first big-girl paper!

In case you missed my facebook/twitter/researchgate/everything blitz, I finally published my first first-authored paper! It is in Oecologia, a good general ecology journal. I’m really happy and proud of myself, and a number of people have told me that this paper you’ll be happiest and most satisfied to publish, ever. I’m certainly enjoying the new addition to my CV.

Here’s a link to the paper, and here’s an abstract:

“Alpine plant communities are predicted to face range shifts and possibly extinctions with climate change. Fine-scale environmental variation such as nutrient availability or snowmelt timing may contribute to the ability of plant species to persist locally; however, variation in nutrient availability in alpine landscapes is largely unmeasured. On three mountains around Davos, Switzerland, we deployed Plant Root Simulator probes around 58 Salix herbacea plants along an elevational and microhabitat gradient to measure nutrient availability during the first 5 weeks of the summer growing season, and used in situ temperature loggers and observational data to determine date of spring snowmelt. We also visited the plants weekly to assess performance, as measured by stem number, fruiting, and herbivory damage. We found a wide snowmelt gradient which determined growing season length, as well as variations of an order of magnitude or more in the accumulation of 12 nutrients between different microhabitats. Higher nutrient availability had negative effects on most shrub performance metrics, for instance decreasing stem number and the proportion of stems producing fruits. High nutrient availability was associated with increased herbivory damage in early-melting microhabitats, but among late-emerging plants this pattern was reversed. We demonstrate that nutrient availability is highly variable in alpine settings, and that it strongly influences performance in an alpine dwarf shrub, sometimes modifying the response of shrubs to snowmelt timing. As the climate warms and human-induced nitrogen deposition continues in the Alps, these factors may contribute to patterns of local plants persistence.”

DSCN0427

new paper.

A new paper I co-authored with my masters supervisor Juha Alatalo is out in Scientific Reports (he’s the first author, but my day is coming soon! stay tuned in the next few months!). It’s called “Vascular plant abundance and diversity in an alpine heath under observed and simulated global change.” Because SR is open access, you can read it! Click here for the PDF.

It’s based on an old dataset from Latnjajaure, Sweden, which I analyzed as part of a 15-credit “research training” course in my masters. I only later had the chance to spend a few weeks at the Latnja field station, and it was absolutely one of the most beautiful places I’ll ever have the chance to do fieldwork. Getting this email that the paper was published made me think back on my summer experience there! Here’s a few photos to get you in the mood.

IMGP6421

IMGP6385

IMGP6460

IMGP6485

foxspotting.

A week ago I was walking home late at night after catching the last tram from the central station. I had been at a friend’s house playing board games, talking science, and mulling over the ideal level of involvement by a PhD supervisor. We drank quite a bit of red wine.

As I padded up Restelbergstrasse, what I thought was a large cat walked across the road. Then it lay down in the grass between the street and a parking lot.

It wasn’t a cat. It was a fox. There were two of them: one stood on the far side of the parking lot, its dark coat almost completely blending in to the inky night. Without the nearby street lamp to partially illuminate the parking lot, I might not have noticed it.

A week ago I was walking home late at night after catching the last tram from the central station. I had been at a friend’s house playing board games, talking science, and mulling over the ideal level of involvement by a PhD supervisor. We drank quite a bit of red wine.

As I padded up Restelbergstrasse, what I thought was a large cat walked across the road. Then it lay down in the grass between the street and a parking lot.

It wasn’t a cat. It was a fox. There were two of them: one stood on the far side of the parking lot, its dark coat almost completely blending in to the inky night. Without the nearby street lamp to partially illuminate the parking lot, I might not have noticed it.

I watched the lying-down fox for a moment, then slowly reached to pull out my phone. I wanted to take a picture of this wildlife in my neighborhood. But my hand movement was too disruptive, and the fox hopped up, turned around, and jogged to the other side of the parking lot. From there it watched me.

I stood for five minutes on the sidewalk, looking across the parking lot at this fox. We stared each other down. Mentally I willed it to come closer, but no surprise, the fox was stronger. As the bell in the square rang 12:30, I walked up the street and home to my bed.

The larger Zurich metropolitan area has over a million people, and I thought it was very cool that I had seen foxes just trotting in between people’s houses, through their yards, past their driveways. There are many foxes around our farm in New Hampshire, but we rarely see them. It seems notable when you do.

