Monday, August 6, 2018

On second thought...

I make a point of not writing too much about the behind-the scenes details of being an Editor, to respect the anonymity of authors, reviewers, and the process. But sometimes there are things which just aren't talked about openly but which prospective authors, especially students, need to know. So I'm going to spill some beans.

Let's talk about Editorial declines for a sec.

This is inspired by a particular paper, and I'm going to so totally change & obfuscate & rearrange the details that even the author in question probably won't realize this is about their manuscript.

An author submitted a paper to a journal I edit, which we will call Journal X.  I skimmed the paper in about 5 minutes (it was one of perhaps 4 new papers I was processing just that day). I was struck by two things. The author(s) were pushing an interesting conceptual idea I hadn't seen before, putting a twist on a familiar question of sympatric speciation (remember, I'm obscuring/changing the facts), by fusing that familiar topic with a new one (thermodynamics). And they did this with a really big-scale long-term experimental evolution dataset with unicorns. Impressive scope of the study. So, I passed it on to an Associate Editor. I confess I hadn't read it in detail, I just thought the dataset and question/answer sounded interesting, and worth a more careful look by someone who knows the detailed subject area better than I do, and has more time per paper than I do.  (Note: had I rejected it offhand, I certainly would have spent more than 5 minutes with it).

Now, we have a policy at Journal X. We want to give every paper a fair shake. But we also can't stretch our Associate Editors or reviewers too thin by assigning them too many papers. They get exhausted, they stop contributing decision recommendations or reviews, and we fall apart. So we try to avoid the situation where we send out a paper and get back an upset "why did you take up my time with this?"  Our policy is that the job of the Editor is to write helpful constructive reviews for Editorial Declines, for the papers that we shouldn't take our AE's time with. As my predecessor once told our AEs, "we Editors review some papers, so you don't have to". And our AEs should write reviews and recommend Editorial Declines for papers that aren't ready for reviewers' time. This is a favor to our reviewers, but also gives authors faster feedback than sending out a paper for full review. Sometimes my Editorial Decline letters can be pages long. The Journal X editors get thank-you letters for their detail, and for the fast turn-around (often just a few days). If you aren't going to get your paper accepted, wouldn't you rather get constructive feedback very quickly, so you can improve your paper for elsewhere?

The point is, we are trying to strike a balance between being fair to authors, and being considerate of AE and reviewers' time. That requires some triage, and a balancing act.

In the case of this particular manuscript about the thermodynamics of unicorn sympatric speciation, the Associate Editor gave a strong "Decline" recommendation, but acknowledged that I might disagree, leaving the door open a crack. That recommendation was supported by two full pages of the AE's own constructive review (that's not uncommon in the Journal X tradition). I was, frankly, surprised by the negative response because I thought the many-generation experimental evolution of unicorn mating behavior was pretty impressive. So I reread the paper, quickly but more thoroughly than last time. 30 pages in 20 minutes maybe. And I found myself generally agreeing with the AE. I wasn't 100% sure, but I want to respect the time and thought our AEs put in, so I took the AE suggestion and wrote a "Decline" letter and added my own two cents worth in to justify that on top of the AE's suggestions. I still had second thoughts, but I trusted the AE. (Note, at this point the paper had received about half an hour of my attention, and several hours of detailed examination by the AE, so this was not a casual decision by either of us).

Soon, I get a direct email from the Unicorn expert herself, thanking me for the detailed feedback but expressing her frustration. Not an appeal. Not a complaint. Just... disappointed.  She really wanted to publish with us.

I hate that part of the job, I don't like making people sad. I'm an author too of course, so I know how rejections feel. I had been rejected by Journal Y just that same day. So I was sympathetic.

A few days later, I did something I've not done before. Without an author's formal appeal, I went back and revisited my decision (I didn't tell the author, so as to not raise hopes). Remember, I had looked over the paper twice, once in about 5 minutes and once taking 20 minutes. So I hadn't fine-toothed combed through it (though the AE had). I can't, I often handle multiple papers per day (my record so far is 9). But this time, I had second thoughts. So I re-read the paper with the detail of a reviewer. I spent about 2-3 hours on it, and wrote down dozens of detailed and big-picture comments.  Had I erred with my Editorial Decline (with AE support)? Were we really wrong not to send the paper out to expert Unicorn biologists for review?

The short answer is, the paper really had a solid core. Unicorns really do undergo sympatric speciation. But we knew that already. The additional ideas that formed the centerpiece of the abstract, introduction, and discussion: the innovative fusing of sympatric speciation with thermodynamics? That was reaching too far beyond that solid core, and didn't have the data to back it up. Unsolicited, I sent the author an additional batch of my own detailed comments in an attempt to be constructive and further justify our decision, so they can really strengthen their submission for another journal.

<Note inserted later: The author replied, thanked me for the detail, commented it was more than she expected from an Editor. The author acknowledged that I had identified several weak points they had tried to gloss over, and that my assessment was correct and fair.>

The moral of the story here, if there is one, is this: we Editors do make knee-jerk decisions, but we do so in good faith trying to find papers we can support. And sometimes that makes you authors feel like we Editors are jerks. We can't read every word of every paper you submit, though we try to look through in enough detail to understand what you've done and what it implies. Consequently, we can indeed make mistakes. This fabricated case I refer to here is unusual because I double-checked myself in great detail, to see if I had erred.

That Editorial Decline? That turned out to be the right decision. Not because the author was a bad person or a bad scientist, its just that the paper needed work. It was claiming more than it had grounds to claim. With very substantial revision (reframing the point of the paper) that work would produce a fine paper, but not to the level of novelty our reviewers and readers expect of Journal X. The exciting integrative part had been more speculation than substance. So, my job was to help the author improve their paper to be a solid and successful submission to the Journal of Unicorn Biology. And the faster I could provide that feedback, the better for the author.

So, when you get an Editorial Decline, you may feel poorly served. Why didn't it at least get a review? I've certainly felt that way as an author. The answer is, I'd like to think that we Editors have a good  feel for what will fly with reviewers and readers, and what won't. As a junior faculty member I reviewed 7 papers for Journal X. As an Associate Editor I handled about 150 papers for Journal X. I've written 300 decision letters for Journal X since I started as Editor 7 months ago. I am overseeing about 35 active papers at the moment. All this gives me a clear snapshot of what reviewers tend to say, and where a given paper stands relative to other submissions in the competition for limited page space. I won't claim to be always right. But  I think I have a good basis for those decisions and will do my best to convey the justification. I emerged from this with a bit more confidence in the decision-making process. And I hope this story serves as a reminder to you, the readers, that Editorial declines (at least, with Journal X) aren't just arbitrary decisions, they represent the judgement of someone who has seen a lot of papers, and a lot of reviews, about where your paper falls in the discipline-wide multivariate distribution of papers (for clarity, quality, rigor, and novelty).

And if I have a second thought about a decision in the future? I'll still double-check to be sure I've been fair, but I'm growing (slowly) in my confidence about my judgements and slowly outgrowing the impostor syndrome of being Editor from Journal X.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Do certain subdisciplines lead to a higher H Index?

"Two roads diverged in an academic study. I took the one less-traveled by, and that has made all the difference [to my H-index]".  With apologies to Robert Frost.

Andrew just recently posted a blog here about H indices & how much weight to give them. I like his basic message that H indices, like the number of twitter followers you have, is best viewed as a measure of your H index, or your twitter presence, and not a fundamental metric of your worth as a scientist. I won't disagree. But, I will point out that for better or for worse, there are people who don't share Andrew's casual view. There are people who like metrics, and use them to do important things. Those people are sometimes called "administrators". And they do things like hire, promote, and dole out raises. So, it's not necessarily safe to dismiss H indices and the like, unless you can convince your local friendly bureaucrat to do the same. Good luck with that.

I recently had the dubious pleasure of being on the Merit Review Committee at my previous institution. We had a rubric that we used to judge our fellow faculty, based on publications (number, journals, citations), and grants received, students mentored, course evaluations, service, and such. This was used to rank faculty by three criteria. Perversely, research scores were used to judge who got a lighter teaching load. Total scores were used to dole out merit raises (we had no annual built-in cost of living increase to adjust for inflation, just merit raises). Now, we were given about two weeks to score 40ish faculty, just as the fall semester began. You can be sure we didn't read every paper that everyone produced in the previous year, let alone the past five years (our relevant period). We may look at some papers, but time is tight. Instead, we were given H indices and cumulative citations and numbers of papers published, both career-total and over the previous 5 years (so as to not favor older faculty). There's quite a range of H-values (to pick one of several possible metrics), which makes it very tempting as a tool for ranking our peers.

I want to raise three points now.

First, we really did look at the whole 5-year report, and rank people holistically. We didn't just use Excel to order people by their H index, or dollars earned, or the product of the two. We really were trying to be just, these are our friends and colleagues after all.

Second, we are aware that these indices can be biased by implicit (or explicit) bias within the research community, based on sex or ethnicity or sexual orientation. Andrew's excellent H-index (far greater than my own) probably does benefit from being a white male, and especially an outgoing and admittedly self-promoting white male.

Third, and what I really want to talk about here, is that these indices can vary by field. I noticed early on in my Merit Review involvement that some colleagues I really respect had much lower H-indices (and cumulative citations, total or 5-year) than others. I began to wonder how much that has to do with their sub-discipline of choice. For instance, there's a crazy ton of gut microbiome research out there today, so does studying that give you an edge? Certainly my own few gut microbiome papers (N = 4 so far) accrued citations at a much higher annual rate early on than most of my other papers. I voiced this issue out of concern that some of our colleagues were at a disadvantage in the H-index race, by their choice of topic. I was quickly shot down by a colleague who used the following argument: (I am paraphrasing)  on average the number of citations your paper accrues should be independent of field. Here's the math:

Let's assume that a discipline A publishes N_a papers per year. Discipline B publishes N_b papers per year. A is more popular than B, so N_a >> N_b. More gut microbiome papers than there are fish immunology papers.

Next, let's assume that the typical paper has R entries in its Literature Cited section. If you publish only in Nature or Science, R ~ 30; if in AmNat or Evolution or Ecology R ~ 80. To be flexible, we will acknowledge that each discipline has its own average number of citations per paper, R_a and R_b, but to start let's let R_a ~ R_b.

Okay, now the total number of entries in all Lit Cited sections of all papers in a field is N_a * R_a (for field A) and N_b*R_b for field B. These citations are to a smattering of other papers in the field.  To calculate the average number of citations to the typical paper, we just divide the total number of things cited by the number of things there are to cite. So in field A, the average paper gets cited N_a * R_a/ N_a times, which is just R_a.  And the average in field B = N_b*R_b / N_b = R_b.  So as long as fields A and B have similar caps in their Lit cited (R_a ~ R_b), they will have the same average citation rate. That's unrelated to the total number of papers in each discipline (popularity). Actually, it might even be better to publish in an unpopular field because popular topics get into Science and Nature and PNAS which slightly drive down R because of their more stringent caps on citations. The punch line here is, if you are an average author, your field shouldn't matter; you won't get cited much per year anyway (on average, R times per paper per year, times the number of papers you publish).

So, was my colleague right that H values and total citations are independent of discipline? Of course not, or I wouldn't be writing this. Let's forget the average for a minute and focus on the distribution. At a minimum, you could write a paper that nobody cited at all. Regardless of discipline. So your minimum citations per paper is zero. But your maximum, that's another story. If you publish in popular discipline A (remember, N_a >> N_b), maybe you'll do something brilliant and EVERYONE will cite you. So your maximum number of citations in a year, for that one great paper, is N_a.  In the other field, you could write the best paper ever and if EVERYONE cites you your total citations received is N_b. And we already said N_a >> N_b.  The punch line here is: if you are going to write an above-average paper, do so in a popular field, if you care about citation indices.

To summarize. Your average citations-received per paper should be independent of your discipline. But your highly-cited papers will be really really highly cited in a popular field, and ignored in an empty field. The tails of the distribution matter because we all write some below-average papers and some above-average papers, and it is the latter that drive the citation indices that our administrators use. The upshot is, when administrators use these indices they implicitly favor people contributing above-average papers to busy fields of study, over those contributing the best papers to sparse fields of study.  That's not necessarily wrong, but it certainly can stifle innovation and discourage people from forging their own path.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Should I be proud of my h index?

My daughter has a hoodie that says: “Don’t let the number of likes define your art”. The basic point, of course, is that quantitative measures of popularity are not how a person’s work should be valued by others – nor especially by that person. Rather, it should be the quality of the work that person produces or – more fundamentally – the quality of the character of the person. Thus, the large number of followers that the Kardashians, or some Instagram star or Youtuber, has should not be used to evaluate how creative, intelligent, or innovative the person is – or how good of a person they are.

In academia, the same concerns arise because the formal or informal valuation of a person’s research, and therefore that person as a scientist or even as a person, is sometimes tied to quantitative metrics not so different from the “number of likes” or the “number of followers.” Of particular significance are the number of papers we publish, the number of citations they receive, and – together – the h index they generate. The immediate motivation in using these sorts of metrics for evaluation is that they provide an objective way of comparing different academics, at least within a discipline, to thereby determine their relative worthiness for grants or promotions or endowed chairs or raises. The broader hope, of course, is that the same metrics reflect not only the quantity of research but also its quality.

Recently, these social media and academic quantifiers of success and influence have converged in the consideration of the number of followers that a given academic has on twitter or Instagram or youtube or whatever. And papers now receive an "Altmetric" score reflecting its social media attention. This convergence has led some to propose a “Kardashian index” (or k-index) measuring the extent to which the social media profile of a scientist (their followers on twitter) is an outlier with respect to their academic profile (their total number of citations).

This frequent use of quantitative metrics of influence for evaluation has received many criticisms – but the most important is that volume (papers) and popularity (citations) do not reflect the quality of a person’s work. Instead, they can mostly reflect an individual’s effectiveness in self-promotion, most obviously in the form of self-citation. (See my blog post on the “Narcissist index” or N index.) Or they could reflect the tendency of that person to write review papers, which tend to be more highly cited. (See my blog post on “What if all my papers were reviews.”) Or they could largely reflect the discipline in which a scientist works (See Dan Bolnick's companion post on "Do certain subdisciplines lead to a higher H index".) The main argument is that quality is instead a more subjective evaluation achievable only by reading the person’s work and qualitatively placing it in the context of other work in the field.

