2018 Year in Review

No one is sorry to say goodbye to 2018, yet it still seems like the 2018 Year in Review has arrived too soon. As usual, I’ve been keeping busy; you can find my reviews for 2017 and 2016 in the archives. For the first year in the
three years since I started this blog, I’m not starting a new job! I’ve been at BioBE for a year and a half, and it’s a relief to be in an academic position long enough to finish the projects you started (I’m only just starting to submit some manuscripts for work I did back in Montana).

BioBE and ESBL staff (not all pictured), Sept 2018

Research

Two papers of mine were published this year, including one on the bacteria along the GI tract of calves, one on the effect of dietary zinc on bacteria in sheep.  A comprehensive culturing initiative of rumen microorganisms, called the Hungate 1000 Project, an international initiative to which I contributed data, was also published.  That puts me up to 17 scientific articles, of which 9 are first-authored, as well as 5 scientific reviews.  I have three manuscripts in review right now, and another five being prepared – 2019 will be a busy year.

I joined two journal editorial boards this year, PloS One and Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Both positions are as an Academic (or handling) Editor; I will oversee manuscript review by soliciting reviewers, assessing their recommendations, and interfacing with authors. In recent years, the gender discrepancy in science has received more attention, and some journals are making efforts towards increasing the number of female editors, reviewers, and contributors to reduce implicit bias in science publishing. I am pleased to be in a position where I can help change that!

I’ve been spending a lot of time writing grants and developing potential projects on microbiology and health in the built environment, many of which should be moving forward in 2019. I’ve also been spending time training the 9 undergraduate students I hired over the summer and fall to work at BioBE. In addition to microbiology and molecular biology laboratory skills, I have been training them on DNA sequence analysis and coding, scientific literature review, and science writing and communications.

Teaching

This fall term, I taught Introduction to Mammalian Microbiomes for the University of Oregon Clark Honor’s College.  I proposed this new course last year, and developed the curricula largely from scratch.  I’d previously taught some of the subject material at Montana State University in Carl Yeoman and Seth Walk’s Host-Associated Microbiomes course; however in IMM I was teaching to non-science majors.  The course went well, and I’ll be diving into it in detail with a full blog post in a few weeks. I proposed the course again for next year, as well as another new course; Microbiology of the Built Environment.

Presentations and travel

Early in the year, I gave two public talks on the gut microbiome for Oregon Museum of Science and Industry; one in Eugene and one in Portland. Both were a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed getting to share my work with the public.

In May, the research group I am part of (the Institute for Health in the Built Environment, comprising the Biology and the Built Environment Center, the Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory, and Baker Lighting Lab) hosted a mini-conference in Portland in May; the Health and Energy Consortium 2018.  I presented some results on how some home factors affect the bacteria community found indoors, as well as brainstormed research ideas with industry professionals and researchers.

At the end of the spring term, I also presented at the University of Oregon IDEAL Framework Showcase.  Over the 2017/2018 academic year I served on the Implicit Bias working group, tasked with assessing the need for campus-wide training and making recommendations to the college.

In June, I attended the HOMEChem Open House at the UT Austin Test House, University of Texas at Austin’s J.J. Pickle Research Campus.  I got to tour the amazing indoor chemistry labs there, and met with BioBE collaborators to discuss pilot projects exploring the link between indoor chemistry and indoor microbiology.

In July, I had a double header of back-to-back conferences, both of which I was attending for the first time.  The first was Microbiology of Built Environment 2018 Gordon Research Conference in Biddeford, ME, followed by Indoor Air 2018 in Philadelphia, PA.

MoBE 2018 was an intensive meeting that brought together the top names and the rising stars of MoBE research.  Gordon conferences are closed-session to encourage the presentation of unpublished data and ideas, and to facilitate discussion and theoretical contemplation.  While in Biddeford, I had the opportunity to eat seafood, visit friends, and check out Mug Buddy Cookies!! 

Immediately after MoBE, I flew to Philadelphia for the Indoor Air 2018 conference.  I again presented some of the work I’ve been part of, exploring the effect of weatherization and lifestyle on bacteria indoors. I also found some incredible shoes.

Then, in August I went to Leipzig, Germany for the 17th International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME17).  Here as well, I presented some of the work I’ve been part of, and had the chance to revisit a city I haven’t been to in 5 years – since the last microbial ecology conference held here.

