Saturday, June 17, 2017

Should you be using a professional editor?

Posted by Richard Primack 

“Improve every opportunity to express yourself in writing as if it were your last.”
Thoreau in his Journal, December 17, 1851.

What are the secrets or best practices to achieving balance between work and family life? A recent news article in Nature, Workplace habits: Full-time is full enough,” quotes several scientists describing their strategies. For many scientists achieving work-life balance means getting as much work done as possible in 40 hours per week, and devoting the rest of the time to family and personal life.

In the Nature article, I am quoted saying that I hire professional editors to help me work more efficiently in my position as a professor, textbook writer and editor. My comment inspired a post at the Dynamic Ecology blog, in which Meghan Duffy asks, “Haveyou ever used a professional editor for a proposal or manuscript?”. In a follow-up article, I share my experiences in working with professional editors, and I summarize some key points here (Got a professional editor?)

In this staged photo, Primack relaxes with the family dog, while a professional editor polishes a paper.


I often hire professional editors on a freelance basis to help me write scientific papers, grant proposals, chapters of my conservation biology textbooks, professional correspondence, popular articles, press releases, and oral presentations. Hiring an editor often makes the difference between meeting or missing deadlines, or handing in sloppy work or well-written papers.  

In my experience the best editors are advanced graduate students, post-docs, and early-career researchers working outside of tenure-track faculty positions. They are often excellent writers who want to make some extra money.

The amount of time needed by an editor depends on the document length, how much work the document needs, and the editor’s speed. Most recently, a professional editor spent 10 hours helping me on a grant proposal, 2 hours on an editorial for Biological Conservation, and 4 hours on a research article.

Working with editors can especially help scientists for whom writing is not a strength (including those for whom English is not their first language).

I think that working with a professional scientific editor can help many people in improving the chances of a grant being funded or a paper being accepted for publication.


   

Monday, June 12, 2017

My #DDIGstory

posted by Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie

Recently the National Science Foundation announced that the Division of Environmental Biology will no longer accept Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDIG) proposals, citing “increasing workload” and “changes in priorities.” DDIGs are relatively small grants (up to $13,000 in direct costs when I applied in 2014) with outsized impacts on the graduate student community: just read through the swell of #DDIGstory tweets that followed NSF’s announcement. 

My dissertation research was shaped and improved by a DDIG. The process of writing a DDIG proposal — developing the story around my hypotheses and research methods, creating a budget, working with the Research and Outreach office at Boston University —was a transformative experience. Applying for a DDIG introduced me to the inner workings of NSF proposals, revealing the process of navigating overhead and fringe benefits and planning a multi-year project. Just submitting my DDIG application felt like a major accomplishment, on par with passing qualifying exams. When I celebrated that fall, I did not realize that another notable life milestone would intersect with my DDIG.

Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie in the field at Acadia National Park

My DDIG memories are intertwined with my experience as a new parent. At my March 2015 committee meeting I announced two items of good news: I’m pregnant and my DDIG is funded! The DDIG provided my own source of support for two field seasons in Acadia National Park and allowed me to hire two wonderful undergraduate field assistants that April. Mentoring these students and teaching field methods was an invaluable experience, and though I was healthy and hiking all the way through the field season/second trimester, it was reassuring to know that my assistants were ready to pick up the slack if I needed a break. With DDIG funds, I traveled to the Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting that August to present a research talk. I was 34 weeks pregnant and my DDIG-supported conference-adjacent, air-conditioned hotel room was a perfect home base. 

The DDIG provided a kind of force field for me against the misogynist baggage that invariably strikes a pregnant grad student; it deflected questions about my commitment to a career in science or my ability to complete my dissertation. On a practical level, I had financial independence to do the fieldwork and present my research. But it was also a symbolic win, a sign that I was a serious scientist, regardless of the elastic waistband in my maternity field pants. Later, as I struggled through the haze of diapers, pediatrician appointments, sitz baths, and 3 am feedings, I could look forward to the second half of my DDIG fieldwork. The concrete plans built around my DDIG smoothed my transition from maternity leave: I returned to the field and accelerated through my last year of grad school. 

My DIGG is directly responsible for two chapters of my dissertation, two manuscripts currently ready for submission, and an unshakable confidence in my research and my ability to balance work and life, science and parenthood. I don’t think there is another fellowship or grant opportunity for ecology graduate students with the gravitas, the opportunity to engage in the full process of grant-writing, or the prestige of a DDIG. My career and my life would certainly not be the same without it. Eliminating this program is a serious error that the NSF should reconsider.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Humans vs. Drones and Satellites!

