About Lauren Kuehne

Fish, freshwater, invasive critters

Idea for a new year: Workshopping grad student proposals for fun and profit

While the rest of humanity celebrates the passage of 2016 and start of a new year, as ecologists we are not quite halfway through our fiscal year. For northern-hemispherists, field work wraps up in August, we spend September learning to take regular showers and don reputable clothing, then turn our attention to the queue of grant deadlines that peak in January and trail off toward the spring. Our seasons are out of sync with the rest of the world (“No eggnog, thanks – am finishing a proposal later tonight”), which means planning ahead is fundamental not only for success but arguably for survival.

One of the deadlines that creeps up every year is the NSF Graduate Research Program Fellowship (GRFP), that highly competitive but career-changing opportunity that funds several thousand graduate students across all disciplines in the United States each year. Even if you aren’t a graduate student, chances are you know or are advising students who may apply for the GRFP this October. We wrote a paper for those eyeing this opportunity, with the specific aim of helping students collect themselves (literally) to learn proposal writing skills. In The benefits of workshopping graduate fellowships: a how-to guide for graduate students and early career scientists”, we lay out step-by-step guidelines by which  graduate students (or advisors) can organize grant-writing workshops, leveraging the knowledge and skills at their institution toward the most competitive applications possible. 

The paper is based on 4+ years’ experience implementing this workshop at UW’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. It started as a brainchild of two labmates, both of whom had learned the immense value of mentorship in writing their own GRFP proposals: the workshop grew organically when we found ourselves overwhelmed with requests for help from other students and giving the same advice (often at the last minute). Knowing that there was much to be learned simply from the process of writing proposals and essays, and that students were putting in dozens if not hundreds of hours into applications, we decided to organize an optional graduate course to support applicants.

The course ultimately evolved to a non-credit workshop with a schedule that can flex based on GRFP deadlines each year, but the fundamental elements have remained the same: a student-led course around proposal writing with mentorship at its core. The workshop provides benefits such as fellowship-specific advice and a timeline for writing, but the component that students overwhelmingly value the most is being part of a small group that includes senior graduate students (often previous NSF Fellows) and post-docs for providing peer-reviews of essay drafts. This structure also spreads out the work in reviewing essays so that no one person is overly burdened, keeping the workshop sustainable over time.


The road less traveled – proposal writing with support of peers and mentors helps clarify ideas, improves writing, and teaches the fine art of peer review. Plus it’s just more fun this way. Photo: Jirka Matousek.

Although it was initially prompted by a desire to harness some of the annual GRFP chaos for a greater good, the benefits to workshopping proposal writing for graduate students have proved immense. Applicants gain early exposure and practical experience in grantwriting, collaboration, and peer-review, skills that typically are learned toward the end of graduate experiences (if at all). The workshop structure also helps level the playing field for applicants, who may have inconsistent support that depends on who happens to be in their lab at the time, or, in the case of post-baccalaureates, if they have any connections to help support their applications. Lastly, while GRFP applications are a painstaking process, the group approach can definitely help boost motivation and confidence: when we surveyed participants about workshop components, they ranked “Support of my peers” as highly as “Expert panels”.

For students or faculty who might like to see something like this in their department, now is the perfect time to start putting the wheels in motion for a typical fall GRFP deadline (deadlines this year are Oct 23-27, 2017). Even without organizing a workshop, the article also has plenty of advice for individual students contemplating a GRFP application or faculty who mentor students every year in crafting applications. Happy writing!


Small step for scientists, large leap for science communication

It’s said that many hands make light work, but could that be true for science communication too? In an opinion piece in PNAS that came out last week (Kuehne and Olden 2015 http://www.pnas.org/content/112/12/3585.full ), we propose that lay summaries – published online alongside traditional abstracts – are an efficient and needed science communication option in a changing media landscape. Communication of research is undergoing radical and rapid change through ever-increasing reliance on the internet, resulting in a shift from traditional top-down knowledge transfers to a “media ecosystem” (see figure below). Within this ecosystem, widespread adoption of lay summaries could substantially bolster current science communication efforts by creating reliable and direct pathways between scientists and diverse audiences including journalists, policymakers, resource managers, and the general public. We argue that it wouldn’t hurt interdisciplinary communication between scientists either! PNAS 2015 Mar 112(12) 3585-6, Fig. 1

Although lay summaries should enhance science communication across all disciplines, the need for broadly accessible research results is paramount in ecology and the environment. So we are taking this opportunity to urge journal editors and publishers in these fields to provide the platform for publication and incorporate requirement of lay summaries into their peer-review process.  If you support the inclusion of online lay summaries we hope that you’ll join us in signing an open letter http://washington.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bQIXBWeha7Aeahv to major ecology and environmental journals which will be sent on April 10th.


Lauren Kuehne and Julian Olden

University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

Science communication in grad school: should you or shouldn’t you?

Taking part in education and outreach events: time well spent or a distraction on the way to a thesis?

Science communication in graduate school: time well spent or a distraction on the way to a thesis?

Spoiler alert: I am going to try to persuade you that all graduate students should engage in science communication.  In fact, our Freshwater Ecology & Conservation lab – made up of 3 master’s and 2 PhD students, 1 post-doc, 1 research scientist, and 1 early career professor – wrote a hot-off-the-press journal article in Conservation Biology about how graduate students can (and should) do science communication. But we know that grad students don’t have time to read any more papers, so a “Cliff Notes” version seemed in order.