Outreach

I spent a great deal of 2018 participating in activities for 500 Women Scientists. I am a Pod Coordinator for the Eugene Pod, and as such I meet regularly with other Coordinators to plan events. The majority of our 2018 events were Science Salons: science talks by local female researchers around a particular theme, with a hands-on activity to match, and a Q&A session about life as a (female) scientist. We heard about some awesome research, raised $1300 for local science non-profits, and learned how to be better community members by sharing personal stories about the triumphs and troughs of being a woman in science.

We also hosted a film screening of My Love Affair with the Brain, generously lent to 500WS by Luna Productions, followed by a panel discussion of women neuroscientists here in Eugene.

Along with two other Eugene Pod Coordinators, I wrote a small proposal which was funded, to coordinate workshops at UO: “Amplifying diverse voices: training and support for managing identity-based harassment in science communication”. Those workshops will take place in 2019.


This year, I acted as a judge for several robotics competitions and STEM design projects for local schools, I even dressed up as a giant spider to throw corn starch at campers. You know, for the kids.

I again participated in citizen science through Adventure Scientists, as part of their wood crews for the Timber Tracking 2018 campaign. Lee and I drove around a 20,000 sq mi section of southwestern Oregon to collect samples from big leaf maple trees at 10 locations which adhered to certain sampling parameters. Despite the large number of big leafs in Oregon, the sampling criteria made it difficult to find the perfect tree in an entire forest, and we logged a lot of mileage. Lee and I also volunteered for their Gallatin County Microplastics Initiative while we lived in Bozeman, MT.

Blog

I published 30 posts this year! The most popular post this year continues to be Work-Life Balance: What Do Professors Do?, self explanatory, and the least popular this year is Show Me the (Grant) Money, detailing the grant proposal writing process. Although, I was significantly less wordy this year as compared to other years.

As of today, my site received 4,447 view from 97 countries and 3,101 visitors in 2018. So far, I’ve published 109 posts, and received 6,147 visitors who viewed the site 9,481 times.

Life

It’s easy to forget how many life events go by in a year, unless your social media is making you a video about them. But they were all important parts of my life and had some impact, however negligible, on my work. The one I’m most proud of was officiating the wedding of two dear friends, in Vermont.


I marched (seriously and facetiously) for science.

Lee and I picked up trash at the beach, using a sieve he built to pick up trash.

I tried to spend more time on creative projects, including getting back into art after more-or-less tabling it for several years.

Looking Ahead

As usual, 2019 promises an abundance of opportunities. Already, I am planning out my conference schedule, seeking speakers for upcoming 500WS Science Salons, and writing, writing, writing. But through all of it, I will be trying to cultivate a more open, inclusive, and supportive work environment. In 2018, after more than a decade of trying to convince doctors that I should have agency over my own organs, I was finally approved for the hysterectomy that I’d wanted for so long, and the medical diagnostics to show that I’d actually needed it for probably just as long.

The surgery has dramatically improved my quality of life, and the scars are a constant reminder that you never know who is dealing with something in their life that isn’t visible to you, who is trying to pretend they aren’t in pain because they can’t afford to take time off to resolve their situation. At first, I kept the details to myself and I kept it off my professional social media. I did share, in exquisite detail, on my personal social media, and was flooded with similar stories from other women. It encouraged me to share a little more, after all, if I’d had surgery on a knee or a kidney I would talk about it openly, why not a uterus?

In a typical semester, one to two-thirds of the students that I teach or mentor will disclose that they experienced a serious life event, most often while at school. They may casually joke about how they couldn’t get time off or almost failed out that semester, or recall how receiving help saved them. I take my role as an educator, mentor, or supervisor seriously – the competition in academia forces students to work long or odd hours, to prioritize other things over study, to accept positions of low or no pay “for the experience”, or to accept professional relationships where they are not respected or may be taken advantage of. I have always tried to be a supportive mentor to students, but the higher up the ladder I climb the more important it is for me to set a good example for these students who will one day mentor people of their own.

In addition to listening to them, and having frank conversations, my response this year has been to get rid of student employee deadlines whenever possible. We are asked to do so much with our time in school, or in academia, but there are so many hours in the day. Sure, I routinely wish things were accomplished more promptly, but I have never once regretted not causing someone to have a breakdown. And constantly telling my students to take care of themselves first and work second reminds me to do the same, it benefits my work , and it’s made a certain furball very happy. Happy New Year!

2017 Year in Review

The end of 2017 marks the second year of my website, as well as another year of life-changing events, and reflecting on the past year’s milestones help put all those long hours into perspective.  I reviewed my year last year, and found it particularly helpful in focusing my goals for the year ahead.