But after a bit of research, I found that my experience wasn’t unique at all.

“The urban fox population is on the rise in Switzerland,” SwissInfo reported in 2011, complete with adorable pictures of foxes in yards. As of that writing, there were about 1,200 foxes in Zurich.

Shows what I know, as a country bumpkin: I thought that wildlife belonged to rural areas. Sure, there’s lots of birds and biodiversity even in urban areas, but foxes?

In 2002, a PhD student from my department wrote a five-manuscript dissertation about the foxes of Zurich. You can skim the whole thing here. It’s fascinating: it appears that there is a clear separation between urban and rural foxes, even when foxes living in rural settings on the outskirts of Zurich could easily shift their ranges into the city. In Zurich, as of 2002, Sandra Gloor found a density of ~10-11 foxes per square kilometer. To avoid contact with humans (i.e., me walking home drunk at night), the foxes used urban parks and cemeteries mostly during the early part of the night, then ventured into residential neighborhoods in the second half of the night, when people were more scarce; during the day, the rest in parks, cemeteries, and fallow land on the outskirts of the city.

Foxes only moved into the city proper in the mid-80s in any large numbers. It’s a phenomenon that has happened all over the world: London has more than 10,000 urban foxes and a significant amount of human-fox conflict.

I like our Zurich foxes, though. It reminds me that wherever you go, there’s a little more nature than you might suspect, and that animals are highly adaptable.

(P.S. Are you a fan of foxes? Check out my friend Jean’s artwork at WildLines Studio, and you can buy beautiful prints like this one of a jumping red fox.)

open access for who?

IMG_1090Beautiful Uppsala.

A lot has been written about the push for open access publishing in academia. In case you’re not familiar with it, it means publishing in journals where content is available, free of charge, online, to everyone. This is very different than the traditional journal model, where libraries pay exorbitant fees to publishers for access to the journals, and if you aren’t working through one of those libraries you will hit a paywall where access to a single article is likely to cost $30-45 if not more.

In a lot of ways I feel like I can’t add much: it’s a great idea, it helps science be more accessible, it often helps data be more accessible, it opens the conversation. It’s another high cost, borne to authors instead of to libraries. It’s confusing how the journals make all the money no matter what way we publish.

I fully support the idea of open access, and most of my papers so far have been published in open-access journals. That includes one, about climate change effects on a seemingly unassuming (but actually ecologically and reproductively fascinating) arctic/alpine cushion plant, Silene acaulis. That paper went on to be one of the most highly-accessed articles on the Springer’s catch-all open access journal, SpringerPlus. To date it has over 4,000 accesses, according to the article metrics. Would this have been more if it were published in a different journal? I have no idea, but it is much more popular than I had expected.

Based partly on this positive experience, my masters supervisor (Juha Alatalo) and I decided to publish in primarily open-access journals. (I did not make the same decision about my other work, and have a different manuscript based on my research in Davos submitted at a traditional journal.) Which brings me to the unique question I have: how do I pay for it?

In traditional journals, there might not be a fee to get a manuscript published. There might be, but more likely (at least in the better journals) there is a fee for color figure printing, or perhaps a per-page fee. In open access, that goes out the window. Because journals can’t charge libraries fees to access these manuscripts, instead they charge the authors. Fees usually run greater than $1000, sometimes up to $3000.

Some departments and lab groups work this into their budgets. Some researchers also include a category on their grant applications to cover publication fees. However, some funding agencies also explicitly do not pay for publication fees. If you are a researcher in between grants, money might be tight. Or, like me, you might be a graduate student working to publish your first first-authored paper. It would take more than a month’s worth of my masters scholarship payment just to pay the open access fees. And, like me, you might work in a small lab group that does not have additional funding to easily cover these sorts of things.

I looked around and found that many universities (not all, but a chunk of the R1 schools in the U.S.) have special funds to cover open-access publishing. Just via google, here are a few examples: Harvard; University of Calgary; Cornell; University of Arizona.

The University of Heidelberg in Germany has a funny way of describing the rationale for their fund: “Heidelberg University supports researchers who are willing to publish articles in open access journals with a publishing fund to cover article processing charges.” Are willing. As if it’s some burden.