If you are reading this blog, you may know something about science communication, by which I mean (very generally) talking about research to audiences other than scientists. Maybe you even have an opinion about it, something like “I wish I knew how to do that better”, or “If only I wasn’t so busy”. Or maybe you already dislike this post, because “I’m still learning how to DO science – I’ll figure out communicating it later!” Continue reading

A year in the lives of early career ecologists

Sorry we’ve been MIA for a while, but it turns out we actually have been in action – and plenty of it. An update on what’s been happening with ECE is overdue, but we thought it was also a good opportunity to ask: “What ARE early career ecologists doing when they aren’t blogging about their research?”. Since we are scientists, a graph was in order (Fig. 1), so you can examine the data yourself. Continue reading

If a fish could write your water bill

Would these fish approve your water bill? Photo of Rio Grande chub (Gila pandora) courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

By Lauren Kuehne

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post Why the mayor wants you to have a green lawn: The dark side of water conservation where I “exposed” the open secret of declining support for water conservation programs. Water districts and utilities end up with a big problem when conservation – to put it bluntly – starts cutting into revenues generated by water consumption, forcing a rise in rates for the same water. This leads to bewildered and betrayed consumers and increasingly strapped public utilities who literally can’t afford conservation. At the end of that article, I promised a follow-up post on water rate structures (aka, what you see on your monthly bill) that utilities can use which promote conservation and meet revenue-for-infrastructure needs. It’s taken me a while to follow up, partly because every time I started researching and writing about water rate structures I found myself inexplicably dozing off. Luckily, once I sat down to it, the breakdown isn’t that complicated, so I am hopeful that it’s possible to stay awake for the exciting conclusion (yes, there is one!). Continue reading

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas…

In the interests of treading (and blogging) a little lighter this week, a couple of ECE writers polled ourselves for eco-friendly holidays traditions to share. Think of these as a present to the planet, and who knows, maybe someday they won’t be “eco-friendly traditions” anymore, but just “traditions”!

** A lot of them also aren’t bad gift ideas for that impossible-to-shop-for person, and recession friendly as well. So happy last-minute hunting – and safe travels!

Vegetables: It's what's for (Christmas) dinner! Photo: K. Pete

Vegetables: It’s what’s for (Christmas) dinner! Photo by K. Pete

Eat lower on the food chain: (Lauren) “I married into a largely vegetarian family a few years ago, and thought the holidays might be a challenge. But not only is it pretty easy to come up with alternatives, it’s less expensive and also lightens the environmental account (see Bill Smith’s post on biofuel production)”

Buy local: (Lindsay) ”Already very popular in the enviro movement, keeping your dollars in your city limits is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Even if you are eventually spending some carbon to send the gift elsewhere, it still saves fossil fuels to have the gift originate in your home town instead of in a factory overseas. Many cities have websites advertising local businesses and locally-made products, you’ll be surprised what you can find! Adding a “from my home town” quality to your gift also makes it more special.”

(Recycled) brown paper packages tied up with string...Photo by Chiot's Run

(Recycled) brown paper packages tied up with string…Photo by Chiot’s Run

Wrap presents in alternative wrapping paper: (Lindsay) “Don’t you hate the pile of wrapping paper after present-opening has happened? Get creative this year to reduce all that paper waste! You could re-use saved paper from last year or wrap with a canvas tote bag that becomes part of the present. I’ve also been known to use brown paper grocery bags from the pile in our kitchen. You can turn them inside out, wrap, and then spice it up rubber stamps or something else festive!”

LED holiday lights: (Lindsay)These tend to be expensive, but they can save a ton of energy and money in your electric bill, too! I have some friends who are buying one new strand each year and slowly replacing all of their old, energy-sucking lights.”

Think outside of the box - or bin...for a grand gesture, how about a rain barrel? Photo by Elaine Faith.

Think outside of the box (or bin). For a grand gesture, how about a rain barrel? Photo by Elaine Faith.

Function over form: (Lauren)”My parents don’t need anything from me – really! But every Christmas I try and find them a new eco-friendly product that they might like to try and start using. It’s completely dorky, but I’ve actually introduced them to biodegradable dog waste bags and LED lights for their home.This year it’s a compost bin for their countertop…”


Give an experience (Kristen): “Want to give a present without adding to someone’s ever-growing pile of stuff? Give a service or an experience that they’ll cherish. How about tickets to a concert, movie passes, a nice dinner, a ski tune, or reservations for a weekend away? My all-time favorite gifts have been a massage, yoga passes, an annual state park pass that helped keep me outside all year long.”

Edible presents (Lindsay): “Think about gifting some tasty treats this year. These can be homemade or store bought creations that nourish and won’t eventually take up space in a landfill. There are a lot of small businesses that make delicious products with locally-grown produce, so you could even double up and combine “buy local” with “edible presents!” (Lauren) “In case you need ideas: local wine or chocolate are often easy to find.

Organic, fair-trade chocolate....'nuff said.

Organic, fair-trade chocolate….’nuff said.

And organic and fair-trade coffee and tea are easy ways to splurge a little for the person that you don’t know what to get.”

Publicly Funded Research: Our Tax Dollars at Work

Many of the natural resources that we value and prize – including clean air and water – are safeguarded by public funded research. Photos: C. Rupprecht (l), R. Broderick (r).

By Lauren Kuehne

Elections can be difficult times for all of us, perhaps especially so for scientists. Even as big issues of economics, environmental policy, and research funding come to the forefront, our opinions are bound by our training and emphasis on objectivity (and that’s on top of the normal tongue-biting everyone has to do around politics). The dilemma, of course, is that scientists know a lot about environmental policies and likewise, about short and long-term benefits of research funding for the environment, public health, and the economy – we are, in many ways, the inside informants.

Continue reading