The time I became a father in the same week my tenure portfolio was due.

27 Aug

An eventful month.

My tenure and promotion portfolio was due to the Chair of my department on August 14, 2015. My first child was born earlier that week, and because we became parents through adoption, I had no idea going into this summer that I would be a father by now. How did I manage to complete my tenure portfolio AND become a ‘surprise’ parent all at the same time? By working ahead, of course. This post is about how avoiding procrastination and working with great effort and efficiency when I had the opportunity has helped me survive, and in this case, enjoy, a life-changing event.

My wife and I were notified in mid-summer that a birthmother was considering us as adoptive parents. She thought she was due in mid-September. In reality, the little baby boy was much further along and he made a mid-August arrival. I could not be happier to be a father and I could not be happier with the support my wife and I (both professors, but at different universities) have received with regards to a favorable parenting schedule amidst our course schedules. With that said, if I had not been on top of my game, the timing of these things could have created a nightmarish conundrum.

The road to now.

When I signed my first contract in 2010, I knew that August 2015 would be the deadline for my tenure and promotion portfolio. Despite having a five-year notice, there are components of the portfolio that can only be completed in the weeks leading up to the deadline. I made great progress in each of my five years with regards to collecting artifacts and evidence in support of my case, but reserved the writing of the most important part – the narrative – until summer 2015.   At the beginning of the summer, I focused solely on getting manuscripts from my lab out for review. Fellow blogger Matt Venesky and other peers on Twitter consistently Tweeted about their goal for a #SixManuscriptSummer. Sharing their goal, I was determined to reach six manuscript submissions by mid-July, then use the final two weeks of July to write the narrative for my tenure portfolio.

Reaching the manuscript goal on July 13, I entered August with a hefty amount of the work of my students and I out in the peer-review pipeline and had nothing left for the tenure portfolio but to add outside letters of support to the binder. On July 31, I printed the final version of my narrative, and successfully assembled my entire portfolio (minus the letters of support) into a single, four-inch binder. I turned my portfolio in a week early, took a weekend to celebrate that accomplishment, then just a few days later, I became a father for the first time.

I know my story is different from many others. I know there are individuals who will work until the very last minute because they like to work that way or because they are simply too busy to work ahead. I am here to say I am so glad that was not the case for me. Our university requires annual evaluations and ‘check ups’ with regards to progression toward tenure. I suspect some faculty members find this to be overkill and, perhaps, verging on busy work. Looking back on the relative ease with which I was able to complete my portfolio, I can say with confidence that those annual self-evaluations were essential to my success in preparing this binder.

At Millikin, faculty members are required to develop three-year growth plans. The first is written in the middle of the first year of employment. Within the growth plan, we must address how we will achieve competence or excellence in the following areas of evaluation for tenure and promotion: teaching (excellence required), scholarship (competence required), service to the university (competence required), service to the profession (optional, competence required), and professional service to the community (optional, competence required). At the end of each academic year, we must write a self-evaluation, which is then reviewed by the Chair and the Dean, that addresses how well we have met our goals set forth in the growth plan. At the end of year three, we write a new three-year growth plan, and importantly, have a pre-tenure review. For this review, the tenured members of our department and the Dean review a pre-tenure portfolio, which, for the most part, is an abbreviated tenure portfolio. Promotion and tenure portfolios must be a reflection on performance in these areas and I think that waiting five years to write a single document that summarizes those five years would be incredibly overwhelming, even for the most prepared individual.   With four years of self-evaluations, two growth plans, a pre-tenure review, and feedback from the Chair and Dean on each of them, I felt great about my ability to make my case for tenure and promotion

Final thoughts.

The department decision on my case will not be completed until September 15 and the case will not make it through all of the levels of evaluation until February 2016, so I cannot yet tell you if my approach was successful. What I can tell you is that the arrival of an unexpected baby just days before my portfolio was due would have been an extremely stressful occurrence if it were not for regular reflection and self-assessment of my performance in each of the previous years.

For those of you who are at a university that requires similar assessment on an annual basis, I hope my story will help you gain a new appreciation for how this prepares you to make your tenure case. For those of you who are at a university where there are no formal assessments or checkpoints until the real-deal tenure portfolio, I encourage you to consider writing your own self-evaluation each year in preparation for that final portfolio.

With six manuscripts in the pipeline in peer-reviewed journals, all of my research students doing great work, my courses going smoothly, and my tenure portfolio in review, I feel better than I could have imagined about investing a great deal of time in what is already one of the most rewarding activities in my life: parenting.

