Jabberwocky Ecology

How technology can help scientists with chronic illnesses (or Technology FTW!)

This is a guest post by Elita Baldridge (@elitabaldridge)

I am currently the remotely working member of Weecology, finishing up my PhD in the lower elevation and better air of Kansas, while the rest of my colleagues are still in Utah, due to developing a chronic illness and finally getting diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  The relocation is actually working out really well.  I’m in better shape because I’m not having to fight the air too, and I’m finally making real progress toward finishing my dissertation again.

I ruthlessly culled everything that wasn’t directly working on my dissertation.  I was going to attend the Gordon Conference this year, as I had heard fantastic things about it for years, but had not been ready to go yet, but I had to drop that because I wasn’t physically able to travel.  I did not go to ESA, because I couldn’t travel.  There are working groups and workshops galore, all involving travel, which I cannot do.  Right now, the closest thing that we have to bringing absent scientists to an event is live tweeting, which is not nearly as good as hearing a speaker for yourself, and is pretty heartbreaking if you had to cancel your plans to attend an event because you were too infirm to go.The tools that I’m using to do science remotely are not just for increasing accessibility for a single chronically ill macroecologist.  They are good tools for science in general.  I’m using GitHub to version control my code, and Dropbox to share data and figures.  Ethan can see what I’m working on as I’m doing it, and I’ve got a clear record of what I was doing and what decisions that I made. While my cognitive dysfunction may be a bit more extreme of a problem, I know that we’ve all stayed up too late coding and broken something we shouldn’t have and the ability to wave the magic Git wand and make any poor decisions that I made while my brain was out to lunch go away is priceless.

Open access?  Having open access to papers is really important when you are going to be faced shortly with probably not having any institutional access anymore.  Also, important for everyone else who isn’t at a major university with very expensive subscriptions to all the journals.  Having open access to data and code is crucial when you can’t collect your own data and are going to be doing research from your home computer on the cheap because you can’t rely on your body to work reliably at any given point in time.

Video conferencing is working well for me to meet with the lab, but could also be great for attending conferences and workshops.  This would not only be good for a certain macroecologist, but would also be good to include people from smaller universities, etc. who would like to participate in these type of things too, but can’t otherwise due to the travel.  I did my master’s degree at Fort Hays State University, and I still love it dearly.  This type of increased accessibility would have been great for me while I was a perfectly healthy master’s student.  Fort Hays is a primarily undergraduate institution in the middle of Kansas, about four hours away from any major city, and it does not have some of the resources that a larger university would have.  No seminar series, no workshops, not much travel money to go to workshops or conferences, which doesn’t mean that good science can’t still be happening.

Many of my labmates are looking for post-docs, or are already in postdoc positions at this point.  I’m very excited for all of them, and await eagerly all the stories of the exciting new things they are doing.  Having a chronic illness limits what I am capable of doing physically.  I am not going to be able to move across the country for a post-doc.  That does not mean that I do not want to play science too.  I’ve got my home base set up, and I can reach pretty far from here.  I still want to be a part of living science, I don’t want to have to get to the party after everyone else has gone home.

And I wonder, why can I not do these things?  Is it not the future?  Do we not have the internet, with video chat?  I get to meet with Ethan and talk science at our weekly meetings every week.  I go to lab meetings with video chat, and get to see what my labmates are doing, and crack jokes, and laugh at other people’s jokes.  It wouldn’t be hard to get me to conferences and working groups either.

With technology, I get to be a part of living, breathing science, and it is a beautiful thing.

Weecology is moving to the University of Florida

And yes... River is doing the Gator Chomp

We are excited to announce that Weecology will be moving to the University of Florida next summer. We were recruited as part of the UF Rising Preeminence Plan, a major hiring campaign to bring together researchers in a number of focal areas including Big Data and Biodiversity. We will both be joining the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation department, Ethan will be part of UF’s new Informatics Institute, and Morgan will be part of UF’s new Biodiversity Initiative.

As excited as we are about the opportunities at Florida, we are also incredibly sad to be saying goodbye to Utah State University. Leaving was not an easy decision. We have amazing colleagues and friends here in Utah that we will greatly miss. We have also felt extremely well treated by Utah State. They were very supportive while we were getting our programs up and running, including helping us solve the two-body problem. They allowed us to take risks in both research and the classroom. They have been incredibly supportive of our desires for work-life balance, and were very accommodating following the birth of our daughter. It was a fantastic place to spend nearly a decade and we will miss it and the amazing people who made it home.

