Posts Tagged ‘Internship’

Ever wondered whether you had completely missed some of the most important papers in your discipline? Or whether you just read enough? Well, now you can’t stop wondering, since the answer is right here in this new post. About our latest paper, a paper that recommends to read recommended papers.

In ecology. Yeah, I know, the title doesn’t specify “in ecology”. And it should, since a list of ecology papers is going to be of no interest whatsoever for you guys in astrophysics or neurobiology. Plus, the Sheldon Coopers and Amy Farrah Fowlers among you are now probably going to smirk about our classics. My official excuse is that you should always try to have as short a title as possible, in order to be attractive (after all, we are living in an era of unsalvageable lazy millennials). But the real reason is that I wanted to give my blog a little boost, after months of abstinence, so that was on purpose. But instead of frowning with your judgmental scorn, please consider that I didn’t put sex, GoT or Trump in the title, be merciful, and go forward to all your friends.

Now that you’ve made a healthy re-acquaintance with my annoying habit to not-cut-to-the-chase, I should probably start. After all, rule#1 for a successful blog: short posts (see one of my first entries).

For a few years, I’ve been wondering whether I was missing the important papers, and more worryingly, if my students were. There are now so many papers to read, and so little time to do it, it’s easy to stay confined within a small niche of papers – your area of expertise – and miss the big picture, those papers that made your field, and from which the wise professors probably get part of their wisdom.

So, I have been thinking for quite some time of the best way to come up with such a list. It was not easy, because important papers are a very subjective thing to select, let alone rank. But I came up with a simple solution: ask the wise professors. Or more exactly, ask the 665 experts in the Editorial Board of the highest ranking, generalist journals in ecology, who probably are the best suited to evaluate the worth of papers regardless of their field. After receiving all their nominees, an internet vote and clever statistical analyses by my brilliant co-author and good friend Corey Bradshaw, at the time in sabbatical in my group, we came up with …

(hint: click on the image to get the list – I really must tell you everything…)

This came up with a few surprises, such as the discrepancy between the articles that experts recommend to students and those they have actually read themselves, the fact that the average scientist reads ~40 papers per month (if you thought that maybe you were lazy, now you know for sure), or the huge gender bias in authors of said articles, but, damned, I don’t have any space left (nor you any patience left) to discuss that. I really should learn to focus on the important stuff. Well, this said, for those you interested in the full story, it is now published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. As for the pdfs of those articles, I’m sure they somehow will be found on SciHub…

Ok, remember, you’re supposed to read at least 40 papers per month, so the 100 papers’ list is not going to be a huge additional load in your PhD. So, don’t blame us and go start reading your share. And no, this post doesn’t count as a reading.


Oh, and if you find one or several such papers were utterly useless to you, don’t blame me for choosing them, I didn’t. Don’t even blame me for making you read them, I didn’t either…


The 100 selected articles:

