The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action


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Veterinary School:  Is it worth it?

As the lab’s resident veterinarian, I’m frequently asked questions about getting a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. Things like, “What were you thinking?” and “Does thinking about your student loans keep you up at night?” I thought I would cover a few of these topics here in the lab blog.

To start with, to anyone who is considering applying to veterinary school:  It is NOT a smart economic decision. The cost of a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM or VMD) degree, on average, barely breaks even over the course of a man’s career, and actually slightly decreases the lifetime earnings of a woman. Given that 90% of veterinary students graduate with student loan debt (how did 10% of students manage to graduate without any debt??? So jealous.), and the average student loan burden is over $160,000, this is not surprising. Compounding the financial strain is the relatively low starting salaries of veterinarians, only around $67,000 a year if they start working full-time immediately, rather than pursuing further training such as a PhD, internship, or residency. And there doesn’t seem to be any advantage to attending a more expensive school; starting salary is in no way correlated to student loan debt or the cost of tuition.

Vet student debt to income

The direness of the financial situation of course varies considerably by field, with food animal and equine veterinarians having the worst debt to income ratio, and vets working in industry having the best. Veterinarians working in academia (like me!) fall somewhere in between, but we at least have a decent chance of paying back our student loans in a reasonably timely manner. Even if I do often feel like this:

Student loan debt

There is a pervasive myth that, in spite of the heavy debt load and relatively poor earning potential, there is a national shortage of veterinarians, so it is at least a good field to go into for job security. This, unfortunately, is not true. While the number of job openings for veterinarians are predicted to increase by 9% from 2014-2024, the number of graduating veterinarians has been rising by 1.8% per year for the last 30 years (we currently graduate ~3000 new DVMs per year), a trend which is expected to continue. And a 2012 report by the National Research Council (NRC) showed that there is no national shortage of veterinarians, except in some rural areas. This is also consistent with the findings of the 2013 AVMA veterinary workforce report, which showed that 12.5% of the veterinary capacity to provide services is going unused (this does not mean that 12.5% of veterinarians are unemployed or underemployed, just that as a whole, 12.5% of the potential services that could be provided by veterinarians around the country are going unused each year). However, this is not necessarily bad – there is also not an extreme surplus of veterinarians, and unemployment in the field is lower than the national average, only 3.4%. And having a moderate surplus of capacity means we can better handle emergencies such as disease outbreaks.

So, given that we’ve established veterinary school is a terrible, terrible, terrible financial decision, why do people still get the degree? And why am I among them? Well, for most people I think it’s more of a calling than a career. Most veterinarians desperately love their job, love caring for animals, and consider the incredible financial burden to be worth it if it means they get to spend every day saving lives. In my case, I never intended to be a full time practicing veterinarian. My plan was always to obtain both a DVM and a PhD, and work as a researcher. And, as I said earlier, the financial outlook for a veterinarian in academia is much better than for most practicing veterinarians; my salary is likely to be higher, and I can at least start paying off my student loans while working on my PhD.  The big payoff to the veterinary degree, for me, is a detailed knowledge and understanding of a wide variety of animals. I focused a lot of my study on interspecies comparisons, and how to extrapolate information from one species to be able to apply it in another. This has proven immensely useful in my academic career; even though I haven’t worked extensively with reptiles or amphibians prior to entering this lab, my knowledge in a wide variety of other species is still applicable. Medical training is also much more thorough, in general, than PhD classes are; there is no way I could have gained this depth of knowledge without having obtained a medical degree of some kind. And veterinarians are uniquely well-suited to answering questions about comparative anatomy and physiology, and to determining how likely a disease or medicine is to work in one species versus another (compare this to human medical doctors, who are taught the same things as veterinarians, but in only one species). This is invaluable in efforts to determine how wide-ranging an effect a research finding might have. For example, research done by Gail shows that stress causes immunological changes in the Eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus). My veterinary training makes me well-suited to developing hypotheses as to why this might be (questions based on what parts of the immune system are affected, what the time line of the changes are, etc.), and how likely this change is to be something that would occur in other species in the same situation (i.e., would a squirrel/snake/fish/etc. experience the same immune system changes when exposed to the same type of stress?). It also helps me explain some of our findings better, like how stress might cause changes in certain portions of the immune system, but cause no changes, or even opposite changes, in other parts.