  • TW

We’re Looking to Grow

27 Aug

This blog started a little over 2 years ago when the three of us (Matt, Mizuki, and Travis) felt like we could contribute to the the broader conversation related to liberal arts education. The primary aim of our blog was, and still is, to highlight how students and faculty at liberal arts institutions conduct research. We recently had an opportunity to reflect on the past 2 years and we are happy with what we’ve been able to accomplish. We’ve received solid feedback on various topics from our readership, some of which we’ve been able to incorporate into our own research programs at our respective institutions. We hope that you all have gained from the ideas and conversations that have taken place on our blog.

We are at a point where we are now looking to expand our team of bloggers and would like to ask whether any of you would consider contributing as a regular blogger on the Liberal Arts Ecologists. We don’t have many requirements; the only exception is that you are a faculty at a primarily undergraduate institution. We blog as regularly as we can on topics that relate to research with undergraduates (which is an intentionally large umbrella).

Email Matt with any questions that you might have.

Thank you all for a great 2 years and we look forward to many more.

-Matt, Mizuki, and Travis

Statistics With Undergrads

21 Aug

This summer, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on analytics. I’ve been trying to get a better feel for what I can expect of my research students and where I can better train them. I think that my research students are now getting to the point that they can often (but not always) generate meaningful figures on their own and interpret them properly. Can I expect more? Should I expect more?

Over the summer, I’ve seen a high number of papers and blogs related to the problem in reporting p-values in published research without some estimate of an effect size (of which, my favorites include the February write-up in Nature and the very recent post on FiveThirtyEightScience). I’ll be honest: I’ve been slow to get on board with reporting effect sizes in my own research and I’ve done a worse job incorporating this into the way I train my research students. In part, I’ve not done this because the simplest forms of calculating effect sizes (e.g., Cohen’s d) don’t always explicitly translate to the type of statistics that I use with my data (i.e., multiple variables that are analyzed using regression based statistics such as mixed-effects models) and obtaining, and correctly interpreting, things like beta coefficients from these types of models is difficult [at least in R]. Nonetheless, I understand and agree with the critiques associated with the search for p < 0.05… but do we properly train or students in statistical interpretation or are we facilitating the problem in the way that we teach statistics?

In a brief “survey” on this topic via Twitter and Facebook, a few [N=5; admittedly low power] of my colleagues from Allegheny and other institutions chimed in and I was happy to see that 3 of them stated that they have at least 1 lecture in which they explicitly teach basic effect sizes using Cohen’s d and/or the use of confidence intervals; 1 stated that there is an emphasis on devaluing on p-values when reported alone. However, I imagine that if I were to choose a Biology student at Allegheny and provide them with a figure and a p-value of 0.03 and asked them to interpret the figure, they would proudly exclaim, with little hesitation, that there is a significant difference between treatment x and treatment y [and I have a hunch that this type of answer would extend to Psychology students and probably Economic students as well]. I’d be very surprised if they ever questioned statistical power or even brought up anything close to a critique on the result because of the lack of an effect size.

So, for those of us who do not teach stats, how do we emphasize the importance of effect sizes with our research students? Is it something that we attempt train them with? I can’t imagine even one of my better students sitting down and running a mixed-effects statistical model, such as a zero-inflated negative binomial model, on their own. Asking them to do that plus correctly pull out the standardized regression coefficients for each predictor would be insane. Or, do we train them with the concept and provide them with a completed statistical analysis?

For those of you who do teach stats, how do you incorporate this into undergraduate level statistics courses? If you do teach effect sizes, do you integrate them into every analysis or do you show them effect sizes in one or two occasions and leave it at that? If the latter, what prevents you from training students correctly?

For those of you who are faculty who mentor our undergraduates as graduate students, what are your expectations for statistical knowledge for an incoming student? What would you recommend as focal points for statistical training at the undergraduate level?

Best wishes to all of you as you start the new academic year.

-Venesky

UPDATE (8/27)
Apparently I wasn’t the only one thinking about stats with undergrads over the summer. Joan Strassman over at Sociobiology blogged on a similar topic earlier in August that I did not see (I was largely out of the blogging scene over the summer while working with my students).

