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“Being an assistant professor is just telling other people you are busy until you get tenure”

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September 21, 2017

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Terrible Advice in Ecology

April 27, 2017

I don’t really like blogs, so I am a little annoyed with myself for starting one. That said, my motivation for this blog came from a recent article by Jeremy Yoder (@JBYoder) describing his path to getting a tenure track position. 

  First of all, huge congratulations to Jeremy! I am glad he shared his experience and I am super happy he got a job at a fantastic place! This is by no means a criticism of him. What frustrated me was looking at all the comments in twitter by people on the job market saying “so this is what I need to do to get a job”. It isn’t. Over a two year period he applied to 112 job, had 17 interviews, 11 campus visits, and 3 offers. My experience in contrast – over two years I applied to 13 jobs, had 3 interviews, 2 campus visits, and 1 offer. Why are our numbers so different? I am not a better scientist (full stop). Jeremy has more publications, a higher h-index, we were post docs for a similar amount of time. It a difference in approaches. As Elizabeth Sbrocco (@EJSbrocco) nicely put it “it’s like k-selection vs. r-selection”. Both Jeremy and I got tenure track jobs, so the question remains - is one approach better than the other? Jeremy suggests “Apply for everything”. Personally, I don’t think this is terribly good advice. In my next post, I will lay out why I think this is “terrible advice” – and I use “terrible advice” loosely here, it is an approach that works for some people, but it has many drawbacks.  


So…Who am I, and why consider reading this? I am a new Assistant Professor at the University of California Riverside in the Department of Biology ( My research focuses on the interface of ecology, biogeography, and conservation. My broad goal is to understand the mechanisms that influence patterns of biodiversity, and then to use that understanding to address environmental issues. I did my Ph.D. at UC-Irvine with Katie Suding, a Post-Doc at UC-Davis with Susan Harrison (while my wife was doing her Ph.D. at Berkeley), a Post-Doc with Jonathan Myers at Washington University in St. Louis, and a part-time Post-Doc with Katie Suding at CU-Boulder (she moved). During that last post-doc, I was living in Missoula Montana (where my wife was doing a Post-Doc) and John Maron was nice enough to let me hang out with him and his lab. I am currently on the Master’s Committee for some students at Sonoma State University. So, between my several faculty mentors, and all the grad students and post-docs I have interacted with at all of these institutions (UC-Irvine, Berkeley, UC-Davis, WashU, CU-Boulder, UM, SSU, UCR) I have seen a lot of great mentoring and a fair amount of bad mentoring. I have heard people give some good advice and heard people give a lot of terrible advice. I want people to be successful in academia, so if there is something I can do to help, I want to do it. So the posts you will find here will be focused on some piece of “terrible advice” I have heard over the years and what, from my perspective, might be an alternative approach. 

One last thing…my path to being an Assistant Professor started in a different place that most academics.  After high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I joined the Army.

 I spent 5 years in the Infantry – spending part of my time as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne (yes, I used to jump out of perfectly good airplanes) and part of my time stationed in Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division. When I left, I was a Sargent and I had spent several years in leadership positions where I was directly reasonable for the morale, welfare, training, and lives of other soldiers. This has given me a bit of a different perspective on things, but also, a lot of experience mentoring a wide diversity of people under very stressful conditions

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