While there has been a push to include human medical doctors in research using human subjects, there has not been as concerted an effort to do the same with animal subjects. All animals used in research are of course overseen by veterinarians, but usually their role is limited to the care and compassionate use of the animal subjects. I personally feel that most fields of animal research would benefit greatly from more veterinary input in developing hypotheses to test, and in study design and interpretation. One of my career goals is to illustrate how veterinary knowledge and training can benefit the research community, and encourage more scientists to obtain veterinary training, or encourage more veterinarians to participate in research.

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Classing Up Scientific Outreach

I’ve loved teaching since I was a middle school science teacher all the way back in 2005 (oh dear!). But, as a Penn State graduate student, it can be tough to find ways to bring science to kids and even more difficult to get experience teaching a class at the university level. To reach kids with cool science education opportunities, many graduate students, including me, build outreach activities for different venues (which I’ve discussed on this blog before). But is there a way to meet both these goals, doing community outreach and gaining experience with more formal teaching, at the same time? In short, yes!

About a year ago, I, and two friends who are also Biology graduate students, Allison Lewis and Zach Fuller, were being stereotypical graduate students and lamenting our lots in life. We’re supposed to be educators but the University won’t let us teach classes to get experience! Are we spending all this time doing outreach for nothing? Will anyone use our materials again? Why are we so whiny? Fortunately, bewailing the status quo can lead to good things if you get an idea for positive change. Zach, Allison, and I decided that the solution was to incorporate our outreach experiences into a class that would facilitate other students in conducting their own outreach from their own experience.

We first went to work convincing the University to actually let us teach a class. It is harder than you might think to actually teach at a university: there are many hidden requirements I never knew about and lots and lots of paperwork. To cut through this red tape rehash, I’ll finish by saying that we A) went all the way to the Dean to get permission to teach an outreach class (with a major assist from some supportive Biology faculty) and B) got a workable budget, a room to host the class, and a spot with the University Registrar. At long last, BIOL 497F, Science Outreach and Communication, a 1 credit class was born!

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The snazzy flyer for our class that we blitzed PSU with.

Of course, we also needed actual students for our class. We made up flyers and became very familiar with the distribution of bulletin boards in University Park. We spammed listservs and spammed them again. We asked our friends for recommendations, got the emails of incoming students before they were on campus, and plied professors for the emails of students they would recommend to take our class. By August, we had 13 enrolled students: 10 graduate and 3 undergrads. These students came into the class with a mix of backgrounds including neuroscience, biology, entomology, anthropology and ecology.

The first portion of our class focused on teaching a core set of skills: how to tailor activities to different age levels and audiences, how to design and plan effective outreach, and how to evaluate learning. We collaborated with professional educators from different University entities, including Mike Zeman from the Eberly College of Science Outreach Office and Larkin Hood from the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence to bring their expertise to our class (thanks guys!). Our students worked in small groups to build their own lesson plans for an initial outreach activity and then presented those to the rest of the class for feedback. We worked as a group to provide constructive criticism and refine these activities to increase their focus and effectiveness. In the midst of this, we included several classes focused on other important science communication topics including writing for a general audience, the importance of outreach in grant-writing, and a panel discussion with professional scientists who are successfully incorporating outreach into their research and careers.