These criticisms of quantitative metrics of influence in academia are so frequent and strong that it makes one wonder “should I be proud of my h index?” For instance, I can see that – in the not-too-distant future – I will have 200 papers, 20 000 citations, an h index of 100, 5000 followers on twitter, 1 000 000 views of this blog, and 250,000 views on Youtube. Should I be proud of these numbers? Should I report them in grant proposals? Should I be embarrassed to enumerate them in this blog post? The truth is, I don’t know. I have mixed feelings about it. I am proud to see that my hard work and talent for self-promotion has translated into a substantial visibility in my field and also effective communication of science to a broader audience. At the same time, I recognize that these numbers are not necessarily an indicator of the quality of my work, as they would undoubtedly be lower for someone who wrote fewer reviews, did less self-citation, joined fewer perspective papers, took fewer students and put their name of fewer of their student’s papers, and so on.

So perhaps, as I tell my daughter, her shirt might be modified to say: “Don’t let the number of likes define your art … unless maybe you have a lot of likes.” (Of course, “define” is not the optimal word either.) Maybe, in this sense, it is defensible to be proud of my quantitative numbers simply for their own sake, while recognizing that they reflect little more than the fact that they are high numbers. Stated another way, having a lot of citations and a high h index should not be a scientific goal but rather a communication goal. From this perspective, it is reasonable to appreciate and reward someone with a high h index or many twitter followers, without any sort of judgement being placed on someone with lower numbers. Many exceptional scientists who are influencing their field do not have a high h-index – but that does not make they any less important or any less of a scientist.

I encourage everyone to consider social media presence and citation rates and so on as indicators of nothing more than social media presence and citation rates. If you value such things for themselves, great – be proud of them – but realize that those numbers don’t necessarily reflect anything else. If your goal is to have high numbers, then – yes – write lots of papers, take lots of students, and write lots of review papers. If your goal is to be a good scientist; by all means do those same things if they lead you to do good work – but not if they detract from the quality of your work. And, most importantly, don’t let the pursuit of papers and citations stop you from being a good colleague, collaborator, and person. And, most of all, never let any of this come in the way of family and the things you value as a high quality of life.

Don’t let your h index define your science … but you can be proud of it nonetheless.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Some thoughts on the ownership of ideas starting from an evolutionary ecology paper

Five years ago, I landed in Montréal for a PhD in the Faculty of Education, bringing with me my experience from the Greek rendition of environmental education. During my first term at McGill, I discovered that I was allowed to enroll in any graduate course (was this a glitch in the system?), so I registered to a graduate course taught by Andrew Hendry under the name Advanced Evolutionary Ecology. The course went well except from some awkward moments like the day when I took off my wet shoes in Andrew’s office during lecture time -- I was caught unprepared by the speed with which winter had succeeded fall at the McGill downtown campus.

Nevertheless, those days were intellectually rewarding and full of new ideas. One day in that course, I sensed the scholarly need to expand the concept of the adaptive landscape in order to incorporate environmental change, and I thought that I have found a way to do that. Soon, I presented the idea to the class, got an A for the course, and Andrew encouraged me to work on the idea and gave me a couple of literature suggestions to explore. I didn’t really understand why why I needed to keep reading. For all I knew it sounded like an interesting idea that once laid out, it would receive its criticism and people could just decide whether it was useful or not. Nevertheless, I complied and did my homework. After a while, I returned to the professor and declared: I checked the literature, I’ve found nothing like it. The idea was apparently mine and we ought to spread the word. The sage professor responded with a couple of sibyllic words. He said something like: I don’t think the idea is yours, but even if it is, people will take offence in you claiming this. In any case, he continued to encourage me to learn more on the topic and seek reviews from specialists on the field. Hence, I got some pleasing reviews from renowned Swedish professors, including Erik Svensson from Uppsala University who commented that “My initial attitude was not to expect much new, given that so much has already been written about this topic. However, what I found, after reading through the MS was a creative paper where the author has clearly worked hard to “think out of the box”, and has – to some extent – been able to think along new lines.” He also suggested the paper be revised and rewritten in a more ‘scientific’ way.

These were good news but the problem was I didn’t really know how to write a scientific paper since I wasn’t even a scientist. At that point, I asked from classmate and Andrew’s PhD student, Victor Frankel, to help me out. Luckily, he accepted and he did help me rewrite the paper in a more scientific fashion. As we were ready to submit (already 3 ½ years after the initial draft), Victor decided to send our paper to Ben Haller asking for a review. Indeed, Ben studied the paper and sent it back to us with ample feedback: his comments were knowledgeable, specific, and incisive. I thought I had learned to appreciate hard criticism by then, but when I saw Ben’s comments on one of our diagrams, I thought that it went too far: “It is striking just how much this looks like one of the diagrams in Simpson 1944. I would say the conceptual model you’re presenting here goes back at least that far”, and “This doesn’t even feel like sufficient credit to him [Simpson] though, given his actual figure that I mentioned above, which is virtually identical to your 5b in all important details.” Now, that does it, I thought. I dropped everything else and went straight to the Schulich Library looking for the single copy of the 1944 Tempo and Mode in Evolution by George Gaylord Simpson trying to see what he was talking about. As I browsed the book in disbelief, I was sure that Ben (whom I had never met) recalled an irrelevant part of the book and was just trying to be mean. But it turned out that Ben was right. There it was: In a short passage accompanied by a diagram in the old book, Gaylord Simpson was proposing an environmental expansion of his ‘selection landscape’. The terminology in the book was very different than ours, the axes in the graph were inversely placed, and the whole perspective was unlike ours, but the central idea was virtually the same. So, it turned out that our ‘new’ idea was outdated by 70 years, it was already proposed by one of the founders of the adaptive landscape. In the following moments, my thoughts went down a twisted and sinister path. Gaylord is long dead, I thought, his book isn’t online, so maybe I could travel, find the few remaining copies at the world’s libraries, and tear out that single page. My instantaneous impulse was to destroy this fragment of knowledge that deprived me of the paternity of my idea. My reaction was absurd, but this instantané helped me understand something about myself and how I was taken over by ambition, thinking that it wouldn’t do much harm to steal away a late man’s credit. A fault confessed is half redressed, as they say.

So, as it turned out, my original idea was not original at all. Interestingly enough, this revelation didn’t have a great impact on the paper itself. The paper was still publishable, yet we ought to give to Simpson more credit than we already did and explain that our paper was actually a revisit to his original ideas. It turns out that people rediscover ideas and methods all the time, and there is always room for updated renditions of old ideas. The bulk of intellectual progress comes from the translation, rendition, application, and interpretation of old ideas. However, that did not answer the question: Why on earth did no one return to this particular idea, even though Simpson’s 1944 book was so widely read and referenced? The feedback we got for the eco-evolutionary expansion showed that there was an actual need for such a method. My explanation is that Simpson was way ahead of his time, trying to sow a seed in a field that did not exist back then. In 1944, an overlap or convergence between ecology and evolution was nowhere to be seen; ecology did not even exist as a field. Today, the niche between evo and eco is no longer an epistemological terra incognita. The science has progressed since then, and a number of scholars are pioneering the synthesis between eco and evo. Exposed to the teaching and writings of these scholars, basically Andrew Hendry’s, we rediscovered the eco-phenotypic landscape in response to the need for a representation that brings ecology closer to evolution. In this process, nothing is really created ex nihilo. Our teachers were in turn influenced by their teachers, and carry on their set of ideas and problematics from generation to generation. However, save Ben and a few historians of science, we usually don’t read the old stuff all too carefully. We sometimes rely on secondary sources, or trust more modern renditions of the classic literature, because these are closer to the contemporary needs and scientific ethos. Yet, information is lost in this conveyor belt.

On a personal level, this has been a humbling experience. I now see the self-indulgence in thinking I was able to produce original ideas. Not that it’s impossible to produce new ideas, especially when you are newcomer in a field. It’s just that, when a problem was standing out there for enough time, most probably someone else has solved it before you even knew. This is just because so many intelligent people have been thinking on the same problems, for such a long time. To cut to the chase, it’s hard to have new ideas in an old world. So, yes, it is imperative to scrutinize the literature before making any claims. It’s also a good idea to moderate any claims one decides to make. At the same time, these humbling realizations just meant that my education was working. Authentic education can’t be about inflating our egos. Conversely, the process of learning, of taking stock of the volume of knowledge accumulated over the ages, is meant to be a humbling experience.

All these have also given me an idea about how science works. I do no longer believe that ideas can be owned. Instead, we are more like hosts of ideas, which seem to be having a life of their own, jumping from mind to mind. Ideas are sometimes transmitted in dormant states, following their own life cycles, in many cases outliving us. Dawkins has effectively described this process in his memes metaphor. As individuals, do we get something out of this? What is our drive for contributing to the body of knowledge? According to Lonnie Aarssen, editor of Ideas in Ecology and Evolution, we are driven by an “attraction to delusions of being able to project an ‘extension of self’—a memetic legacy—into the indefinite future” (Aarssen 2017). 

Following is a link to the paper itself, an extract from the paper discussing sympatric speciation, and a part on heterosis that we took out of the final text since one of the reviewers found it problematic. We did not have the courage or time to rewrite the part on heterosis, but there might be some value in sharing it, as indicated by Ben Haller’s comments below. Many thanks to Ben for allowing us to share his feedback.


Figure 2. A qualitative representation of Bergman’s rule on the unconstrained adaptive landscape (individual fitness peaks shift under the influence of environmental change).

Figure 3. A qualitative representation of Bergman’s rule in an eco-phenotypic landscape. It is important to note that the phenotype of the population (represented as the horizontal axis in this landscape) can shift in response to change in the environmental dimension (vertical axis) that drives the strength of natural selection. On the diagram, organisms will follow an upward-left movement for rising climatic temperatures (leading to smaller body sizes), and a downward-right movement for falling climatic temperatures (leading to larger body sizes).

A mechanism for sympatric speciation
This section uses the eco-phenotypic landscape to describe a speciation model within a continuous population distribution. Numerous studies have noted gene flow as an obstacle to speciation (Kirkpatrick and Barton 1997, Rousset 2000, Hendry et al. 2009, Berner et al. 2009). Until recently, the potential of divergent selection to induce speciation in the presence of active gene flow was hotly debated. Contemporary biology holds that speciation can indeed occur in the presence of extensive gene flow between continuous, interbreeding populations as long as the drivers of disruptive selection are strong enough (Dieckmann and Doebeli 1999, Leblois et al. 2003, Benkman 2003, Rueffler et al. 2006, Rova and Björklund 2012).

In the scenario that follows, changing environmental conditions expose a population to strong divergent selection that leads to speciation. Initially, the population occupies the left lobe optimum of Figure 5a, at temperature T1. The dissection of the three-dimensional eco-phenotypic surface along four temperature values (Figure 5a) produces a set of two-dimensional fitness graphs (Figure 5b). Figures 5bI to 5bIV present the chronological order of the speciation scenario. In Figure 5bI, the peak in color represents the phenotypic distribution of the initial population; the other two fitness peaks are vacant. A series of cold winters forces the population to undergo adaptive change (Figure 5bII, 5bIII) that leads to the evolutionary bottleneck of 5bIV (T4). After that point, a climatic rebound to warmer temperatures triggers a ‘dimple’ or ‘split of peaks’ speciation scenario (Rozenzweig 1978) as in 5bV and a separated population will hence occupy the intermediate fitness peak (5bVI and 5bVII). The newly occupied peak corresponds to the right lobe of the horseshoe-shaped eco-phenotypic landscape (Figure 5a).

To sum up, this model shows that a horseshoe shaped eco-phenotypic landscape may have a special significance for sympatric speciation in continuous populations. However, the shape of the eco-phenotypic landscape is not a sufficient condition for sympatric speciation. The pace and amplitude of environmental oscillations, the strength of selection, the covariance with other environmental and phenotypic characters and the genetic variance and covariance will all have to be accounted for before an accurate prognosis can be made. The strength of the eco-phenotypic landscape is that it retains its form over phenotypic or environmental changes and can serve as a template that allows for long term heuristic projections after the integration of the aforementioned parameters.

Figure 5. (A) A horseshoe eco-phenotypic landscape (multivariate individual fitness function). (B) A scenario of sympatric speciation driven by environmental change (blue peaks represent individual fitness functions and solid magenta peaks represent phenotypic distributions).

Fitness of hybrids: Ηeterosis and outbreeding depression [this part was excerpted from the paper’s published version]

Heterosis and outbreeding depression describe crossbreeding events where hybrid fitness is, respectively, enhanced or depressed in relation to their parental forms. In populations that have had enough time to adapt to their environments, outbreeding depression is the most usual of both cases since any change would shift them away from their local optima (Nosil et al. 2005). Heterosis can be expected in the rare event that an intermediate fitness peak occupies the space between parental populations (Mallet 2007).

The fitness of hybrids is commonly measured in their parental environments by reciprocal transplant and phenotypic manipulations techniques (Edmans 1999; Rhode and Cruzan 2005). These methods, albeit indispensible on the practical level, have been criticized as having a critical blind spot. Hendry (2015) has noted that reciprocal transplants normally test hybrids and backcrosses in the parental environments, but those same hybrids and backcrosses would presumably have high fitness in intermediate environments. Thus, the experiments described above can’t reveal the presence of a fitness valley unless they also confirm the absence of intermediate environments. A similar line of argument is taken by Rundle and Whitlock (2001) who have highlighted the importance of determining the contribution of genetic and ecological mechanisms to hybrid fitness before any inferences concerning fitness valleys or speciation are to be made.

The following model presents a hybrid transplant experiment that could have leaded us to infer an adaptive valley for intermediate forms in what is actually an adaptive ridge. Consider the continuous population of Figure 3, where two parental forms (A and B) produce a hybrid form (H) which is assumed to be phenotypically intermediate. If we test the hybrid’s fitness in either of the parental environments, the outcome would be a significant fitness depression (fitness=0 in the graph) leading us to infer a fitness valley. However, in the intermediate environment the hybrid’s fitness would be equal or higher than the parental forms, indicating the presence of a continuous adaptive ridge (Rieseberg et al. 2003).

