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How to Become a Paleobiologist

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by Caitlin MacKenzie
A few weeks ago, in the middle of a busy rush of lab work on a sediment core, I spent a morning curled up in a comfy chair with a giant mug of coffee. While snow fell outside my window, I was reminiscing about spring in the Maine mountains. It wasn’t exactly daydreaming — I was reading the proofs for a paper from one of my dissertation chapters, ‘Trails-as-transects: phenology monitoring across heterogeneous microclimates in Acadia National Park, Maine. ’ The open granite ridges of Acadia were a second home during my PhD. Today, my relationship with Acadia’s plants is a little different: instead of recording their fresh flowers in the field, I’m counting the grains of pollen they left behind thousands of years ago. Reading through the proofs for this paper brought me back to my biology and ecology roots — somewhere along the way toward my chosen career as a conservation biologist, I became an accidental paleoecologist.



An alpine masters and a ridge top PhD

I’ve wo…

Holey Science - Gaps in the Research Career

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No matter what profession we look at, career gaps are a common experience. Sometimes career gaps are a choice, all too often they are not. In the research world, where short-term contracts are considered the norm, especially during the early part of a career, researchers often find themselves looking for a new position and source of income every few years. Regardless of the reason, unemployment often comes at a high emotional cost in addition to financial difficulties.
In this post, we collect stories from five authors from different backgrounds, touching on family planning, mental health, privilege, difficulties, and ways to success in and outside of academia. We thank our authors for sharing their experiences and advice to provide early-career researchers and those who support them with insight into challenges and opportunities associated with career breaks.

FEATURED STORIES: Deirdre D. Ryan: "The whole process did help me realize where I really wanted to take my career."

Me…

Recovery Times After Catastrophic Events in the Caribbean Islands

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by Josh Mueller

Natural Threats to Caribbean Islands

Hurricanes throughout the Caribbean are recognized as the dominant ecological cause of ecosystem and economic disruption [1, 2]. For example, recent storms such as hurricane Irma in September 2017 broke records of sustained hurricane size and wind speed for Atlantic Ocean tropical depressions. Irma caused significant economic damage with estimates in the range of over $100 billion in costs and damages throughout the Caribbean islands (Figure 1). The hurricane also resulted in over 130 human casualties making it one of the deadliest and costliest ever recorded. Yet, what remains unknown are the lingering economic and ecological costs from ecological threats to many of the island nations whose markets depend greatly on the tourism industry. Additionally, little is known regarding the future behavior of hurricanes as global climate change continues to influence atmospheric and oceanic conditions.




Wildfires, both naturally occurring and h…

Senior Scientist - How to Be an ECR in Your Fifties

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by Paul Butler

There was a time, I believe, when you had to be under 35 to stand any chance whatsoever of being an early-career researcher (ECR). On the “expected” academic career path, that allowed you to spend up to 5 years doing your PhD, then enjoy the following nine years as an ECR, with all sorts of career advantages, including reserved access to special grants, cheapo rates at conferences and other benefits that made up for being on the tragic salaries and job security typical of early-stage ECRs. This did not go unnoticed by researchers who had made a jump later in life from some other career into academia, and by researchers who had had their careers interrupted by time taken out to raise families or because of illness. Some people started wondering whether there needed to be an age criterion at all; see the comments here for an idea of the kinds of discussions that were taking place back in 2010 about ECR criteria and how they were failing people with “unconventional” career…

Insights from Pre-Columbian Land Use and Fire Management in the Amazon Basin

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by Yoshi Maezumi

Amazonia pristine or parkland? The great debate

Today our species stands on a precipice: From climate change to overpopulation, plastic pollution to wildfires, the modern human modus operandi is not sustainable. As international collaborative efforts join forces to develop strategic mitigation and adaptation plans to ferry our species through the 21st century [1, 2], scientists are looking to the past, seeking insights from indigenous land use practices around the world [3]. What has become evident is that the human footprint has had a much longer, more indelible impact than traditionally assumed, particularly in remote tropical regions like the Amazon Basin [3].

For much of the 20th century, the Amazon Basin was considered pristine wilderness prior to European Conquest in ca. 1492. Indigenous peoples (henceforth pre-Columbians) were thought to have had very little impact on the natural environment [4]. Yet, over the past few decades increased deforestation in the Amazo…