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
We just wanted to leave you all with an update: we’re still around. Each of us is still committed to our blog … and we are even more committed to the success of our research programs (and taking a breath to spend extra time with our respective families). Summer is an important time for academics, but it is integral for those of us at PUIs.
For those of you interested, here is a quick peak into our summer:
– Travis took a load of students to the BBB national convention; awards were won.
– Mizuki is out sampling Hellbenders like crazy.
– Matt has toads coming out of his ears working on more prelim data for the NSF resubmission.
One additional fun fact: collectively, we have two collaborative, but independent, research projects underway among the three of us.
Check back in July when we plan on starting to blog again.
-Travis, Mizuki, & Matt
Some thoughts from Carrie Woods (at Colgate University) on her 1st year as a VAP.
Thanks for reading our inaugural post as we enter the blogosphere. If you haven’t done so already, check out our brief bio’s and faculty webpages, where you can find more information about our research.
A Chosen Career Path
When each of us started graduate school, there was a perception in the greater academic community that the productive PhD candidates in Biology would go on to land a tenure-track research position at a Research 1 (R1) institution where they would be expected to maintain their productive research programs; PhD candidates who struggled to get their research funded/published would take the dreaded liberal arts position and devote their lives to teaching 15 contact hours/semester and do “hobby science”. Although this perception was not always packaged as bluntly, it exists. However, this dichotomy between a “research” and “teaching” institution is changing. There are many productive junior and senior level researchers whom enjoy being at a small liberal arts college where they can pursue their interests in teaching and research. This apparent shift in academia appears to be triggered by a number of factors, including the realization that students learn science best by doing science. In fact, many liberal arts institutions promote a teacher-scholar model and offer competitive start-up packages to their faculty (which include their own research space), reduced teaching loads, and sometimes provide release time for research active faculty. This is not to say that some liberal arts colleges are trying to become mini R1 institutions; they are not. In fact, some may find teaching 2~3 courses per semester unattractive. Some may also think high quality research cannot be done at a teaching institution. However, liberal arts universities now offer more opportunities to conduct research by incorporating research into the classroom setting. This is where we fit in.
By the time we finished our PhDs, each of us had successful graduate careers in terms of publications (mean # publications among us was ~10) and funding (1 EPA STAR Fellowship and 1 NSF DDIG). We are among a growing list of biologists whose preference is to be in a liberal arts setting. We are fully aware that we may not be as productive as we could have been were we to go the R1 route; however, we are not abandoning our research programs. In fact, we have hopes of conducting high-impact research at our respective universities. We truly understand the value of undergraduate research as an educational tool and know first-hand that students learn so much more by participating in meaningful scientific inquiry and research rather than simply working through a laboratory manual. This intersection of teaching and research is where we feel we can be effective teacher-scholars.
Entering the Blogosphere
The purpose of our blog is to share our experiences with the greater scientific academic community. Each of us will blog on a regular basis about the unique ways in which we maintain our research programs. Naturally, this will involve a blend of research and teaching. We anticipate challenges and we are excited to share these, and our successes, with you all. In addition to blogging about our own research, we will feature guest bloggers from departmental colleagues and faculty at other liberal arts universities. Most importantly, we will also feature our student’s as guest bloggers on a semi-regular basis as they develop their independent research projects so you can get snapshots of their progress (and hopefully recruit some of them into your graduate programs in Biology!). We welcome input, critiques, accolades, and respectful dissents.
Thank you again for your interest.
Venesky, Wilcoxen, and Takahashi