At last, after much practice, cutting out of small paper shapes, tasting starbursts, and wrangling stick insects, the first outreach program (and major grade!) of the class arrived on November 10th as our students presented their own outreach activities at Exploration U at the Bellefonte Area High School. Exploration U is a biannual science fair run by the Science Outreach Office in which Penn State scientists and community groups present short, interesting activities about their research or other scientific topics for community children and their parents (hundreds of them at each event!). Some of the more dramatic activities include an inflatable planetarium, making ice cream with liquid nitrogen, a snake handling exhibit (not venomous ones!) and battling robots. Five groups from our class spent the evening discussing various aspects of science with the crowds.

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Kevin and Arash showing off their Bug-O-Vision activity.

Have you ever wondered how another organism experiences the world? Arash Maleki and Kevin Cloonan taught attendees how insects perceive the world differently from humans. Using colored glasses, they described how insects see different parts of the spectrum from humans and how insects may see “secret messages” such as targets or directional signals on flowers that are not visible to our naked eyes.

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Check out lots of other awesome pics of how flowers look to different organisms at Dr. Klaus Schmitt’s blog.

Cam Venable, Emilia Sola-Gracia, and David Stupski addressed the question of how plants are found everywhere when they don’t get up and walk (or fly or swim) like animals do. The answer is, of course, that their seeds do move, including via wind, water, and dispersal by animals. The kids loved an activity where they were able to make their own seed (with the aid of a little Velcro) and attempt to disperse it by tossing onto a passing fuzzy felt dog.

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Emilia shows a youngling the best way to “disperse” the seed he’s just constructed.

Styles Smith, Kokila Shankar, and Christian John created an activity that emphasized how animals’ limbs are adapted for the environments that they inhabit. Kids worked to match the skeletal structure of limbs to the animals that used them and then designed their own animals with different types of limbs. At the end of the activity, kids drew the habitat that their animal creations lived in and explained how their creatures were adapted to it.

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Styles describes how to go about designing an organism while a participant and her brainy younger brother listen.

Have you ever wondered why some folks just can’t eat their Brussel sprouts? Rebecca Coleman, Chloe Philip, and Chris Schmidt designed an activity explaining the heritability of taste, specifically focusing on why some are sensitive to bitterness (such as in those cursed sprouts) and others seem relatively immune. Kids and their parents tasted both sweet, sweet candy (Dum-dums) and a paper imbued with PTC, a chemical which tastes nastily bitter to a portion of the population. Chloe, Chris, and Becki used this experience as an entree to discuss how traits are coded for in our DNA and how these are passed between generations.

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As Becki and Chloe explain how traits are inherited, these kids are really developing a taste for science.

Carolyn Trietsch and Sarah Shugrue focused on how insects are adapted for different environments via camouflage, which prevents unwanted attention from predators (or allows predators to set up ambushes for unsuspecting prey)! They created an activity for kids to match bugs to their natural backgrounds and find hidden, camouflaged insects, including several live Vietnamese stick insects (which fascinated adults as well as the kids)!

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A young Darth Vader stays on the Light Side by gently petting a stick insect.

All in all, our class’ outreach night was successful as an educational experience both for the families who attended and the students in our class, who gained valuable experience. Moving forward, these students are designing and conducting their own independent outreach activities. Some lessons include: the use and importance of photography, including via drones (!), in biological research at State College High, demos of insect life cycles at Mount Nittany Middle School, and a scientist-in-the-classroom visit via Skype to a Philly elementary school to discuss how awesome ants are! We’re proud of the creativity and dedicated work that our students have put in over the semester and are excited to see them continue to do outreach in the future. For me, this class has provided great experience: in designing a class from the ground up, learning to navigate bureaucratic pitfalls, and co-teaching a class with two other dedicated instructors. It’s also been inspirational to see the impact that a small but dedicated group of students can have in advancing scientific education. Looking forward we hope to make this class a yearly offering in the College of Science to encourage a growing culture of scientific outreach in the graduate student community.

If you’re interested in seeing a syllabus for this class, here you go!