  1. Darwin, C.R.; Wallace, A.R. 1858. On the tendency of species to form varieties; and on the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 3:45-62
  2. Hardin, G. 1960. The competitive exclusion principle. Science 131:1292-1297
  3. Paine, R.T. 1966. Food Web Complexity and Species Diversity. The American Naturalist 100:65-75
  1. Hutchinson, G.E. 1961. The Paradox of the Plankton. The American Naturalist 95:137-145
  2. Hutchinson, G.E. 1959. Homage to Santa Rosalia or Why Are There So Many Kinds of Animals? The American Naturalist 93:145
  3. MacArthur, R.H.; Wilson, E.O. 1963. An Equilibrium Theory of Insular Zoogeography. Evolution 17:373-387
  1. Hutchinson, G.E. 1957. Concluding Remarks. Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology 22:415-427
  2. Hairston, N.G.; Smith, F.; Slobodkin, L. 1960. Community structure, population control, and competition. The American Naturalist 94:421-425
  1. Connell, J.H. 1978. Diversity in tropical rain forests and coral reefs. Science 199:1302-1310
  2. Janzen, D.H. 1970. Herbivores and the Number of Tree Species in Tropical Forests. The American Naturalist 104:501
  3. May R.M. 1974. Biological populations with non-overlapping generations: stable points, stable cycles, and chaos. Science 186:645-647
  4. Gause, G.F. 1934. Experimental Analysis of Vito Volterra’S Mathematical Theory of the Struggle for Existence. Science 79:16-17
  5. Chesson, P. 2000. Mechanisms of Maintenance of Species Diversity. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 31:343-366
  1. Carpenter, S.R.; Kitchell, J.F.; Hodgson, J.R. 1985. Cascading trophic interactions and lake productivity. BioScience 35:634-639
  2. Levin, S.A. 1992. The problem of pattern and scale in ecology: the Robert H. MacArthur Award lecture. Ecology 73:1943-1967
  3. Hanski, I. 1998. Metapopulation dynamics. Nature 396:41-49
  4. MacArthur, R.; Levins, R. 1967. The Limiting Similarity, Convergence, and Divergence of Coexisting Species. The American Naturalist 101:377-385
  5. Tilman, D. 1977. Resource Competition Between Plankton Algae: An Experimental and Theoritical Approach. Ecology 58:338-348
  6. Hamilton, W.D. 1964a. The genetical evolution of social behaviour. I. Journal of Theoretical Biology 7:42370
  7. Charnov, E.L. 1976. Optimal foraging, the marginal value theorem. Theoretical Population Biology 9:129-136
  8. Tilman, D. 1996a. Biodiversity: Population versus ecosystem stability. Ecology 77:350-363
  9. Rosenzweig, M. 1971. Paradox of enrichment: destabilization of exploitation ecosystems in ecological time. Science 171:385-387
  10. Connell, J.H. 1961. The Influence of Interspecific Competition and Other Factors on the Distribution of the Barnacle Chthamalus Stellatus. Ecology 42:710-743
  11. MacArthur, R.; Levins, R. 1964. Competition, habitat selection, and character displacement in a patchy environment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 51:1207-1210
  12. Hardin, G.J. 1968. The tragedy of the commons. Science 162:1243-1248
  13. Levin, S.A. & Paine, R.T. 1974. Disturbance, patch formation, and community structure. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 71:2744-2747
  14. Felsenstein, J. 1981. Skepticism towards Santa Rosalia, or why are there so few kinds of animals? Evolution 35:124-138
  15. Tilman, D. 1994a. Competition and biodiversity in spatially structured habitats. Ecology 75:42401
  16. Holling, C.S. 1973. Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 4:44927
  17. Hurlbert, S.H. 1984. Pseudoreplication and the Design of Ecological Field Experiments. Ecological Monographs 54:187
  18. Vitousek, P.M. et al. 1997b. Human Domination of Earth’s Ecosystems. Science 277:494-499
  19. May R.M. 1972. Will a large complex system be stable? Nature 238:413-414
  20. Pianka, E.R. 1970. On r- and K-selection. American Naturalist 104:592-597
  21. Brown, J.H. et al. 2004. Toward a metabolic theory of ecology. Ecology 85:1771-1789