Looking Back

In the first half of 2017, I was working as a post-doctoral researcher in the Menalled lab at Montana State University, researching the interaction of climate change, farm management (cropping) system, and disease on soil bacteria in wheat fields, as well as the legacy effects on subsequent crops.  I am still working to analyze, interpret, and publish those results, and hope to submit several manuscripts from that project in early 2018.  In June, I began a position as a research assistant professor in the Biology and the Built Environment Center at the University of Oregon.

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This involved another large move, not only from Montana to Oregon, which has led to some awesome new adventures, but also from agriculture and animal science to indoor microbiomes and building science.   So far, it has been a wonderful learning experience for incorporating research techniques and perspectives from other fields into my work.

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2017 has been another extremely productive year for me.  I presented some work at two conferences, the Congress on Gastrointestinal Function and the Ecological Society of America meeting (additional ESA posts here and here).  While at ESA, I was able to attend the 500 Women Scientists luncheon to discuss inequality in academia as well as recommendations we could make to improve ESA and other conferences ,such as offering affordable on-site child care, and action items we could take ourselves, such as attending training workshops to combat implicit bias or making sure job searches recruit a diverse candidate pool.

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500 Women Scientist group at ESA 2017

This year, I added four new research publications and one review publication to my C.V., and received word that a massive collaborative study that I contributed to was accepted for publication- more on that once it’s available.  In April, I hosted a day of workshops on soil microbes for the Expanding Your Horizons for Girls program at MSU, and I gave a seminar at UO on host-associated microbiomes while dressed up as a dissected cat on Halloween.  In November, I participated in a Design Champs webinar; a pilot series from BioBE which provides informational discussions to small groups of building designers on aspects of how architecture and biology interact.

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I published 34 posts in 2017, including this one, which is significantly fewer than the 45 I published in 2016.  However, I have doubled my visitor traffic and views over last year’s totals: over 2,000 visitors with over 3,200 page views in 2017! My highest-traffic day was April 27th, 2017.  While I am most popular in the United States, I have had visitors from 92 countries this year!

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Map of home countries for 2017 website visitors.

My most popular post is currently “Work-life balance: what do professors do?”, with over 610 views! My least popular is “Presentation on juniper diets and rumen bacteria from JAM 2016 available!” with just 2 views, granted, that one appeals to a much narrower audience.  This year, in addition to updates on publications, projects, and positions, I wrote about writing; including theses and grants. I wrote about getting involved in science, be it through education, participation, or legislation.  I described outreach in academia, and the process of interviewing.  I gave some perspective on the effect of climate change and anthropological influence on agriculture and ecology, as well as on the debate surrounding metrics of success in graduate study.

I also added some “life” to my work-life balance; in November, I married my best friend and “chief contributor“, Lee Warren, in a small, stress-free ceremony with some local friends in Eugene, Oregon!!

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Looking Ahead

I have high hopes for 2018, notably, I’d like to finish more of the projects that have been in development over the last two years during my post-docs.  Nearly all academics carry forward old projects: some need additional time for experimentation or writing, some get shelved temporarily due to funding or time constraints, some datasets get forgotten and gather dust, and some which got cut short because of the need to move to a new job.  This is a particular concern as grant funding and length of job postings become shorter, forcing researchers to cut multi-year projects short or finish them on their own time.  After defending in early 2015, I had two one-year postings and started at UO in June 2017, making this my fourth job in three years.  I’m looking forward to roosting for a bit, not only to clear out unfinished business, but also to settle into my new job at BioBE.  This fall, I have been analyzing data on a weatherization project, writing a handful of grants, and developing pilot projects with collaborators.  I have really enjoyed my first six months at BioBE, and Lee and I have taken a shine to Eugene.  In the next few months, I hope to have more posts about my work there, exciting new developments in BioBE and ESBL, and more insights into the work life of an academic.  Happy New Year!

Work-life balance: the unicorn that is the 40 hour academic work week

In the first installment of the work-life balance discussion, I discussed the different levels of employment for university faculty and gave general information on the different functions they performed on a daily basis.  I also talked about how many of them work longer than 40 hours a week, including nights and weekends, and may even work summers without compensation.  For example, in a 1994 report, the American Association of University Professors reported that professors worked 48-52 hours per week, and this had increased to  53 hours by 2005.  Other sources over the past five years have reported more: 57 hours per week at a Canadian research institution, 50-60 hours per week in the UK.  But like with anything, work quantity does not equate to quality.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

For one thing, working long hours without sufficient weekly time off, or vacations, can significantly increase stress.  And this stress can lead to all sorts of different mental and physical problems.  Working long hours can interfere with our normal circadian rhythm– it can disrupt our sleep cycles, throw off our eating times and appetite, and make it difficult to exercise regularly.  Longer hours have been directly correlated with incidence of hypertension and other cardiovascular problems (also reviewed here).