PLoS One even has a list of universities which have funds to cover PLoS (a journal consortium which stands for Public Library of Science) publishing. That’s really nice on first read, but then you think about it more and it seems less “open”: the publishing house itself is referring people to ways to convince third parties to pay the publishing house.

It also, and I am being petty and jealous here, makes it much easier for some researchers to publish in open access journals than others. The university where I did my masters, Uppsala University in Sweden, does not have such a fund. During the time when I wrote the paper I am seeking to publish, I was supported only by a small scholarship from my masters program. I received no funding from my supervisor or his lab. It’s not like I have leftover grant money with which I can pay publication fees.

Being in Sweden, home of Pirate Bay and the Pirate Party, Uppsala of course loves the idea of making science publicly available. Sweden has a program, OpenAccess.se, which promotes open access. Trolling through the Uppsala library archives, I am unable to find any evidence of funding to cover open access fees, but I did find a powerpoint presentation which stated, awkwardly, that there was at the moment no available funding to cover these expenses even though they really would like researchers to publish open-access.

Instead, Uppsala has a database called DiVA, which they call an open-access repository. This type of “repository” is listed as one of the main goals of OpenAccess.se. Up until recently, students were required to submit their theses to DiVA, so that they could be read by all; departments then realized that actually, if a student tried to then publish some part of that thesis, the journals might balk since it had already actually been published. When I finished my masters, we were first told to submit our theses, and then told not to because the university had to sort out some legal issues.

There are also published articles in DiVA, and researchers are encouraged to upload their work which is published in journals. There are a few problems with this: copyright on journal articles is complex, and you aren’t necessarily allowed to “make” an article open access by posting it online. The journal owns the copyright, even if you own the data. As such, there are not so many full-text articles in DiVA. If I do a keyword search for the major ecological concept I am studying in my PhD, dendritic networks, nothing comes up. If I search for “dendritic”, I get some clinical medicine articles.

And DiVA is Uppsala’s crowning library achievement, in some sense. It is heavily promoted within the university, and touted as their contribution to open access.

(It also has other functions. “All publications by researchers and staff at Uppsala University should be registered in DiVA,” the FAQ reads. “The reason for this is to produce a complete picture of what is being published by staff at the university. In addition departments can use this information to facilitate the evaluation and distribution of funds.” There are many records of publications which do not have the actual full-text articles attached to them.)

It’s pretty clear that while DiVA might be useful for many applications, it is not the same thing as an open-access journal. And if you want your work to be accessed by all, Uppsala – consistently ranked in the top 100 universities in the world, and the second-best in Sweden – is not going to help you.

Here’s another example of how I’m stuck: the Ecological Society of America, which publishes multiple highly-regarded journals, waives page fees (for the first 15 pages per year, at least) for members who lack grant money, for its flagship publications Ecology, Ecological Applications, and Ecological Monographs. For their open-access journal Ecosphere, members get a reduced price for publication: $1250 instead of $1500. There are no grant funds available to further cover costs for researchers who lack grant money.

And so, I’d like to ask: open access publishing is frequently discussed in very idealistic terms, with lofty goals for the future. But is it so egalitarian? If you lack funding, for instance if you are early in your career – not coincidentally the point where open access to your work might be extremely beneficial – there seems to be a clear message: open access is not for you. Finding a broader audience for your publication might be unattainable, as is your hope of sharing knowledge with all.

kafka’s trial in zurich.

On Tuesday I was reduced to tears at my desk. Not, like, bawling, but a few tears gently running down my cheek. Dejected. Hopeless. I was sitting with my head in my hands when Roman, the other PhD student in my lab group and one of the two other people I share an office with, walked in. I also had earbuds in, listening to a podcast as I checked my e-mail, so at first I didn’t notice him.

“Good morning!” he said, his normal cheery self.

“Oh… um… hi,” I replied or something like that.

At some point in the next few minutes, after I had surreptitiously wiped the tears from my face, I turned my chair around and asked him, “have you enrolled in the MNF yet?” I’m sure my eyes were wild, although I’m unsure whether he could tell that my voice was cracking. I was gesticulating like a madwoman (mad scientist?) with my hands as I complained about my latest frustration.

He soon left to go do some labwork. Whether the labwork was really urgent or I was just too crazy to put up with at 8:30 a.m., I will never know.