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Adult Outreach

As Chris explained in his latest blog post, the goals of scientific outreach are numerous. One such goal is simply to interest others in scientific research. This is fairly straightforward to accomplish with kids, and there are many great opportunities in place to interface with young adults. Like Science-U, there are numerous annual science outreach events established for K-12 aged kids.

A few years ago, some of the Langkilde Lab participated in WPSU’s Eventapalooza, where we discussed the biology and ecology of cats. As Chris mentioned, getting people over to your table when you don’t have flashy demos or robots can be a challenge. Our solution: arts and crafts! Kids made “whiskers” to learn about sensory mechanisms and crawled through a maze while blindfolded to test them out! We also had plenty of coloring pages and a matching game to see how well different wild cat species blend into their habitat.

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Brad helping a young adult into their whiskers!

Jenny explains how cats hear.

Jenny explains how cats hear.

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My matching game demonstrates how cats blend into their habitat.

These types of events are great for kids, but there are fewer established opportunities to interact with members of the adult public. Scientific literacy—or at least interest—of adults is incredibly important, as adults utilize scientific information to make informed decisions about health and lifestyle. Additionally, adults can influence the outcome of science-related political issues. Science outreach for adults is thus quite essential, and something in which I have become very interested.

With this in mind, myself and a number of others from the Ecology Graduate Student Organization organized a Science Café series at a local bookstore.  At these events, two graduate students or faculty members present a five to ten minute Ted-Talk like presentation on a pertinent topic in ecology, such as invasive species or climate change. After each general, accessible presentation, the floor is opened for discussion with the audience. These discussions have proven quite fruitful, and we have received positive feedback about each of our events. Last spring, we held 3 Science Café events at Webster’s Bookstore Café in Downtown State College. At one of these events, I had the opportunity to present about stress with fellow grad student Lauren Chaby in an event entitled “Why is stress stressful? How animals and humans respond to challenges.”

Graduate Student Lauren Chaby discusses the consequences of stress. March 2014

Graduate Student Lauren Chaby discusses the consequences of stress. March 2014

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Moderator Andie Chan introduces graduate student speaker Danelle Laflower and Dr. Tomás Carlo, who spoke about Invasive Species in April 2014.

Following the success of last year’s series, we had two additional Science Café events earlier this year, and two more are forthcoming. If you are located in the State College area, I encourage you to attend! At our next Science Café (Wed March 18th at 6pm), Ecology graduate students Megan Keplar Schall and Will Miller will be discussing disease in wildlife and fisheries. This event is free and, of course, open to the public—bring your questions! More details are located below. Hope to see you there!

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“Wild animals get sick too! Case studies from Pennsylvania fish and game species:”

  • Wednesday, March 18 from 6-7pm
  • Webster’s Bookstore, 133 E Beaver Ave, State College, PA 16801
  • No cover charge. Drinks and snacks can be purchased from Webster’s.
  • Suggest Parking: Pugh Street Parking Garage

 

Our final Science Café event this season will be on Wednesday April 8th at 6pm, investigating the topic of soils, roots, and nutrients (and why we should care about these things!). Follow the EGSO website for more information.

These events are a great way to communicate the kind of research happening at the university that the community might not otherwise know about. They also provide an informal environment in which to ask questions. We hope the Science Café series continues for years to come!

 


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Outreach for the Stars

So what is outreach? Well, in one way, you’re participating in our outreach right now by reading this lab blog. We created this blog to be able to communicate the science (and other cool things) that happen in our lab to a wider audience (we have readers from 93 different countries!) and in a laid-back way. Scientific communication between scientists most commonly takes the form of formal journal articles as well as professional presentations and other meetings. However, these modes of communication can be quite technical, and they often are not very accessible to the general public. Conferences are expensive to attend and journal articles, even if you do find them with internet searches, are often locked away behind paywalls or require visiting a university library to access. While these are great ways for scientists to communicate among themselves, part of science’s mission is also to spread knowledge to non-scientists. There are many good reasons for this:

  • Scientific information is important for making informed decisions about subjects such as health, technology, and the environment.
  • In many countries, lots of scientific work is funded with taxpayer money, so it’s scientists’ jobs to communicate that back to the sponsors of their work.
  • Scientists want to be famous just like everybody else (well, maybe not…)
  • Science is fun and cool, and we’d like to inspire more people to be interested in it.