Posted by Richard Primack

“If there is nothing new on earth, there is still something new in the heavens.”
-Thoreau in his journal, Nov. 17, 1837

In an earlier post (April, 2016) we described comparing our on-the-ground observations of tree leaf-out times with data from LANDSAT satellites. Are data gathered by the two methods comparable, and can they be combined in climate change research?



We are now collaborating with Margaret Kosmala and David Basler from Harvard who are using drones to monitor tree leaf-out times at the Arnold Arboretum. Will drones flying a few hundred feet high provide similar dates of leaf-out to an observer on the ground and satellites in the sky? We will soon find out!


Science journalist Meera Subramanian recently wrote abut this project for Undark magazine.

Friday, May 26, 2017

What is the best way to detect changing bird populations?

Posted by Richard Primack
“We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do.”
-Thoreau in Walden

From 1969 until today, researchers at Manomet in southeastern Massachusetts have banded birds every autumn from August 15 to November 15, from Monday through Friday, from dawn to dusk. Many bird species have been declining in abundance and migrating later (or in a few cases earlier) over this 39-year period. 

American Redstarts have declined significantly in abundance at Manomet over the last 39 years (photo by Sam Roberts)

In a recent paper in Biological Conservation, we demonstrate that if bird banders sampled fewer days per week, even as few as two days per week, the patterns of changing abundance and timing are still detectable over the 39-year period. 

Significant declines in Red-eyed Vireo abundance are still detectable when sampling 2 days/week (photo by Sam Roberts)

Reducing the sampling to every other year does not affect the patterns, and most of the patterns are still detectable if birds are only captured every third or fourth year. 

Changes in the migration phenology of Blackpoll Warblers are still detectable when sampling every third year (photo by Sam Roberts)

When the data set is subsampled for shorter periods of time, however, such as 22, 15, and 11 years, most of patterns of changing abundance and timing are not detectable.

Our results demonstrate that the key to detecting long-term changes in abundance and timing of migration is to establish a simple and efficient sampling design that can be carried out over a long period of time.

You can read the full article here.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Congratulations Dr. McDonough MacKenzie!

Posted by Lucy Zipf

On May 2 our own Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie successfully defended her PhD thesis!


Caitlin is excited!

Her public talk titled "Climate change, species loss, and spring phenology in an around Acadia National Park, Maine" was well attended and received by members of the BU community, Caitlin's many collaborators both in Boston and Maine, and her loving family and friends.

Caitlin's work utilized historic data in conjunction with her own field observations and experiments to document changes in species abundance and phenology in Acadia and northern Maine, an understudied and iconic region.


Caitlin with one of her common gardens on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

She found that the phenology of plants and birds in and around Acadia are advancing with warming temperatures, but are doing so more slowly than in southern New England.

Further, using her field data on plant phenology along Acadia's three largest ridges and her common garden experiments Caitlin found that the temperature of local microclimate within a habitat is a better predictor of plant phenology than elevation, aspect, or plant source.

Caitlin will continue working in Acadia as a postdoc, having received a David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship from the Society for Conservation Biology.


Amanda, Caitlin, and Lucy on a Primack Lab outing this winter

We are so proud of all Caitlin has achieved at BU and look forward to her continued success!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Reading the Witness Tree

Posted by Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie


Lynda V. Mapes, a Bullard Fellow at the Harvard Forest, published an essay in the Boston Globe magazine last weekend. “What a year with a single tree reveals about climate change” is an intriguing narrative to the Primack lab, where we aim to coax entire communities of trees in Thoreau’s Concord and beyond to reveal the ecological effects of climate change from data spanning over one hundred and fifty years. I read Mapes as I was slogging through the final edits of my PhD defense talk, and I found in her writing a clear and compelling conversation about phenology. Inspired by her science communication, I dove back into my slides.

Mapes' essay on Caitlin's desk. Caitlin included a quote from this piece in the opening slides of her PhD defense talk

Mapes’ hyper-local focus — a single red oak tree in the Harvard Forest — provides a frame for presenting plant ecology research to the general public. From her tree, Mapes can call out the recent advances and varying methodological approaches in phenology studies. It’s a kind of meta-analysis for a popular audience: data from historic records (shout out to Thoreau), ground level-observations (John O’Keefe’s daily walks), phenocams (Andrew Richardson’s flux tower-mounted cameras), and remote sensing are drawn together and synthesized in this portrait of a red oak. As she climbs into the canopy of her oak, Mapes carries us with her: her writing provides perspective, and she deftly distills piles of scientific data into a vivid sweep of leaves. I've identified many red oaks in the field, but Mapes made me identify with hers.