What could be driving me so mad? The answer might surprise you. It’s enrolling in a PhD program at the University of Zurich.

Wait wait wait, you might say. But you’re already doing your PhD! You have been there for six weeks! Your supervisor offered you a position in June, and you were accepted into the PhD program then! Yes. That is true. But I am still not an official student in the faculty of natural sciences (MNF).

What I’ve been through, and I guess every other student as well, is a labyrinthine process involving at least three different parts of the university, none of which communicate with each other. It involves well over a dozen different documents, some of which I need to have in both original form and certified copies. It involves repeated fees, document delivery only accepted in person, the list goes on.

The worst thing about the process is that, through all of the different steps, you don’t actually know how many steps come afterwards or what they entail. Repeatedly, I have thought, “yes! The last thing, check!” only to, days later, receive an e-mail with a whole new list of requirements.

It’s bad enough for Swiss students – even then it commonly takes three months to enroll – but it’s really terrible for non-Swiss.

I began the application process well before I ever left the U.S. to go to Switzerland. My supervisor had accepted me, and I had also interviewed with a second faculty member of the department to ensure that I wasn’t pulling one over on the first interviewer. The head of the PhD program had already signed my acceptance letter and sent it to the university admissions office. (It was the only time in this entire process that someone from one part of the university would directly send a relevant document to another part of the university.)

From the U.S., I first had to pay a 100 franc fee to apply to the university. I also sent them, certified international mail, the following:

1. CV

2. Copy of a my passport

3. A copy of my high school diploma, certified by a U.S. notary

4. A copy of my bachelors diploma from Dartmouth, likewise certified by a U.S. notary, who found this process bewildering

5. My Dartmouth transcript is in a sealed envelope stamped with the seal of the registrar’s offic

6. A transcript from my masters coursework at Université Montpellier II in France. This was the physical piece of paper that was sent to me by UM2 – I sent them the only copy – but it was later rejected by the University of Zurich for not being “official” enough.

7. A description, including the number of credits, the goals of the course, the homework and projects and lengths and methods of the exams, of every course I took during my masters degree at three separate universities. I assembled this myself from different parts of the various universities’ websites.

8. A description of my masters program including contacts for the program administrator and the coordinators at each individual university.

9. My masters thesis from Uppsala University on a CD (a CD! They wanted it on a CD!).

I also had two of the universities send them materials directly: Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich mailed them an official transcript, and Uppsala University mailed them an official transcript as well as an official copy of my masters diploma.

It took me more than an entire working day to find, assemble, notarize, etc this packet of documents.

After this, I spent a good two weeks in jeopardy because documents from France were insufficiently official. Also, I did a dual-degree program and I had only yet received my diploma from Uppsala. France takes over a year to print diplomas after a student has finished their degree; it was simply impossible to get one. Despite the fact that I did, in fact, have my Uppsala diploma, I was told I could not enroll until I also had the diploma from France because it was the only way to prove I had finished my work there. It was an impasse: Switzerland required France’s information; France declared it completely impossible.

Luckily, my masters program coordinators talked directly to the admissions office and this was eventually solved, although not without a lot of time and stress.

I also had to submit two or three documents signed by both me and my supervisor, which I obviously could not do until I arrive in Zurich. After I had arrived and submitted those forms, it still took them weeks to process my applications. A month or so after I started work at Eawag, I finally received an email that I had been accepted by the university. Yay!

All I had to do, the email told me, was come to the admissions office with the enclosed letter and my original diplomas.

Wait…. what? Yes. Even though I had gone to considerable inconvenience to have certified copies of everything made, this was only sufficient for acceptance, not enrollment. They had to see the actual originals. Gee, I wish someone had told me that before, because I hadn’t brought my high school diploma with me from the U.S. (“why would I need my high school diploma?” I had thought naively).

I was in the unusual position of having graduated from an Ivy League college, finished a masters degree from a university ranked in the top 100 in the world, and now I was not being accepted to start a PhD unless I could prove I had completed high school.

(I warned my friend Lore, who just starting this whole process and will arrive and start her PhD in January, about the original-documents requirement. Her reaction: “Omg, thank you for telling me… This is a huge pain in the ass.” Yes it is. She is from Mexico and reports that a high school diploma is not a thing that exists where she is from.)