So why are we leaving? It was a many faceted decisions, but at its core was the realization that the scale of the investment and recruiting of talented folks in both of our areas of interest was something we were unlikely to see again in our careers. The University of Florida has always had a strong ecology group, but between the new folks who have already accepted positions and those we know who are being considered, it is going to be such a talented and exciting group that we just had to be part of it!

As part of the move we’ll be hiring for a number of different positions, so stay tuned!

The “2+n Body” Problem: Sabbatical planning with kids

If you follow Ethan (@ethanwhite) or I (@skmorgane) on twitter, you are probably aware that we are on sabbatical right now out at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (go, tarheels!) along with our pre-school aged daughter. Anyway a tweet of mine recently elicited a post request:



So, as requested, here are some things to think about when you have 2 academics plus child(ren). This is just my experience, so hopefully others will pop up with their own.

1)      Check institutional rules: I received tenure a couple years before Ethan. So for us to take sabbatical together, I needed to delay my sabbatical until he was eligible. I have heard that not all institutions allow you to do this. I also know that there are some departments that don’t guarantee that academic spouses can take sabbatical at the same time. Neither of these applied to us, but you should check your faculty code and talk to your Department Head. Do this well in advance.

2)      Picking a spot: This is the chance for both of you to recharge, explore new ideas, and gear up for another productive 7 years. It’s important that you find someplace that will work for both of you. We initially planned on going to Europe for sabbatical, but places that were awesome for one of us, had fewer opportunities for the other. That’s part of the reason we ended up in the Research Triangle. We both have a colleague we really like working with here and there’s lots of great people in both of our areas of interest.

3)      Finding a Daycare: Many universities have websites to help their faculty find quality daycare. Website quality varies, so check out the daycare websites for all the higher ed institutions in your sabbatical area. I used Duke’s very helpful website that told me about the North Carolina accrediting system and provided basic information about daycares in the area that they had partnered with. I used it and the State of North Carolina’s childcare facility search site to generate a list of daycare’s that fit our search criteria (type of daycare, location, accreditation, costs). I also poured over reviews in Yelp and Angie’s List and scoured daycare websites to generate a list of about 10 places. We applied to all of them. Most of them either never got back to us or told us we had little chance of getting in. But we did have 3 that offered us a slot and a choice is a nice thing to have.

4)      Daycare timing – contacting: Honestly, we probably waited too long on this. For an August arrival, we started contacting daycares in June. We’re happy with the daycare we got into, but I probably should have started the process earlier so that we were further up in the waiting lists.

5)      Daycare timing – start: The other thing to consider is when your child will start relative to when you will be arriving. We had two and half weeks between when we arrived and the earliest date our daughter could start. Because we were juggling a variety of things (renters moving into our house, going to ESA, grant deadlines), we didn’t have a lot of ability to either shorten or lengthen that. But I think it worked well. Our daughter had time to get comfortable with her new home before also being tossed into a new daycare situation. Besides, it gave us time to actually visit the new daycare before she started to make sure all of us were happy with it.

6)      Housing: Colleagues at UNC forwarded us some sabbatical home ads, but we eventually found one we liked on SabbaticalHomes.com.  Many of the homes are furnished and being rented by other academics. We had our good friend (and sabbatical host) check out our home to make sure it wasn’t next door to a crack den. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have someone to ask, then there are some resources on the web that can help you figure out the crime rate of your prospective neighborhood, though you may need to subscribe to get access to fine scale info (e.g., neighborhoodscout.com).

So, in < 1000 words, that’s what I could think to convey. We also spent a lot of time selling the positives of the “really big trip” and making sure she understood that we would be coming home at the end. I suspect there are additional complexities when kids are K-12, but hopefully someone will comment with advice. Finally, this post is aimed at people moving for their sabbatical. In this modern world, moving to a different location may not be feasible for a long list of reasons. If someone has advice for making the most of conducting sabbatical at your home institution, I suspect it would find an eager audience.

Happy planning and feel free to leave a comment if I didn’t cover something you wanted to hear about or you have stuff to add!