Outreach is a way of accomplishing these goals. It’s just the process of communicating science to non-scientists in understandable and relatable ways. Outreach takes many forms: small classes, visits to schools, newspaper or magazine articles, and one-on-one interactions. For herpetologists, outreach often happens at the times you might least expect; for instance when you happen to be tromping around a National Forest looking for lizards and a big dude holding a shotgun and wearing camo walks out from behind a tree and asks what you are doing. When this happens to me, I first focus on keeping my cool (out of long experience at this point) and then happily explain what I’m working on. Almost everyone I meet is interested in hearing about science if I can approach things in the right way. Science, is often inherently interesting, or may be connected to things people care about (like health) or that they have a general interest in (what the heck are those lizards I see all the time?). Most of these interactions are positive for both the scientist and the public. I may edge the hunter with the shotgun towards the opinion that maybe all rattlesnakes aren’t impending threats, or he might clue me in to a site chock full of fence lizards that would make a great study site. In addition to these types of interactions, technology has provided many new ways to reach out to audiences including blogs, social media sites, videos on Youtube, online classes, etc. Whether old school or cutting edge, I believe that outreach is an integral part of science (If you publish a paper and no one reads it, did your research matter?). It’s also usually quite fun and gratifying to talk to different people and discuss things that you are enthusiastic about. In this post (and a subsequent one by Gail), we’ll be discussing some of the ways that members of the Langkilde Lab have been conducting outreach and are looking to continue in the future!

One of the easiest ways for a young scientist to get on the outreach bandwagon is to work with people who are already doing it. Here at Penn State, the Eberly College of Science has a whole office devoted to scientific outreach that sets up community activities, after school programs, and summer science camps. I’ve worked with various grad students in the Biology Department to give programs at many of these events and design and implement new programs for others. Every spring and fall, we participate in Exploration U, a sort of science fair for students at local high schools that involves many Penn State researchers, labs, and student groups giving presentations based around their research.

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Penn State Biology grad students showing off some marine specimens at an Exploration U event.

During my first Exploration U, I noticed that, while we (the Biology grad students) had lots of awesome biology stuff (samples of real corals, videos of SCUBA expeditions, light up bird-boards, and hand tools), we lacked the flashy demonstrations, things like explosions, robots, or ice cream treats (c’mon, that’s really just cheating…), to bring people over to our booth. I looked in the sample corner and noticed that we had a real specimen of a Giant Marine Isopod (Bathynomus giganteus)

Obviously the cuter one is on the right.

Obviously the cuter one is on the right.

These things are big (ours, Vanilla Iceopod, is over a foot long), closely related to the roly-polys (or woodlice) in your backyard, and really weird lookin’. I picked up the Tupperware with our preserved specimen, sat on the floor in front of our table, and called out “Who wants to see what I’ve got in this box?” in my best carnival barker voice. Welp, it turns out that kids love a good freak show, and I was happy to oblige. In the 2.5 years since, Vanilla Iceopod has become a staple of our Exploration U setup (click though pics to see yours truly). I’ve received all kinds of questions about Giant Isopods, and, as a result, have actually had to read about them and looked up lots of weird facts in the process (Best question: Can you eat them? Answer: Yes, apparently in some Asian island/coastal communities they are considered a delicacy).

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Explaining how isopods use folded rami for breathing in deep sea environments.

