August 12, 2019

So You’re About To…

The objective of this page is to provide links, documents, and advice to guide early career ecologists about possible or actual career actions.

It will always be a work in progress with additions and subtractions over time.

So you’re about to finish your degree?

So you’re about to finish a graduate degree?

General advice:

  • Finishing a degree can be exhilarating and frightening at the same time. You’ve grown accustomed to a schedule, responsibilities, and/or expectations. Now you’re about to embark on an unknown path with yourself at the steering wheel. Below are some general things to think about, specifically imposter syndrome and finding mentors. -Nate

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So you’re considering a career outside of academia?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • It can be scary to contemplate leaving the familiar environment of academia for the unknown of non-ac work.  You’ve probably not received a lot of mentorship on how to do it and there’s a perception that you’re failing, trading your soul, or leaving behind the business of true academic inquiry.  But that does not have to be true! Moving from pure research to consulting and restoration, I’ve found a company that’s strongly driven by scientific questions and I feel a lot closer to the value of my work when I get to see how it makes a direct difference in human impacts on ecosystems.  Plus, there are so many perks like a reliable salary not dependent on my ability to snag highly competitive grants, no pressure to publish or perish, and no guilt when I leave my work behind at 4:30! – Avery
  • Your university’s career center likely has a lot of resources on careers outside of academia and many will offer one-on-one counseling for faculty and staff. They want you to get a job, and they’ve seen it all! -Cari
  • The more I’ve looked into non-academic career options the more impressed I am with what a wide array of possibilities exist. I sort of stumbled into a non-academic job (now a wildlife ecologist for a national conservation organization) but I have loved it. I get to do scientific research on the topics that interest me while having an avenue for sharing it with decision-makers so that my work can influence conservation. There has also been less of the publish-or-perish mentality, which allowed me to maintain some work life balance while raising a young family. – Tim

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So you’re about to apply for a position?

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So you’re about to apply for a postdoc?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • If you’re interested in a career in research and/or teaching, than a postdoc is a good option. Your PhD was a time to get training in your discipline. To continue your training, an ideal postdoc combines your expertise with time/space/funding to expand your knowledge and skill set. Whether it’s a postdoc fellowship proposal of your own design or an application for an advertised postdoc. 
  • You will want to start looking at postdoc advertisements well before you finish your PhD. It can give you an idea of what skills folks are looking for. I used this information to hone my R coding skills before applying to postdocs. It’s also perfectly ok to email folks asking to see if they have postdoc funding and apply to postdocs before your PhD is complete. Just make sure your PI and/or letter writer can confirm that you will finish on time. -Nate
  • Keep in mind that many postdoc fellowship accept applications only 1x per year, so you’ll need to back-calculate from your anticipated defense date when to apply. Discussing postdocs with potential supervisors is also a great way to expand your network. -Cari
  • Consider a postdoc overseas! There are several funding opportunities for postdocs abroad. You can apply to the Marie Curie (EU + Israel), Fulbright (Multiple), Humboldt Fellowship (Germany), Zuckermen Postdoctoral Fellowship (Israel), or even take the NSF Biology Postdoc abroad. Working overseas will broaden your professional network and will introduce you to a new academic culture. -Shelby

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So you’re about to apply for a non-academic research job?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to apply for a non-academic position in education, policy or management?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to apply for a government job?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to apply for a faculty job?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • If you are interviewing for a faculty position and have a partner that will need a spousal accommodation you will need to be very savvy about when and where to disclose that information. I have heard that it is best not to mention it during the interview with anyone who will have a say in how the candidates are ranked (i.e. anyone on the hiring committee). But, since you want to give the university as much time as possible to find an accommodation, you can mention it to the Dean or Dept Chair and provide them with your partner’s CV/research + teaching statements (and ask them not to share with the hiring committee). -Cari

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So you are about to apply for a job in science communication?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • There are so many benefits to engaging in science communication.  Traditional methods of sharing science within the field (i.e. peer-reviewed publications) often take the fun out of talking about your science.  But with high quality scicomm, you get to tell the story and bring back all the parts that were funny or exciting. It will make your work more memorable, help convince people what you’re doing is valuable, and is generally just a lot of fun.  And there are a number of free or low-cost opportunities to get some training as well as plenty of daily chances to describe your work to friends, local classrooms, and people you meet. – Avery

