Is a Changing Environment Bringing Baby Bull Sharks to North Carolina?

Marine environments are typically considered more open than those on land when it comes to animal movement. On land, the range of a species can be limited by geographic features like mountain ranges, canyons, rivers, and anything else that might get in the way. In the ocean, however, actively swimming animals like, say, large sharks have few physical barriers and may instead be restricted by their own environmental preferences. This is why in unusually warm summers you might see tropical fishes in southern New England. Because of this, one of the anticipated consequences of warming ocean temperatures is shifting distributions of mobile and highly migratory species. Basically, changes in temperature are likely to allow marine animals to move into places they haven’t before, and if those temperature changes become consistent, these species might make regular visits or even just start staying there.

This kind of change is already happening and has been documented across a variety of marine species. Now, findings from a new paper in Scientific Reports by me and co-authors from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, Simon Fraser University, and East Carolina University show an apex predator may be joining the northward shift.

Juvenile Bull Shark captured in Pamlico Sound, North Carolina. Photo from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

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Customer Service for Science.

Travis Nielsen is the founder and CEO of Azurigen Management and Consulting Solutions Inc. A STEM project management firm that specializes in linking conservation based science to business and government. He is a published scientist specializing in Marine Biology with 10 years experience in STEM, and 10 years of experience in management and leadership. He has been responsible for projects with budgets up to $500,000, working with multiple stakeholders, large public engagement mandates, and with staffs up to 100 people in locations all across the globe.

Walking into the airport one morning, my mind was still addled by the fog of waking up at 4am. I was heading to a conference for work and as I get to my ticket counter to check-in for my flight I am politely told by the counter staff that the flight had been cancelled. Confused, and curious as to why the flight was shut down, I enquired around until I found a friend that was on shift as a TSA agent, I asked what she knew, and it turns out that the flight was cancelled because one of the flight crew didn’t show up for work. The rumor was the crew member had a little too much fun at the pub and was nursing off a self-inflicted illness… I sighed and laughed to myself about how it was just my luck. This led to a magic adventure of cancellations and bookings for multiple flights and waiting for hours, just to leave the airport.  The reason that this cancellation is now a funny story and not a vivid nightmare – the airline that cancelled the flight went out of its way to help me when things went sideways, giving me vouchers for food and hotel stays, helping me as best they could to get where I needed to go, and generally doing all it could to help.  This help is what the business world calls ‘customer service’ and it is a critical part of every business out there, and for many small businesses, it can be the difference between success and failure.

In science, even though we deal with businesses daily, we rarely realize that we engage in customer service constantly! From professors dealing with the students they teach to the post-docs searching for in-kind services and grant money. To restate the cliché – Science is not done in a vacuum. Scientists should consider themselves an unconventional type of business entity that doesn’t sell a product or service, but instead deals in data and discovery – this is an invaluable product and service that keeps many industries going. As a result, customer service is an integral part of how we do science, and it should be obvious we need to keep our customer service skills sharp.

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Speaking out about sexual harassment in shark science

Dr. Lisa Whitenack is an Associate Professor of Biology of Allegheny College. She is a shark paleobiologist, studying modern and fossil shark teeth over their 400 million year history. While she is also a member of the Board of Directors and acting chair of the Equity and Diversity committee of the American Elasmobranch Society (AES), this piece is not written under the umbrella of AES. Follow her on twitter at @WhitenackLab.

Author’s note: italicized quotations in this piece come from many different female shark researchers who gave Lisa permission to share their stories in this post.

“Funny that all of this Harvey Weinstein nonsense triggers feelings of AES in me…”

Back in mid-October, a colleague of mine sent the above to me in a private message on social media.

Over the last few years, there has been an increase in stories of sexual harassment and assault coming out of the scientific community. There have been papers and commentary published on the prevalence of harassment and assault in STEM fields such as anthropologyastronomy, and geology. There have been some high profile cases that have made it into the popular media as well. It’s easy to point to the fact that some of these fields are male-dominated as an excuse or a reason. Despite the fact that women are well represented in the biosciences, earning approximately 58% of the Bachelors degrees, 57% of the Masters degrees, and 53% of the Doctorates in 2014, the field of biology is not immune from these issues (see these articles about allegations against Ebola researcher Michael Katzemammalogist Miguel Pinto, and molecular biologist Jason Lieb.)

I arranged my desk so he couldn’t sneak up and rub my shoulders anymore.”

