Spring break!

It’s spring break here at UC Merced, which gives me a chance to cross off a whole host of to-do items that have been lingering on my list all semester (including these website updates). Life has been busy, productive, and happy here in Merced. I’m teaching an awesome class this semester- Ecosystems of California- which gives me the chance to learn about all the different cool places and ecosystems in California. We took a field trip to the Merced and San Luis National Wildlife Refuges in February, where we saw lots of cool birds resting here in the heart of the Pacific Flyway, as well as our resident herd of Tule elk. In April, we go to the Vernal Pools-Grassland Nature Reserve (though with the drought the pools will probably be bone dry) and then to Yosemite. Have I mentioned already how much I love my job?

I’m also leading the ES/ESS seminar series this semester. We’ve had some great talks already (including one by my friend from Wisconsin, the awesome Erika Marin-Spiotta) and there are many more great talks to come. In a few weeks, my ETE collaborator Cindy Looy gives a talk, and then Kaitlin Maguire will talk about parts of her dissertation and postdoc research.

We’re also in the midst of looking forward as a group- both recruiting students for the fall and recruiting at least two new faculty members to the Life and Environmental Sciences group- so this has meant lots of talks and meetings. Spring break has been a nice respite from the busy-ness of the semester. I’ll submit revisions for a paper tomorrow, and I’m working on another paper that’s due at the end of the month. Kaitlin and I were also just in Baltimore, for a fun and productive meeting with the rest of the team on the community paleomodels project.

One other thing we did as a lab was participate in Mammal March Madness. This is the 2nd year of MMM and the first year I’ve participated. The lab came up with our bracket and predicted that Musk Oxen would win it all. Unfortunately, we were out of the running in the final four, and the canny hyenas took it all. Perhaps next year will be better.


Kaitlin, Jessica, and Eric, with their #2014MMM bracket

All in all, the first half of the semester has been full of awesomeness.

Looking forward to the summer, I’ll be spending lots of time in the Sierras. We have an REU program in Yosemite, which gives me a chance to tromp around the woods with students and look for owl pellets. Eric and I will also be scouting for new fossil deposits in the Sierras, and I’m hoping to do some non-work camping and backpacking. I’ve also got a tour of the San Francisco Bay-Delta region planned, a Gordon Research Conference in Maine on Unifying Ecology Across Scales and ESA in Sacramento, and a few other trips to visit friends and family.

But before all that can happen, I need to make it to May! My fingers are crossed for a smooth second half of the semester!


A recent trend amongst the scientists I follow on twitter is to calculate our gender gaps in authorship (see #MyGenderGap). This interesting trend is in response to a recent article in Nature, and a challenge for each of us to calculate our own data and turn our glare on our own house. I decided to take on the challenge and look at my own publishing patterns.

This was an interesting exercise for me. My lifetime gender ratio among unique collaborators is low: 0.375. Overall, I’ve published with 64 men and 24 women. My per paper ratio is higher, 0.98. The trends have changed through time (see the figure). During my dissertation, with a female advisor, my per-paper ratios were generally high and I had two papers with all female authors (the starred years, which I just divided by 1 for purposes of plotting). However, during my postdoc I was on a project with four male PIs, and published primarily with men. For the two papers I consider “new” projects not related to my postdoc or dissertation, my ratios are better: 1 (Blois et al., Science, 2013) and 0.57 (Blois et al. Ecography, in review). Another encouraging sign for me is that among the papers of which I am the first author, my gender ratio is 1.26, whereas for papers where I am simply one among many co-authors, the gender ratio is 0.69.

Gender ratio (M:F) of each of the papers on which I'm a co-author.  The starred publications had all female authors, and so the numbers presented are artificially low.

Gender ratio (M:F) of each of the papers on which I’m a co-author. The starred publications had all female authors, and so the numbers presented are artificially low.

Of course, there are many ways besides counting co-authors to quantify #MyGenderGap and contribute towards reducing it. For example, many of the commenters on twitter have calculated their gender gap among grad students, undergrads, etc. My sense is that if I quantified the ratio amongst my field assistants, the ratio would skew female, but it would be nice to have data to back up this perception.

I also feel like this is a particularly good exercise for the end of the year. It’s a nice way to both reflect on all the work I’ve accomplished (and remind myself that I have actually accomplished some good stuff), as well as a way to reflect on ways I could be doing better.

Travel, travel, travel

It’s been a very busy fall, for me and for the lab.

The fall has been a period of building up the lab.  In August we welcomed our first grad student, Eric Williams, into the lab.  And then in October, Juliane Liberto joined the lab to help us sort through fossils.  Finally, Kaitlin Maguire will be joining the lab in January as a postdoc on the “Modeling biotic interactions”  project.

For me (Jessica), this fall has also meant a lot of travel!  In September, I spent two weeks in Palau working on a project to look at whether parallel processes create parallel patterns in diversity at many levels: taxonomic diversity, functional diversity, and genetic diversity.  This is a large project with lots of different people and cool research on different systems and different scales.  We’ve got microbial ecologists (Mike Beman, Jesse Wilson), evolutionary ecologists (Mike Dawson, Sharon Patris), paleoclimatologists (Julian Sachs and Tessa McGee), and paleoecologists (me, Jere Lipps) on the team. It is a fantastic project, great people, and I’m looking forward to learning more about this system in the years to come.

This year, I tagged along with Julian Sachs as he and his team retrieved sediment cores from the bottom of several marine lakes.  Another paleoecologist, Simon Haberle from ANU was there as well and will work up pollen data from several of the cores.  I had fun hiking into and out of the lakes, learning more about coring and sectioning cores in field, and doing modern biodiversity surveys on some of the lakes as well.  We are already starting to plan field work for next year, and I’m looking forward to working with the data coming out of the system!

This fall also means a lot of other travel for me.  I just got back from a fantastic visit to U. Chicago, where I gave a seminar in the GeoSci seminar series.  I had great conversations with the paleobiologists there, and got to talk to lots of bright grad students doing interesting work.

Next week I travel to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, then I’m headed to the IBS Geography of Species Associations meeting in Montreal.  While in Canada, I’ll make a quick visit to York University in Toronto to give a talk in the Biology seminar series and visit my friend Sapna Sharma’s lab.  Finally, I’m giving a seminar in the Integrative Biology seminar series at Berkeley right after returning from Canada.

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