Guidelines for Class Projects as Publishable Research

14 May

The Background

A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post on my attempt to get my teaching assistants (TAs) a publication with some data that I collected from a laboratory in a course at Allegheny called FSBio 201: Investigative Approaches in Biology [you can also read a post that I wrote previously on research in the classroom, which might help contextualize that post]. The small class data set was eventually written in manuscript format by my TAs and it was recently published in the Journal of Herpetology. The entire experience, from training my TAs in data collection so that they could oversee the students as they collected data to working over the summer with one of the TAs to revise the manuscript, was such a positive experience that I attempted it again. This time through, I had a different group of students, TAs, and a different research question. The data were messy and the results didn’t make any sense, even after I cleaned them up by removing data that were collected from some of the less careful lab groups [a quick FYI: the research question was a good one — I am in the process of finalizing a manuscript based off the same exact question as the “failed” classroom project except that it was conducted by 4 independent research students instead of as part of a classroom project].

At that point, I had mixed feelings about whether I could reliably collect and publish data from classroom/laboratory projects. However, I gave it another shot during the Spring 2015 semester, this time with a group of juniors who were taking my Disease Ecology junior seminar course. The project was an overwhelming success and I am in the early stages of preparing the manuscript for consideration for publication; the manuscript will feature all 11 students who took the course as coauthors.

As I began my biannual reflection on the positive and negative aspects of the semester that I just completed, Terry McGlynn (at Small Pond Science) published a blog post that laid out some ideas why one might consider trying to collect publishable data from a laboratory that is part of a course that one taught. As you’ll read, his experience(s) were not as positive as mine and he lays out some thoughts on why this might not actually be an effective “high-impact practice” in the classroom. For me, one of the most important points Terry lists is data quality. Seeing as I’ve now been on both sides of the fence on this topic, I thought that I might lay out some ways in which I’ve been able to pull this off.

How I Turned Class Projects Into Publishable Research

Projects need to meet the minimum following criteria:

  1. laboratory projects that are relatively short in duration,
  2. they involve only a few numbers of groups (mine 3 attempts have used groups of 4, 4, and 3),
  3. there are watchful and knowledgeable eyes in the room (my FSBio courses have 4 groups of students and 3 TAs; my junior seminar course had 3 groups and did not have TAs but each group had a “group leader” who had previously done research in my lab),
  4. are set up so that I could independently collect data to verify their results (for me, this meant collecting some skin swabs immediately prior to students collecting their results and running qPCR on those samples to compare our data).

To me, ensuring data quality is of the highest importance, so I carefully plan ways I can verify results. This involves extra work on my end and setting up the class data collection dates so that I can frequently and accurately spot check my students work. For example, I use qPCR to determine the infection intensity of a fungal pathogen of amphibians in my research. Every research group always receives both exposed and non-exposed animals and the infection status of the animals is not immediately known to them. Because contamination (either DNA contamination or living infectious propagules) from an infected to non-infected or from an infected to another infected animal is a possibility with my research, any poor techniques would likely lead to a non-infected animal becoming exposed/infected with the pathogen or its’ DNA. Thus, if any non-exposed animal gets infected, I would not consider publishing any of the data. I also have what I call “duplicate” animals in each student’s group so that I can co-sample the same individual on the same day for comparative purposes. If our infection data from qPCR do not regularly match up, I would not consider publishing any of the data. Lastly, I often use digital photographs of data when possible to verify the students measures (e.g., I photographed the intestines of the tadpoles that I used in a student publication to make sure they measured the lengths correctly). From a mechanistic perspective, I think that having these 4 criteria are the minimum criteria (and adjusting based on the specifics to your discipline or particular project) that I would set before I considered turning a class project into a manuscript.

Although It Can Be Done, Is It Conceptually A Solid Idea?

In his post, Terry correctly articulates some drawbacks in doing the above. Without the correct context (namely, the nature of the course and the faculty members research program), not being mindful of some of the potential issues would not maximize the student’s learning experience. In particular, designing an experiment so that students are merely “data-collecting machines” is one of the biggest disservices that we could do to our students. Thus, when might it be a good context to explore publishable laboratory projects?

Given the two contexts in which I’ve gathered publishable data from class projects, my favorite context was in my Disease Ecology junior seminar and my guess is that I’ll focus my energy on data collection from this course rather than FSBio in future.