I negotiated that I could continue the enrollment process if I swore, cross my heart and hope to die, that I would bring the original diploma back with me after Christmas. I still had to go to the admissions office in person though.

…. but then I couldn’t get my student card or official enrollment letter for the semester, which I also had to do in person, until I had paid my semester fees. So I went home, paid the bill online, and then went back to the same university building two days later. (I work 30-40 minutes away, each way, by public transportation, at a federal research institute in Dübendorf.)

Finally, I was through at the main university and I could focus on enrolling as a doctoral student at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, which somehow is a completely separate and not integrated process (?). I did their online application form. Several days went by.

And then it was Tuesday. I arrived at work and opened my email. This is what I found.

“Dear Ms Little

You have submitted your online registration for the Doctorate Studies. Please complete the enclosed form “Registration for Doctorate Studies”, which must be signed by you and the responsible professor with right to supervise dissertation work (rP). Return the completed form along with all the required documents at the Office of the Dean of Studies within the next day.

Thank you.

Required Documents:

– Copy of your Diploma / Master Degree
– Copy of recognition confirmation for non-Swiss degree
– CV
– Copy of PersID/Passport
– Copy of Acceptance letter for the chosen Phd Program

Important: The name on the certificate and the thesis must agree with the matriculation data. Only the matriculation data of the University is relevant in this case. Changes/additions are only possible while you are matriculated regularly at the University.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact us.

With kind regards

The office of the Dean of Studies
Promotion”

It’s hard to specific part of the letter which reduced me to tears. Maybe it was that every document requested was either something I had already submitted to the university (copy of masters diploma, CV, copy of passport, admission letter to PhD program), a document from the university itself, which the MNF is part of, or a document from my PhD program, which is a part of the MNF. Really? They can’t talk to each other? Proof that I am accepted by the main university does not mean that the main university checked those same documents and approved them? Do different arms of the university distrust each other that much?

Maybe it was that the enclosed form had to be signed by my supervisor, who was away for the week at a conference.

Or maybe it was that after stringing me along for several months, including several days by this specific department, they requested everything to be done “within the next day”. With kind regards, screw you.

I’m a rules follower. I am not trying to make trouble. At repeated points in this process, I looked up on the university’s website what I would need to do or submit, and nowhere, anywhere, could I find an overview of this entire process. There’s literally no place where all of these documents and steps are listed. Even the most prepared and organized applicant would find it virtually impossible to prepare for the process.

The feeling of not being in control of your own situation – I need to take a class in January and, of course, cannot sign up for it until I am officially enrolled as a student – is incredibly frustrating and debilitating. It goes on and on and on.

I’m still not enrolled in the faculty. I’m hopeful that next week when my supervisor is back, I can submit everything (in person, of course, the only way accepted). Who know what other steps await me or how long it will take them to approve my application.

I’d really like, sometime, to have a week where I can focus on science for an entire week. You know, the thing I’m here to do.

up by the bootstraps.

IMG_0695

Amid the recent economic downturn, there has been a lot of criticism of my generation. We say we have no jobs? Well, we’re lazy; we expect everything to be handed to us; we don’t plan for the future and then complain when the future is not good. That’s why we don’t have jobs. One common refrain is “well you should have majored in a STEM field, not the humanities, and you’d have a reliable job.”

It’s certainly true that there are jobs in the STEM fields. It’s true that a degree in biology, for instance, teaches you skills like data management and statistics which may be transferable to normal jobs. Recent census data shows that only 1 in 4 people with a bachelors degree in a STEM field go on to a job in those fields. So: there aren’t that many jobs available, actually. Good luck getting one. (Also, no shock here, most of the people who do get these jobs are men.)

It’s also interesting to hear people’s reactions when I say that I am about to start a PhD program. Getting a PhD is still so respected, so mythical: people tell me that they could never imagine receiving a PhD offer, much less doing the work to get the degree. Maybe I’ll learn otherwise, but I disagree. Do you have to be smart? Yes. Do you have to have done good work in your career up to this point? Yes. But in my mind, the biggest challenge to a long-term research degree is working really hard, working long hours, and staying motivated when there is no end in sight and things aren’t going well. It can be a very discouraging slog; many people hate their PhD project by the time they finish.