In vivo, the convergence of parents and the upbringing of their offspring in an intermediate environment provide a plausible physical mechanism for heterosis. Evidently, the shape of the eco-phenotypic landscape will play a defining role: A horseshoe of the likeness of Figure 5 is more likely to induce outbreeding depression than heterosis for intermediate forms. Overall, the eco-adaptive landscape may prove useful both for the conceptualization of naturally occurring hybridization processes and identification of the analytical scope of hybrid fitness experimental designs. 

We decided to omit this latter part on heterosis from the published version of the paper, since one of the reviewers identified some weaknesses in this section. However, we are citing Ben Haller’s comment on this part for anyone wishing to take it up from here:

This is one place where I think you can actually go a bit further than you do, by pointing out that plotting experimental results on your proposed type of landscape plot would immediately make the error described by Hendry 2015 obvious; the graphical exercise would expose the conceptual flaw. And therefore everybody ought to use your diagrams when presenting such work.  :->  You hint at that here, but don’t quite say it outright.

Lastly, here is Ben’s concluding comment for our paper, effectively describing an opening for future research:

In the end, I find that you didn’t go as far as I expected you to go. If you really want to fuse ecology and evolution, then you need to get into things like multispecies dynamics (how does one species affect the fitness landscape experienced by another species?), coevolutionary dynamics (how might two coevolving species be visualized using your sort of plots?), and eco-evolutionary dynamics (does that fit somehow into your scheme?).

Well, this is flattering, but I don’t think I can do that. It’s like asking from a high school physics teacher to fuse relativity with quantum mechanics. But I wish someone else does it; you will need someone who has spent a big part of their life in this, not just a passer-by who only stayed for a short while. From my part, I’m happy if I stirred some conversation. It is almost certain that I will never return to evolutionary biology for anything more than an occasional reading; it is not practical to invest more time in staying updated in a field as distanced from my own field. Also, from a career perspective, it does not make sense to strive for a publication in biology, then another in political science, another in epistemology, and so on. It needs a substantially greater effort to acquaint oneself with the body of knowledge and terminology of a new field each time, let alone to produce work that meets the standards of an academic publication. However, I can’t help being all over the place since I suffer from what I’m sure is a form of greed: I want too to explore, in depth, many different fields. You can call it shifting intellectual curiosity. Anyway, I want to thank you for having me here, especially Andrew. I feel that I’ve learned a lot out of this process. Science is cool. Keep it up!


Aarssen, L. 2017. The sapiens advantage. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution 10: 6–11.

Benkman, C. W. 2003. Divergent selection drives the adaptive radiation of crossbills. Evolution 57: 1176–1181.

Berner, D., Grandchamp, A. C., and A. P. Hendry. 2009. Variable progress toward ecological speciation in parapatry: stickleback across eight lake-stream transitions. Evolution 63: 1740–1753.

Dieckmann, U. and M. Doebeli. 1999. On the origin of species by sympatric speciation. Nature: 400 (6742): 354.

Edmands, S. 1999. Heterosis and outbreeding depression in interpopulation crosses spanning a wide range of divergence. Evolution 53:1757–1768.

Hendry, Α. 2016. Eco-evolutionary dynamics. Princeton university press

Hendry, A. P., Bolnick, D. I., Berner, D., and C. L. Peichel. 2009. Along the speciation continuum in sticklebacks. Journal of Fish Biology 75: 2000–2036.

Kirkpatrick, M. and N. H. Barton. 1997. Evolution of a species' range. The American Naturalist 150: 1-23.

Leblois, R., Estoup, A., and F. Rousset.  2003. Influence of mutational and sampling factors on the estimation of demographic parameters in a “continuous” population under isolation by distance. Molecular biology and evolution 20: 491–502.

Mallet, J. 2007. Hybrid speciation. Nature 446: 279-283.

Nosil, P., Vines, T. H., and D. J. Funk. 2005. Reproductive isolation caused by natural selection against immigrants from divergent habitats. Evolution 59: 705-719.

Rhode, J. M., and M. B. Cruzan 2005. Contributions of heterosis and epistasis to hybrid fitness. The American naturalist 166: 124–139.

Rieseberg, L. H., Raymond, O., Rosenthal, D. M., Lai, Z., Livingstone, K., Nakazato, T. et al. 2003. Major ecological transitions in wild sunflowers facilitated by hybridization. Science 301 (5637): 1211-1216.

Rozenzweig, M.L. 1978. Competition speciation. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 10: 275–289.

Rousset, F. 2000. Genetic differentiation between individuals. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 13: 58–62.

Rova, E., and M. Björklund 2012. The influence of migration on the maintenance of assortative mating. Animal Behaviour 83(1): 11-15.

Rueffler, C., Van Dooren, T. J., Leimar, O., and P. A.  Abrams. 2006. Disruptive selection and then what? Trends in Ecology & Evolution 21: 238–245.

Rundle, H. D., and M. C. Whitlock. 2001. A genetic interpretation of ecologically dependent isolation. Evolution 55(1): 198-201.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The benefits and costs of academic travel. Or "there and back again; again and again"

As I sit here in an airport lounge en route to yet another far-flung destination, it seems appropriate to finally write a long-planned blog post – about my carbon cost. Like nearly all other academics, I feel strongly that climate change is perhaps the most pressing problem of our time, requiring serious societal change to reduce and offset carbon emissions. Yet, like many of those very same academics, I travel an insane amount – usually on airplanes. Thus, I – and many other academics – are potentially subject to the criticisms summarized recently in a Huffington Post opinion piece “The Climate Change Hypocrisy of Jet Setting Academics.” This year will be my most extreme travel year yet, involving 25 discrete trips from my home in Montreal to somewhere outside the province of Quebec. The result is obviously a huge carbon cost on a per-individual basis. So why do I do it from the perspective of a cost-benefit analysis.

My 2018
Benefits – professional and personal

Travel generates a huge professional benefit on numerous levels. First, it increases exposure and visibility of your research, which is important in this day-and-age of “vastly more papers published than one could possibly read” in which it is hard for any one researcher to stand out. Traveling to give talks and seminars makes more people aware of your work, which can increase citations and facilitate recruitment of new students to your laboratory. Second, travel often leads to new collaborations and group perspective papers and the like. Third, in a number of research fields including mine, travel for field work is obviously essential for conducting high-quality research and for helping one’s students to do the same. Fourth, much academic travel provides a service to the community. Invitations to travel somewhere are nearly always because a group of students or professors sincerely wants to meet you and hear about your research. Participating in grant evaluation panels and editorial board meetings are a way of giving back to the academic community. And, of course, personal benefits can accrue through the enjoyment of seeing different places, engaging with different cultures, and experiencing different parts of the environment.

Costs – personal and professional

Travel can have considerable costs that are not directly environment-related. First, it takes time away from family, which can be hard on relationships in any number of ways. (Although I try to bring my family when possible.) Second, it means time away from academic duties at your home institution, which can be hard on your students and colleagues. (Although I try to travel when such costs are minimal.) Third, it is difficult physically as prolonged confinement to airplane seats can lead to a number of either serious or simply annoying physical problems. (Nowadays I usually upgrade to “preferred seating.”) Fourth, travel can be expensive and can take away from your ability to invest in other types of research costs. (Although most of my travel is paid for by third parties.) However, the main motivation for this post was to consider the environmental costs of extensive travel – most obviously carbon inputs to the atmosphere.

Rationalizations for carbon footprints

A simple “bean-counting” rationalization for not worrying too much about the environmental costs of extensive travel is the argument that – as an individual – I will not have any impact on the environment even if I were to fly constantly for the rest of my life. That is, the amount of carbon that I am personally responsible for adding to the atmosphere is such a small part of the whole that subtracting it would not have any measurable impact.

A “zero-sum” rationalization is that, for most of my travel, I am filling a slot that – if I didn’t go – would simply be filled by someone else. That is, seminars will be given by someone, working groups will be populated by someone, and so on. If I don’t go, someone else will simply travel and take my place. IN such cases, staying home would not change the average environmental cost as it would just be attributed to someone else.

A “bigger picture” justification would be that academic travel often relates to study and understanding the environment, in which case the carbon cost of travel is more than offset by the benefit to the environment. For instance, a decent amount of my travel is associated with environmental NGOs where we provide advice on biodiversity science to governments and through which we promote the understanding of biodiversity to the public. Some of my colleagues who study global warming actually travel an incredible amount in efforts to reduce carbon inputs to the environment, with the argument being that their own contribution to carbon emissions is more than offset by their global contribution to carbon emission reductions.

Which brings us to the “hypocrisy” criticism. That is, even if all of the above rationalizations valid, they don’t account for the fact that it just “looks bad.” That is, how can a person advocating for everyone on Earth to reduce their carbon footprint not do so themselves. It reduces their credibility and seems elitist and selfish. Of course, this criticism does not have a clear defense except in light of the above three arguments: bean-counting, zero-sum, and bigger-picture.

In the end

So how does all of this pan out for me personally. For starters, I would love to travel less as I would rather spend more time at home. So why do it then? In point of fact, most of my travel falls into the “service” and “zero-sum” categories, where I am giving seminars, participating in workshops, helping NGOs, evaluating grants, visiting my students in the field, teaching and administering programs, helping friends and colleagues with symposia and conferences, and so on. The simple truth is that someone wanted my help, asked nicely for it, and I felt obliged (in a non-resentful way) to participate. Once committed to a new trip, I try to make the most of it.

I first try to maximize the professional benefits, especially by participating fully in the activities; and also the personal benefits, often by tacking a day onto the end of the trip to go see penguins or gorillas or elephants or whatever. I am also “collecting” rock climbing gyms around the world – and have now been to 33 of them. Recently, I have started taking my teenage daughters with me on trips to foster their enthusiasm for science and nature – this year’s trip to the Galapagos has them both talking about wanting to be biologists. MY hope, then is to try to minimize the costs and maximize the benefits. One might argue that such costs would be much lower through remote participation in workshops and meetings and so on. I also often take this approach, as do all academics (thank you Skype!) but many of the benefits require face-to-face interaction.

In closing, I want to sincerely thank everyone who has invited me for a seminar or workshop or meeting. I have enjoyed each one immensely – and this post should not be construed as a complaint in any way. In fact, I look forward to interactions on every one of my upcoming trips. (Although next year I will do a short sabbatical and will try to travel less – we shall see.) I also want to point out that while travel helps professionally, it is not NECESSARY for a successful career in academia. Many well known academics actually travel very little, and so no one should feel compelled to engage in professional travel at the expense of personal wellbeing and family harmony.

Andrew’s 2018 travel schedule – in temporal order
Asilomar (California) -  conference
Santa Barbara (California) – working group
Corvallis (Oregon) – seminar
Gamboa (Panama) – teaching and administration
Halifax (Nova Scotia) – seminar
Galapagos – field work
Oulanka (Finland) – workshop/symposium
Trondheim (Norway) – seminar
Fayetteville (Arkansas) – seminar
Kingston (Rhode Island) – seminar
Lexington (Kentucky) – seminar
Millbrook (New York) – seminar
Victoria (British Columbia) – family trip
Kenai and Anchorage (Alaska) – field work
Brussels (Belgium) – grant evaluation panel
Kyoto (Japan) – conference
Guelph (Ontario) – conference
Waimea (Hawaii) – symposium
Frankfurt (Germany) – working group
Smithers (British Columbia) – family trip
Montpellier (France) – conference
Brussels (yes, again) – grant evaluation panel
Smithers (British Columbia) – family trip
Oeiras (Portugal) – symposium
Philadelphia (Pennsylvannia) – seminar

Friday, June 15, 2018

A really moving blog post


We academics are a mobile bunch. Chances are, you move to go to college, then again to grad school, then again for a postdoc, then again for a faculty position. And maybe that first faculty position isn’t quite the right one. Your interests change, your family situation changes, the department you are in changes. For many reasons, you may find you need to move even between faculty jobs. We are here to help. This multi-authored blog post is meant to give some insight into some considerations. It’s not meant to be authoritative, complete, or correct. We aren’t here to advocate moving (nor to dissuade you). But if you find yourself thinking about moving, or actually taking the leap, we hope this post can provide some help. Because there’s a lot to consider, and most of us had to reinvent some wheels along the way.

A word about the structure of this blog. It is organized into a dozen or so heading themes. Within each theme, various contributors (indicated by their initials) comment on their experiences. This is not meant to necessarily be read linearly, all at once. We have had different experiences and motives, and that’s the point, so it seemed worthwhile contributing our voices separately rather than fusing into one integrated text.

A Texas-sized going away gift from Dan Bolnick's UT Austin colleagues, shortly before his upcoming departure to UConn


Daniel I. Bolnick  
University of Texas at Austin → University of Connecticut

Andrew D. Kern
Rutgers University -> University of Oregon
Gina Baucom
University of Cincinnati → University of Michigan

Meghan A. Duffy
Georgia Institute of Technology → University of  Michigan

Ellen L. Simms
Wake Forest University → University of Chicago → University of California, Berkeley
Vaughn S. Cooper
University of New Hampshire → University of Pittsburgh

Jonathan N. Pruitt
UC Santa Barbara → McMaster University

Eric JB von Wettberg
Florida International University → University of Vermont

Matthew Shawkey
University of Akron (USA) → Universiteit Gent (Belgium)

Ian Dworkin
Michigan State University -> McMaster University

If you wish to contribute (even after this is initially published), please email for a chance to add your own perspective.