  22. Ehrlich, P.R.; Raven, P.H. 1964. Butterflies and plants: a study in coevolution. Evolution 18:586-608
  23. MacArthur, R.H.; McArthur, J. 1961. On bird species diversity. Ecology 42:594-598
  24. Simberloff, D.S. et al. 1969. Experimental Zoogeography of Islands: The Colonization of Empty Islands. Ecology 50:278-296
  25. Grime, J.P. 1977. Evidence for the existence of three primary strategies in plants and its relevance to ecological and evolutionary theory. The American Naturalist 111:1169-1194
  26. Brown, J.H. 1984. On the Relationship between Abundance and Distribution of Species. The American Naturalist 124:255
  27. Connell, J.H. 1961a. Effects of competition, predation by Thais lapillus, and other factors on natural populations of the barnacle Balanus balanoides. Ecological Monographs 31:61-104
  28. Holt, R.D. 1977. Predation, apparent competition, and the structure of prey communities. Theoretical Population Biology 12:197-229
  29. Anderson, R.M; May, R.M. 1979. Population biology of infectious diseases: Part I. Nature 280:361-367
  30. Huffaker, C.B. 1958. Experimental studies on predation: dispersion factors and predator-prey oscillations. Hilgardia 27:343-383
  31. Clements, F.E. 1936. Nature and structure of the climax. Journal of Ecology 24:252-284
  32. Pulliam, D.W. 1988. Sources, Sinks, and Population Regulation. The American Naturalist 132:652-661
  33. Lawton, J.H. 1999. Are there general laws in ecology? Oikos 84:177-192
  34. Lindeman, R.L. 1942. The trophic-dynamic aspect of ecology. Ecology 23:399-418
  35. Kimura, M. 1968. Evolutionary Rate at the Molecular Level. Nature 217:624-626
  36. May R.M. 1976. Simple mathematical models with very complicated dynamics. Nature 261:459-467
  37. Trivers, R.L. 1974 Parent-Offspring Conflict. American Zoologist 14:249-264
  38. Paine, R.T. 1980. Food Webs: Linkage, Interaction Strength and Community Infrastructure. Journal of Animal Ecology 49:666-685
  39. Tilman, D.; Wedin, D.; Knops, J. 1996. Productivity and sustainability influenced by biodiversity in grassland ecosystems. Nature 379:718-720
  40. MacArthur, R.H. 1958. Population ecology of some warblers of northeastern coniferous forests. Ecology 39:599-619
  41. May R.M. 1977. Thresholds and breakpoints in ecosystms with a multiplicity of stable states. Nature 260:471-477
  42. Simberloff, D. 1976. Experimental Zoogeography of Islands : Effects of Island Size. Ecology 57:629-648
  43. Schindler, D.W. 1977. Evolution of phosphorus limitation in lakes. Science 195:260-262
  44. Kunin, W.E.; Gaston, K.J. 1993. The biology of rarity: Patterns, causes and consequences. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 8:298-301
  45. Vitousek, P. M.; Reiners W.A. 1975. Ecosystem succession and nutrient retention: a hypothesis. BioScience 25:376-381
  46. Tilman, D. 1980. Resources: a Graphical-Mechanistic Approach To Competition and Predation. The American Naturalist 116:362-393
  47. Lande, R. 1980. Sexual dimorphism, sexual selection, and adaptation in polygenic characters. Evolution 34:292-305
  48. Tilman, D. et al. 1994. Habitat destruction and the extinction debt. Nature 371:65-66
  49. Fretwell S.D. & Lucas H.L. 1970. On territorial behavior and others factors influencing habitat distribution in birds. I. Theoretical development. Acta Biothereotica 19:16-36
  50. May R.M. 1973a. Qualitative stability in model ecosystems. Ecology 54:638-641
  51. Redfield, A.C. 1958. The biological control of chemical factors in the environment. American Scientist 46:205-221
  52. Tilman, D. et al. 1997. The Influence of Functional Diversity and Composition on Ecosystem Processes. Science 277:1300-1302
  53. Hamilton, W.D. 1967. Extraordinary Sex Ratios. Science 156:477-488
  54. Schluter, D. & McPhail, J.D. 1992. Ecological character displacement and speciation in sticklebacks. The American Naturalist 140:85-108
  55. Hanski, I. 1994. A practical model of metapopulation dynamics. Journal of Animal Ecology. 63:151–162