Even before the Weinstein news broke, harassment and assault have been at the forefront of my mind, and have been for the last 3 years or so. Until July 2017, part of my committee work at the institution I work at was to evaluate our student code of conduct and to serve on panels for student misconduct cases, including Title IX related cases. As is typical for many female faculty, students tend to visit my office looking for a sympathetic ear or help. Most recently, I have been helping American Elasmobranch Society (AES) write a Code of Conduct for its meetings and am serving as chair of the Equity & Diversity committee. It’s hard to escape these topics when it’s your job. But, it’s really more than just my job. These are issues that infiltrate most aspects of my life, and have for a long time.

“I’ve been told that women can’t do fieldwork.”

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Nature Publishes Top 100 List for Ecology Papers. Here’s Why It’s Wrong.

This morning, I sat down at my desk to clear out my morning emails, make my to-do list, and go about my day. Through several of these channels, I was pointed to a new article in Nature detailing the top 100 articles every ecologist should read. There were already critiques of it flowing through social media, mainly about the representativeness of the list. Depending on which kind of professional hat I’m wearing at the moment, I tend to agree with these assessments. While I recognize – and have read – most of the papers on the list in my early ecological education, I think it misses the mark on defining ecology. Read More

One weird trick for improving the outcome of your PhD defense.

Feed your committee.

At the very least, make sure your committee is fed. A hungry committee is a grumpy committee. A grumpy committee is just a little bit less likely to let you pass your defense. Sure, you can prep, polish your thesis to perfection, run through a half-dozen practice defenses. You can even invest in some serious snake-fighting lessons. But all of those solutions are practical, pragmatic, and belie a commitment to success that suggests a work ethic, expertise, and discipline. All of which you need, but don’t ignore the obvious, easy stuff, either.

Wait, Andrew, you’re serious?

If you’ve learned anything from reading this blog for the last 9 years, it’s that I am always serious. Humor is anathema to me. Let’s talk about the science.

In a 2011 paper, Danziger and friends looked at extraneous factors in judicial decisions. In short, they looked at how often judges granted parole to inmates as a function of when the decision was made. Parole judges often hear dozens of cases in a day with few breaks. What Danziger and friends found was that, immediately after a judge had eaten, favorable parole outcomes were much more frequent and that, as parolees got further and further from mealtime, their chance of getting out plummeted. Those whose hearings fell right before a meal break had a 0% chance of parole. The pattern was clear: never appear before a hungry judge.

Proportion of rulings in favor of the prisoners by ordinal position. Circled points indicate the first decision in each of the three decision sessions; tick marks on x axis denote every third case; dotted line denotes food break. Because unequal session lengths resulted in a low number of cases for some of the later ordinal positions, the graph is based on the first 95% of the data from each session. Danziger and friends, 2011.


Well, not quite.

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The many, many ways I screwed up my first science crowdfunding campaign.

Four generations of field hardened OpenCTDs.

It’s been over five years since Kersey Sturdivant and I launched Oceanography for Everyone – The OpenCTD, my first attempt at crowdfunding science. Over the years, that initial effort has grown into Oceanography for Everyone, a community of researchers, educators, and citizen scientists, and has created new open-source tools for open-source, open-science hardware. The OpenCTD is the finest oceanographic instrument that you can build in your own home for less than $300.

The crowdfunding campaign was a total disaster.

Since then, I’ve written several articles on how scientists can launch and managed crowdfunding campaigns:

…but I’ve never written explicitly about what we did wrong during that campaign and how it impacted our success. Now that the final reward from that campaign has been delivered (yes, five years later, talk about the eternally delayed crowdfunding campaign), it’s the right moment to look back and think about how everything went so wrong.

went with lesser-known platforms. We launched the OpenCTD on RocketHub. At the time, RocketHub was hosting the #SciFund Challenge, a campaign to encourage scientists to launch science crowdfunding campaigns. Both the #SciFundChallenge and RocketHub were relatively small players in the nascent crowdfunding world. RocketHub doesn’t even appear to do crowdfunding anymore, they’ve pivoted to a “social network for entrepreneurs”. The old OpenCTD campaign page is long deprecated. #SciFund Challenge’s website hasn’t been updated in almost half a year.