1. Why we moved

Austin has great food, to be sure, but there are only so many tacos I can eat.
The Saxon Pub is a great spot for music in Austin. The point is, no matter where you are, there will be things you will miss if and when you leave.
DIB: There is a lot to like about Austin Texas. But, I’m still a New Englander. I moved a lot as a kid: North Carolina → Washington DC → Indonesia → North Carolina → Massachusetts → Zambia, all before college. But I imprinted on New England, and despite a couple of decades away (Alaska, Tanzania, California, Texas), I’ve been impatient to get back to fall and winter and the northeastern hills and forests and coast.  I never adjusted to Texas heat, or politics, and never took to the outdoor landscape in central Texas (though I know there are lovely places further west). Also, my college friends are mostly concentrated in the northeast, my parents are there (still spry, but as an only child I am well aware that being close to them is going to get increasingly important). This really isn’t an academic advancement move - UT Austin’s Integrative Biology department is academically excellent with great colleagues. Its hard to imagine a better place, intellectually. However, a frustrating few years of bad leadership by a Dean did give me strong extra incentive to leave. Ironically, that Dean announced she was leaving UT, a week after I signed with UConn. But, the move for me was more about quality of life - living in a place where I want to live. There are academic benefits, too. UT Austin has minimal immunology, a topic I am increasingly engaged in over the past half decade, but UConn does have this field. There’s also something to be said just for shaking things up and trying a different setting to learn new things from new colleagues. Over the 14 years at Austin I’ve gotten to know my wonderful colleagues here well enough I can anticipate many of their questions in students’ prelim exams. Time to go somewhere and learn new perspectives. Some start-up is nice to, to create a temporary pool of funds to replace 14-year-old equipment, and to have freedom to try out some new research directions perhaps.

ADK: Opposite story to DIB. I’m moving away from home (New York City) and family after being lucky enough to score a professorship where I could live where I grew up. My move is motivated by a few factors: 1) to be in a better academic setting, with a deep roster of colleagues in my subdiscipline-- as a professor first at Dartmouth and then at Rutgers I’ve never had close colleagues in my department-- 2) to be in a more sustainable financial setting (college town vs NYC), and 3) to be back on the West coast. So this move is both about academics and quality of life, and although I’m moving away from my family, we are moving closer to wife’s family and hope for a more relaxed setting in which to raise our children.

RSB: Spouse’s post-doc was coming to an end and he needed gainful employment. I went on the market and found a position that took spousal hiring seriously (at least offered some options, not dual TT positions).

JNP: I suppose I had two reasons for moving. The first reason that I left UC Santa Barbara was entirely personal. I am a single and reasonably young homosexual, then living in a quaint seaside town of 90,000 people (with many wealthy retirees). UC Santa Barbara had world-class colleagues and collaborators galore, but I felt trapped. Like being cloistered away in an academic convent or something. I had been debating moving down to the Los Angeles area since my arrival, but the commute was daunting -- approximately two hours each direction. Before that interesting scenario could happen, an opportunity to move to Canada and assume a federally endowed research chair presented itself. The promise to live near Toronto felt like a minor miracle: restaurants, bars, the arts, the sports, interesting nightlife, the gaming community, movie theatres showing more than the five most recent blockbusters, a gayborhood... Thank. God.
     The second reason for the move was simply the quality of resources that would come with the new research chair. It came with funds in effective perpetuity and the infrastructure of my dreams. Add to that the somewhat rosier funding prospects of the Canadian research ecosystem relative to the NSF, and presto changeo,  it was simply too much to resist. Pack the cats up -- we’re leaving.

MAD: I wasn’t looking to leave Georgia Tech, but Michigan was a really attractive option: it had a very strong EEB department, Ann Arbor would be a really nice place to live (especially with kids), and it had access to great field sites (and the lack of good field sites was definitely problematic while I was in Atlanta). So, when I saw a position at Michigan that I seemed to fit, I decided I should apply. Interestingly, that’s not the position I got. When I indicated interest in that position, someone at Michigan suggested I also apply to a second one; I wouldn’t have thought I’d be competitive for that second one, but it’s the one I was offered.

VSC: We study how microbes adapt to new environments and new hosts in particular, and I had become committed to studying this process in human infections. Our field site is the clinic. Collaborating with colleagues at medical schools provided a start but the process was slow and limited. When I was invited to visit the University of Pittsburgh to consider an appointment in the School of Medicine, it became very clear what I was missing. And when the Dean convinced me of his interest in evolutionary biology and building in this area, the prospect looked even brighter. On the downside, I’m a New Englander and the NH Seacoast is an amazing place to live and raise a family. We had been there 12 years, made many friends and found a community. The job at UNH was good-to-great, but with the benefit of a little hindsight, it forced compromises with the high teaching load and lack of protected time for leadership. I had become frustrated with my own perceived mediocrity.

EBvW: We moved for several reasons, but the most pressing in my mind was sea level rise.  I expect to work another 30 years, or more if I am fortunate, and I do not think Miami has 30 more years as a terrestrial location.  Even if the city is nominally above sea level, it already has a declining housing market. Like most faculty, so much of our retirement is tied to our house; with anthropogenic climate change, I expect more to factor that into their calculations of resale value.  After the election in 2016 it was clear that there would be no help for sea level rise, and that it was best to get out while we could do so on our own terms. Beyond that, my research has shifted from evolutionary ecology to utilization of crop wild relatives in crop improvement.  Given that shift, it makes sense for me to be at a landgrant university. Furthermore, the Northeast is home for me, and Vermont is much closer to our extended family. There are a number of quality of life benefits, as we love living in Vermont: good schools, little traffic, and excellent outdoor activities.

ELS: I left WFU because I was profoundly unhappy living in a small Christian town and teaching at a Southern Baptist institution with misogynist old white guys at the top of the departmental hierarchy. I learned what it was like to live in “the closet” because I was a closet atheist. I had no idea how to respond to students and neighbors who complimented me for good deeds by describing me as a “good Christian.” I also had no idea how to respond to the chair telling me during my first annual evaluation that I was too arrogant and, when I announced that I was leaving, that I was “ungrateful.” It was also a relief to leave behind the ACC. We embraced the notion that U Chicago had demoted its varsity football team and torn down its football stadium to build a library. I loved living in Hyde Park, a mixed race, liberal bastion, and we made our peace with getting our nature fix at the Indiana Dunes National Seashore, where the dunes were bracketed between steel mills and a power plant.

I left U Chicago due to a complex web of traumatic events, about which I provide a basic outline in the paragraphs below (maybe for my own needs - no one else really needs to read it all).
My first several years at U Chicago seemed glorious, but in retrospect, brewing storm clouds eventually forced me to move. Some other young colleagues, themselves insecure from being ridiculed by some of our colleagues, derided my research as old-fashioned and behind the times (despite I was trying to do things for which there were as yet no available tools). Some of my more senior colleagues wanted only to talk of their own research and tried to entice me to join their research programs. The more supportive senior colleagues advised me to write papers rather than grants, which I was having success obtaining. But, my manuscript productivity dropped as I ran into obstacles to analyzing the massive data sets I was getting from my field experiments. SAS for DOS was limited to 64 K of RAM (yes, that is the maximum size of matrix that could be inverted)! Otherwise, this crucial statistical software was available primarily on mainframes, with their TSO operating systems, and on UNIX machines. I was familiar with TSO at TUCC (Triangle Universities Computation Center) and naively thought that I could make the transition to the U Chicago mainframe. However, every mainframe had its own flavor of TSO and the one at U Chicago was organized mainly to handle payroll. There were no faculty colleagues using it and no resources for a faculty member seeking to learn this TSO flavor. After wasting enormous effort on this avenue, I finally realized that I would need to buy a UNIX box, set it up, and learn UNIX on my own. I decided to buy a NEXT computer ($10K) and then set up the first campus SAS site license for UNIX ($1.2K/year). The paperwork involved was immense, but when the machine arrived, I could immediately use it. I analyzed data on that machine for two manuscripts before SAS came out for Windows and broke my logjam.
Computer resources were not my only obstacles. I also ran into difficulties developing markers with which to identify fungal isolates. Colleagues working on molecular methods laughed at my naivete and laughed my technician out of their labs. I also discovered that my plants would not set fruit in the greenhouse during the depths of Chicago winters, which limited my ability to conduct greenhouse experiments or produce seeds for field experiments. In response, I started three new research programs. One on Brassica rapa, for which Art Weis and I obtained collaborative funding for experiments to be conducted at UC Irvine. A second collaboration was with Deborah Charlesworth and her postdoc, Stephanie Mayer, performing controlled crosses to calculate heterosis in two species of morning glories, one primarily inbred and the other with a mixed mating system. The third project was on lupine seed biology, collaborative with John Maron at Bodega Marine Reserve, but all three projects were too late to produce tenure papers. I also tried to get my legume-rhizobium work off the ground and for that I wrote nine unsuccessful grant proposals in seven years.
The final straw for my tenure case was my reporting at a faculty meeting an incident of sexual harassment against students. At this time, of course, there were no mechanisms to report such incidents, although the campus had just that semester published a document defining sexual harassment and disseminated a pamphlet about it. The person on whom I reported was up for promotion as an adjunct faculty member. Students in his class had reported to me that, during a field trip to the Indiana Dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline, he had told the class that a student could get an A in the class by stripping naked and skinny dipping in front of everyone. The shocked students were speechless, but one male student performed the act. When he emerged dripping from the Lake, the teacher was reported to have refused to give the male student the A, telling everyone that his offer was only to the girls in the class. When I reported hearing about this, some colleagues denied that the incident represented sexual harassment. Those same colleagues accused me of conveying hearsay, but other colleagues belatedly acknowledged that they had heard the same stories from other students. Faculty meeting confidentiality was broken by one of the supporters of the accused, who told him of the accusation. The accused then, in an email to all the faculty, admitted to the incident, but claimed that was just a joke.
This incident and its repercussions within the department lit a long fuse that began sizzling toward the powder-keg that the department had become. Supporters of the accused person eventually voted to block my tenure case, which, though supported by a majority in the department and in the divisional committee and, ultimately by the dean, was unofficially delayed at the last minute. The process by which the case was delayed was opaque and neither the department chair nor the dean was ever able to learn the truth. Rumors flew, including that even the University President was questioned by the Board of Trustees as to why this whole thing had blown up such a prestigious department. Anyway, this was the event that sent me back to the job market. By the time that I had multiple offers, most of my supporters at U Chicago had themselves decided to leave and, in the next couple of years, we all decamped to various points of the compass.  

MS: We decided to move in large part because of quality of life issues. Akron is a fantastic place to do research, with plenty of resources and lots of other good people who are excited to do truly interdisciplinary work. The lab was humming along, publishing good papers, getting good grant support, etc. But my wife and I had no real friends. We had no plan to move to Belgium or even Europe, and neither of us have any close relatives or friends here, but the opportunity arose and we took it.
It is somewhat unusual for an American to move to Europe (although it seems to be getting more common), so how did it happen? This was the only European job I applied to, and I only found out about it secondhand, through a colleague who was invited to apply but didn’t want to move. To this day I am not even sure where you look for faculty jobs in Europe, as many of them aren’t posted in the usual Evoldir, etc.I was guided through the application process by a colleague at U. Gent, and I don’t think I would have gotten the job without that guidance. The process is very different from the US, with a huge application form asking for everything from where you went to high school to the impact factors and journal ranks of all your papers (I think this has since changed). In the end I think my form was 30+ pages. The interview process is also distinct. There is no multi-day slog through faculty and dean offices. Instead, you give a 10 minute talk to the hiring committee, with 15 minutes for questions afterwards. That’s it. I found out that I got the job the same evening I gave my talk, via a text message while having dinner. It was apparently quite competitive, with 500 applicants for 6 positions, and 14 on the short list. I think this level of competition is typical of European jobs. Many countries (esp. Belgium, Germany, Denmark, the Scandinavian countries, the UK (although why anyone would want to work in the UK is beyond me)) seem to be open to hiring foreigners, even those that don’t speak the native language (I spoke no Dutch when I was hired). My best advice for those interested in moving to Europe (which I highly recommend) is to have someone on the inside who can look out for positions and help with the process.

2. Pros and Cons

DIB: I haven’t actually done my move yet. As I write this, we are 15 days away from the moving van arriving. So I’m in the phase of being acutely aware of the costs of moving, more than the benefits of having moved.
Pros (reasons I thought seemed good ideas to move)
- I love fall and winter (yes, really), which are scarce in Texas
- My parents live in Massachusetts. I see them 2-3 times a year, max. Soon, we’ll be an hour and a half away. That’ll be great for me, and my kids. As they get into their 70’s in earnest, I (as their only kid) will at some point need to be close enough to take care of them.
- Many of my college friends are still in New England.
- We can drive for weekends to my parent’s cabin in Vermont, where I spent a lot of time as a kid.
- Hiking in the Berkshires, White Mountains, Green mountains.
- Living in a smaller quiet New England town setting
- Lower housing prices (our home won’t appreciate nearly as fast, but we won’t have much of a mortgage compared to Austin). We are on track to buy a lovely house on 1.5 acres of land with woods and natural pond, for much less than our Austin home. That’s nice.
- A better school system (I could write a whole blog post about the oddities of Texas education, with some strengths and many flaws)
- Moving is a great way to shed unnecessary possessions.
Something I found in my office when packing. 

These were mostly personal / quality of life pros. I like Austin a lot, but it does not help me be the person I’d like to be: I cower from the heat for 8 months of the year, which feels wrong for an outdoorsperson like me. But there were academic reasons, too. I was Graduate Chair of EEB at UT Austin for several years and grew really frustrated with the trajectory of graduate student support there. Ironically, the Dean behind those changes has left, but at the time this was a big motive too.  Moving lets me learn new things from new colleagues. Maybe develop some stickleback research sites a day’s drive away? Start-up is nice, too. Then there’s my wife’s perspective: she was teaching a 2-2 course-load in anthropology at UT while running a full lab, and sleeping half what she needs to. UConn agreed to a 1-1 teaching load. That’s huge.
- Moving costs money. UConn covers less than half the expense of moving our household.
- Selling and buying houses is, pardon my language, really fucking stressful. Those of you who know me well know I don’t swear gratuitously. The past 3 months have been crazy stressful, and I’m not normally one to brag about my stress level.
- No one place is perfect, so balancing costs and benefits personally can be hard. Its harder when you extend that to a spouse, kids, extended family, students, etc.
- Leaving behind established friendships for a new place. That gets old, eventually, and (at least for me), it seems harder and harder to make new friends as I age and double-down on my focus on family and work.
- It is very disruptive for your trainees. This is something you do for your own lifestyle and career, but it causes ripples in many lives.  More than ripples. You have to be okay with that, to proceed, and by extension you are under an obligation to mitigate the damage.
- Moving your lab, frozen samples, live animals, is a pain.
- Expect to fly back and forth a lot to make arrangements, which costs time and money and CO2.
- The whole process takes an immense amount of time, that could be better spent sleeping.
- Moving grants, setting up animal care, biosafety, or IRB, takes a ton of paperwork.
- Austin is awesome, in many ways. Amazing food, music, traffic, heat. Just, not amazing in some ways that matter a lot to me. But, as I get ready to move I am more keenly aware of the things I do really like here. But once I get to CT I know there are many things I will enjoy as well (see Pros)
Ultimately, you need to decide whether to do this or not are the financial and personal costs worth the long-term benefits you foresee? How can you even be sure of those benefits? Is the grass just greener on the other side, and you’ll arrive to the same issues that drove you away?