So some of outreach may just be getting people in the door with a little flash or sizzle. But, in addition, we want to move beyond the perception of science as just a collection of cool facts and occasional explosions; we need a focus on some core ideas that we want to convey. As such, we’ve also worked to design custom programs for local groups, including after school science classes and the Expanding Your Horizons STEM fairs for middle school girls. We’ve created activities showing how different adaptations are favored in different environments, and how changes in those environments then lead to natural selection on organisms. One of these activities involves students acting as organisms with different feeding structures (plastic utensils) and seeing how many of different prey items (ping pong balls or paper worms) they could catch. With a limited food supply, some feeding structures were more favored than others depending on the prey, and if students weren’t able to secure enough food, their organism perished. Students gaining lots of food were able to reproduce (have another student share the same utensil), and passed their feeding adaptation on, emphasizing how certain adaptations can spread over generations. These forms of outreach can combine fun activities with real scientific ideas and provide a solid scientific background while also conveying the familiar “science is cool” message.

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EYH participants as Spoonasauruses, Knifeopotamuses, and Forkadons seeing who can “eat” the most pongberries and paperworms.

 

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Discussing the suitability of different feeding mechanisms in different environments during our Expanding Your Horizons activity.

This past Spring, I also had a chance to take the outreach show on the road by working at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. This festival was HUGE, with over 325,000 people visiting over four days in an enormous convention center…>2,300,000 ft2! As part of a group of six Biology graduate students, I helped design and present an activity that used iPads to look into how small variations in organisms can lead to larger changes over time. This activity used a custom iPad app programmed by Bio grad student Zach Fuller, and was very popular: we reached over 1,500 people during the course of the festival and had lots of great conversations.

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The crowd gathered to participate in our activity at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. Notice our spiffy lab coats signalling what a high class outreach team we are.

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Talking about adaptation with John Urschel, Penn State’s Football’s Academic All-American (who got his Masters in Math while playing his senior year!)

My next big outreach project will (hopefully) come to fruition this fall. Along with Zach and Allison Lewis, two Bio grad students, I’m designing a class for undergraduate and grad students in Scientific Outreach and Communication. We’re working to build this class from the ground up, and are currently filling out all the paperwork, jumping through various hoops, and lining up guest speakers and activities for this class. It’s a great experience so far in being a teacher and going through all of the preparations necessary to design a new class, but I’m really excited to finally have the opportunity to teach independently! It’s even more exciting because the topic is something that I am passionate about. The class is going to be centered on working with students to design their own outreach activities based around their research and then conducting those activities throughout the semester. In addition, the administration in the College of Science is quite excited about this, because expanding outreach is part of their strategic plan. If all goes well, we’ll set up a continuing class that can be offered each year to support Penn State students learning how to present their research to many different types of audiences in lots of engaging ways.

In our next post, Gail will describe some of her exciting outreach experiences as well!


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Getting a Job at a Small College

This is my last post before I officially leave the Langkilde Lab. While I’m incredibly sad to go, it’s also very exciting to set up a new lab (an academic child of the Langkilde Lab) at my new home. I will be an assistant professor of vertebrate biology at Wabash College in Indiana, a very small liberal arts college with rigorous academics and excellent resources for research. Maybe some day I’ll return to write a post about what this job is like, but for now I thought I’d share some lessons learned about applying for a faculty position at smaller, teaching-oriented schools. In some ways I’m not all that qualified to give advice on this: I only ever went through this process once, I only had a handful of phone interviews, and I only attended one on-campus interview. But, I did it successfully and learned a few valuable things along the way, both by experience and by reading lots of advice from others.

 

1. Applying for jobs is going to take time. I sent out approximately 60 job applications, including (in most cases) a cover letter that introduced myself and why I wanted (and could do) the job, a teaching statement describing my approach to biology education, and a research statement delineating my interests and future projects I’d like to undertake. That’s a lot to do, and it has to be done a little differently each time (see #2 below). I applied for everything I could remotely see fitting into because I need to work. Luckily, I didn’t have to accept one of those jobs that I didn’t really want. There were jobs that I seemed perfectly suited for that summarily rejected me without even a phone interview. In some cases they may have already had a candidate in mind, in other cases there might have been some other quality that they were looking for that wasn’t communicated in the job description, and in probably the majority of cases there was someone similarly well-matched to the position who was just much more experienced. So unless you are really at the top of your field, you have to apply for a lot of jobs in order for the right combination of circumstances to lead to a job offer. And you have to increase the number of job applications by stretching into applying for jobs that don’t quite sound like you. I applied for jobs as a vertebrate biologist, an invertebrate biologist, a physiologist, an ecologist, and an environmental statistician. And across all different fields, I had cases where I got past the first round of selecting applicants. I credit this too #2 below …