But more and more people are finishing. More and more degrees are being handed out. According to the NSF, the number of doctorates awarded increases by 3.4% annually. Clearly, achieving this is not an impossible feat: it just takes a lot of sacrifices and hard work.

Hard work is something I’m good at. That’s why I feel comfortable taking on a PhD. I think I can muscle my way through. But will it matter, in the long run?

For people in our grandparents’ generation, becoming a college professor was a good, secure, respected life. By no means easy or necessarily affluent, but solidly middle-class. Things have changed. In 1969, 78% of faculty positions were tenure-track; today that number has dipped to just 33%. The good jobs are disappearing. There are three times as many part-time faculty jobs as there were then, and reports of adjunct professors who have to work at multiple schools to pay the bills, or go on food stamps. Obviously it’s not like that for every person, but it’s not good.

So once you have gotten a doctorate, the future is really no clearer or more rosy than it was before. Friends and family might consider the achievement some sort of pinnacle or achievement; the labor market might not agree.  The same NSF report states,

“The proportion of doctorate recipients with definite commitments for employment or postdoctoral (postdoc) study fell in 2012 for life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering, the third consecutive year of decline in these fields. In every broad science and engineering (S&E) field, the proportion of 2012 doctorate recipients who reported definite commitments for employment or postdoc study was at or near the lowest level of the past 10 years, 2 to 11 percentage points lower than the proportion of 2002 doctorate recipients reporting such commitments.”

Only 2/3 of PhD recipients in science fields had definite employment commitments after graduation, in 2012; this was lower (closer to 60%) for life sciences, my field, than for others. If you want to stay in academia the costs are high, as a post-doctoral position earns less than half the average salary of an industry job.

I’m still not sure if I want to go down this road all the way, to become a PI (Principal Investigator: usually a professor, someone who gets a grant is in charge of a research project). But it’s clear to me that if I do, it will be challenging. I’m confident in my ability to finish a PhD, do good work, and continue to publish papers. But is this good enough to be able to have the type of life that I eventually want to have? Being smart is not enough to guarantee a professorship.

The journal/magazine Science recently made a widget for young career scientists to figure out what their chances are of becoming a PI. I filled in the information on a whim. I feel like I’m doing pretty well compared to many people at a similar point in their masters; I have a lot of research experience both in my masters and as a technician, I have a few papers published, I have made connections. I have applied for and received my own grant funding, something which is rare for students of my cohort.

Even if I don’t become a PI (or don’t want to become a PI), I think of other dream jobs – “reach goals” – and imagine that they might have similar requirements. Want to get a National Geographic Explorers Grant? Work for a nonprofit nature research group you admire in a cool part of the world? In order to choose your own future, you need to be pretty much a badass.

So I was discouraged when I saw this.

current

I’m a girl, so lucky me, I’m sitting at 6% with my chance of becoming a PI.

I have written, maybe on this blog or maybe just on facebook, about why there are fewer women in science. There are more women in the life sciences, actually, than men, at early career stages. But that changes over time. There was a great article about why in the New York Times last fall. Read it. But regardless, I’m pissed: it’s not fair that I’m down at 6% while the boys are so much higher.

6%!? With all the hard work I’ve already put it? It felt like an insult.

The cool thing about the widget is that you can toggle the different variables and see how the line changes. The most important thing, it seems, is the number of first-author publications you have. I began thinking about what I could change in the next year. I will move universities to a more prestigious one and start a PhD program. But hopefully, I’ll also publish more. Publication is a long process, so the odds that anything from my work this summer is published by Christmas is zero. There’s hope though. We have one paper in review which has actually come back from reviewers and is sitting on the editor’s desk: hopefully, with revisions, they will take it. I have two other papers in progress where drafts are already being circulated among co-authors. On those two, I would be first author – the coveted position which I haven’t occupied so far.

The thing that makes a difference.

If all goes well, by the end of the year my chances could look more like this.

goal by the end of September

So I have to get to work. And that’s science, for you: there is no relaxing. You’re in the field in a remote location? Doesn’t matter. You have to be working on papers. Haven’t seen your family in months? Too bad, keep working on papers. On vacation? Keep working on papers.

That’s the future I maybe have to look forward to – if I’m lucky and make it through.

