Do not attend this lecture if you already believe that Carl Salk should be a docent
“The purpose of the trial lecture is for the applicant to show their ability to hold a scientific lecture in an instructive and clarifying manner. The lecture should be targeted at doctoral students from the whole faculty – not only those from the applicant’s own subject area.” (30–35 minutes)
Title: Do not attend this lecture if you already believe that Carl Salk should be a docent
Lecturer: Carl Salk
This lecture will explore my research career to date and speculate about paths it may take in the future, all in service of convincing you that I should be promoted to docent. I will begin with the standard first question when meeting another academic: “What kind of research do you do?” I have always hated this question because I am usually working on a scattered list of disparate topics. To illustrate this point, I will summarize four recent studies showing my research’s breadth:
1) What can be learned from common garden studies of phenology? This work surveyed published studies where multiple origins of a tree species were planted together. It showed that assuming similar leafing responses to climate among species with similar functional ecology (as is frequently done in the literature) is misleading.
2) What type of incentives best reduce land-use intensity? This paper looked at group-dependent payments, individual-dependent payments and insurance as incentives to reduce land-use intensity. Group payments were the clear winner, apparently because they promote communication and mutual interdependence among participants.
3) Are people better at identifying cropland in imagery from familiar locations? No.
4) How to monitor biodiversity for social-ecological research? This study examined a protocol that many social scientists use to quantify biodiversity outcomes in studies of forest management institutions. It turns out not to work. We suggested alternatives adapted from social science and provide evidence that they may be more effective.
Next, I will look back on my career and ponder how I ended up working on such seemingly unrelated topics. This is largely a story of path dependency and seizing unexpected opportunities. I will end this section with an explanation of what I have come to believe ties all of my scientific work together. To maintain dramatic tension and the attention of my audience, I will not reveal this insight until the lecture itself.
Having established that I am unlikely to ever have a linear career path, I will briefly summarize a few studies that I am fairly certain to complete in the near to medium term, simply because I have already begun them:
1) How will climate-induced leafing shifts affect understory plants’ light interception?
2) Incentives vs. punishments: linking collective action to ecological outcomes
3) What can be learned about local conservation from geospatial data?
As my academic career will probably extend well beyond these projects, it might be enlightening to discuss potential research directions for coming decades. However, by this point it should be clear that my future interests will likely be as stochastic as in the past. Instead, the final section will touch on some under-discussed topics in the culture of science:
1) What to do with so many PhDs? Train fewer, or train them for other careers.
2) For-profit journals: Wasting research funds, and open access makes them worse.
The lecture will end with a brief Maoist-style self-criticism session.