before sending them to the editor – it’s always easier for someone else to pick up a passive aggressive tone which, despite your best efforts, may have crept into your writing.

If reviewers disagree on a particular point, either justify the changes you have made (don’t just ignore one reviewer’s comment) or your reasons for not making any changes. Don’t feel obliged to do everything that a reviewer suggests. Don’t ruin the flow of your text with awkward sentences which were clearly just inserted to please a particular reviewer. If you have good reasons (not just stubbornness or obstinacy) for sticking to your original ideas then make them clear.  Remember that you can always get in touch with the editor if you get unrealistic or conflicting instructions or if you’re unclear about what you are expected to change.

So there’s our collective field guide to the trials and tribulations of academia. They’re by no means exhaustive but they’re definitely a good starting point. However, as academic publishing seems to require good fortune and timing as much as scientific rigour, research merit and an eye for a good story, there’s no magic formula for how to succeed, no matter how carefully you follow NERD club’s collective wisdom…

Happy publishing!

Author: Sive Finlay, sfinlay[at], @SiveFinlay

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NERD club transferrable skills: academic authorship and journal submissions

phd comics authorship

We rolled out of bed on January 6th, 2014, with the somewhat comforting- but mostly jarring, give-me-a-cup-of-coffee-immediately-inducing- knowledge that the holiday season was over and it was time to get back to our normal schedules.  And that happily means everyone once again gathers for Nerd Club before lunch on Tuesdays.  Aided by left over boxes of Roses, the first Nerd Club meeting of 2014 kicked off with a transferrable skills session discussing the submission of papers and how to cope with the peer review process.  Many of the PhD students in the group (myself included) are working towards our first, first author paper.  It can be a long and discouraging process, so we were eager for advice from our more experienced members.

We wanted to cover four topics; (1) issues of authorship, (2), choosing a journal, (3) choosing and responding to reviewers, and (4) dealing with rejection (sniff!).  I’m going to summarize our discussion on the first two points, which we talk about during week one of this two-week session.

Issues of authorship

  • Who should be included; criteria for authorship

We came up with several ways to determine exactly who should be included as an author on a scientific publication.  A popular method is asking, “could this paper have been completed without his/her contribution?”  A common issue with this method is considering technical support.  A research assistant or undergrad for example may spend hours helping with an experiment; perhaps without them you wouldn’t have completed the work.  If there was no intellectual contribution however, some argued there may be grounds for excluding such a person as an author.  A similar question one can ask is, “has the paper been made materially better by the person?”  Again, you run into the same problem; what about editors, and how much exactly does someone need to contribute to qualify?  One extreme view is that you should refuse authorship on a paper unless you feel you could give a talk about it.  While this is a great goal to aspire too, there was some controversy in the room on the feasibility; what if you did a substantial amount of modeling for a paper and without your contribution it would not have been published, but the paper was on an area in which you have little expertise?  You may understand your contribution completely, but that doesn’t mean you’re ready to discuss Type I diabetes or the complexities of insect flight.  In general the group agreed that you should at least be able to discuss the main goals and conclusions of the paper, even if you wouldn’t present it at a conference.  More and more journals (Proceedings B, Science, etc.) are requiring a section listing each author’s contribution, so it’s a good idea to make these decisions early as you will be held accountable for them when you submit.

Another piece of advice that seems to fall under the “who” category is how to decide on the author affiliations listed on the publication.  Usually the affiliations from where the person did the work are the ones that should be included, even if the person has moved on to another job or institution.  It is possible, however, to add a current address so that authors can still be contacted by readers.

Two final piece of advice: first of all, if you’re the first author on a paper, it is probably your responsibility to start this discussion and to make final decisions on who will be included (of course for PhD students it’s going to be necessary to consult your supervisors).  Second, if your name is listed as an author you should at some stage read the entire paper in detail and make helpful comments, not only to improve the quality, but also to ensure you understand the work and conclusions completely.

  • What are the most important names on the list?

I think most of us were aware that there are two important places in that sometimes-long list of authors, first and last.  First author is the person driving the work, who usually claims the most ownership.  The first author will get the most recognition for the paper among the scientific community as well.  Some journals allow co-first authors, however someone’s name will have to be placed first on the list.  When I read a paper, if there are more than two authors I almost always remember only the first, and I’m not alone.

The last author is considered the senior author, the person who likely received the funding to do the work and who probably leads the lab or research group the first author is working in.  Surprisingly to some of us, it is possible in some journals to have co-senior authors as well.

Finally, the corresponding author is the person who will physically submit the paper and is responsible for responding to reviewer’s comments.  They are also the one to contact if someone has a question about the work.  Overall we decided that corresponding author singles one of the people on the list out, but it doesn’t really distinguish them in any other way.  

  • When to discuss it and make changes?

The consensus from our group was that yes, issues of authorship can sometimes be awkward and complicated, but it is important to have conversations about it early and often with your collaborators.  Otherwise a slightly uncomfortable situation can turn downright ugly, and can cause rifts between research groups and partners.  So, to avoid discomfort, talk about authorship as soon as possible and throughout the writing process.

We also discussed adding and removing people from your author list.  It is usually fine to add an author at almost any stage, so long as you feel their contribution was worth authorship.  Removing an author at almost any stage is usually uncomfortable.  Because of this, if you’re in a situation where you feel you did not contribute enough to a paper to be an author, it is best practice to ask to have yourself removed.  If your coauthors refuse, then at least you can publish with a guilt-free conscious.  Of course if at any stage you don’t agree with what is said in a publication or you feel something unethical or unscientific was done, you have the right to insist that your name be removed.  Never publish anything you don’t believe in or agree with!