I knew that it was tough to become a PI. Over the last decade, getting a tenure-track job is no longer the most common outcome for PhD recipients (and to be clear, I don’t mean the most common immediate outcome: I mean, outcome at all, even after one or a few postdoctoral positions). In the biological sciences, only 8% of PhDs receive a tenure-track job within 5 years of getting their doctorate.

If you get a postdoc, the future isn’t much better. 10% of postdocs are unemployed: that’s actually higher than our country’s unemployment rate. In 2012, 20% of postdocs were handed a faculty position.

There are many pros and cons to getting a faculty position, or a tenure-track one, at that. I’m years away from deciding if that’s right for me. But the knowledge that despite everything I’m doing, I might not be able to? It’s frustrating. It motivates me to work harder, but also to hate the system a little bit.

I have pride in the work that I do. I’m not asking anyone to hand anything to me. What irks me is that for myself and the many very talented, motivated students I work with, our work is not valued.

I hate being told I can’t do something, when I know that if I was just given a chance, I’d hit the ball out of the park.

It’s the worst feeling.

Science today is not the same as science used to be.

***

On a final strange yet amusing note, here’s a predatory publishing e-mail I received today! Good for some laughs – until you think that people fall for this scheme. The paper they are asking about has already been published in an established journal, downloaded hundreds of times, and has copyright. So, nope, I’m not interested in paying you to publish it in paperback…. just no.

I guess to one extent, you know you’ve made it when you start receiving predatory publishing e-mails.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 2.01.06 PM

on top of the world!

IMG_0460

I’m in Davos, and I’m on top of the world! Okay, not quite literally, I’m not on top of the biggest mountain here and the mountains here certainly aren’t the biggest in Switzerland. But I’m on top of something, and I can see quite far, and thankgodI’mbackinthemountains.

IMG_0445

But also… I feel emotionally like I’m on top of the world. I have an exciting announcement: I’ve been accepted to do a PhD at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. I will be working in the lab of Dr. Florian Altermatt, which I’m really looking forward to. My project on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning using a meta-ecosystem framework will be fun and challenging. I’ll have to learn a lot! Already, I know that I will need to learn to identify and work with amphipods, small crustaceans which will serve as our main study taxa, and how to set up mesocosm experiments. There’s also talk of using stable isotopes to track carbon and other fluxes through ecosystems, which I’m excited to tackle. I was at Eawag on Thursday for a visit and interview, and I think that it will be great group to work with. A lot of smart people but all really friendly and, most importantly, everyone seemed very happy. That’s something important when you are deciding whether to make a 3-year commitment!

I’m really relieved to have my future worked out a little bit and to think that I won’t be unemployed once I finish my masters. I’m looking forward to settling down in one place for 3 years – I want to continue traveling and having adventures, but I haven’t felt like I have had a home base to come back to in my time in Europe so far, so that will be a very welcome change. I can have a few more belongings than fit into one suitcase, and hopefully my road bike too. I never realized how much I would look forward to a little bit of stability.

And, I’m excited to be at Eawag for a few more reasons. It is a very amazing research institute, highly respected and covering all aspects of freshwater research, not only ecology but also more applied things. For instance, on the news page you can find, in close proximity, an announcement of Dr. Altermatt getting the big grant which will fund my project; “Combining the best of both toilet worlds“; “Cocktail of pesticides in Swiss rivers“; and a notice about extending the wastewater treatment plant. I think that working in a place which has multiple fields of focus will be a great opportunity and hopefully make my research more dynamic. It’s great to think of being able to check ideas with people looking at other aspects of river ecosystems. And, because of their focus on sustainability, the main building is the amazing Forum Chriesbach which is built from a lot of prototype materials, harvests rainwater for the bathrooms, and is so energy-efficient that it doesn’t have a heating or cooling system!!

Finally, my degree will be through University of Zurich, which is also pretty cool. While I was in town for the interview I stayed with my friend Timothée and visited the campus and his lab. There is a lot of very cool research going on there, and in general, Zurich is an amazing academic environment. There’s also ETH Zurich, the Swiss university, and the two institutions collaborate on seminars and courses. It is going to be a very stimulating few years.

So, I have a lot of joy in my life right now. For the weekend, I’m focusing on tying up some loose ends and spending a bit of time in the mountains which I have missed so dearly.

IMG_0449

IMG_0455