RSB: The move was difficult for the oldest kid; the change in school was hard. All other members of the family did fine with the move. I had three graduate students at the time -- two stayed behind and graduated from UC, one moved with me and graduated with a master’s degree. The financial aspects were all much more positive, both quality of life and university wise.

MAD: OMG, the move was hard on me personally. There was a point where I seriously considered not taking the Michigan offer because I realized I had a pretty amazing social network in Atlanta. I still miss it, though I do finally feel settled here in Ann Arbor!
I also felt really bad for some lab folks. Some were not as heavily impacted -- I had a postdoc and a grad student who were close enough to finishing that it was clear they shouldn’t move. But, even for them, it did mean I was physically in one place and they were in another. But it did mean uprooting other lab members: one grad student and one postdoc moved with me. And my technician did not move -- she was absolutely amazing and we’d spent a lot of time together working in the lab. It was very hard to move, knowing she would stay behind.

VSC: Pittsburgh is a pretty remarkable city but it is not northern New England. The air quality can’t compare. I was also spoiled by a short commute that I could legitimately run or bike and now I deal with legitimate traffic, which affects our family a great deal.

Moving my lab: by the time I got the offer at UNH my lab was pretty great and I would have loved for at least three students or postdocs to come along, but in the end none were able to make it work, for their own good reasons. Starting a new lab from scratch after 12 years of being out of the lab was pretty daunting. Back to the plus: we did it and we’re certainly better for the experience.

The biggest con by far is the failure of the powers that be to live up to the promise of helping my wife find a job in her area of recreation/sports administration. She had a decent staff position at UNH and that has not materialized in Pittsburgh, 3 years in. She’s applied to a lot of jobs here but has not gotten them partly because she’s not from Pittsburgh, which prides itself on taking care of its own. It’s been tough and has colored what has been a pretty remarkable career uptick for me.

ELS: My spouse was dismayed at moving from Winston-Salem to Chicago. He had a satisfying job in the department and we had a nice house with a big garden. Still, he wasn’t happy about how unhappy I was, so he acquiesced. In contrast, he was thrilled by the move from U Chicago and upon arriving in Berkeley declared that he was settling there and would not follow me on any further academic peregrinations. We had also made an informal agreement between ourselves that we would never retire in Chicago - the winters seemed far too bleak and isolating for the elderly neighbors we knew in our condo complex - and this move represented a consummation of that agreement. However, it took a couple of years for him to find a satisfying job at UC Berkeley, which was emotionally stressful for both of us.

EBvW: For our family our move has been nearly all positive.  Our children are still young, so the disruption to them was minimal, even if they had not experienced snow before.  For my partner, the move was great; UVM was able to give her a full time lecturer position, when she had been a 50% lecturer previously at FIU.  As we never really adjusted to the climate, the traffic, or the culture of Miami, the move for us has really been all positive. I miss a few colleagues from my old university, some of the excellent restaurants in Miami, and South Florida’s human and biological diversity, but otherwise could not be happier to have moved. For my lab group, the move was harder, and that is elaborated on below.  I had two PhD students at FIU, one who finished at FIU and one who has moved with me, as well as a laboratory manager who I brought with me. The one who finished at FIU had a very independent experience, with challenges of a lack of community and supervision. She has done fine, and is off to a very exciting postdoc, but it was not the best setting for her. For the student who moved, he is a Cuban American who had never lived outside of Florida.  Vermont is a far larger cultural and climatic challenge for him.
Because I went down a rank to move, financially the move is perhaps not a positive.  This is one of the reasons why I would encourage people to follow the standard advice of mowing pre-tenure.  My pay cut was offset by my wife going full time. But nevertheless, it is better to move earlier.

ADK: Haven’t moved yet but can see this many things on the horizon. The biggest probably for the whole family will be culture shock: NYC is unique in it’s pace of life (fast), attitudes towards work (always be hustling), and interpersonal relations (warm but overly honest). The west coast, and in particular Oregon feels like the opposite. Just in preparing our move we’ve been frustrated by how slow everything moves and how relaxed everyone seems to be. Quite honestly it’s SO relaxed in Oregon that I think I might have a heart attack. This might be hard to relate to for many…. Nevertheless after we adjust I think it will be healthier for everyone to “downshift.” This could be an excellent outcome for my family-- less pressure on parents and kids -- but it remains to be realized. With respect to financial decisions, the most will cost us quite a bit (I wish I had negotiated for more in moving costs!) but once we land we will be in a much better financial situation than we currently are living in NYC. Most things (housing, summer camps, etc.) are roughly half of what we currently pay. More work oriented pros and cons: for me personally there are a ton of pros-- I’ll have a deep colleague roster, a much better grad student program, and better recruiting power for both postdocs and grad students. I have already gone through one round of recruitment for PhD students for my new position and I ended up with a greater number of qualified applicants this year than in my cumulative 9 years of being a professor. With respect to the impacts on my trainees, I had a lot of time to plan this move so the impacts on my lab will be quite minimal-- I had stopped taking PhD students a while ago because support for graduate students at my previous university was so poor. This meant that I had PDs only. I was very open about the move when recruiting my latest postdoc and told them it was their decision to make whether to come or to stay. Ultimately they chose to stay so I worked a bit harder than normal to make sure they would end up in an excellent PD position next.

MS: The impact on our family was immensely positive. While before we had no friends, now we have many. We have done several times more social things in 2,5 years than we did in 8 years at Akron. So the main goal in our move was achieved better than we expected. The school system is great (and free) here, and our 5yo’s school is right across the street from the lab. Daycare is also good (and cheap), and is located a few blocks away. Both the school and daycare are Dutch-speaking, so both kids will be bi- or trilingual (5yo already speaks Dutch and English, and understands Spanish). While it is much harder at our calcified age, I also consider learning Dutch a job perk.

ID: It was frankly not something I knew I was interested in doing initially.

In my case, the opportunity came up during my first sabbatical (not at McMaster). I was pretty happy at Michigan State University, with great colleagues in evolutionary biology. I was amazingly fortunate to have gotten such a great position in a place I felt like I fit naturally. Additionally, MSU really supported Evolutionary Biology (through both the EEBB graduate program and the BEACON STC). While we had no biological family in the area (nor substantial family in the US), we had "built" an amazing surrogate family in the area from our friends from the University community, our neighbourhood and the Jewish community (which my wife was very involved with). Similarly my spouse had a good job for a non-profit which she enjoyed, and our two kids (both born in the US) considered Michigan home. Indeed, just a few months into my sabbatical my mother died quite suddenly and tragically, and it was amazing how much the whole community of MSU and East Lansing & Okemos did for my family and I. This was frankly the norm, and every stereotype of amazing, welcoming and helpful midwesterners was true.

However my spouse and I are both originally from Canada, and McMaster University (which is in Hamilton, Ontario just outside of Toronto) was a place we had always considered to be optimal to live and work. McMaster was a great institution, and I had been at a Genetics conference a few years earlier and enjoyed my interactions. While I did not know them personally, I knew the work of a small cadre of amazing researchers at McMaster as well. Hamilton is close to our families (much of which is now situated near Toronto), and Hamilton is a big enough city, with very cool revitalization, good food, and a big enough Jewish community for my wife. Importantly it had lots of amazing outdoor areas along the Niagara escarpment for hiking and biking and cross country skiing (all of which helps to keep me sane). However unlike Toronto, it is a city of only 600000 so traffic was not bad, and housing was somewhat more affordable than Toronto.

When a position came up in my field at McMaster, I pointed it out to my spouse and asked her what she thought. I decided to put my name in the ring, and after I got the offer, we had a lot of conversations. This was the first time in our adult lives where the choice was not obvious. We were happy and settled personally and professionally in E. Lansing, and made peace (or so we thought ) with not returning to Canada to live and raise our kids. Politics is important to us, and we are middle of the road center-left Canadians (which makes us crazy lefties by US standards). However, at the time a Democrat was still in the White House, and the Conservative federal government had done substantial damage to Science and science funding in Canada. Given all that has happened since in both countries politically, our decision was extremely fortuitous.

Despite having had a fair bit of early success with NSF and NIH, my anxiety about continued funding in the US, combined with the relative stability (albeit much lower amounts) in Canada, also appealed to me, and how I wanted to do science. After much thought, I came to realize I would be much happier in the long term with stability of funding, even if it meant a much smaller lab. At MSU my lab had 2 technicians, 2 post-docs and 7 graduate students. I knew it was quite likely that in Canada on an NSERC Discovery I would likely have just have funds for 1-2 graduate students, but I could also work in the lab more. Which was something I felt I could be happy with if it worked out that way. In the end, NSERC has been very generous to me, so I am in a stronger position than I anticipated. I also knew my teaching would be a bit higher (about 50% increase, but still quite reasonable). So professionally, in balance (over the predicted long term) I thought it likely that I would be happier in the Canadian system. So as before, I felt incredibly fortunate to have such a great opportunity.

 Not surprisingly, with much of our family within an hour or so (without traffic), we spend much more time with them. Our parents (my in-laws, my dad and my step-mom who has been a 3rd parent to me for most of my life) are still active, but we wanted to be in close proximity to them (and have them have close relationships with our kids) while they are so active.

I still suffer from a bit is guilt. My MSU colleagues were (and remain) amazing people both as researchers, mentors and as friends. I was just starting to transition into being a mentor to some young investigators doing amazing work. I continue to feel guilt about leaving all these people. Of course, these amazing people continue to do great research and it was just my ego that was the issue!

3. Timing of moving

DIB: I moved as a full professor, my wife as an Associate Professor, and we both went to the same rank at our new place. I would probably have moved long ago, to get north. But, I had a grant from HHMI that was not transferrable (“the golden handcuffs”, people called it). So, I moved when I finally could move, and had a viable option for a destination. I’m 43 years old, so I’ve got probably 25 years left before retirement: ⅔ of my faculty career is still ahead of me. That matters because it makes me a decent investment for an institution, as they know I’ll remain active and not just retire in 5-10 years.  I might have waited even longer to move, but my wife and I have kids, now in elementary school. We figured it’d get harder and harder to extract them from their social scene as they age, so we thought we should move sooner rather than later.

RSB: I moved pre-tenure, ie after 2 full years at UC. The difficult aspect of the move was re-starting the tenure clock at UM. I do think the move slowed me down a bit with respect to getting some work out--logistics, setting up in a new place, hiring people, etc. I would venture a guess that moving kids younger is better, but having moved myself every ~3 yrs growing up can say first hand that you adapt and learn things from experiencing new people/communities/cultures. So I wouldn’t NOT move if the kids were older.

MAD: I moved pre-tenure, but was given credit for the time I’d spent at Georgia Tech. I probably would not have moved if I’d needed to restart the tenure clock. If I’d stayed at Georgia Tech, I would have come up for tenure in the 12-13 AY (which would have been one year early). Instead, I came up for tenure after my first year at Michigan (in the 13-14 AY).

VSC: a.    I moved prior to putting in my file for Professor, after my 12th year. At the time of negotiating my new appointment in the spring, I felt that my CV wouldn’t measure up to that rank at a major medical school where funding expectations are higher. We had a good amount of success in the following months and so by the time I submitted my folder to be re-tenured at Pitt, I thought that I was selling myself short and some peers agreed. However, I was told that I couldn’t negotiate a raise commensurate with the higher rank since I was just recruited, so I just put in my file as Associate with the understanding that I would seek promotion as soon as possible. Unfortunately, Pitt is a massive bureaucracy and its P&T process is glacial. It took me until Feb 2017 to get my tenure letter after officially starting July 2015. Per the original agreement, I put my Professor dossier in Sept 17 and gave my seminar in October, and as of writing (June 2018), I’m still awaiting formal word. The take-home message: plan for these sorts of delays, be proactive and take this paperwork seriously, and ask for the rank and salary you think you will ultimately deserve. What seems like a minor annoyance can become a major opportunity cost.
b.   In terms of family, we moved when our kids were 8 and 5.  This was a reasonable age and as they get older all the variables get harder. They have adjusted pretty well; actually my younger one has had a harder time. Finding a home for their various sports has been a complicated process. The local public schools (a bit of a name brand) are not as good as advertised and have required a fair bit of intervention.
c.    I think that when you feel comfortable enough to be looking for new challenges at your current institution is when you should consider moving. Another bit of advice that I embrace: don’t look to leave when you’re angry or you won’t deliberate clearly.

EBvW: I moved just after tenure.  I gave up a planned sabbatical to move.  I would say that the standard advice of moving before tenure if possible still holds true.  If you want to move, it is better to move before tenure. I had to give up tenure to move. I had several offers, and those at US Academic institutions all had the requirement that I go through tenure again.  I would do it again, but I it would still generally be better to go before tenure. For reasons of my own shortcomings and mistakes, I did not really have a choice.
We moved when our kids were 6 and 9.  This was a reasonable age. I would hesitate to move older children.  They have adjusted well, and made new friends very quickly in Vermont.  Older kids do struggle more with moves.

ADK: I have moved twice actually. Once pre-tenure and once post. My pretenure move came at my the year I was up for my 3rd year review. It was a very good time to move honestly as it was relatively easy to find universities that were interested in what I brought to the table, and we only had one child, a 3yo. My current move is post-tenure and comes with a bit more baggage. We now have two children, and our oldest is 9yo. This means that housing and schools are a bit tougher to figure out. The post-tenure move is also a bit harder on the institution I’m leaving- many of the faculty have told me with a sad heart “we thought you’d never leave,” so that comes with a level of guilt. The good news about my post-tenure move is that it came with tenure as well, so I don’t have to worry about promotion at this point. The bad side is that I missed a sabbatical opportunity-- I would have been due a sabbatic year in AY18-19, but with my move that opportunity has been lost.  

