Thursday, April 13, 2017

Graduate student well-being

Graduate student well-being has received a lot of attention lately. As far as I know, it has not reached the level of the urgency as for undergraduate students, but graduate students are exposed to a unique set of challenges too. Two recent studies quantified these challenges: Student Experience Survey 2017: investigating well-being at university and Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. The second study also argues convincingly that these challenges are unique to the graduate school experience, and are not shared with similar persons in other contexts, such as for instance employees. The next important step is thus to determine what aspects of the graduate school culture can be changed at the student, advisor, department, and university level. It is relatively easy to find advice for grad students (e.g., this recent blog on how to juggle a PhD with family), but what can we, as a department do differently, better, more to address these challenges?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Best thank you ever

And this is another (random) example of why R is so awesome:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Practical workplace advice by Anne Krook

Anne Krook has a page full of practical advice on how to get a non-academic employment, which is something that I have been looking for for a long time. So here is the link, and all beginning grad students should consult this page in the first semester of their program. She even has a post titled "can non-academic careers be Plan A yet?"!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How NOT to get a postdoc (or post PhD) position

Great story, with a clear message that is equally applicable to non-academic jobs after your PhD or MSc degree: you should be thinking about this during your graduate work, and not wait until you are almost done. Below, I have taken the her final paragraph, and I have made it a little bit more general (the bold sections are my changes):
"In general, I’ve seen that the people who get ahead in [academic ecology] the job market are those who have a clear vision of what [research] job they want to pursue and why it matters. As you finish your PhD, spend time thinking about a few possible future [research] job directions. What do you want to [discover] contribute to society? Why? And what will it take to make those [discoveries] contributions?"

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The bar is raised!

IB graduate students, if you want to make some more exiting defence announcements: twitter threw down the gauntlet, and the bar is now raised substantially.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Graduate click-bait: 4 Reasons Graduate Students Shouldn’t Have to Work Weekends

Despite the click-bait nature of the blog, this blog post has some perspectives that a lot of graduate students in our department will probably be able to relate to. Now I just wonder how many faculty members have a different perspective.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Release the kraken

What happens when you collaborate with non-ecology scientists?

- You create a Transposable Element (TE) simulation model called TEWorld, with this logo:

- One of your collaborators initials in this project are TE (and you only realize this after collaborating for 4 years)

- You need to run said simulations on sharcnet, and one of the clusters is you will use is called kraken (or orca, or requin, or saw; obviously computer scientists are not biologists, or they are and the inclusion of orca is reverse reverse psychology).

- You receive links to these types of youtube videos:

- You descend into philosophical rabbit holes, and come out transformed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Is doing a PhD a waste of time?

Some people definitely think so. These types of articles crop up regularly. Here is a recent version of this type of analysis that re-appeared in Medium, but is originally from 2010. These are like the villain in a horror movie, every time you think he is finally dead, ominous music fills the theatre. The linked-to article has some aspects that set it apart, though. It provides a voice of faculty members, in addition to some short-writing gems. The quote below has both:
"Monica Harris, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, is a rare exception. She believes that too many PhDs are being produced, and has stopped admitting them. But such unilateral academic birth control is rare."

Monday, February 13, 2017

I will never look at a boxplot in the same way...

Friday, February 3, 2017

Standing on the shoulders of giants

I am currently teaching a graduate "Stats" course, which is more a historical exploration of statistical issues in ecology, led by grad students. As part of the course, we are also exploring best practices in R and ecological data management. So naturally we covered Brian McGill's 10 commandments for good data management, and his follow-up post with an example application of these recommendations with a toy data set.
I decided afterwards to do the challenge, and with our weekly University of Guelph R Users group (UGRU) we walked through the code line by line, and discussed why certain lines were included, alternative ways to code them, advantages and disadvantages of these alternative approaches. It took us 3 hours of exploration, and I have captured our discussion in an alternative R script file, where our notes are preceded by "###" to differentiate them from Brian's comments.

Here is a link to this updated script file:

Here is a summary of some of our observations:

  • The tidyverse package makes everything easy
  • read_csv is preferable over read.csv
  • tibbles are the way to go
  • reproducible code is very difficult (paths to files, outdated packages)
  • different philosophies with respect to keeping/creating intermediate files, and the value of long versus short file names
  • the flexibility of ggplot is awesome, and just as in base R, there are multiple ways to reach the same goal
  • and the biggest revelation for some of us: when you are piping, and your code is structured in multiple lines, you can still execute the whole block with one cmd/ctr-enter, without the need to highlight the block or step through it line by line!
Thank you Brian for the nice tutorial, RStudio for the functionality, and Maddie for the cmd-enter combination in a piping block, coding will be so much more efficient now.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

R user group - UGRU

The last 2 years, I have "been running" a R User group, the University of Guelph R Users group (or UGRU). Normally I am the worst when it comes to acronyms, and now I was only bad, because UGRU has Gru in it, the main character of Despicable Me. During a field course, students compared my accent to Gru, and there is a scene in the movie that has its own meme: light bulb.

I hoped that be having people working together and solving similar problems would make the R light bulb go off. And last semester there were a lot of lightbulbs that lighted up. We worked through the first four chapters of the Grolemund and Wickham R for Data Science book, and I have convinced my first physiology colleague that R is awesome.

At the end of the semester, several participants shared their exploratory data analysis, and the word that kept coming up after they put their code together the meeting and the feedback and questions from the other participants was "surprise": patterns they had missed, variables not included, approaches not considered, etc. And this was a mix of people with years of coding in R to beginners. So the feedback and working together did lead to several light bulbs and happy R users!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Applying for non-faculty jobs - advice?

Every field is guilty of some form of navel gazing. Hence the abundance on how to apply for faculty jobs. Margaret Kosmala wrote a recentish blog post on this, with some advice I agree with, but also some I do not agree with. For instance, often departments fight over every single word in a job ad, so showing that you understand the needs that will be filled by the position (i.e., your contributions to the department and university) are important.
However, given one of my previous posts (see here), if only 10 percent of our graduate students end up in a faculty position, what resources, blog posts, advice, etc are out there for graduate students ready to make the transition?