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Our Scientists Are Active in the Field. Here's What's New:

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Time and time again, I speak with scientists of all career stages who are looking for ways to apply the knowledge they have attained to advance scientific knowledge and improve conservation prospects for species on the ground. The most common group I encounter are those just getting into the field as interns and those who for one reason or another took a non-traditional road. The latter group typically gets back in to some sort of science position by volunteering, serving as an adjunct instructor at a local university, or some other part-time position that is often unrelated to their specific field.


As a 501(c)3 non-profit, we aim to serve as an affiliation for those who are looking from anywhere from a volunteer opportunity to full-time employment. This happens with both our current projects, which are all collaborations between our organization and others, and with projects conceptualized as our collaborative community grows. Whether that means joining us in the marshes of Connecticut to determine the effectiveness of restoration projects (see below), coral propagation in Colombia, or tropical frog biogeography, we aim to have long-term core projects that will facilitate others' work. Plenty of side projects with related goals can be achieved with minimal or no disruption of core activities, and can often enhance the conclusions of current work. We welcome proposals to that end, and are actively looking for ways to include more people of greater breadth of backgrounds in our work, not just those who currently have funding.


Volunteers can apply to come along on any of those projects, as space allows. We also serve as a professional affiliation for those who need a place for their grants and funding to be managed: that can be short-term or long-term. This allow us to serve as a hub for innovation and to facilitate the ongoing work of so many different researchers. If this is a service you or a colleague may need in order to keep projects going, please reach out to us at info@remoteecologist.org for further information. We are building the scope of this community out as time, talent, and treasure allows, so we look forward to serving you to the best of our capacity!


Best wishes,


Dave


Image: Special thanks to Grace Bucci and Dr. Al Nyack for letting me take this photo.

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At all stages, the pipeline into a natural sciences career favors people who can follow a prescribed career path that does not fit for everyone. U.S. graduate schools have been producing more Ph.D. graduates than there are academic positions, across fields. Staying in science is more difficult now, with the half-life of research careers decreasing from 35 years in the 1960s to 5 years in the 2010s (Milojević et al. 2018). Lead authorship, critical to survival, declined from almost 80% in the 1960s to below 40% in 2010s (Milojević et al. 2018). Highly published and cited researchers’ laboratories win more grants, which amplifies disparities in representation. Increasingly, there are also problems with citation inequality (Nielsen and Andersen 2021), which has seen the top 1% of authors of 118 scientific disciplines responsible for increased proportions of citations for their peer-reviewed papers from 2000 to 2015 – and is particularly bad for the natural sciences and medical/health sciences. This means that those who are highly cited will get more grants, produce more research, which then leads to more grants – meaning that they are also the best candidates for positions in the minds of hiring committees – a positive feedback loop that favors those who area already well-connected.


With advising of students primarily focusing on increasing a temporary workforce that is only developed for academia, many of our colleagues are dropping out of science completely – a tremendous loss in expertise, and often investment of public money. There are few apparent career options to continue on in their chosen field. However, as Shane Hanlon (2019) notes: they are still scientists! While the production of Ph.D.s does not seem to be slowing, providing meaningful ways to continue to be involved in scientific work (publishing, hard research, scientific outreach, education, applied conservation, etc.) is a way to provide alternatives to the current model of publish or perish. It is also an impetus to move toward a less hierarchical structure, a “flat” team structure, which has been show to improve scientific advancement and improve innovation (Xu et al., 2022), and a greater emphasis on applying the knowledge we have generated in the act of conservation and changing lives.


That these structures have not been adopted is a function of where funding comes from and the positions available to people at all stages of one’s career. It is a “chicken or egg” problem, as those junior scientists who are from the most productive labs receive more funding, and be more likely to have no gaps in place in their resume. This means they are also never outside the system, as most grant RFPs do not allow eligibility for unaffiliated individuals.


As Remote Ecologist, we are aiming to provide a supplemental advising structure, collegial environment for collaborations, non-profit affiliation, and a broader idea for what success really is in science, and I truly believe that we can keep more scientists from a broader swath of society "in the game." We've already helped 5 people in our short existence - follow us as we work our way to working with 500.




Citations:


Hanlon SM. 2019. Scientists who leave research to pursue other careers in science are still scientists. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116:17624–17624. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1909427116.

Milojević S, Radicchi F, Walsh JP. 2018. Changing demographics of scientific careers: The rise of the temporary workforce. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115:12616–12623. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1800478115.

Nielsen MW, Andersen JP. 2021. Global citation inequality is on the rise. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118:e2012208118. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2012208118.

Xu F, Wu L, Evans J. 2022. Flat Teams Drive Scientific Innovation. DOI: 10.48550/ARXIV.2201.06726.

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Remote Ecologist specializes in serving scientists in a variety of ways: all with the goal of retaining internally-motivated people in the field, and allowing a way for those folks to make it back into the field as well. As it sits today, we manage grants and funding for a variety of projects, and therefore can provide opportunities for both trained scientists and the public to get involved. This starts in a volunteer capacity, which simply requires a background check and an application (email info@remoteecologist.org for more!), and is based our our field capacity. We also manage funding for ongoing projects, so that there is a fiscal sponsor of the work, whether that is temporary or permanent is up to our members. With only a "de minimis" overhead to cover accounting and processing costs, more of the funding goes toward actually completing the work. We are actively seeking funding to completely eliminate overhead for grants below a certain amount.


As for community standards, we ask that all those who work with us aim to strengthen this community through reviewing a few other members's grants and manuscripts every year prior to submission, with the expectation that you will receive the same courtesy. This is a function of a traditional academic department, which increases the likelihood of publication, and receipt of funding. Growing this collegial mentorship is a high priority for us, as it will improve the success of our affiliates, with the aim of Remote Ecologist going from a primary affiliation to a secondary one, if that is the affiliate's career goal. With that snowball, we will form a bridge from position to position, and in some cases an "on ramp" back into research.


The other exciting prospect is building a collaborative topic cluster all for yourself and your collaborations, using our knowledge. We support the research infrastructure, and you get the chance to build out a collaboration in-line with our mission to expand the impact of conservation science.


In times of change, being able to connect across organizations, whether universities, government agencies, NGOs, private businesses, or individuals, will crate a more resilient professional network for the success if our affiliated scientists. Join us this year on a project, or contact us to act as a fiscal sponsor!



Photo: David Hudson, 2019 Acropora cervicornis coral propagation, Colombia

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