It is frustrating to feel so impotent in the face of terrible political news every day. The Government shutdown fostered by our President and Senate Majority Leader is affecting many colleagues and friends right now, some of whom are applying for unemployment while their (our!) science suffers. I show up to work every day just trying to nudge a few facts forward, trying to get some of it out there for the world to know more. But, it can be hard to stay mindful of these goals, and the goals of my colleagues, when there is such turmoil caused by ignorance and greed.
To my colleagues in other nations, yes: we are worried. We are doing what we know how to do.

Happy new year...

I found just enough downtime to update the lab website a bit. Had to update the OS on my desktop computer, which seems to have monkeyed with the old version of RapidWeaver I was using, and once I updated that it helped me learn about some other ways to improve the site. I don't as often post to the blog page but hope to do so more often - in particular, there are times when there are issues relevant to the lab that just can't be encapsulated on Twitter or something as perfunctory as a CV. Hope y'all have a happy new year, with good changes on the horizon.


In recent years I've become very aware of the simple laziness in representing the people that contribute to science. If asked for a quick reference on a topic, many of us will search our mental file cabinets and come up with the resource we were first taught with, which was probably what our mentor was first taught with, which is likely to be authored by a white man. That isn't always true of course; I think much of the recent work that I honor in recent years on how biodiversity will respond to climate change has been spearheaded by fantastic women like Morgan Kelly, Jen Sunday, Sinéad Collins, and more, and it is easy to grab for those references when I'm asked about that topic. But if you look through Foundations of Ecology, for example, there are far too many people who have contributed phenomenal science who simply won't see themselves represented.

For every time we reach into our memory bank and come up with the first, easy answer - as likely happened when the membership of WSN was asked a few years ago to think of the most influential marine ecology papers they could think of - how much additional work does it take to think about whether that is the best paper for the need at the time, or was it just the easiest to remember? How often is there an equally good paper that represents biologists who have traditionally been under-represented in our teaching, in our histories of societies? How much extra effort does one have to put in to provide that representation, so that - especially as an instructor or mentor - we provide the scaffolding for women, people of color, and other under-represented diversity to see themselves reflected in the leaders of our field?

That's the question I've been asking myself as I teach for the past couple of years, with my primary loads being a graduate class in molecular ecology and a non-majors organismal biology class. In both cases, I've taught each class twice now. In all 4 instances, there have been more women than men in the classroom, and I'd estimate that a quarter of the students have been people of color, of all lovely shades and apparent origins. I should note that I'm aware of students who are LGBTQ, and aware of students who are demonstrably neurodiverse; I'm also aware of colleagues and fellow biologists who are LGBTQ and/or neurodiverse, but I never declare this about anybody because of course that is not my damned business to do so. Nevertheless, I pay attention to inclusion of these categories, even if people have no way of knowing.

This doesn't mean I'm as successful at it as I'd like, or that I know it could be improved in a myriad of ways. I'm just reporting on what happens when - each time a published resource needs to be used, or each time a biologist is highlighted for a specific project or for the trajectory of their career (in the case of the non-majors course, I highlight a "biologist of the day" in each class simply to provide visuals of who it is that does biology) - I let my mind think for a few extra seconds about who fits the role I need that day.

Lost a post or two

Hey all, not sure why but one of my posts got lost in this web app, so now it has been a very long time since I updated anything. Oh well. Kind of the least of our world's problems. Expect to hear more from me soon, you 7 people who are paying attention…..


Finally some time to catch my breath at the end of the semester. All the grades are in, I'm setting up a PCR (!), interviewed a prospective student yesterday. Updating the website a little bit so it looks better when I link it to collaborator's pages (and maybe so the prospective student will choose to come to UGA!). And of course following the news.

It can be hard to keep focused with such social and political turmoil around us. I'm trying to keep my focus on my family, our health, and keeping our home functional with some minor renovations over the break. And here in the office/lab, the little bit of Sanger sequencing I'm trying to finish before I leave for a short holiday is to pad the data for a paper I hope to have out to collaborators in January.

Academy Member and founding member of the UGA Genetics Department, Wyatt Anderson, once pointed out that what we should look for in our colleagues is having "a habit of writing". We are scientists, but the science isn't real until it is communicated. The better we can do at having a habit of writing, the more effortless it becomes. Not that there isn't a tremendous amount of headache and woodcrafting to make it all come together, not to mention the diligence of editors and reviewers to make it better. But I find that references, ideas, context, flow from me so much better than they once did. When I was a grad student, a postdoc, I felt like each paragraph was a monument to my ideas mixed with the great work that came before me. Now I realize that the paragraphs aren't about me or my ideas - they are the context that helps other readers, new to the field as well as experienced, figure out why I thought this had to be done, why I worry that there is more to do or to be done differently, and why this information might be useful.

My favorite paper on technical writing, by Gopen and Swan, establishes the need to meet 'reader expectations'. What things are the readers worrying about after each sentence? What keeps them on track? What gets my message across most effectively, and simply?

I can't claim I do that all the time, but I'm better at it for sure. I've tried to convey this to my students, undergrad and grad alike - and I'm always happy when one of them brings their own gifts to the writing and helps me become better through our interaction as well.

A bit of a long ramble, but I'm glad to have so many ways to spread the word of what I think is useful to track in science. This silly blog, my twitter, my publications, my teaching. Even when this job beats me down, it brings me a lot of joy at the same time.