Here’s the thing with crowdfunding, and especially crowdfunding in the early days: There are two dominant communities that you can rely on. There’s the community of people who want to support what you’re doing and there’s the community of people enamored with the idea of crowdfunding. Being a crowdfunding “investor” is a hobby in and of itself and many of the biggest donors are people who support dozens of different campaigns. So the larger and more popular the platform, the more crowdfunding enthusiasts you’ll attract. Heck, since backing the very first OpenROV, I’ve backed 23 other projects on Kickstarter, most recently Public Lab’s Balloon Mapping kits.

By going with RocketHub, I committed our campaign to a smaller potential audience. Considering Kickstarter was garnering huge press at the time, this was a near-fatal mistake.

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A Survival Guide to Conference Travel

Travis Nielsen is the founder and CEO of Azurigen Management and Consulting Solutions Inc. A STEM project management firm that specializes in linking conservation based science to business and government. He is a published scientist specializing in Marine Biology with 10 years experience in STEM, and 10 years of experience in management and leadership. He has been responsible for projects with budgets up to $500,000, working with multiple stakeholders, large public engagement mandates, and with staffs up to 100 people in locations all across the globe.

Attending Conferences is one of the main ways that academics get their ideas out there. If you’re lucky, your school or business will reimburse the money that you spend to go to conferences, but you still have to put the money upfront first. Sometimes, they will only reimburse up to a certain amount and the rest has to come out of your pocket. I have picked up a few tricks and suggestions in my years of conferencing that may help others plan a great conference trip, without succumbing to the pitfalls.

Plan ahead – Though I realize this isn’t always possible, if you know in advance what you want to do, then plan ahead as much as you can. Research the location, figure travel documents, check ticket prices, accommodation options, food availability, etc. The more time you have to plan, the better prepared you will be, plus you may find deals if you plan earlier, or find someone to share the expense.

Experiment with travel plans BEFORE booking – NEVER book the first option or what you are told to book. If you are paying for things always ALWAYS look to see if there is a creative solution to your travel. Is it cheaper to book a trip as two round trips? A series of one way tickets? Are certain airports cheaper to fly through than others? Is there hostel accommodations nearby? Is it cheaper if you book a few days early? If you are being reimbursed for your travel, then your business will appreciate you trying to make it as cost effective as possible. It can be easier that you think, use sites like or expedia and with a little bit of goofing around you can end up doing things like spending 7 weeks circumnavigating the globe for less than $800.00 a month.

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Why do wizards go adventuring ? Or …. you thought that your tenure requirements were tough?!

Something that has been bothering me for a while, is why do wizards go adventuring?


Now if you are a big geek like me, you’ll know that practically every adventuring party has a wizard. But these wizards are incredibly unprepared for exploring dungeons and have a shockingly high mortality rate. In the dungeons and dragons* of my youth, a starting wizard had a mere 1 to 4 hit points and was equipped with dagger (or is they were luck a staff). Did these budding Gandalfs get armor? Of course not, they faced ogres and basilisks in the fantasy equivalent of sweat pants.

The statistics of a starting wizard meant that they could easily be killed by a house cat. Also they had just one spell. Cast “light” so that your party could see in a cave, and you were done for the day. If you had the most destructive spell of the first level wizard, you would fire a “magic missile” that always hit, but did a miserable 2 to 5 (1d4+1)  points of damage. So if  jumped by  above mentioned angry house cat, you literally had a 50/50 chance of killing it before it killed you**.

So why do all these highly educated, highly intelligent wizards leave their ivory (or mithril) towers and trudge through cold, dank dungeons with groups of characters that generally make the knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail look like Seal Team 6  in comparison?

Why does every early career academic pursue elusive gold and put their common sense and lives on the line? Why…? To get tenure of course…

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R1 research universities – is a biased, flawed ranking system crippling academia?

If you are at a university that has graduate students, you have probably heard about whether your university is an R1 or R2 or R-whatever research institution. Universities tout their position in this ranking system, awarded by the Carnegie Foundation, to denote how “prestigious” they are in terms of research. From 1994, the ranking used to be given according to how much federal research funding they were awarded.

Source: clipart panda

Because of this, all the ranking told you was how much federal money a particular university received. This system is incredibly flawed. For example, if you have faculty more dedicated to writing grants and less dedicated to teaching, mentoring graduate students, publishing articles or doing other activities that are supposed to be the mainstay of academia, then certainly you will get more money. However, this will be at the expense of teaching, mentoring, publishing, etc. Read More