ELS: When I was a postdoc, I recall that Janis Antonovics advised his students and hangers-on (that was me) to apply for jobs before tenure, even if you’re happy where you are. He noted that you don’t really know what else is out there without trying it. I wasn’t happy at my first job, so there was no question about applying before tenure. It was a good idea and easy to make the move. My second move was driven by evidence that due to departmental politics, U Chicago was going to deny me tenure unless I forced the issue. So, I again applied before getting tenure (although after having my tenure case delayed). Within two weeks of getting an offer with tenure from UC Berkeley, I got tenure at U Chicago, with the same case documents on which my tenure had been “delayed.” By then, however, the entire department was in disarray and it was easy to leave. I don’t recommend waiting that late. It’s far better to be in the driver’s seat from the git go. We have no children (that’s another portion of the Chicago story, which I’m still not ready to confront).

MS: I moved after tenure, which maybe made the process take longer (I wound up applying to a lot of jobs). But who knows. I just knew I was ready to leave. Kid was a perfect age to move (2,5yo), since he wasn’t attached to a school or social group.

ID: I had recently been promoted to Associate Professor with tenure at MSU. Interestingly, as the job opportunity at McMaster was not advertised as open rank, when I got it, they stipulated that I had to go through the tenure process. I negotiated a very quick transition, and after my first 18 months at McMaster I filed my (thankfully quite simple) tenure package, and it was quite simple and painless.

4. Moving the people in your lab

DIB:  I had a big lab when the announcement time came.
Three postdocs; two have faculty jobs lined up now and leave around the same time I do. One will stay in Austin for a year longer. Yoel Stuart wrote a grant proposal (with some editing by me) and it got funded the first try, for just over a million dollars (hey, folks, hire this guy!). We have a year left on this grant so I transferred PI status to him for the last year of the grant so he doesn't have to move. He’s his own boss, and UT Austin is willing to keep the lab and office space available for Yoel through next spring (when they will renovate for some new faculty). So Yoel is set for a year with a grant of his own, and with some great papers under his belt, teaching experience, and a grant to his name, he’ll be a hot commodity on the job market (hire him!).
Four lab technicians - all had their contracts set to end on or before my departure date, so no problem there.
Four graduate students. This is where things got tricky. I really wanted my students to come with me, and expected that some would. But.  In the end none wanted to come, all for personal reasons ranging from significant others, to spouses, to visa constraints, to just preferring Austin.   Austin is considered the best city in the country (by many people) to be a 20-something, with great music and beer and food and activities. It just isn’t the lifestyle I prefer, its not what makes me happiest. But my preferences aren’t shared by everyone, and I don’t at all hold it against them that they prefer to stay. But, we’ve found an academic home for each of them at UT, and I’ll plan to Skype with each of them weekly to stay closely involved.  Yoel Stuart has agreed to set aside some of the grant I transferred to him, to help support some RA positions for my students who remain behind, and I have a few small accounts here and there for that purpose too.
Breaking the news to the lab. Honestly, I was so stressed over all this, I can’t recall the details. I told them in lab meeting. It was I think not news to them. I then met with each individually to work out details of how they would proceed.  It was not fun. I’m glad that they each seem to have found a place, and that ⅔ of the postdocs got faculty jobs so they could leave around the same time as me. UT won’t let me remain as the major advisor for people who stay here. I can remain on their dissertation committees, and in practice I can be primarily responsible for giving them scientific guidance and feedback. But on paper I am now an external committee member, not part of the Graduate Studies Committee (the faculty of the grad program).
My wife has four students, too. One is graduating this summer. Another will defend this fall I think. The remaining two are moving with us. We are even getting them space in the moving van for our stuff, and covering that extra expense with start-up.

RSB: Both of the students who stayed at UC officially joined other labs, because the option of me staying their main advisor wasn’t given. Both students finished on time with me on their committee and effectively still acting as the main advisor. If I remember correctly I believe I broke the news to the students all on the same day in private meetings and explained their options. Two chose to stay for family reasons whereas the other was more mobile.

ELS: I lost my grad students at WFU when I moved from there. I lost another set of them when I moved from U Chicago. In the second move, everyone in my lab had been traumatized by how my case was handled by U Chicago. Moreover, having no idea how byzantine and hierarchical Berkeley is, I made a crucial mistake of moving a postdoc to Berkeley ahead of me. He was ignored and deterred at every juncture and, because there was no lab space for us, he could get no research done until I arrived and was able to acquire a tiny lab space. In conjunction with everything else that had gone down at U Chicago, this had a devastating impact on his career trajectory.

EBvW: I had one student stay behind, and one transfer.  I also brought a lab manager, but I had had another 5 undergraduates on payroll before leaving as well as a former lab manager. The student who stayed had her own fellowship funding, so she was adequately supported.  She did join another lab. I would generally advocate this, as a student often benefits from the community and the support. At many institutions navigating the paperwork to graduate on its own is not trivial, and a local advisor helps.
For my student who moved, he will have to take some extra course work and will have a longer time to degree.  As he is focusing on an industry or government career, this may actually not be that big a deal, but it will increase his total time to degree.  I think the climatic issues are the largest concern for him, as Vermont is just really cold (even if the people are friendly). There is also the issue that Vermont is not very ethnically diverse, and lacks things like good Cuban coffee or authentic Caribbean food.

MS:I left four PhD students and a Master’s student behind at Akron. I gave them plenty of advance warning (close to a year) and gave them the option of coming here, but for various reasons (all understandable, as it is a bigger change than moving to, say, Ohio State) none did. Fortunately,  three of them had co-advisers at Akron, so disruption was minimal. The other PhD student and master’s did remarkably well in my absence (which is either a testament to their independence and resilience or an indictment of my advising skill) and have since graduated. I also left a post-doc behind, but only while he went through the paperwork needed to move to Gent. Three months after moving to Gent, he got a job with the Australian government and left. Overall, I think my move had a neutral effect on the careers of our lab members.
I have heard people say that is strategically best to not tell your lab you’re moving until you step in the moving truck , but my conscience wouldn’t let me do that. As a result, everyone in the University knew I was leaving for months beforehand.

MAD: I told my lab as soon as I agreed to go to the interview. It’s pretty easy to figure out who is interviewing for what position, and academia is a small world, so I didn’t want them to hear through the grapevine. I also know my personality well enough to know that it would have been really hard for me to keep it from them. So, I told them when I was interviewing. In the end, it took approximately forever for things to become official, so it meant we were all in limbo for a while. But, if I hadn’t told them, it would have been an extremely abrupt departure, so I don’t think waiting until it was finalized would have been better.
I had two grad students, two postdocs, and a technician. One postdoc and grad student were relatively close to finishing, while the other postdoc and grad student had started relatively recently. So, it seemed to make sense for the two who were close to finishing to stay at GaTech and for the other two to move with me. Fortunately that also worked out for their personal lives. And, also fortunately, it worked out in terms of grants. The lab folks who were closer to finishing were working on funding that was closer to ending and that, as I describe below, I left at GaTech. That allowed me to negotiate space for them after I left.
The hardest for me was telling my technician. She was absolutely amazing and we spent so much time together working in the lab in my first several years. She is from Atlanta and is well-rooted there, so understandably didn’t want to move.

ID: MSU was amazingly gracious once we made the decision to leave. I kept my US grants at MSU, and they let me keep my lab open. So my lab remained pretty active for more than a year after I left and enough people in the group for it still to function. Between skype and my monthly visits (at the time), it seemed to work reasonably well

While I had made offers for three graduate students to move with me (all initially planning to come), in the end only one was able to, and two transferred into other labs at MSU. However, most of my remaining students finished up with me as an advisor or co-supervisor.

My post-docs were finishing their positions at MSU during the periods (on the US funding sources), so there was not really an opportunity for them to move with me.

VS: Realize that everyone is where they are at their current institution for different reasons and that moving is tough for everyone. Don’t make the decision to move without considering you might be going without them, no matter how great the opportunity might seem to you. Moving students can be challenging given the different requirements of the training programs, so you’ll need to do some legwork to smooth that transition where possible.

5. Moving family

DIB: We picked a destination town based on the schools. That’ll be good, but we will truly miss the elementary school here in Austin. We’ve had great teachers for our kids, and the school is a very open environment with parent involvement welcome, that fosters a great community. Outside of work, most of our friends are other parents we met at the school.  Glastonbury CT has great schools, but after the Sandy Hook shootings theres a bunker mentality at the schools that I fear will isolate us parents. We’ll see.
Other considerations for kids: summer camps, after-school activities. We’ll have some good options, but that ruled out a few towns for us that didn't have those resources.
For the actual move: there’s about 30+ hours of highway driving between Austin and Glastonbury CT. We will have distraught kids (and probably us, too). Instead of moving in a long haul, we will break it up: 3 hours one day, then 4, then spend a day with family, then 5 hours and spend 2 days in Kansas City, then 4 hours and spend a day in St. Louis, and so on. Make it an adventure, rather than a chore. The trick is, the movers will get to CT before us. So, I’ll fly up from midway through our road trip, close on the house, meet the movers, and then rejoin the family a few days later. That’s the plan, at least.

MAD: My husband is also an academic, so a key thing was negotiating a position for him. He was up for tenure at GaTech, so Michigan considered him for a position with tenure. (I was not up for tenure, and was hired as an Assistant Professor.) That meant doing a full tenure review, which took months. I heard I was being offered my position in mid-December. We didn’t hear that my husband was being offered a position (with tenure) until the end of May. That felt like a loooooooong time.
We had a toddler when we moved. I put myself on the daycare list at Michigan as soon as I heard I was getting an offer. I have a blog post that covers some of what we went through with getting into daycare. In the end, we were lucky to get into the UMich daycare, and I think it only happened because I called regularly to let them know that we were really interested.

EBvW: I think I mostly touched on my experience with this above.  I did negotiate a position for a spouse, who is also a Biologist. A considerable part of our decision was about her career options.  We also moved children, and the timing and destination were both good for them.

ID: The most challenging aspect of the timing revolved around our children. Our eldest was 10 when we moved, and definitely found it very hard (as she had developed close friendships in Michigan). Thankfully we are physically quite close (~4 hr drive) to East Lansing, and we get to see our friends and surrogate family often, while also being able to participate in our biological family events more often here. While we actually think that our opportunities for the kids (in terms of schooling and access to family and other things) is excellent in our new home, our kids still bring it up occasionally (how much better life was in Michigan).

I moved ahead of my family by ~6 months (so the kids could finish the school year). While my colleagues at McMaster adopted me often (for meals) I definitely missed being with everyone. Thankfully I could drive back and forth frequently. Lots of podcasts.

One interesting aspect of our move (and the age of our kids) is that our youngest was just starting grade one, so could begin in French immersion. Our daughter (going into grade 5 at the time) could not. However, she now really sees the reasons for learning French and wants to get a private tutor to catch up, which is great.

VS:  I’ll sum up our experiences over the past 3 years: get lots of opinions and don’t rush anything. Our decision of where to move was a compromise of many variables and that left us unsatisfied about many of them. It’s very hard to get the feel of a new place without some experience, so in hindsight we would have had the kids potentially endure a transition year while we rented before buying.
 Realize that your academic colleagues are likely not going to be your neighbors, so do whatever you can to meet folks outside of the university to assess schools, sports, arts, or whatever is important to you.

6. Moving the stuff in your lab

DIB:  Packing is awful, but is a great opportunity to clear out old detritus. Today, I tossed out a stack of photocopied and printed articles from grad school that was taller than I am. It has sat in 3 file cabinets, more or less untouched by me, for 14 years. I decided that although the papers have my notes on them, I don’t avail myself of those notes, so what’s the point. It would be like 10 extra heavy boxes, for what purpose? I also tossed out a bunch of 3 ½ inch floppy disks, and donated a bunch of books to others.
I don’t have much more to say yet, because I haven’t done this.  My plan is to go to UConn, arriving there in early July. Get freezers running, scope out the lab space in person some more. Then, I’ll go back to Austin and pack up the stuff I want to bring (more on that soon), and ask two of my techs to drive a U-haul of lab gear north to CT. Live fish will get shipped overnight express.  Frozen stuff, probably shipped on dry ice (I am aghast at the story in the next comment below). As for what stuff to bring; I’m doing a bit of purging, but not much. I mostly use what I have, and will bring it. But I want to leave it in the lab for the summer so my students and postdocs can make progress while I travel, settle in, travel again, travel again. The constraints on taking stuff from UT are I think fairly standard: small stuff can go with me. Computers need to get wiped, or left behind.  Equipment (>$5,000) I need to buy from UT using UConn start-up, except when the equipment is recently purchase on a grant that is being transferred. The cost of buying stuff from UT varies. The cameras I have they want original price for (despite 5 years’ use). The pickup trucks are depreciated appropriately, I think I’ll pay to take the 2011 but not the 2008 with me. And so on. I am leaving a lab tech employed part time in Austin into the fall, to take care of fish until the UConn fish rooms are ready to receive them and I have the staff to care for them.
All of this is expensive. Be sure to budget in your start-up for funds to ship and pack. Many schools also let you budget start-up for moving expenses because the actual expenses they pay for fall very short of the real cost (~$17,000 to pack and move our whole household in late June, UConn covers about half that).

ELS: One of my most poignant experiences after my UChicago to UC Berkeley move was standing in the shipping office, opening a UPS box of seeds from a massive greenhouse experiment involving hand pollinations (and an intellectually satisfying collaboration with Deborah Charlesworth and Stephanie Meyer). The seeds were in coin envelopes, one envelope for each combination of mother and father plant. When the box was shaken, it made a lot of noise. Someone during the shipping process had apparently gotten curious about what was in the box and used a box cutter to slash open one side of the box, in the process slashing through hundreds of coin envelopes. Seeds were all over. The entire experiment was lost in an instant. In one of my darkest hours, I was further devastated.

Never ship valuable specimens. Carry them by hand.

Moving frozen stuff was equally frustrating. I had a huge number of frozen fungal isolates from an overwintering selection experiment I’d done during the WFU to UChicago move. I’d spent time at UChicago trying to develop markers with which to identify the isolates produced by overwintered spores (this was before ITS, before affordable sequencing, remember RFLPs?), and was hoping to hold the isolates until the technology caught up to my ambitions. Despite next day shipping and huge amounts of dry ice, all the isolates melted in transit. As a consequence, I was never able to find a student who was willing to run the risk that survival of the shipping event might have been selective. I finally disposed of all those isolates this year.