  56. Hamilton, W.D. 1964b. The genetical evolution of social behaviour. II. Journal of Theoretical Biology 7:17-52
  57. Likens, G.E. et al. 1970. Effects of Forest Cutting and Herbicide Treatment on Nutrient Budgets in the Hubbard Brook Watershed-Ecosystem. Ecological Monographs 40:23-47
  58. Odum, E.P. 1969. The strategy of ecosystem development. Science 164:262-270
  59. Hubbell, S.P. 1979. Tree dispersion, abundance, and diversity in a tropical dry forest. Science 203:1299-1309
  60. Grinnell, B.Y. 1917. The niche-relationships of the california thrasher. The Auk 34:427-433
  61. MacArthur, R.H.; Pianka, E. R. 1966. On optimal use of a patchy environment. American Naturalist 100:603-609
  62. Tilman, D.; Forest, I.; Cowles, J.M. 2014. Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 45:471-493
  63. May, R.M. & MacArthur, R.H. 1972a. Niche overlap as a function of environmental variability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 69:1109-1113
  64. Leibold, M.A. et al. 2004. The metacommunity concept: a framework for multi-scale community ecology. Ecology Letters 7:601-613
  65. Axelrod, R.; Hamilton, W. D. 1981. The Evolution of Cooperation. Science 211:1390-1396
  66. Gleason, H.A. 1926. The Individualistic Concept of the Plant Association. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 53:46204
  67. Grime, J.P. 1998. Benefits of plant diversity to ecosystems: immediate, filter and founder effects. Journal of Ecology 86:902-910
  68. Gould S.J.; Lewontin R.C. 1979. The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: a critique of the adaptionist programme. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 205:581-5981017
  69. Grant, P.R; Grant, B.R. 1995. The Founding of a New Population of Darwin’s Finches. Evolution 49:229-240
  70. Stearns, S.C. 1976. Life-history tactics: a review of the ideas. The Quarterly Review of Biology 51:3
  71. Vitousek, P.M. 1994. Beyond global warming: ecology and global change. Ecology 75:1861-1876
  72. Janzen D.H. 1967. Why mountain passes are higher in the tropics. The American Naturalist 101:233
  73. Carpenter, S.R. et al. 1987. Regulation of lake primary productivity by food web structure. Ecology 68:1863-1876
  74. Stenseth, N.C. 1997. Population regulation in snowshoe hare and Canadian lynx: asymmetric food web configurations between hare and lynx. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 94:5147-5152
  75. Anderson, R.M; May, R.M. 1978. Regulation and Stability of Host-Parasite Population Interactions. Journal of Animal Ecology 47:219-247
  76. Krebs, C.J. et al. 1995. Impact of Food and Predation on the Snowshoe Hare Cycle. Science 269:1112-1115
  77. Ginzburg, L.R.; Jensen, C.X.J. 2004. Rules of thumb for judging ecological theories. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 19:121-126
  78. Chave,J. 2013. The problem of pattern and scale in ecology: what have we learned in 20 years? Ecology Letters 16:42461
  79. MacArthur, R. 1955. Fluctuations of Animal Populations and a Measure of Community Stability. Ecology 36:533
  80. Ricklefs, R.E. 1987. Community diversity: relative roles of local and regional processes. Science 235:167-171
  81. Levins, R. 1966. The strategy of model building in population biology. American Scientist 54:421-431
  82. Anderson, R.M; May, R.M. 1981. The Population Dynamics of Microparasites and Their Invertebrate Hosts. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 291:451-524.
  83. Brown, W.L.; Wilson, E.O. 1986. Character displacement. Systematic Zoology 5:49-64
  84. Lande, R. 1993. Risks of Population Extinction from Demographic and Environmental Stochasticity and Random Catastrophes. The American Naturalist 142:911-927
  85. May R.M. & Anderson, R.M. 1979. Population biology of infectious diseases: Part II. Nature 280:455-461
  86. Parmesan, C.; Yohe, G. 2003. A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems. Nature 421:37-42
  87. Power, M.E. 1990. Effects of fish in river food webs. Science 250:811-81