The Boston Globe essay is adapted from Lynda V. Mapes' new book

As plant ecologists, it is not often that we get to see elements of our own work in popular culture or glossy magazine spreads. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen the word ‘phenology’ in print outside of a scientific journal. Mapes easily folded this vocabulary into her essay, so that by the end of the article I forgot how startling it was to see ‘phenology’ in print in the Globe. I’m looking forward to repeating this revelation when I read her book WitnessTree: Seasons of Change With a Century-Old Oak.



Saturday, May 6, 2017

Primack featured on WGBH News!

Posted by Amanda Gallinat

This week, Richard Primack was featured on NPR's WGBH News!


In the program, Richard discusses finding Thoreau's field notes from the 1850's, replicating Thoreau's observations of leaf out and flowering in Concord today, and lessons learned about climate change. Rising spring temperatures are causing plants to leaf out and flower earlier today than in the 1850's, for some species by several weeks!

 Richard Primack recording leaf out at Walden Pond
photo credit: Craig Lemoult / WGBH News

The feature also draws connections between changing spring phenology and species loss. Concord has lost a quarter of its plant species since Thoreau's time, and another third are in decline. Richard notes "there are a lot of reasons why species have been lost from Concord, but at least part of the reason is climate change."

Richard Primack looking for spring leaves at Walden Pond 
photo credit: Craig Lemoult / WGBH News

WGBH journalist Craig Lemoult ends the segment with this reflection: "Like Thoreau, and like the rest of us, [Primack] feels joy in discovering a new bloom or leaves on a tree that was bare just days before. But for Primack, there’s also something troubling in the arrival of spring."

Monday, May 1, 2017

Yan Liu applies remote sensing to Acadia National Park

Posted by Richard B. Primack

For the past several years, Yan Liu, a University of Massachusetts Boston doctoral student working with Prof. Crystal Schaaf, has been collaborating with Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie to calibrate new remote sensing data of Acadia National Park to tree and shrub leaf out phenology on the ground.

Yan presented the results of her work at a PhD defense on March 21.



Yan’s work included comparisons of the leaf out times of trees across the entire Mt. Desert Island and among years.


A second aspect involved comparisons of leaf out times along transects with remote sensing images.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Special guests at Carleton College!

Posted by Amanda Gallinat

This spring, I am taking a quick detour from New England phenology to teach a Population Ecology course at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Last week was very exciting around here, because we had several special visitors: Pam Templer, Sam Roberts, and Dan and Erika Tallman!

On Monday (4/10) Pam Templer visited from Boston University to meet with students, tour the ecosystem ecology experiments in Carleton’s Cowling Arboretum, and to talk about her research as part of the weekly Biology Seminar Series. Pam gave a great seminar on the effects of winter climate change on N and C cycling, tree growth, and insect diversity in Northeast forests! Her talk was very well received, and students and faculty were all particularly interested in implications for the sugar maple industry.


Pam Templer with her Carleton host, Dan Hernandez

On Friday (4/14) Sam Roberts gave a talk to our Population Ecology class on his master’s research, using bird banding and nest searching data to measure demographic information of Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows in New Jersey, and using that information to model the population viability of those species over the next 50 years. He included many great photos and videos of his field methods.

A video Sam Roberts took in the salt marsh, showing the difficulty of finding nests!

Sam and the Pop Eco students talked through potential management strategies, like predator management programs, and he showed some examples of how to incorporate management scenarios into population models. This was a great application of the population growth models we've been using in class.

Later that afternoon, the students got to see bird banding in action! Dan and Erika Tallman visited the Cowling Arboretum to demonstrate and discuss the bird banding process.


Dan Tallman bands a chickadee captured behind the Arboretum offices

In an hour and a half, we caught 16 Black-capped Chickadees, 3 Dark-eyed Juncos, 1 Downy Woodpecker, 3 House Finches, and 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker. The students learned about ageing and sexing birds, and even got to release them!

A Carleton student releases a chickadee!

Primack Alums at the Smith Fellowship Spring Retreat

Posted by Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie

Last week I traveled to Oregon’s Mt Hood for my first Smith Fellowship Retreat. Smith Post-Doctoral Fellows come together for three weeks each year from across the country to meet each other and participate in professional development workshops.

Abe Miller-Rushing, from Acadia National Park, and Jacquelyn Gill from University of Maine, who will be my mentors for the next two years, joined me in Oregon. We talked about the logistics of getting equipment into remote subalpine lakes, opportunities for public outreach, and scheduling for the summer.


Abe and Caitlin at Mirror Lake below Mt Hood. 