 

2. You apply for specific jobs. With small schools, they often have very particular teaching needs, and faculty are generally expected to teach a variety of courses rather than just a single one in the specialty. At Wabash, I will be teaching ecology, comparative vertebrate anatomy, introductory biology, and freshman seminar courses surveying topics from a breadth of perspectives in science, the arts, and humanities. In applying, I had to demonstrate how I was prepared for and what I would bring to each of those courses, highlighting how different experiences listed in my CV make me a suitable candidate for that job. That takes a lot of work because there was an extremely diverse group of courses across all the jobs I applied to. I also spent a lot of time trying to understand the particulars of the school so I could address how I would fit in there. Does the school emphasize certain things like experiential learning or close mentoring relationships? Do they have certain facilities or equipment that I could make good use of? For my research program to function at a smaller school, it is also important that it can continue at low cost, which for me makes local study systems important. To that end, I researched native organisms that I’d be comfortable working with and described natural areas near the school that I could take advantage of. In short, I became very familiar with departments, entire schools, and the surrounding areas with each application, and worked hard to consider how my approach to teaching and research would be realized in that setting and to convey that image in a compelling way to the search committee.

 

3. Teaching schools have different expectations than the graduate school’s that train us. While high profile research is perfectly welcome and exciting at smaller schools, the primary responsibility is to the undergraduate students. A good research program is one that is practical given the circumstances of the school and, moreover, creates opportunities for students to be engaged in the scientific process as part of their extracurricular education. I don’t need to be pursuing research questions that will draw international renown so much as I need to be a mentor and teacher of those students who work with me. I like to think that I will try to change my field, but my first duty is to change my students’ lives. Fortunately working in the Langkilde Lab prepared me well for this. I have been lucky to work with a number of excellent students, many of whom served as research assistants and some of whom became collaborators/mentees. As I applied for jobs, I had several papers published or in review with student co-authors, and think this was a strong element of my application.

 

4. You might not know what you want. Many faculty positions appeared rather unappealing at first glance (and some still do!). Researching the school and describing how I would contribute to them often changed my perspective, and I started picturing myself making a great career for myself there. For instance, some areas I never thought I’d want to live have abundant or unusual biodiversity that would support spectacular research projects. The job at Wabash as I first perceived it was not what I had hoped for: anatomy seemed like a less desirable course to teach, an all-men’s college seemed like a strange environment to be in, and a small rural town seemed unappealing. But all of this has changed. I found as I prepared more for teaching comparative anatomy that a dormant curiosity and passion for the topic was ignited, and that I could teach it in an exciting way beyond rote memorization. The students at Wabash are a group of dedicated and academically-oriented young men with lots of respect for the faculty and their school (by and large, at least compared to most schools). The small town is charming, centrally-located with respect to urban areas and large university towns, and has such low cost housing that we could afford to purchase a nice home within a mile of the college right off the bat. They also have uncommon research support for a school of that size; indeed, many much larger schools lack the facilities, equipment, and start-up funds available there. This isn’t intended to be about how great Wabash is, but rather just a way to highlight how the perfect job that I pictured wasn’t what I found (and may not exist). Instead, I found something else that is perfect that I wouldn’t have expected. You can surprise yourself with what you end up liking.

 

I hope these reflections on the job hunt are helpful to others who might be considering a similar career. And with that, I say goodbye for now to The Lizard Log!

-Brad