Moreover, long work hours and work stress can negatively impact mental health (12, 3, 4), and increase the use of legal and illegal substances (reviewed here).  A study of work hours on over 330,000 participants in 61 countries found that working more than 48 hours a week was associated with heavy drinking in both men and women.  Stress, lack of sleep, and a subsequent difficulty paying attention can also increase the frequency of injury at work, and this injury rate directly relates to the increase in hours.  Jobs with overtime hours have been associated with as much as 61% more work-related injuries than those without.  In fact, there is so much research on stress, health, and occupation, that there are numerous journals solely dedicated to reporting on those findings: The International Journal of Stress Management, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, The Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, just to name a few.

 

Having a life makes us better employees

But for all that personal sacrifice, mounting evidence shows that a reduction in work hours is what promotes productivity, not a 24-hour work day.  Reducing weekly hours increased productivity as employees were less likely to be absent from work due to poor health (reviewed here).  Taking scheduled breaks instead of skipping them was also responsible for improving cognitive function in students.  Even brief diversions were shown to improve focus and cognitive function. Besides giving us a rest from our current task, or engaging our attention with something novel, taking a break allows us to daydream.  While this may seem like a waste of time, letting our minds wander activates different parts of our brain- including those involved in problem solving and creative thinking.  If you’ve ever come up with a brilliant solution while doing mundane tasks, then you’ve experienced this.  For my part, I tend to think of great ideas when I’m washing dishes or biking home.  Daydreaming, or taking a break, also helps release dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter involved in movement, emotions, motivation, and rewards.  It’s very helpful in the creative process, as explained in a discussion of creativity in the shower.  Restful thinking also seems to be involved with promoting divergent thinking, emotional connectivity, and reading comprehension.

Going on regular annual vacations was correlated with a lower risk for coronary heart disease: not only are vacations great for reducing stress, but they also provide opportunities for more exercise, mental downtime, and creative outlets.  Mandatory time-off during nights and weekends for consultants resulted in a reported increase job performance, mental health, and attitude, though many said it was a struggle to enforce “time outs” from work in the beginning because they felt guilty about not working during their personal time.  This was seen again in a study of Staples managers who did not take scheduled breaks out of guilt.

It’s this persistent feeling that you should be working at home, and that you could be doing more, which is largely reported by “driven” employees and workaholics.  This feeling has lately been coined “tele-pressure“.  It’s particularly invasive these days as you have access to work emails and other communications via smart phones, laptops, or tablets.  In fact, by syncing many of these devices, your attention is compelled by multiple simultaneous electronic signals and vibrations whenever someone contacts you.  It’s no wonder we can’t shut off at the end of the day. (And for the record, I wrote this on a Sunday evening.)

More important than knowing that taking regular breaks and vacations will help manage your stress and improve your productivity, is remembering that you are entitled to it.  We have labor laws for a reason, and you are entitled to your nights, weekends, and your X number of weeks a year.  You are entitled to stay home when you are sick, or whenever you feel like it.  It’s your personal time, take it.

So, if you’re in academia, what do you do to unwind?  Leave me some comments!

 

Photo courtesy of Lee Warren.

Work-life balance: what do professors do?

Outside the academic world, there is a lot of misconception about what faculty and university personnel actually do and when.  While this varies by position, university faculty have a variable mix of teaching, research, advising students, grant writing, administration of grant budgets and workloads for persons working in the lab, being on institutional committees (curriculum planning, graduate student committees, candidate search committees), and community outreach (presentations, generating informative publications for the general public, etc.).  As universities have sought to increase student populations while decreasing faculty, this has led to an ever-increasing number of hours spent working.

The Academic Ladder

To understand the problem with workloads, we must first understand the positions generally available.  It’s taken for granted that graduate students will work more than 40 hours per week.  Graduate teaching assistants are paid a stipend to teach a certain number of credits per semester, and generally their tuition is covered by the department they are teaching for, although this does not always include university fees and health insurance.  At the University of Vermont as a GTA, I still paid around $1,200 per semester, despite having my tuition and some of my student health insurance comped.  As a graduate research assistant, a research grant pays your stipend and, potentially, your tuition.  Either way, you are taking classes and expected to do your own research, and it is very difficult to excel at all aspects while try to only work 40 hours per week.