Although the particular experiment in Disease Ecology was planned by me, the students were in the drivers seat in terms of the research question, hypotheses, and design. In fact, with the proper consideration, this can happen quite easily. For the class project in Disease Ecology, I gave the students 2 papers to read before a laboratory period: one was a paper that I published earlier this year with some students at Allegheny documenting that different color morphs of a species of salamander respond to a pathogen differently and the second was a paper showing that these two color morphs have different temperature-specific metabolic rates. I then asked the 3 groups to identify some outstanding questions from each paper and through our discussion of these topics, they naturally came to the idea of testing for morph specific differences in disease resistance at different temperatures. We then proceeded to generate some hypotheses and design the fundamentals of the experiment. Thus, I was able to plan the experiment without simply giving the students specific instructions; they were not cogs in my research machine.

I found this approach very rewarding and the students responded very positively to this in their evaluations. However, it is still a bit artificial in the sense that there was really only a single direction in which the project could run. Thus, after a couple of weeks and the completion of that particular experiment (including all of the molecular work), the remainder of the laboratory sessions were allowed to pursue group projects of their own in which they thought up the question, generated hypotheses, and designed the experiment. In a sense, the first “cookbook” lab project served a second purpose: using a form of inquiry-based learning to train them in some of the basic techniques that they needed to carry out small independent projects of their own. In addition, they allowed students the flexibility to collect data on a topic that they were interested in (and, coincidentally, many of these topics were ones that they were introduced to in the form of a book chapter or scientific paper that we discussed during the “lecture” portion of the course). Although I have no intention on publishing any of these smaller independent group projects, they generated data that will serve as preliminary data for future independent study projects.

Closing Remarks

All said and done, I am an advocate for turning class projects into publishable research if they meet some minimum criteria, help achieve the student learning outcomes that you have for your course, and allow you to advance your own research program.

5 Years of Learning

13 May

Motivation

First, I have to apologize for the LONG delay in getting a new post on here. If I were to follow stereotypes I would blame my hiatus from the blog on ‘teaching too many classes’ or ‘serving on too many committees’ or ‘holding too many hands’. None of those are true. Truthfully, I had a rough start to the semester due to personal life issues and have now gotten back into a normal routine as the semester comes to an end. During that time away, I was able to reflect a lot of what I have learned in my 5 years as an assistant professor here at Millikin and I am going to use this space to discuss some of the highlights.

 

Background

When I arrived here in 2010, nearly everything I planned to do (formally even, since we are required to write 3-year growth plans) was inspired by the things I loved about my professors at the small liberal arts school where I earned my Bachelor’s degree and all of the things I could not do at that small college. I wanted to provide my students with the best of what I did have and with everything I did not have. Fast forward to the end of my first year and I was mentoring 8 research students from the same cohort, at the same time, and working on a large-scale avian supplemental feeding study. Suffice it to say, I’ve come a long way since then and learned a lot about how to be successful in this field.

 

What I’ve learned

First, 8 undergraduate research students all with their own independent projects and in the same graduating class is too darn many to have in one lab. We accomplished a lot as a team and the manuscripts are nearly complete (it was a 3 year study), but I regret that I stretched myself so thin on advising so many students. I don’t think any of them would say any unkind words about their research experience – they loved the team atmosphere, they were friends, and at the end of the day, they all took the opportunity to present their work at conferences. More importantly, they are all now well into graduate studies or in the workforce and can be considered successful by any conventional standards. Those students taught me so much about where I can go in terms of the scope and magnitude of my research in physiological ecology (higher than I had initially hoped for a school this size, I might add), and more importantly, how much I could expect out of the undergraduate research students without whom I could never carry out a large, truly integrative study.

 

Following up on that, one of the most important things I’ve learned is to restrict the number of students I mentor to 3 students per cohort and hopefully get them on board by the end of their sophomore year. After that first big group graduated, I have taken this approach and it has been immensely rewarding. I feel that I am truly advising these students at a high level and that we have great individual conversations and scientific experiences, yet we maintain that team atmosphere. My students tend to wear their lab identity proudly, which is also very helpful.

 

Another important thing I’ve learned is to find ways in which my skills offer something new to those around me, and to embrace the opportunities that come with that.   I have become the departmental go-to for statistical work and help, from the experimental design process through the analysis and interpretation of data. At first when people came to me with data sets and a somewhat cloudy focus on what they hoped to get out of the analysis, I felt trapped – stuck analyzing something for someone else and taking away from my own work. I quickly realized that, too, was a product of trying to manage too many research students at one time. I have truly come to embrace how much I can learn about other systems and other questions (and advanced scientific inquiry in general) by collaborating with so many people on the analytical components of their work. Further, neither the broader scientific community nor my peers and administrators on campus see this type of contribution to research as a negative thing. It is often complex and important enough to warrant co-authorship on papers, which are more likely to be published with appropriate and rigorous statistical analyses. In addition, word gets around quickly that I can be a good team player (most of the time).