EBvW: Many offers will come with a moving allowance.  Some institutions will allow one to use some startup funds as well if the costs of a move exceed the moving allowance.  We have moved across the US three times (for postdocs, first faculty position, and second faculty position). Moving is expensive, and most moving companies deserve the awful user ratings they get.  None the less, life is full and we decided to pay for movers after doing more ourselves as postdocs. We moved our children and pets by driving, which was fun for the kids.
I only transferred samples and books from my old lab.  We left everything that was purchased on startup to be divided among colleagues as they saw fit.  This means starting over, but that is some of the fun. I left a lab manager on salary until the end of my time at the old institution to send on frozen samples.
Bottom line: moving is expensive and time consuming, particularly if it is a great distance.

MS: Our considerable personal and lab moving costs were 100% covered by the University. The movers came, boxed everything up and hauled it away. It was a cool experience seeing nearly everything we own (including our car) put in a giant box and waving goodbye as it began its transoceanic voyage.

MAD: Because my old lab stayed running for several months after I moved, that gave us time to set up the new lab while keeping our cultures going in the old lab. Once we had things set up, my old technician packed up all our cultures (including some Daphnia clones I established as a grad student!) and my grad student drove them all up to Michigan. We didn’t move any equipment -- just cultures and lab notebooks.

ID: While I did purchase much of my old equipment from MSU, I was again very appreciative of how helpful and supportive everyone was.

My biggest mistake (of which I continue to owe all of the members of my old lab a huge debt of gratitude for alleviating) was not specifically negotiating for the actual moving part of the items from my lab (although it was included as part of my CFI grant to buy it). My lab helped me pack it all up at MSU (including some heroic finessing of the incubators), and I drove it to McMaster (lots of fun paperwork at customs). We also shipped all of the Drosophila strains both via courier, and me taking copies of each strain and population (more paperwork) across the border. I almost wish I recorded the Canadian border officers look when I showed them all the strains. They could not wait to get rid of me.

One horrible downside of the move, is that a bacteria that is widely present (probably in the air vents) of our new location infected many of my strains and experimentally evolved populations. It was resistant to the standard antibiotic treatments, and by the time we found a solution that seemed to work, many weak strains were lost and experimentally evolved populations (~6 years of continuous evolution) went through severe bottlenecks, and in the end I had to end those long term experiments. It took my a good six months to make peace with this. Thankfully my optimism has returned, and we are starting new (and different) experimental treatments soon.

VS: I used my new startup to buy a new -80 and loaded it in NH, which was shipped by FedEx mission-critical moving directly to Pittsburgh. The movers idled until a staff person met them at the dock in early in the AM and it got plugged right in. Flawless.

7. Moving grants

DIB: I’m moving 3 of the 4 grants I am on. None of this is done yet, so it is all scary and hypothetical. NIH I need to rebudget, redo my biosketch, and redo my facilities and resources files. An NSF grant has 4 subawardee institutions we’ll need to redo all the agreements for their subcontracts (sorry colleagues!). As I noted above, I am leaving one NSF grant at UT Austin, in the hands of Yoel Stuart as the official PI. That’s mostly to pay for his salary and his research, anyway. We’ll use some to support lab activites at UT for some students, as well.
Overhead is just a little different at UConn, a couple percent higher. Benefits for employees is very different: lower in some cases but much much much higher in others. UConn may actually accept the lower rate as a fait accompli.  
Also when moving grants you will have to rebudget in a variety of ways: personnel costs will be different: minimum salaries, and benefits, and tuition. That can work in your favor, or against you.

MAD: Fortunately, someone who’d moved to Michigan shortly before I did warned me that Michigan’s overhead rate is pretty high and that I should negotiate for my startup to cover the difference between what I’d budgeted (GT’s rate) and what would get charged (Michigan’s rate). They did that, and it let me have the original amount of money to spend on direct costs.
In terms of whether to move grants, I was fortunate in that it was very clear what made sense. I had one grant that was nearing its end. I left that at GT and used that to negotiate for retaining my old lab space until the end of the grant, which allowed my postdoc, grad student, and technician time to finish up their work. I had a second grant that was just starting and moved that with me. The move process took several months, but, fortunately, I knew to expect that it would be slow to move a grant between universities.

ELS: In my field, grants usually move with the PI. Because I’d quickly become unhappy at WFU, I bought most of my equipment with start-up funds and saved my grant money. So, there was no equipment to move to U Chicago. During the first summer and fall at U Chicago, I did field work at Duke U and bought some equipment for that purpose. The zoology department gave me some summer lab space and field space was free, so I did my research there. My partner moved to Chicago in the fall with most of our household items in a moving van. Over the winter holiday, I loaded a 36-foot stick-shift U-Haul with my dew chamber (the big truck was necessary to get the box height needed to preclude laying the dew chamber on its side, which could have damaged its compressor), computers, field supplies, and a few household items, and towing our car behind, I drove to Chicago. Back then, as a pigtailed woman who looked young for her age, on the interstate I got a lot of double takes from passing truckers. When I pulled into the UHaul place on Chicago’s Southside, the fellow taking in the truck asked me where my driver was. Puzzled, I said, “I’m the driver”. At that point, he congratulated me and shook my hand for having driven that crazy rig (two pivot points) by myself all the way from North Carolina.
The move to UC Berkeley also involved moving grants. Further, because of what had happened to me at U Chicago, the department chair let me take everything I’d bought on my start-up funds. So, a huge moving van carried our household and my fully equipped lab to Berkeley.

EBvW: This has perhaps been the most frustrating part of our move. I had funding from NSF and USAID, both as subcontracts, and both close to the end of their duration but with enough time on them that we have tried to move them with us.  I have faced challenges in moving them from all sides. The agencies are great, but working with university sponsored research offices is a real challenge requiring persistence, patience, and a good sense of humor. Do not expect staff at your new university to understand your grants.  They may not even be able to distinguish UC Davis from the University of Southern California, or know the difference between USAID and USDA as funding agencies.

MS: This was the worst part. I had active grants from NSF, HFSP and AFOSR, and had worked with the financial departments of both universities to make subcontracts. Two weeks before our move, a dean at Akron unilaterally decided that we shouldn’t do that and that we should instead close out the grants. This led to some extremely stressful conversations with program officers and some considerable delays getting the grant money back as I had to close one out and then reopen it as a “new” grant, transfer another to a colleague at Akron, and get the third wire transferred. In the end it worked out but for a while it looked like I might be out hundreds of thousands of dollars. I thank those PO’s and the financial people who made it happen and to this day curse the name of the dean (who now seems to be in line to be the Uni. president, bc apparently they like people who throw away thousands in overhead for no reason). One piece of advice is to let your PO’s know that you are moving well ahead of time so that perhaps they can send the next installment directly to your new university. Or perhaps delay your move until the grant runs (or you can spend it all) out if possible. Subcontracting is not great, bc you may wind up paying overhead at both universities.
Overhead at U. Gent is only 17% (!), so you get to spend a lot more of your grant money yourself.

ID: I didn't move any grants.

VS: a.    It always takes longer than you think and can be a giant hassle. Be prepared for lots of deep breathing.
b.   The big issue is that the clock on your grants doesn’t stop when you move, and if you need to train new people (which is almost inevitable), you’ll face significant delays. Plan ahead for this transition and set very reasonable goals.
c.    Changes in indirect rates can affect your total budget; plan ahead for this if possible via your startup negotiations.
d.    I decided to leave one sizable grant behind because it really belonged at UNH and my colleagues benefited from the resources, plus it was a significant administrative burden. I don’t regret the decision.

8. Negotiating with your old institution: retention, space, students, etc.

DIB: I had gotten a job offer from iDiv in Leipzig Germany, a few years back. We didn’t take it because there was nothing serious for my wife’s career there (they basically offered her a postdoc at a Max Planck, when she was already an Assoc. Prof).  But, I used that as leverage to get a retention package at UT. The only thing I asked for was departmental funds to improve grad student support for EEB as a whole. We got about 400,000 in funds to support grad student summer salaries. But this came back to haunt me: when I told UT about my UConn offer, it quickly became clear that they wouldn’t do much for me by way of retention: they matched UConn’s salary offer, but that’s it. UT was more responsive in trying to retain my wife, but in the end the combined package just didn't meet our requests. Ironically, UT then went and did a search to replace me and the start-up and renovations involved will end up costing them much more than anything I might have asked for. The good news is, some junior colleague now has my big corner office in their future.
Other items of negotiation with UT have involved the cost of buying equipment from them at depreciated rates, for the items I want to bring with me that were capital equipment. It feels odd to pay a second time for the same object, even depreciated. So, I’ll only do that for a few items.  UT has been good about helping my students who are staying here. And, most importantly, because I am leaving one grant here (transferred PI status to my postdoc Yoel Stuart), they will let Yoel and the others occupy their offices and the lab space for another 10 months or so, which is great.

EBvW: We were ready to move, and were not interested in negotiating a raise or other conditions.  FIU can do nothing about sea level rise at this point. That said, negotiating conditions for students who stay behind can be important.  I did some of this, although my staying student mostly wanted to handle it with a co-advisor who could navigate the old institution.

MS: Despite lots of kind words from my colleagues, Akron did remarkably little to retain me. My main contact in the administration (Provost? I don’t know) offered me a pretty good raise (~$30k/year, or 33%), but then more or less said “You should probably just take the job. I would leave if I could.” They probably sensed (correctly) that I had very little interest in staying, as I am not good at masking my intentions. I was able to keep my old lab space until all my students graduate, and was able to get an adjunct position in a different department (Polymer Science), so I could continue to advise students and be on their committees. I was not able to get an adjunct position in my actual department (Biology) bc of the same dean that wanted to cancel my grants.

MAD: Georgia Tech initially wouldn't negotiate with me at all (saying that I wouldn't move if my husband didn't get an offer, so they wouldn't offer anything until he had something). Then they gave me an offer with a two week deadline, but we still hadn't heard from Michigan about a position for my husband. Fortunately, a mentor told me that it was unusual for GT to have given me a deadline (especially a short one) on a retention offer, and that I should tell them they needed to wait. Once I told them I needed more time, there was no pushback on that -- they were fine with giving me the time we needed.
We did run into a weird situation, though, where we ran up against a deadline that US institutions have in terms of when people can move. After a certain date (maybe June 1st? I can’t remember anymore), in order for one place to make an offer to a person with a faculty position at another place, it requires permission of the current institution. So, someone at GaTech (I think the Provost) had to give Michigan approval to make my husband the offer. (I suspect I’m misremembering some of the specific details of this, but that was generally what happened.)

ID: As I mentioned above, all of my colleagues, and my chair were amazing supportive and gracious. They allowed me to keep the lab running as people finished up, and there were relatively few hiccups. I remain an adjunct faculty at MSU.

VS: a.    I really appreciated the courtesy appointment I requested and received, which maintained my access to email, some IT resources supporting shared grants left behind, and above all, student support. They were kind enough to maintain my access to a small pot of money to support my PhD students finishing up. I highly recommend asking for these accommodations if possible.

I was also able to have my health insurance coverage slightly overlap between appointments by covering myself on summer salary at UNH before I started at Pitt. It was tedious but the folks at UNH were accommodating

9. Negotiating with your new institution: Contracts, salary, benefits, and such

DIB: I found the negotiation process pretty simple. The lab space was standard, plus some fish care space. The start-up took negotiating, and they trimmed me back a bit, but not bad (there was the misunderstanding about benefits, mentioned above, and they didn’t tell me until later that furniture came out of start-up; at UT that was separate renovation $). We had a spousal hire to do, but UConn found Deborah at least as interesting as they found me (very cool ancient DNA work among other things, I can’t blame them). That took a year, all told. It nearly fell through at least once because of things like renovations for my wife's ancient DNA lab. It worked out, but it took a long time and some compromises on all sides.
There are so many details to ask about when you negotiate. For instance: are benefits and tuition deducted from start-up or not (the answer varies among institutions). Does furniture come out of start-up? What renovations will they do to your space? Moving expenses are usually fixed things and rarely enough, but you may be able to cover the remaining balance from start-up. You've done all this before, in your previous faculty position, if this blog applies to you. But there are new items. Ask for funds to pay moving expenses for your trainees who com with you (probably out of your start-up). Costs of shipping lab materials and equipment. How much to buy your existing lab equipment from your old institution (older kit, but saves money if it is still in good shape)? Negotiate the timing for any remaining promotions. UT does not have a scheduled sabbatical system (I've never done a sabbatical), so ask about the clock and whether you start from scratch or not.

MAD: I worried about health insurance a lot, as I was pregnant when I moved! My Georgia Tech position officially ended August 15th, but Michigan starts their positions September 1st. So, I asked Michigan if I could use ½ a month of the summer salary I’d negotiated to cover me for the second half of August, mainly because I was worried about health insurance. (In the end, I think my GT insurance would have covered me for the full month. But I wasn’t totally sure and didn’t want to end up with a gap.)

ELS: In each move, I was lucky to move smoothly between institutions. I did run into a problem when I caught the flu during my first weeks at UC Berkeley (after having gotten a flu shot!). I needed treatment for persistent bronchitis, but hadn’t yet signed up with Kaiser. Fortunately, Kaiser made things easy by streamlining my sign-up process. For the most part, I like Kaiser (my partner got full treatment and a cure for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma without us ever seeing a bill) and they have a great medicare HMO service, as well, which will make our later years more affordable.
I also have lucked out with retirement benefits. I started TIAA-CREF as a postdoc at Duke, which meant I was immediately vested in the retirement program at WFU. This was important because I left before I would have vested if I’d had to start anew at WFU. So, I had defined contribution retirement for the first 13 years of my career and now, at UC Berkeley, I get a defined benefit retirement. Because of the way that defined benefit retirements usually work (they usually multiply your years in service at the U times some average of years with your highest salary), getting the defined benefit late in your career is far better than getting it early. Further, because of compounding interest, it’s better to get defined contribution early, when there’s plenty of time for your money to increase in value.
On the other hand, I lost tenure credit when I moved to Chicago and sabbatical credits with each move, so I didn’t get my first sabbatical until after I’d taught for 15 years.

