Peer-reviewed articles on the important, everyday components of our work lives

Blog written by Meghan Duffy, Associate Editor for Academic Practice in Ecology and Evolution

A few years ago, I did a study of last and corresponding authorship practices in ecology. I thought the results were interesting and might be useful to others, so started to think about writing it up for publication. But, when I did, I realized I had a problem: I wanted the paper to be seen by ecologists, but I wasn’t sure of what ecology journal might be willing to publish such a piece.

It turns out I wasn’t alone in feeling like we needed a venue for this sort of study in a journal that focuses on ecology and evolution. Many ecologists and evolutionary biologists are in positions where much of their time is spent in teaching and service roles. Even research intensive positions often involve leading teams, writing grants, sitting on review panels, and networking. Thus, while much of our training focuses on how to carry out our own research, many of us are in positions where we need to do so much more than that. And we need ways to learn and reflect on the skills and concepts that deal with these other aspects of our scientific lives.

When the Academic Practice section was announced in 2017, the call noted:

“As ecologists and evolutionary biologists, we apply scholarly approaches to the myriad roles we have undertaken in our professions. Publishing about such new knowledge and advances in our ‘roles’ (e.g., teaching, service, outreach, professional development, and change) typically occurs in a range of transdisciplinary journals. Tracking down this literature, in what can be disparate fields of research, is time‐consuming and can prevent groundbreaking ideas from being more generally acknowledged and ultimately implemented in the day‐to‐day.

Our new category “Academic Practice” is intended to remedy this situation and bring high‐quality studies … to the attention of our readers.”

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In the end, my paper was the first official “Academic Practice in Ecology & Evolution” paper published by Ecology & Evolution, though the journal had already published a few articles along these lines prior to this official call (this paper by Fox & Burns was published in 2015 and this Fox et al. paper was published in 2016). I now am the Associate Editor who handles the Academic Practice submissions. You can now identify a paper as suitable for this section upon submission, which leads it into a system where Jennifer Firn is assigned as the Editor and me as the Associate Editor. When reading the submissions, I often think of how they are like really interesting, data driven blog posts that I would read anyway. So, in this post, I wanted to briefly highlight five recent publications in this section (selected with help from Jennifer!) which cover topics from grant writing to teaching to how we actually do our science to publishing to mentoring:

    • Teaching: Farrell & Carey wrote about activities aimed at developing computational literacy that they incorporated into undergraduate ecology courses, arguing that such training is important but currently lacking in the undergraduate ecology curriculum. They found that two modules that teach students how to analyze large scale datasets and to carry out simulation modeling led to students reporting significantly increased proficiency and confidence in their use of Excel and R and in computer programming in general, though did not significantly impact students self-reported likelihood of using Excel, R, or computer programming.
  • Research: Craven et al. analyzed changes in the interdisciplinarity of biodiversity science, analyzing almost 100,000 papers published over a 20 year period. They found that concept and subdiscipline diversity in biodiversity science have decreased over time, arguing that this reflects consolidation of the discipline around core concepts.
  • Publishing: Paine & Fox analyzed the effectiveness of journals as arbiters of scientific impact, using a survey of over 12,000 authors and data on almost 17,000 rounds of manuscript submission. This study has a wealth of really interesting results, including finding that ~65% of manuscripts were published in the first journal to which they were submitted (this surprised me!) and that, for those manuscripts that were rejected, 78% of were submitted to a journal with a lower impact factor. Based on the number of citations that a manuscript received after publication compared to the journals that rejected it, the authors concluded that the peer review system is an effective judge of the likely impact of a paper.
    • Grant writing: In contrast to Paine & Fox’s conclusion that journals (and peer review) are effective at judging likely impact, Roger Cousens argues that grant allocation systems are highly influenced by chance, and then goes on to present his personal conclusions regarding the factors that contribute to variation in the assessment of grant proposals, as well as his suggestions of things we could change. He argues against a lottery system (arguing that this would lead to less well-developed projects), and for grant agencies being more clear about their expectations.
  • Mentoring: Mentorship is such an important part of many of our jobs, but also something we receive very little formal training in. Thus, it didn’t surprise me to see this paper by Hund et al. zipping around social media when it first came out! They explain why good mentoring is so important, some of the unique challenges associated with mentoring in academia, and talk about a course that they developed and taught at the University of Colorado that focused on mentoring.

I was recently at a day-long event at Michigan that focused on discipline-based education research (DBER). At it, people kept saying that they struggle with where to publish this work — if they want to influence practice, it makes sense to publish in disciplinary journals, but often disciplinary journals don’t accept these kinds of articles. It reminded me that we are lucky to have a forum for articles about all of those parts of our day-to-day work lives.

Many of the articles that have been published in the Academic Practice section are now spotlighted here; that spotlight will be updated periodically. If you have questions about a potential submission, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or Jennifer!

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