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So you’re about to apply for a job at a community college?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to apply for a job at a primarily undergraduate institution?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to apply for a job at a non-profit organization?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • Really research the organization you’re applying for as this will influence what aspects of your CV you want to emphasize. In the nonprofit world, often things like communication skills and writing are as important as statistical abilities or publishing in high-caliber journals. You need to be able to not just do the science, but to share it with others in an accessible way. This may include land managers or policy makers who have lots of things on their plate and need you to get to the point quickly and clearly. I’d recommend sitting down or getting on the phone with people currently in the field you’re considering and asking them about their work and necessary skills. I’ve talked to a number of students at conferences about these kinds of things and had calls with others. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone to learn more about the field or the specific organization you’re considering. Often we’re flattered to be asked. – Tim

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So you’re about to start a position?

General advice:

  • Congrats! You’ve got a job! Several things to keep in mind as you start or before you begin: – Nate
    1. Set boundaries and position responsibilities with your employer from the onset. Clarity/transparency of your position requirements is paramount to setting precedent for future interactions.
    2. Create an Individual Development Plan (https://myidp.sciencecareers.org/) to help with your personal/professional growth in the new position.
    3. Cultivate a network of mentors to help you succeed in your new position. (https://advance.cc.lehigh.edu/mentoring-network-map)

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So you’re about to start a postdoc?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • Starting a postdoc is a fun, scary, and overwhelming time. It can be exciting to work on a new project and with new people, but also difficult to navigate a new school, city, and/or country. Things will probably start off slow, which will either drive you nuts after a fast-paced finish from your previous position or will bring some welcome relief. Either way, it will give you the opportunity to change any habits that haven’t been working for you. I found that it was much easier to set a healthy work-life balance at the start of my postdoc, than to fix unhealthy habits developed during grad school. Keep in mind, you may need to finish work from your PhD or apply for next jobs; you can negotiate with your supervisor what would be an appropriate amount of time each week to work on non-postdoc work. -Cari
  • Seek help from the graduate students! I shifted ecosystems for my postdoc and had to quickly catch up on desert ecology. I found the best resource was the 2-3 graduate students who were already working at my field site. They pointed me towards key older papers and some unpublished resources that really helped jump start my work. They also know all the tips and tricks for navigating the university and department. -Shelby

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So you’re about to start your first faculty job?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to start teaching as an adjunct?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to start a job in consulting or policy?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to start a job in resource management?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to start state or federal government job?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to start an educator position?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re trying to navigate life as an ecologist?

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So you’re trying to find a work/life balance?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • I once read a blog post about a mom who had a stressful morning (got out the door late, snapped at the kids in the car, instrument got left at home, necessitating a second trip).  While feeling bad about how she’d responded, she realized how hard she worked and how much she got done, how unrealistic her expectations were. She decided to start reminding herself, when she felt like she’d fallen short, “Whatever, I’m still awesome.” I use this all the time now when I need to cut myself some slack and not feel guilty about well deserved time away. – Avery
  • If you’ve never heard about impostor syndrome, look it up. One of the biggest things that helped me step towards work/life balance was to reduce how much I compare myself and my productivity to others. One of the best pieces of advice I got when starting grad school was to treat my graduate work like a 9-5 (or 6) job and then to leave it and go home. It was freeing to hear this and to start feeling okay about putting it into practice. There are seasons in life where this isn’t practical, but in general it’s something I’ve strived to follow through grad school and into my current career. It’s worth it! – Tim

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So you’re looking for research funding?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • It may sound stalker-ish, but when I am looking for sources of funding I look at colleague’s CVs. In graduate school, I would go through the CVs of all the more senior students to see what funding sources they were awarded. I also searched the CV of students in labs working on similar topics or with similar organisms/ecosystems. -Shelby