 

Finally, the third important thing I’ve learned in five years here is to be visible. I am sure to show the campus community, and administrators in particular, exactly how productive we can be with even moderate amounts of support. That support needs to come in the form of time to complete research activities as well as financial support for those activities. I have taken every opportunity to not only showcase my students work through campus and local media outlets, but also to provide colleagues and administrators with quick summaries of how much was accomplished with relatively little financial investment. I have no doubt that teaching one (or fewer) courses per year and operating a lab with a multi-million dollar NSF grant as a backbone makes for more convenient research, but that is FAR from being the only route to good, impactful research. My students and I have strung together a number of small grants and have reached a level of productivity that I could have only hoped for when I started here, and honestly, I know a big part of that is being able to communicate what we do, how well we do it, and most importantly, why anybody should care.

 

Summary

My tenure portfolio is due 3 months from Friday, and I think I feel about as good as anyone could about putting everything on the line in front of my peers in the tenure review process. I have learned so much from my experiences here and I have learned so much from my colleagues. I have probably learned the most from my students. I hope that many of them have learned from me and benefitted from my presence on this faculty as well.

– TW

How Do You Recruit New Students Into Your Lab?

25 Feb

One of the challenges that PIs of research labs at liberal arts colleges face is the “revolving door” problem — students graduate and their vacancies need to be filled with new students. In principle, this isn’t much different than when PIs at research universities graduate their MS and PhD students; however, we face at least 3 unique circumstances in the liberal arts setting. First, our new students often lack the basic research skills that many incoming graduate students have (“You mean I was supposed to write that down?” “Randomize what?”). Second, in liberal arts research labs, PIs frequently do the majority of the scientific training of incoming students whereas it is common for undergraduates to work primarily with senior level graduate students when receiving their training (or, in some cases, take part of in multilevel training). Lastly, undergraduate students sometimes want to do research with multiple faculty members while completing their degree and thus it is fairly common to train a student for a semester and lose her/him from your research group. Because of this, we can have less overlap between our senior-level and incoming research students.

I’m not blindsided by these challenges and this post shouldn’t be taken as my hidden wish that I was conducting research in a different setting. However, as I finish up my 2nd year as a PI, I’m now starting to cycle through students and I’m trying to think through the logistics of how I can have some institutional lab knowledge passed from cohort to cohort so that students have the opportunity to train their peers and so that I can maintain my sanity.

One approach that I’ve found particularly effective is to embrace teaching in the introductory sequence in your department/program. At Allegheny, we have 3 courses in our Intro Sequence; I’ve taught our 2nd intro course the first 3 of my 4 semesters at Allegheny and I also taught our 3rd course all but my 1st semester. I’ve previously blogged about our 3rd course (FSBio 201) and if you have a course like this at your institution, this is an easy way to recruit students interested in your research. However, our 2nd course (Bio 221, Genetics, Development, and Evolution) is a traditional lecture course and faculty generally view teaching these courses more “departmental service” than anything else. However, I’ve built amphibian/chytrid case studies into this course in a number of different areas, which has made the material more exciting to me and also to the students. I’ve also recruited 3 of my current, and 1 of my incoming, students from this course. Recruiting sophomores into your research lab has the potential for tremendous payoffs in terms of research productivity. In my case, this core group of 3 students should each graduate from Allegheny with 3-4 publications each (including a 1st authored publication for each of them).

I also advertise and accept independent research students into my lab every semester. During my first 2 years at Allegheny, I’ve averaged 4 students each semester. These students are frequently sophomores with high energy and eager to ask questions (but lack general research skills and a knowledge of the literature). When taking students, I expect them to start and finish a research project and thus I fully commit to this process myself. The idea is that through time, my involvement in the training will be less and less of a time commitment because these independent research students contain a mix of prospective, incoming, and senior-level students on the same project. I’ve been lucky to retain many of the students that have worked with me and I think that my approach of continually taking on new research students will pay dividends down the road as I’m able to let students train each other more frequently.

Lastly, because I work with charismatic critters, I have an opportunity to get students interested in research simply because amphibians are pretty awesome. I frequently ask my research students to invite some of their friends who are interested in research out with us on collecting trips, evening salamander migrations, or amphibian call surveys. This is my hook for students that might not know the benefits of getting involved in faculty research. This is the fun and glamorous part of the research: little work and seeing amphibians in the field [sometimes for the 1st time for students!].