PS: if you want the pdf of the 545 nominated articles – including the 100 – you may find them here.




I’ve heard so many times the saying that curiosity killed the cat. In French we say that quality is a naughty defect (generally to kids, in order to discourage it). That’s utter-bullshit, pardon my English. Curiosity saved men. It’s because we’re curious that we founds ways to compensate our tiny constitution, our ridiculous speed, our feeble health and so on. And it’s because we’re curious that we invented a special job: researcher. People devoted for the sole purpose of satisfying the curiosity of the society, and/or their own.

In return, the very minimum that these researchers can do, it tell the results of their investigations. Otherwise, that’s a bit unfair, no? It’s called staying in the Ivory Tower, the tower where intellectuals selfishly do their work, while staying disconnected from the society. We get paid by the society to find stuff, and we don’t tell what we find? Apart from fueling the lunatic nature of conspiracy theorists, who think every researcher in the world participate covertly to global machinations, this is just failing to do the full spectrum of our very responsibility as researchers. Every researcher should do popularization work, be it public conferences, press interviews, books or documentaries or just press release and let the journalists communicate for them. That’s the fair thing to do, and that’s also a very good exercise to be able to explain complicated concepts, and ultimately also to get more people interested in our discipline.

With that in mind, I’ve been popularizing quite a lot, since my very early carrier. I’ve written a piece about my thesis research during my first year of PhD, against the advice not to do so of my supervisor, who thought – like almost everybody else at the time – that popularization was the realm of bad scientists: those who where not sufficiently strong in research to stay with their peers went to shine with the public, pretending to be smarter than their colleagues knew them to be. Now I’ve written more, from articles to books, initiated several documentaries, participated in several others, given conferences in front of many different audiences, including about every age of school children, and interviews to radio, tv channels and written press. And apart from one or two exceptions, every single one has been a great experience.

In some countries, like my own, the public tends to think that researchers are at best immature society parasites who work on useless questions just because they can. In others, like the USA, they tend to have a better reputation, sometimes up to selfless saviors of the society. Regardless of the general view of our profession, communicating with the public is profitable for the public, is profitable for us and is profitable for our profession.

Of course, when  I say communicate to the public, don’t go telling them all everything. We want to keep all our global conspiracies safely concealed, otherwise our secret plot to take over all the governments of Earth might be delayed…


yes, better than Starwars and World of Warcraft together, the wars of ants. Last year in our lab, we set up wars between different species, among the most aggressive in the world.

I’m sure you can imagine. Monstrous armies of millions of Unsullied warriors, impervious to danger, dedicated to the death, working together with the efficacy given by millions of years of evolution, all entirely bent to one single purpose, destroying the other armies. I’m certain to are picturing this. Well, you are picturing it wrong, you immature brutes. So, what did we do and why did we do it?

It was a time when a Ph D student (Cleo Bertelsmeier) was studying the effect of climate change on invasive ants. I’ve told you already why we study invasive ants. If you’ve missed it, you can read it here. The first part of the PhD thesis was to build up species distribution models to try and predict where invasive ants would find favorable regions with climate change (ants are very sensitive to climate, and milder winters may mean higher probability of establishment). And the result was that some of the most problematic invasive ant species were predicted to arrive at the same place in several regions. And because the most obvious characteristics of all these invasive ants is that they are extremely efficient at removing other arthropods, starting with local ant species, we naturally wondered what would happen if two of such Hun armies were to clash in newly invaded territories. Or in other words, is there among these tiny berserk beasts one that would take over all the others (and the rest of the world with it).

So we set up colonies of four of the worst of the worst. These were the invasive garden ant Lasius neglectus, the Argentine ant Linepithema humile, the big-headed ant Pheidole megacephala and the electric ant Wasmannia auropunctata. The experiment set up by Cleo was not really the wars you pictured, but they were enough for our purposes: boxes with colonies of 300 workers and one queen, put into contact by a tiny tube, and days of counting the dead and the survivors. And these taught us a lot. First, that the experiments of one worker versus another in a Petri dish – often set up to establish dominance hierarchies among ant species – are not well suited, because some ants species need other workers to kill others. Some ants hold the enemy while it is being cut into pieces, and you can’t do that when you’re alone, and you’ll systematically lose in duels but not necessarily a battle. It also mean that classical experiments of 10 vs 10 workers in a Petri dish are also problematic, because the lack of natural conditions can bias the results. These ants are very stressed, more or less forced to fight, and with no territory, nest or queen to defend (which was not the case in our experiment). Last, it taught us that ants adapt their strategies according to their opponents. Some species that are very aggressive and kill everything were less so when confronted to potentially stronger adversaries. Some even escaped or feigned death. And some raided the other colonies D-Day style improved with chemical weaponry, with many losses but an eventual conquest while some others remained in their strongholds and privileged defense. And eventually it taught us that when you increase complexity, for example by putting all four species together, you increase… well complexity. Here, the species that systematically lost against any of the three others won half the time when all four were fighting simultaneously.

Now I’m sure you’d like to know who was the meanest of the four. The tiny electric ant, so named for its terribly painful sting? Or the scary big-headed ants, which soldiers can cut in two any of the other species? Well, I guess that to know that you’ll have to read the paper (and perhaps that one too about their strategies)… Yes, I know, I’m mean. That’s what the ants say too.