The retreat was a wonderful opportunity to connect with other fellows and their mentors in other disciplines of conservation, and to recharge by the fire at Timberline Lodge. We also snow-shoed to Mirror Lake, ate delicious cookies, and drank Oregon beers. The schedule was both energizing and relaxing. I’m looking forward to my Smith Fellowship working with Abe and Jacquelyn to study paleo-vegetation dynamics above treeline in Maine!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Cherry flowers in danger of frost and insects

Posted by Richard B. Primack

Cherry trees in flower are one of the most beautiful sights of spring. In Japan, Korea, Washington, D.C., and many other places, the cherry blossom season is a time for festivals and merriment.

A warming climate is causing cherry trees to flower several weeks earlier in the spring, shifting the dates of the festivals as well. However, with an earlier flowering comes an increased risk of flowers being damaged by late season frosts, and a greatly diminished floral display. Also, a mild winter can result in outbreaks of insects that can further damage the flowers and young leaves. As a consequence, climate change has the potential to drastically decrease the abundance of cherry blossoms.

In 2015, there was a spectacular display of cherry blossoms at the Arnold Arboretum, as shown by this Sargent’s cherry tree, and a close-up of a flowering branch:




In 2016, by contrast, there was a warm late winter and early spring, stimulating an early flowering of cherry trees. Unfortunately, a late frost combined with an outbreak of gypsy moth caterpillars severely damaged the flowers, as shown by these photos of the same Sargent’s cherry tree:



An article on this topic, which extensively quotes Richard Primack, appeared in the German on-line magazine Deutsche Welle.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Leaf Emergence and Fall (LEaF): A Pardee Center Initiative

Posted by Richard B. Primack and Amanda Gallinat

“All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.” 
-Thoreau in Walden

In the autumn of 2016, the three-year project known as Leaf Emergence and Fall (LEaF) was initiated with funding from Boston University's Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. The goal of LEaF is to organize workshops for New England scientists who are studying the impacts of climate change on spring and autumn leaf phenology. Understanding how climate change affects the timing of the start and end of the growing season has implications for forestry, the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the movement of water into streams, the water table and the atmosphere, land use policy, and the ecology of many animals.

Alyssa Rosemartin (USA National Phenology Network) and Lucy Zipf (BU) talking at the recent LEaF meeting on March 17th

LEaF workshops provide opportunities for researchers, especially graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, to exchange ideas and develop new collaborations. The most recent LEaF meeting was held at the Pardee Center on March 17th. A total of 18 people attended, including researchers from Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts at Boston, the National Phenology Network, and Boston University. People were clearly excited to meet each other and exchange ideas, and many people began to develop ideas for new collaborative projects!

Pamela Templer (BU Biology) exchanges ideas with Eli Melaas (BU Earth & Environment)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Scientists Come in All Sizes

Guest post by Jenny Cutraro

I spent part of our recent snow day in New England on the phone talking to Richard Primack when a new story came to light. He told me that about six years ago, his lab started monitoring the spring leaf-out times of trees in suburban Boston, where he and I both live. Among other things, they found that while red and Norway maples begin to leaf out in early to mid-April, oaks don’t even start until early May. There’s generally a two to three week gap in between.


Young leaves on a black oak tree

Well, guess what? My second-grade daughter has some data to add to his records.

Every spring for the past three years, from her bedroom window, my older daughter and I have been making observations of three different trees—a Norway maple, a sycamore maple, and an oak of unknown species—and recording them in a little notebook. And we’ve seen the exact same pattern that Primack has: the maples leaf out first, and the oak follows a few weeks or even a month later.


My daughter checking the trees outside her window for the first signs of spring

I explained to her that I was just talking on the phone with a scientist who had asked the same question about the exact same types of trees, and that that our research matched his—that we observed the same patterns he had. Her eyes grew wide, she smiled, and she looked outside again. Her work had been validated by a real live scientist—and, even better, hers had validated his.

What excites her the most—and excites me, quite honestly—is that there are still so many unknowns right in front of our faces, and right outside our windows. The kinds of questions kids ask, the ones that seem so obvious on the surface, are often the very questions scientists haven’t answered yet—or need to answer again. 


A fallen bud of red maple in the snow

Just today, I noticed buds from one of the nearby maples littering the ice-crusted snow in our yard, casualties of the nasty winter storm that pelted us earlier this week. Most of these buds already have pale yellow flowers dangling from them. The leaves can’t be far behind. Or can they? Guess it’s already time for all three of us to begin our observations.

This is a condensed version of a post originally published on Last Word on Nothing.

Jenny Cutraro is the founder and director of Science Storytellers, a program that connects kids and scientists through conversation and storytelling, and is also a managing editor at SciStarter, where she oversees their citizen science blog network on Discover, PLoS, and other outlets. At WGBH in Boston, she developed an award-winning collection of education resources for the Emmy-nominated PBS KIDS series Plum Landing. She also has produced science education resources for PBS Learning Media, NOVA Science NOW, and The New York Times Learning Network.