Post-doctoral researchers have attained their Ph.D., and are specializing in an area of research.  Often, PhDs go from post-doc position to post-doc position waiting for a professorship in their field to open up.  Depending on the positions, post-docs also have to write their own grants, and may have to teach, although this is often unpaid.  In 2005, post-docs in the US reported working an average of 51 hours per week, diluting their salary until their effective hourly pay was lower than Harvard janitorial staff.  As reported in the study, average post-doctoral salary ($38k/year) was also less than the average salary of someone working outside of academia with only a bachelor’s degree ($45k/year), and much less than those with professional degrees ($72k/year).

From there, a variety of academic positions available, but these generally fall into three tiers: assistant, associate, and (full) professor.  For example, if you are a research professor, you do not have to teach and often do not mentor students outside of your graduate students, and you can be at the level of assistant-, associate-, or (full) research professor depending on your years of experience.  These are almost always non-tenured positions, meaning you work by contract, and you often have to fund your own salary through grants.  There are also adjunct professors, as well as lecturers or instructors.  Like research professors, they perform fewer functions (generally just teaching and advising), and have short-term contracts.  Adjunct positions are part-time with no benefits, while lecturers are full-time and come with benefits, and their prevalence in research universities is increasing.

Traditional faculty positions, on the other hand, have salaries paired through the department, and are contracted for longer periods of time.  You can also be at the level of assistant, associate, or (full) professor, and you may also apply for tenure.  Tenure is a permanent contract with the university, and it is a grueling review in which all of your career moves are carefully examined by a panel of your peers.  The idea behind tenure is that once it is awarded, you cannot be fired except under special circumstances, allowing you to pursue less trendy and more daring research topics.  Tenure is not awarded lightly, and assistant (or associate) faculty spend years trying to accomplish as much as possible, such that they are driven to work longer hours. Faculty without tenure reported working an average of 56 hours per week, which is likely driven by assistant professors that reported working 56 hours per week.

All of these positions may be offered as 9 (September to May) or 12 month appointments, meaning you are only paid for working that many months.  There is a perception that faculty don’t work in the summer, and that’s because those 9 month appointments are not required to work.  However, most take the opportunity to catch up on research or generating teaching materials, and many academics report working longer hours in the summer.  While you might be awarded grant money to pay salary for the three months of summer that you spend catching up on research, many academics will end up working uncompensated just to keep up.

Responsibilities

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In a preliminary study by anthropologist Dr. John Ziker, called Time Allocation Workload Knowledge Study (TAWKS), 30 professors from Boise State University were asked to recall everything they had done over the past 24 hours.  Participants reported an average of 61 hours per week spent working, including about 10 hours on the weekend.  The breakdown of their job functions is below:

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TAWKS preliminary data, Dr. John Ziker

 

Other studies report similar findings, with an average 53 hours per week spent on all activities, and a breakdown as such:

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Link et al. 2008, Economics of Education Review

This seems to be skewed towards assistant professors:

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Link et al. 2008, Economics of Education Review

as well as non-tenured faculty:

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Link et al. 2008, Economics of Education Review

 

As I mentioned, professors are responsible for teaching, research, advising students, grant writing, administration of grant budgets and workloads for persons working in the lab, institutional committees (curriculum planning, graduate student committees, candidate search committees), and community outreach (presentations, generating informative publications for the general public, etc.).  Here is a very long list that one professor made of their responsibilities.  Enrollment in college has increased over the past few decades, but faculty hires have not kept pace: there are an average of 16 fewer staff members per 1,000 full-time students in 2012 than there was in 2000.  While the number of faculty positions in the US has increased numerically, this growth has been overwhelmingly in part-time hires, with a 121% increase from 1990 to 2012 as compared to a 41% increase in full-time hires.  The increasing number of students, expansion of faculty responsibilities, and the rise in part-time employees who often travel to multiple universities in a day for work have pushed staff and faculty to work longer hours, yet this does not always translate into better quality of work, as some work functions take priority over others over time.

In the follow-up segment, I’ll discuss the importance of time off and finding a work-life balance (as I write this on evenings and weekends), and how this contributes to reduced stress, as well as improved health, productivity, quality of work, and quality of life.

If you’re in academia, what do you do on a daily basis?  Leave me some comments!