EBvW: By going down a rank I did take a pay cut, although with an accelerated second tenure clock that should be rectified relatively quickly.  For benefits we haven’t had any real challenges, as both institutions use TIAA-CREF and the rest of our packages are pretty much comparable.

For those located in the US who are considering international searches, I have a few extra thoughts based on my own experience.  I had three offers to move, one with an international agency and another at a different US University. I also interviewed at institutions in the UK and Europe as part of our search process.  International agencies, such as the CGIAR system, can be great places to work, in part due to the benefits. Similarly, much of the rest of the developed world handles heathcare and retirement in ways that are far fairer than the US, and these should be factored into salary and quality of life comparisons.

MS:I negotiated for a higher net salary (taxes in Belgium are brutal, close to 50%) than in Akron, and it is even higher thanks to the money we save through free health insurance, school, subsidized daycare and house cleaners, “kindergeld” (money that everyone with children gets), biking payments (50 cents for every km you bike during your commute).. Americans frequently balk at the high tax rates, but the free health insurance alone is enough to make up the difference.  I stayed at the associate professor equivalent level (“hoofddocent”), with tenure, and my research percentage is 75%, so I teach less than i did before. It will be a while and many papers (there are strict guidelines about how many papers you must publish/year given a certain research percentage) before I am promoted to full professor (“hoogleraar”), but that’s ok bc promotion is also associated with many more bureaucratic duties.
We have 12-month contracts (actually 13-month, bc we get a half month’s “vacation bonus” in May and December), so I don’t worry about summer salary anymore and can use grant money for other things.

ID: - Other than Toronto, UBC and McGill, few Canadian Universities can match start ups from US institutions. So this was a shock, and I had to think (and discuss) this a great deal. It also turned out that McMaster had just adopted a new budget model, and the faculty of Science (of which Biology is a department) found itself in a large deficit position just as I was negotiating with the chair and (then) new Dean. Indeed the length of time the negotiating took almost scuppered the move.

- One frustration had to do with funds allocated with funding people who were going to move with me. As part of my negotiations I had part of my start up allocated for funds for my MSU students who were going to move to McMaster to help pay for some of the salary differential (and international fees for students). When 2 of the three decided not to make the move, I asked the Dean at the time to free up those funds, but they only provided a small amount of what it would have costed, which was somewhat frustrating. However, since it was probably funny money to them anyway (i.e. a good chunk offsetting tuition etc), I can see their perspective (i.e. real $$ is quite different), but none the less it bothered me a fair bit at the time.

- Salary turned out to be fairly straight forward to negotiate, although with a few kinks (not all worked out).

- While my spouse is not an Academic, I tried to negotiate some opportunities for my wife which did not work out. I consider this as in part my failure to not press McMaster much harder, and also the institution for not having a robust spousal accomodation model that they are consistent with. In the end, even meeting with some of the internal career counsellors (i.e. the people who are supposed to help McMaster employees) failed my spouse which was very frustrating. However, by great coincidence a job opened up as the Director of the McMaster Hillel. My spouse had worked for the organization in the US (both in North Carolina and Michigan), and got the job within a month of us arriving. Indeed, despite not being an employee of the University she is on campus all of the time, and has interacted with the University president far more than I have.

VS: a.    I moved from a 9-month salary institution to a med-school that is mostly soft money, and I didn’t want my salary requirements to overwhelm my grants. I negotiated a slow ramp up to the required salary coverage to protect our productivity. I’m happy that I exceeded that ramp fairly easily. Unfortunately, I and the department evidently get no credit for this, with my extra salary coverage going back to the dean’s office. I would have tried to make this negotiable in retrospect.
b.   I made an enormous error by not putting my wife’s employment into my offer letter. As I said above, this has been the biggest downside.

10. Culture shock at the new institution

DIB:  No comment, I haven’t gotten to UConn yet.

MAD: I was surprised by how different things feel at Michigan. It is a BIG place and was harder to wrap my head around than I expected. I know other people who moved here who felt the same way.

ELS: At WFU, I knew faculty in the humanities, at U Chicago, I worked with philosophers as well as scientists and had to deal with the fact that my physician was a colleague who wanted to know about my research. It took a decade at UC Berkeley to meet any faculty outside the sciences (I met lots of staff and administrators via my role as Director of the UC Botanical Garden).

Library facilities: It was a huge shock moving from Duke U, with its access to the Triangle Universities Library and computer resources, to WFU, which had a relatively tiny library with very few journal subscriptions. With Research Gate and other resources, this might be less of an issue for the time being, but access to a great research library is a huge benefit that might be underappreciated by graduate students and postdocs moving from large research institutions to institutions with fewer resources. I’ve already written about the unanticipated loss of computer facilities when I moved to U Chicago, which I’d mistakenly thought would be a sufficiently strong research university to be on the cutting edge of computing.

EBvW: We had far more culture shock when we moved to FIU in Miami FL from our postdocs at UC Davis, then we did going to UVM.  Vermont is now home for us. That does not mean there have not been changes. Part of my move has been going from a Biological Sciences department at a very large Hispanic Serving Institution to an agricultural department at a very small landgrant University that functions much more like a liberal arts college.  The academic culture change is striking, and I have mostly found it invigorating. UVM is a very silo-ed institution, with a number of small departments in many colleges, which creates a situation where there are people who I view as “ecologists” in Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, in the School of Natural Resources, in several departments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and even scattered elsewhere, such as in the Medical School.  I have been energetic about finding people, but it would be easy to become isolated if one were not proactive about meeting people across campus.

MS: The main culture shock was the change in work-life balance. Here, it tips much more towards the “life” side. Holidays are sacred, and you get a lot of them (30 days paid vacation plus one month of national/provincial/city-wide/university-wide holidays scattered throughout the year). Stores are closed on Sundays, and few are open past 7pm (there are no 24hr stores at all). Very few people are at work in July and August. This is great, but it means that you have to plan well in advance and sometimes you just have to wait. The bureaucracy is like a constantly-shifting labyrinth (for example, it took us 1,5 yrs to register our car), but eventually you get used to it. It is sad that I hate to say it, but there are almost no guns here and no active shooter drills in schools. I am so glad our kids don’t have to think about that.

The University itself is also quite different. It is huge, and spread in dozens of buildings throughout the city. But on a day-to-say level, it feels cozy. Departments are made up of research groups, which may have as many as 3 (or more) PI’s. So your lab is not called “the [your last name] lab” as in the US. I initially thought I would be the 3rd PI in the Terrestrial Ecology group, but wound up starting my own (Evolution and Optics of Nanostructures). Some research groups are huge (biggest one  in Bio Dept. is 50+ people) and as a consequence there is sometimes limited interaction among groups. But it is not at all lonely, as our sister groups (Terr. Ecol. and Limnology) are quite big, and we are growing as well. Together, we take up 3 floors, and have our own fantastic secretary/lab tech. People from the 3 groups eat lunch together nearly every day in a designated room, and there are 2 coffee breaks a day. This is a huge positive change from the days of sitting alone at my desk in Akron..

ID: There are several aspects to the culture that were difficult to get used to.

One major thing was that at MSU, Evolutionary Biology was well supported as a research area. i.e. new faculty hires, funds for graduate recruitment, etc..

McMaster seems to be about the medical school first and foremost, and after that engineering (then maybe business). While the faculty at McMaster in science are very research active, and well regarded nationally and internationally, I sometimes feel that this is not the case within the institution. The new budget model I mentioned earlier that left science in a bad position certainly did not help. Happily we seem to have just started to turn the corner (more funds, new very supportive Dean, new provost who is neither in medicine or engineering) so I am optimistic. Yet we are now a Department with essentially no tenure track assistant professors, so I am worried about how we project our youth (I am the second youngest faculty member among the tenure track individuals in our department, and I am most certainly not a spring chicken chronologically).

The other huge bit of culture shock was the degree of institutional bureaucracy. There is much more of it. While I now know some of the people to go to to get help (and they are definitely there) it took a while, and definitely I have spent far too much time with small administrative issues. However after a recent faculty retreat that the Dean organized, these issues were at the top of concerns for most faculty.

The other aspect (which I think may be good - most days) is that the 20% of my appointment which is service is really 20%. You are definitely expected to take a role in service in the department, faculty and University. In the three years I have been here I have served on the search for the new Dean, our new department chair as well as being on faculty senate. As such, I actually understand how McMaster works much more than I ever did at MSU, where almost all of my service was with regard to faculty searches and curriculum. But it is a lot of work.

VS: Moving from a balanced research-teaching school like UNH to a major medical school was a massive change. I’ve learned more about the business of academic medicine and medical school research and its associated cultures than perhaps any other subject. I had no idea how much I would learn and need to learn. This is for another blog someday, which I’ll post on our website I’ll keep you posted.

11. New lab (not) same as the old lab

DIB: I’ve spent a lot of time pondering how I want to run my lab differently at UConn. I want to get everyone working on GitHub to share projects & data access with me. I want everyone to keep an open reading journal and try to use an online open lab notebook format for better record-keeping. I want to try two lab meetings per week a quick Monday “here’s what I did and will do” recap so everyone knows what they have achieved and their colleagues are doing, and a regular present or read lab meeting. Lab cultures get entrenched, and I’m trying to use this as a chance to try something new, starting from scratch. I have a great team lined up already of 3.25 postdocs (one will be a ghostdoc mostly living in MN) and two technicians, and I can’t wait to find a way to make their work mesh well.

MAD: I’ve set up three labs in my 6 years at Michigan!!!! When I first moved, I asked my tech from GaTech to tell me what she wished we had in the lab but didn’t. (One key thing: two dishwashers instead of one!) I took that into account when setting up the new lab.

When I made the move to the second lab at Michigan, I asked for an addition to my startup to cover 6 months of postdoc salary, since we lost time with that move (which came just a year after I got there and was not expected) and because we had to delay some experiments to accommodate the move.

ELS: I set up two labs at WFU, one lab at UChicago, and four labs at UC Berkeley. I also designed and built a plastic greenhouse at WFU and designed two greenhouses and a headhouse at UC Berkeley. Ideal lab designs changed as my research evolved. The safety rules about lab design have since shifted, also, making bench-side desks a thing of the past.

A key point about lab space is that many institutions will promise you a newly outfitted lab, which you get to design, but then don’t actually start building the lab until long after you’ve arrived on campus. This makes moving extraordinarily costly in terms of research productivity. They problem occurred for both my moves, but the situation at UC Berkeley was particularly egregious. My first lab was a 500 square foot room with some desks and a sink. A staff person took pity on me and found me some surplus lab cabinets and benches and with them I designed and built a small but relatively functional lab space. The only problem was that I had three postdocs, two grad students, and several undergrads.  During the years we were in that space, folks took turns sitting on the floor.

EBvW: Moving to a new institution and a new climate has been invigorating.  After years of working primarily on one topic (chickpea domestication), the move is a good opportunity to re-open our list of questions and think about the a broader set of needs and questions.  This is wonderful, but is part of the slow-down that comes with moving. We have a new agricultural setting, and a whole new set of stakeholders to understand.
I felt that I wasted a fair portion of startup at my first institution on poor investments.  My largest regret at FIU was in supporting for a year a colleague’s underperforming PhD student who became a very significant headache for me and poisoned my relationships with several colleagues at FIU.  I also purchased a robot for nucleic acid extractions that never got adequate use. A new lab is a clean slate and a chance to start over.

ID: Interestingly the lab culture at McMaster is completely different. I am still trying to figure out why. Most of it likely has to do with the culture of the people in my lab (both graduate students and undergraduates). Maybe a small piece has to do with lessons I learned from my first go around as a PI at MSU.

12. Retraining

DIB: I had to redo all the Biosafety training, IACUC training. Getting my IACUC (animal care) protocol approved at UConn tool literally 3 times longer than I am used to at UT, which is partly my own fault for going in with a UT Austin style protocol application and finding they had different expectations. It was really a good half week lost to doing all those online training modules. Then there’s the tangle of figuring out new ordering systems, budgeting systems, online course management, grading, insurance, hiring practices…. This is a long list.

MAD: One thing that has stood out to me about different institutions I’ve been at (including before faculty positions) is the different safety/regulatory cultures. For us example, Georgia Tech had very specific, detailed RCR training documentation requirements; Michigan does not, and I still always worry that I’m messing something up accidentally. MSU had very specific labeling requirements (even wanting us to label every individual beaker containing Daphnia -- though we worked out an alternate arrangement), whereas that was much more lax at GaTech.

EBvW: As we are a plant lab we can usually avoid IRB and IACUC, but the lab safety is something we have had to do.  Both of my institutions use the CITI platform, which means that some of mine have actually transferred. That said, anyone moving (to a first, second, or third position) should expect it to be a time sink.  You have to do it, and it takes time.

ELS: At WFU I served on the IRB as a junior faculty member. This would have been a very unlikely service appointment for a botanist at either U Chicago or UC Berkeley.  UC Berkeley has a plethora of required computer trainings. They all serve important functions but do take a lot of time. The entire system is set up primarily for faculty who have the funds for career lab managers, which means that I’m always at a disadvantage navigating these byzantine systems. More recently, the campus has implemented “automated” systems for purchasing and human resources, which have become a nightmare for the underfunded scientist.
MS:New lab, same as the old lab, but in a few different rooms rather than one. We will soon need to find some office space for more students, which may be tricky give that space is at a premium.

ID: While a lot of work, this turned out to be crazy useful as I needed to refresh and retrain myself as well. However, only now (3 years later) do I feel that most of the skills are in the hands of the lab members, not me (although a few still to teach).

VS: a.    Look at the bright side: your old lab likely underwent some protocol drift. This is the time to correct this.  b.   Ask colleagues at your new institution for their protocols to use as templates. This can save a ton of time.  


Should you move? Well that's your call. There are pros and cons, both often very large with big ethical challenges: the impact on your trainees, your family, yourself, and your academic community. Our hope is that this blog gives you the tools to better evaluate whether this is a sensible move for you and those associated with you, and gives you a sense of some of the costs, benefits, and hurdles that arise.

If you do indeed move and want to add something to this already long blog, that isn't already in here, email me ( to inquire about late additions of text.

On second thought...

I make a point of not writing too much about the behind-the scenes details of being an Editor, to respect the anonymity of authors, reviewer...