Of course, the best fighter of all remains the Ant-man

When I was a PhD student, a researcher that I admired once told me that half the research in labs is done in corridors and coffee rooms. Of course he didn’t mean that the dire restrictions of lab and office spaces faced by academia nowadays force half of us to install their benches or computers there. Even in France. What he meant was that in academia the social aspect is very important, and that social gatherings, such as coffee breaks, are not to be neglected because they are not just breaks from work and coffee loading. They are more than that. They are crucial because that’s where scientists chat. They of course sometimes chat about mundane topics, such as whether Schrödinger’s cat is male or female or both, or why 42 and not 43, or 41. But they most of the time talk about their work. Yes, most of us are in the latest stage of nerdiness and can’t be saved anymore.

And chatting about studies is really important for two things. Well, three, because it also gives you information about what the guy on the desk next to you is spending his days on (beside Facebook), which can be interesting, if not utterly fascinating (sometimes). But regarding your own research progress it’s important because it forces you to synthesize and to structure your thoughts about your work (the whole of it, or a more specific problem). This effort alone can benefit you a lot. Sometimes it will help you to get unstuck or to spot a weak link in your reasoning; sometimes it will just help you see more clearly your problem and go forward more easily. The second reason is that you can get feedback that can in many times be useful, be it from someone close to your topic or on the contrary rather remote.

With this in mind, we have set up three types of regular meetings in our group (in addition to the boring ones). The first one is the SemiBeer. We’ve talk about it here. But in a nutshell, it’s a Journal Club with two twists: 1/ we treat unconventional papers, such as funny ones, articles about controversies or papers about carrier and 2/ we drink beer (or other stuff, with peanuts and crackers, what we call apéro in France, a key cultural tradition that every other country on Earth should copy).

The second type of socio-scientific meeting is the Teameeting. That’s where we discuss problems encountered by a team member. We just gather around a table with a computer and sheets of paper and someone presents where (s)he’s stuck in her/his topic and others try to give suggestions. A brainstorming session set up at teatime, so with homemade cookies and similar goodies, hence the super pun I’m so proud of: Tea-meeting / Team-eating. Oh God, am I good when it comes to food…

The last type of meetings that we have is the Breakfast Club. As you may have guessed (I hope for you), this one is in the morning, very very early (9 am) and we discuss about carrier. Students ask a question, such as how to best find a supervisor for a PhD or how to balance work and personal life, and the postdocs and PIs give them their famed wisdom. And we eat croissants and other morning delights with tea and coffee and good ambiance.

So if I count well, we’ve been very serious scientifically, because we’ve covered breakfast, tea time and apéro. And of course everyday we all have lunch together at the canteen of the university. Now I just need to do something about Elevenses, and we’d be one step closer to the Hobbits.

LabFoodYes, that’s my lab and yes I told them not to eat while doing experiments


As you have noted with bordering despair anguish, I have not posted anything here over August. This is simply because everyone told me not to ever stop posting, even for summer, in order to build an audience, and I generally don’t like being told what to do. Plus, I had nothing to say and was too busy seeping cocktails in the spa of my new residence.


But I am not that cruel, and will now put an end to your misery with new, regular, posts. Yeah! So, let’s start by some news on the changes in our beloved Biodiversity Dynamics lab over the summer.

Several people have left our group. James and Ben, both invited professors are now back in their lab, trying to recover from their French experience. They looked sane enough when they left, so if something goes wrong after, it’s not us! Alok and Noelia finished their postdoc and are now, Noelia in Bordeaux, and Alok a bit further, in India. Carmen has not left (although she has left the group web page): having hired an Assistant Prof and an Engineer, and having a PhD student (Amélie) and a postdoc (Fernando) and several interns, she is now setting her own research group. Good luck for this new stage! Cleo has finished her PhD Thesis and is currently doing a postdoc in Australia. Céline has finished her PhD Thesis too and is due for a postdoc in London, but remains in the lab until that postdoc starts. Boris has found an Assistant Professor position in Paris (at the MNHN) and Camille has been selected for a civil service to the sub-Antarctic island research stations: huge congratulations to all four for these major achievements!

We’ll miss them all!

Now, the lab won’t remain empty and new comers are joining the surviving crew to keep it as we like it: strong and warm, like coffee, and vibrant like… well, something that vibrates. After a Master in our group, Pauline and Irene are starting a PhD Thesis here, both with Elsa, while we welcome Olivier as a new postdoc with us.

I’ll miss them all too!

