Posts Tagged ‘University’

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


A previous postdoc of mine just asked me to post a blog article on how I manage my time. I chose to think that this was meant to be for an advice, rather than for things to avoid.  So there it is: how do I do everything I do in research, while also spending considerable amount of time having a family, running long-distance and playing World of Warcraft, all four of which being notoriously time-consuming.
Researchers are now expected to spend time for (and be good at) a large number of various tasks, often requiring totally different skills, including doing research, writing articles about it (well, and a lot), speaking at scientific congresses but also for at public conferences, popularizing in various formats (written, interviews, etc), networking with colleagues, communicating with journalists and stakeholders, finding, securing and managing grants, acting as an editorial member and a reviewer for several scientific journals, evaluating colleagues, students and grants in juries and committees, teaching various classes, supervising internships, mentoring graduate students and directing postdocs (which is quite different), and sometimes heading a group of research. And if time allows, going to pee every other day.


So how do I fit all this into my days? Come to think of it, I don’t have a carefully designed strategy, but over the years I have naturally developed a way of working that allows me to cram in quite a lot.  Here are a few things that I do that help me manage.
First of all, I manage my tasks; I set up priorities. Everyday I have a list of things I have to finish by the end of the day, and while being realistic (otherwise it’s useless), I try to have an ambitious list, and to finish it every day (otherwise it’s useless). So I put in this lists the urgent tasks, those that can’t be further pushed away, plus the important ones that still can fit.
Then, I play Tetris with my priorities: I try to tightly fit various tasks into time holes of the corresponding time and concentration need. If I just spent four hours focusing on a manuscript, I’ll respond to some emails that don’t require a sharp brain, or I’ll browse the Internet for some fitting illustrations for an upcoming talk. If I just have half an hour left before leaving, I’ll find a task that takes me 40 min, and do it more efficiently. Or two tasks of 15-20 min, but I’ll try not to let gaps, unless purposely. And that’s the second point.
Staying efficient. I’m lazy, and I don’t want to spend more time than necessary on things, so I do them as efficiently as I can (because I’m also perfectionist and I don’t want to make them bad). And of course, being efficient is tiring, if you give yourself 100%, then you burn energy, even sitting at your desk. So in addition to managing my tasks and my time, I manage my energy and my motivation. Because without one or the other, you’ll achieve nothing, or at least nothing efficiently. And in the long term, you’ll get a burnout (see my post here about that).
Managing your energy is crucial. The more and the harder you work, the less effective you become, and the more you need to take breaks – either during the days or during the week (or the year). So this may seem like GrandMa’s advices, but you need to sleep well (there are many studies on the effect of one more hour of sleep on work efficiency), to eat well and to rest (your brain) well. That is one of the reasons why I take my whole group to the staff restaurant every lunch so that we can all have a large break at mid day. Plus the food is good there (and remembers, that’s France: while humans eat to live, we live to eat).
When asked to present the distribution of his different research activities, I remember a colleague and friend of mine giving percentages of various tasks, and when I mentioned that the sum was over 100%, he simply answered that he worked longer than 100% of a normal day. That can work, but I think a more efficient (and pleasant) way is to know when you get tired and less sharp, and stop to rest. It’s way better to work 8 hours fully (with breaks) than 6 hours fully without, followed by 3 hours at 50% speed and 3 hours at 25% speed. You’ll achieve less in the end, and will have spent more time, be less rested or entertained and in the end, you’ll like your work less. Rest a lot so that when you work, you can work at 100%. You must remain driven, never dragging.
When I say rest between tasks during the day, you can do like most of my San Diego lab pals when I was in postdoc, play ball in the yard (or go surfing, but that’s not easy here in Paris); you can do like my grand father, who in his time got the world record of criminal case solving by taking a 5 minutes nap twice a day; you can goof off on Facebook, clean up the coffee room, go hunt a roller blader, you can do whatever you find most resting, provided it works for you (and it’s not illegal (or you don’t get caught)).
And last bit of advice: manage your motivation as well. If you have a task that is boring you or that you don’t like, procrastinate a bit. Push it back if you can and do things that are more motivating until either you can’t push it back further, or you have enough motivation/energy to do it.


A happy researcher must have three things full at all time: daily planning, energy level, motivation level. Too often they also have a full bladder, but that’s just bad managing. Now I’ve spent a good hour writing this page; remember I told you to alternate hard work and rest/fun. Time for a quick run then…

Nuclear power recommended by environmental scientists? Probably sounds like a bomb, but read this.

As conservation scientists concerned with global depletion of biodiversity and the degradation of the human life-support system this entails, we, the co-signed, support the broad conclusions drawn in the article Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation published in Conservation Biology (Brook & Bradshaw 2014).

Brook and Bradshaw argue that the full gamut of electricity-generation sources—including nuclear power—must be deployed to replace the burning of fossil fuels, if we are to have any chance of mitigating severe climate change. They provide strong evidence for the need to accept a substantial role for advanced nuclear power systems with complete fuel recycling—as part of a range of sustainable energy technologies that also includes appropriate use of renewables, energy storage and energy efficiency. This multi-pronged strategy for sustainable energy could also be more cost-effective and spare more land for biodiversity, as well as reduce non-carbon pollution (aerosols, heavy metals).

Given the historical antagonism towards nuclear energy amongst the environmental community, we accept that this stands as a controversial position. However, much as leading climate scientists have recently advocated the development of safe, next-generation nuclear energy systems to combat global climate change (Caldeira et al. 2013), we entreat the conservation and environmental community to weigh up the pros and cons of different energy sources using objective evidence and pragmatic trade-offs, rather than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is ‘green’.

Although renewable energy sources like wind and solar will likely make increasing contributions to future energy production, these technology options face real-world problems of scalability, cost, material and land use, meaning that it is too risky to rely on them as the only alternatives to fossil fuels. Nuclear power—being by far the most compact and energy-dense of sources—could also make a major, and perhaps leading, contribution. As scientists, we declare that an evidence-based approach to future energy production is an essential component of securing biodiversity’s future and cannot be ignored. It is time that conservationists make their voices heard in this policy arena.

The list of signatories can be found here and here. Now, please, do read the article of Brook & Bradshaw before getting emotional and all. Now I’m waiting for the fallout…



It may seem odd that someone often known as a conservation biologist would promote and defend basic ecology. Yet, I do. I do because I feel basic ecology needs promoting and defending. In a time when environmental crises are so worrying (at least for those who are aware of them), it is normal that people, including scientists, would want to favour applied ecology. That is, after all, a science directly committed to solving environmental issues, such as biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradations, food security, emerging diseases, climate change and the likes.

As a result, the trend has been in the past decades to increasingly favour applied ecology; and because budgets are not extensible, that has been at the expense of basic ecology.

Yet, there are many reasons why basic ecology – or fundamental ecology – is important. I will not enumerate them all here, you’ll probably want to read the article I just wrote, with 4 other authors in the last issue of Trends in Ecology and Evolution, here if you subscribe, for for free here*. But I can still pick up a few, just to arouse your curiosity, because I’m sure you didn’t think of them all, and several might surprise you a bit.

And then not! Go read the paper, I’m feeling lazy today and I’ve been told to keep my posts shorts. But of course, you can use this blog to tell me why you disagree. Because, unlike applied ecology, debate is fundamental in science.

by Ari Weinkle

* you can download the paper from the link on this post or directly from my lab web page here. I shouldn’t offer it like that, but I am in the process to pay for the Open Access and I don’t want to wait until it is available for readers to access it easily.