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So you’re negotiating your salary/benefits [so you’re asking for a raise]?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re asked to peer review a manuscript?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • When I first get reviews back, no matter the content or tone, I always have to give them a first read and them put them away for a couple days while my righteous anger burns off.  When I come back, more level headed, it’s usually easy to distinguish between the reviewers with good intent and those with something to prove. The goal of peer review should be to critically assess science but also to provide support and suggestions to craft the best scientific works possible.  My papers are almost always better for the thoughtful comments and suggestions of well intended reviewers. I try to recreate that experience for authors whose work I review. I try to create comments I would like (with a little time) to read and to remember that, as confusing or questionable as a decision might seem to me, there is a human being on the other end of that review who made that decision with some well-meaning intent.  No one sets out to write a bad paper. Detailed explanations of holes or weaknesses and specific suggestions are key; provide actions to move forward. I never attack the writers personally. But most importantly, reviewers should always write respectfully. In my experience, there is very rarely a dataset I feel doesn’t offer some value to the scientific community and even for the most lost cause cases, there is no reason to disrespect the product of someone’s honest hard work. – Avery

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So you’re navigating the publishing world?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re having difficulties with your mentor/PI or collaborators?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re managing a project?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to attend a conference?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • My first trip to ESA, as graduation loomed less than a year away and the job hunt stress started to mount, I took advantage of everything at ESA I thought could be useful.  I was at the conference center most days from 8 am – 9 pm. By the time I chaired a session the last full day, full of big names in my field I wanted to network with, I had trouble just splitting my attention between the talks and the timer, let alone making impressive or even sensible conversation afterwards.  It’s important to step away from the science and give yourself a break. – Avery

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So you’re needing to learn a new statistical/computational technique?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to teach a course?

General advice:

  • The Vision & Change report is an excellent starting point for any course in undergraduate biology.
  • Vision & Change – AAAS report on Undergraduate Biology Education (https://visionandchange.org/)

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So you’re about to teach a biology/ecology course?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • Teaching a course can be intimidating. You need to balance the administrative/curricular requirements with independent freedom to design the course and assessments. I advise starting with the basic structure for any course, Backward Design (https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/understanding-by-design/#template). This format of determining desired results, then how to assess students, and finally instructional materials and approaches, is how we do science as ecologists. It’s fundamental, easy to apply, and transparent for students. In addition to using Backward Design for your course, a “best practice” for teaching is to emphasize scientific practices over concepts/material. Think about how you practice science. Sure, you’ve memorizing species names and ecological theories, but when you encounter a new observation or problem, it’s your ability to apply the scientific method, develop hypotheses and test those hypotheses that define you as a scientist. Thus the most invaluable tool we can engage students with is the practice of science. Start your lecture with a question and have students brainstorm the answer, or even how to figure out the answer. Have them design experiments or propose hypothetical results. That’s how we can train/teach students to be critical thinkers and take a scientific approach to their career/world-view. -Nate

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So you’re about to teach a lab course?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to teach a field course?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • Like any course, you’ll first need to think about the Learning Goals and Objectives for the course. What do you want your students to take home from the course (beyond exposure to field sites etc)? You should be able to accomplish these goals no matter where your students travel to for the field course. 
  • Logistics are key. Seeking out responsive, friendly collaborators and speakers at respective field sites is essential. They know the area/location more than you and ideally have experience speaking to the public and/or students. Interacting with diverse people who live/work on site is really valuable for students and helps alleviate the “expertise” you feel you have to carry for every place you go. 
  • After you’ve locked down locations to visit, you’ll have to coordinate transportation. You’ll need to be up to speed on your institution’s rules on student transportation, both driving and being driven. Be wary of students driving students and keep them in a caravan to avoid sticky situations. Also keep in mind accessibility for students when it comes to cost and travel. Not all students have the financial/social support to travel at ease. It’s best to make travel and pick-up locations as convenient as possible for students to reduce anxiety and promote inclusiveness. This is also relevant when it comes to camping gear etc as some students may not have the necessary equipment for camping trips.
  • Something I’ve heard about and can’t wait to implement is coordinating learning activities in-vehicle during travel time. While students are en-route to field sites, there is so much ecology/geology to see and learn about out of their windows. My colleague uses synchronized downloadable podcasts that coincide with what students are seeing outside their windows. An incredible way to leverage technology to enhance student learning across disciplines. – Nate

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So you’re about to mentor a _____?