-MDV

Why You Need to Re-Submit Your NSF Pre-Proposal

16 Jan

Last year, Travis Wilcoxen and I submitted what was at the time my first NSF pre-proposal for some collaborative work on stress physiology and disease ecology. At that time, finding the time to complete a grant proposal wasn’t too far in left field because I was given some teaching release my 1st semester at Allegheny and my only course was actually co-taught with another faculty member. The reviews came back and they were generally positive (1 Excellent, 1 Very Good, 1 Poor); however, the proposal wasn’t considered for a full proposal.

I spent most of my summer working with 2 of students, one of whom worked on a project whose data was slotted to be used in the re-submission. The data came out beautiful and did a fantastic job in filling in one of the gaps (and critiques) of our previous proposal submission.

About half way through my Fall semester, I was already exhausted from a challenging and demanding semester. Among other things, I had a normal teaching load (at Allegheny, this is 2 courses and also advising Senior Comp Research students) and I was in the midst of putting together my file requesting that my position as a Visiting Assistant Professor (VAP) get converted to a tenure-track position at Allegheny and also applying for tenure-track positions at other institutions as a back-up plan. At the time, my inclination was to put the pre-proposal revision on hold, either temporarily or permanently. The dismal NSF funding rate coupled with the fact that I was at a PUI didn’t give me any confidence boost that our re-submission would fare any better than the original proposal.

In November, I officially heard that my position as a VAP at Allegheny was converted to a tenure-track position, which mean that I was also able to re-negotiate a start-up package that reflected the research expectations for a tenure-track faculty member and not a VAP. Given the generous start-up, I was confident that I could continue the research productivity that would satisfy my own expectations for scholarly activity and also what was expected for faculty at Allegheny. Plus, it is not necessary for us to successfully land a large extramural grant to be considered for tenure. I had essentially written off every notion of the re-submission.

Earlier this week, I submitted 2 different NSF pre-proposals. One of which was the re-submission of the proposal on which I am the PI; the second was a 1st time submission for a proposal on which I am the co-PI. What changed? Certainly not the amount of time in any given day nor my commitment to my family during the break before Spring semester.

The first was the reaffirmation that it would improve my research by simply revising and resubmitting the proposal, regardless of whether it was considered for a full proposal or turned down again. I don’t have the time to read as many papers as I did as a postdoc and although I had a productive 1st year at Allegheny (I published 2 projects that I started here with 8 different undergraduate students from my 1st year), I wasn’t writing as much as I hoped (yes, I really do enjoy writing papers. seriously.). At a minimum, revising the proposal would get me past the Abstracts of the hand full of PDFs that had been piling up in the “Need to Read” folder on my desktop. Additionally, it got me back writing. I hadn’t written any type of scientific writing for an audience outside of my Department the entire semester and that was way too long [for me]. I’ve always felt that one of my assets and writing strengths that helped maintain a high publication rate was the fact that I was always writing. I never fell out of practice and it was always easy to pick back up. Fall 2014 I was out of practice and I knew it. Thus, revising this pre-proposal would actually help me later to write up the recent projects that my students and I have completed.

The second was that it would improve my teaching. I am offering a new course this semester: a Junior Seminar on Disease Ecology. My course is designed so that students read some of the classic ideas in disease ecology from a text book and supplement those ideas with student-lead discussions of case studies in the primary literature. I had yet to finish compiling the reading list for this course and I knew that getting back in the literature on stress physiology and disease ecology would also introduce me to some of the newer papers in this field, some of which I ultimately selected for my Disease Ecology course. Although some of you may not have an opportunity to teach a course similar in style as my Junior Seminar, there are always opportunities to work in new case studies into traditional lecture courses.

Lastly (but most importantly), I think that my work can be funded by NSF. I think that my proposal addresses an important gap in knowledge in disease ecology and I think that the results from the projects that I am proposing to do can transform our understanding of why diseases sometimes cause epidemics and other times do not. In the midst of a pretty busy semester, I let the reviews get to me and I convinced myself that NSF wasn’t interested in funding such a small fish in a big pond. But that simply isn’t true. I took a job at a liberal arts college (and subsequently started this blog with two of my friends) because I believed that I can do quality research in this setting. I stand firm in that belief.

So, with the looming deadline for IOS pre-proposals later this evening, I wish you all good luck as you submit yours.

-MDV