Yes, because I forgot to mention, I have deserted the lab for one year, starting a sabbatical year at the University of California Los Angeles. But I’ll stay connected, and visit them regularly, hopefully, when I miss too much camembert and strikes.

Last bit of news: I got lucky and received two major grants. Meaning that we are going to hire several postdocs quite soon. So stay tuned!

Among the specificities that make academic research a really special world, one stands out as an amazing achievement: the peer review process. Scientific results exist from the moment they are published and available to the scientific community. So we need to publish, but we need to publish good, verified science and for that, we have developed a system whereby each scientific study must go through a thorough check by independent experts in the field before it can be deemed worthy of publication.

For the reviewer, it means taking time on your already very busy schedule, to provide constructive comments on the work of someone who is likely a competitor, who may even be doing something you didn’t think of, or on which you are currently working.So picture this: you are going to help this competitor publish – because this really should be the ultimate goal of a reviewer – either by accepting the manuscript for publication, and/or by making suggestions for improvement. You will do so on you own time, meaning at the expend of your own work and your student’s progress. You will do it for free. And your altruism and professional conscience will not even be rewarded by gratitude, because you will likely do it anonymously.

So, are we scientists utterly stupid? How can such a system really work in this world? Could you picture Ford sending (anonymously and for free) constructive comments on how to improve the latest prototype of Toyota? Yes, it works for us, and pretty well with that, thank you very much. Of course, there are glitches, with the occasional sloppiness, unfairness or other form of unprofessional behaviour. But globally these are exceptions and this system is really something I am proud to be part of.

There are many reasons why reviewing papers is good not only for the community but also for the reviewer, if only to hone skills of critical thinking. But here I want to insist on the necessity to participate to the system. Indeed, for this system to work, we need reviewers and these are increasingly difficult to find, especially with the rise of publication numbers. Each paper is reviewed by two to three experts, obviously more if it is rejected and submitted elsewhere. So do the maths.

I’ll do a post later on how I consider one should approach and conduct a manuscript review, but for now the message is this: for the system to function, everyone must play along and review at least as many times as he/she has been reviewed. If you count on average four reviews per publication, you can easily check if you are giving to the community, or profiting from it.

Chances are you should review more papers than you currently do! Or, you could also decline the next review request and instead send my post to 100 people, hoping that one of them will be convinced and do more reviews. That will probably even the balance…


If you have been following my blog – or if you know me IRL – you know that I am a bit provocative at times, and you are probably cynically rubbing your hands at the title of this post. Tsss. This is serious.

So, we’ve seen already how students should choose their research topic (here) and how they should select their supervisor (here). Fortunately, we supervisors also have a say in the matter. In fact, many of us receive loads of applications, and we have to make a selection. So, what are the criteria of this selection? Or rather, what should they be? I mean, apart from the check in the envelope.

Someone made a retrospective study about this, looking at criteria that matched best the less and most achieving students (here). Her finding, quite unsurprisingly, is that previous research experience is the largest discriminator. Not the university grades. Nor the university of origin. The previous experience. Successful, or course: recommendation letters from previous supervisors are one of the most important items in your application file.

This shows that having done some research internships, preferably several, in several places (abroad is even better), is a big plus. Or in this era of ultra-competitiveness, not having done several might be a big deterrent. Also, it is noteworthy that in the European system at least, but it is true elsewhere as well, supervisors tend to take their own Master students into PhDs, both because they know them (and know they get along, that’s important – see here – and how well they work) and because the student has advanced on the project. But then the students were often selected for the Master because they had an earlier research experience.

So it is very clear: if you think you want to do some research later on, stack as much research experience as you can, from early on. If you don’t know, doing an internship in a lab will help you know.

Ultimately, everyone has his/her own system for selecting Master and PhD students. Some rely overly on grades (probably unwisely), some solely on previous experience at earlier levels and some mostly on gut feeling. The Chair of the Anatomy Department of Cambridge once told me that he had, for years, recorded the speed at which graduate students walked in the corridors of the lab, and that it was highly correlated with scientific production. I believe him. Obviously, each one of us has honed a personal method of appreciation over the years, but it seems safe to say that to get that Master/PhD it is easier if this is not your first research experience. And if you don’t come in dragging your feet.



Personnaly, I use the very effective selection method of paper plane throwing