General advice:

So you’re about to mentor a student?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • An outspoken advocate of mentoring who is also a successful PI once told me that the most important part of being a quality mentor is knowing your limits. As a mentor it is our job to guide students, leverage their strengths and help them work on their weaknesses. It’s also our job to know when our mentee needs outside assistance and mentoring from other experts. We can leverage our network and experiences with folks from different walks of life to help build a mentoring network for any given student/mentee so they have the best support possible. – Nate=

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So you’re about to mentor a graduate student or postdoc?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to give a talk?

General advice:

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So you’re about to give a public talk?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • Someone once told me the best way to improve your talks is to pay attention when you see a talk you like, figure out what made that talk impactful/accessible/enjoyable, and work to emulate those traits.  For me, talks where people tell a story and are relaxed and conversational are the most enjoyable. I remember when someone made a joke. I’ve attended workshops and trainings on science storytelling, but the best strategy has been to practice; I give talks as much as I can.  And my strategy is always evolving (I still haven’t mastered comedic timing, so if I bomb on a joke in a talk, have sympathy). I also work to minimize how much I’m saying and focus on the big take away. People need time to digest new information, so prioritize the new concepts to just the most important and give people lots of time and space to digest them.  Especially when you’re talking to the public, you can save all the details of methodology and analysis for the paper. Focus on what’s cool and exciting instead. This often involves minimizing how much you cover and the amount of content on your slides. Finally, I practice giving the talk to myself a lot, even now when I feel comfortable speaking to people. There’s no pressure when I mess up if I’m the only audience member and it gives me the chance to work through the best way to say things, figure out where I’m spending too much time, and sound clear and confident the day of without sounding rehearsed.  – Avery 
  • Give talks in lots of places. I’ve given plenty of academic talks at conferences and universities, but some of the most enjoyable talks I’ve given about my work were at zoos, elementary and middle schools, and our local brewery. The public is often really interested in science and many of them don’t often have opportunities to interact with real live scientists. Doing a talk for the general public also provides fun opportunities to do things like bringing visuals. People are often very interested in the gear we use to do our work. I’ve got some preserved elephant dung that I often bring and pass around. It never fails to get a reaction from the public 🙂   – Tim

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So you’re about to give a job talk?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • To Be Added

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So you’re about to give a conference presentation?

Advice from an ECE Officer:

  • A 12-15 minute presentation at a conference or at a symposium within your institution is often the first exposure that academics have to speaking about their research in front of an audience.  This can be a stressful and frustrating experience (for all parties involved), but a few key considerations can go a long way towards making things run smoothly and potentially even allowing you to enjoy the experience.  Here are a handful of suggestions on designing talks to keep your audience engaged.
    1. Know your audience. In many situations, a sizable proportion of the people in the room will have only limited exposure to your specific subfield of research, and will be quickly lost (and thus bored) if your presentation veers too far into field-specific jargon or methodology.  It’s often helpful to keep in mind why your work would appeal to someone in a field tangential to your own (for instance, if you’re a wildlife habitat use specialist, why would a community ecologist care about your study), and target your talk at that level. It’s also advisable to limit any methodological detail that can’t be quickly and coherently introduced (anyone interested in the specifics of how you formulated your model can talk to you after or read the paper).  
    2. Minimize slide text.  Most people can’t read and listen at the same time, and quickly tune out if asked to do so.  It’s generally not necessary to reiterate what you say aloud in text on the slide. Instead providing something visually appealing (a nice photo or a reprise of a relevant plot from earlier in the talk) while making your point verbally will often do a better job of keeping everyone’s attention.  
    3. Simplify or walk people through complex figures.  Related to the point above, trying to interpret a complicated plot while listening to a speaker provide ancillary information can be confusing.  If presenting complex figures, it’s worth taking the time to walk your audience through them and point out the key messages you want them to take away.  It’s also worth keeping in mind that you don’t necessarily have to use the published version of a figure in your talk. A simplified version can often convey your point more clearly to an audience that only has a few seconds to digest it.
    4. Bring everything back to the big picture.  This one may seem obvious, but your audience won’t have much time to connect all the pieces of your talk into a coherent whole, so you’ll need to do this for them.  Introduce your central theme right up front and, if possible, relate each new piece of information you provide (i.e., each result) back to this central message. 
      • – Justin

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