  • Where in the list your name appears; highlighting your research

A really useful piece of advice: if you find yourself in the middle of a long author list-but you know you’ve contributed in a significant way to a paper- don’t be afraid to star or highlight this on your CV.  It’s really important to show future employers that you had a meaningful role in the process, and to highlight you skills.

Choosing a journal

After a rather lengthy discussion about authorship, we had a little time left to talk about how to choose a journal for your publications.  We did come up with some helpful methods and tips.  First, your paper must obviously fit the aims and scope of a journal.  Second, you can choose a journal based on its readership- will your research get to the people you want or the people that will care about your work?  We thought that in an age where people rarely if ever sit down with a physical journal or magazine, this isn’t always the best way to go (although perhaps you can choose by who you think will receive the table of contents in their email box!)  Third, some choose by the impact factor of the journal, a perhaps less idealistic but more realistic view of the process.  Yet another method is looking at where most of your citations came from, and trying to submit to that journal.  And finally there are practical reasons to choose a journal such as word count or number of figures allowed.

There were two pieces of advice I found particularly helpful in this discussion.  First, consider having a list of possible publications you would submit to, in the order you would attempt, before writing.  It can be soul crushing to write a beautiful paper for Biology Letters, with its strict structure and word count, only to be rejected and required to completely rewrite a draft for a different journal.  Perhaps you have the time to do this, but if it’s the final year of your PhD that may be a poor idea.  Finally, when constructing said list, have the top 20 journals in your subject(s) printed out, and highlight the ones you tend to like to make the choices easier.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, where we will summarize our discussion on choosing and dealing with reviewers and dealing with rejection- a topic we’re all sure to face throughout our scientific careers.

Author: Erin Jo Tiedeken, tiedekee[at], @EJTiedeken

Image Source: phdcomics


NERDclub trophy

And we’re back!

The tea room is fuller, society stands are being dusted down to create the Front Square Fresher’s week gauntlet and venturing out of the office during the lecture change-over times will soon be inadvisable unless you have a particular affiliation for crowd control. Trinity is gearing up for the new semester and our blog has returned from its summer hiatus.

We marked the end of the summer with NERD club’s first annual AGM. Theoretically an acronym for our networks in ecology/evolution research discussion group but practically far more appropriate if you take the true sense of the word, NERD club is our weekly meeting for people working on any aspect of ecology or evolution. It’s a diverse collection of people and certainly one of my favourite times of the week as, fuelled by the necessary provision of biscuits, we discuss each other’s research or wider topics relating to academic research and scientific careers. It is also the origination of many of our previous and, I’m sure, future blog posts.

The AGM rounded off a very successful year for NERD club’s members. Between us we attended and presented our research at 19 different conferences or workshops, received 4 new grants and produced 28 new papers, one of which was a collaborative effort arising from a NERD club discussion. We also contributed to an eclectic mix of science communication and outreach projects including radio and television interviews, blog and magazine articles and guided tours of the Zoology museum. We came up with plenty of new topics for discussion and teaching sessions along with ideas for future collaborations so I’m sure the year ahead will be equally if not more interesting.

Our NERD club awards were a fitting conclusion to a great year. Here’s the honour roll!

1)      Best NERD club session of the year: Erin Jo for her research on toxic nectar and bees.

Best NERD club session: Erin Jo Tiedeken
Best NERD club session: Erin Jo Tiedeken

2)      Best blog post of the year: Deirdre for her advice on coping with cuteness overload. 

Best blog post: Deirdre McClean
Best blog post: Deirdre McClean

3)      Best blog post pun: Keith for Apocalypse Meow! 

Best blog post pun: Keith McMahon
Best blog post pun: Keith McMahon

4)      Cutest study species: Sive for tremendous tenrecs (an unfair advantage when you consider that I study these!

Cutest study species: Sive Finlay
Cutest study species: Sive Finlay

5)      Most annoying PI, aka the devil’s advocate: A draw between Natalie, Andrew and Ian.

Devil's advocates: Andrew Jackson, Natalie Cooper, Ian Donohue
Devil’s advocates: Andrew Jackson, Natalie Cooper, Ian Donohue

6)      Best threesis video: Thomas, for explaining phylogenies by means of baking

Best threesis video: Thomas Guillerme
Best threesis video: Thomas Guillerme


Sive Finlay: sfinlay[at]


Photo credits:

Natalie Cooper

The 12 days of NERD club

NERD club, for the uninitiated, is a weekly meeting of the Networks in Ecology/Evolution Research Cluster Dynamic of the School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin. We present and discuss our research and also general aspects of academia such as science communication, job hunting and using twitter. The members include interns, PhD students, postdocs and both junior and senior faculty, so it’s always full of interesting research and heated debate! Essentially, it’s my favourite hour of the week, so as it’s the festive season and I’m in a festive mood, I decided to write a Christmas song for NERD club.

It’s to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas. It’s also not very good, but I had time to fill on the train…

“On the 1st day of Christmas the NERD club gave to me…

parasites in a fractal stomach

On the 2nd day of Christmas the NERD club gave to me…

curious bluetits

and parasites in a fractal stomach

On the 3rd day of Christmas the NERD club gave to me…

debates about twitter

curious bluetits

and parasites in a fractal stomach

 [And so on until]

On the 12th day of Christmas the NERD club gave to me…

a million chocolate fingers

specialist pollinators

ecological stability

mixed effects models

test tubes full of glitter

cryptic flowerpeckers

bats living longer

poisoned honey-bees

news on seminars

debates about twitter

curious bluetits

and parasites in a fractal stomach!”

Merry Christmas everyone! See you in the New Year (provided I survive the hippos – see Keith’s hippo-critical post last week).

Natalie Cooper


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons