Advise: On requesting recommendation letters

Many students ask me to write recommendation letters for a variety of purposes, like internship abroad, summer school and most importantly – graduate schools. It’s an important part of our job as academics to encourage younger and aspiring students. Therefore, in general, I am happy to write supporting letters if I know you ‘sufficiently well’. Here are some general tips to follow when you request me (or more generally it may apply to others whom you approach) to send recommendation letters – this information will help me to write better-supporting letters.

  • First, do write a short note requesting if the person you think is suitable to write a letter is willing to do so. When you do so, state the purpose of your application, attach your cv and mention the deadline.
  • In general, write at least a few weeks ahead of the deadline and clearly state what is the deadline. If the deadline is very short – you can still write, but be aware that many mentors may decline even if they feel you are a fantastic candidate.

Once I have agreed to send you the letter:

  • If it’s a graduate school application season, send a list of university, department, their respective deadlines, the program (PhD vs Masters), etc all in a single email.
  • Do send an updated CV every time you ask for a letter – even if I had sent a letter last year for a similar purpose. I would like to know how your cv has improved since last time, so that any modifications to the letter can be done.
  • Provide as much information on what is the recommendation for? And any other relevant information about the application. For example, if you wrote a proposal or statement of interest that is not confidential – share it with me. Share any pdf/link to details of what the application is asking. Sometimes, some advertisements are aimed for specific candidates with certain background (for ex: this conf is aimed for physicists interested in biology, or vice versa). Do point out them to me. A generic letter won’t help the selection to committee decide whether you are suitable.
  • A short note on any specific points that you would like me to highlight about you. It could be about your project/work done with me, about your grades, a new publication/work of yours that I am unaware of, or anything that you think will help your application. If you are applying to unusual programs (e.g. Masters in conservation biology but your background is in mathematics), tell me reasons for the same. Such information is very important and useful for me to write a good supporting letter.
  • Do not hesitate to remind me whether I have submitted the letter. Check the status at least a week, and a few days before, the deadline.

 

Finally, let me know the outcome of your application because I am curious to know, and am also interested in making sure you succeed. Moreover, its a basic courtesy to inform the outcome (even if its negative) to someone has invested time in writing a letter of recommendation. A negative outcome may also help your referee to improve the letter the next time you ask him/her.

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Teaching a Statistics course

This semester, I will be venturing into teaching statistics course along with my colleague Prof Kavita Isvaran. This is going to be quite exciting because I have only taught mathematical ecology (and its variants, basic to intermediate to advanced) so far.

Of course, Kavita has been teaching this course on Quantitative ecology, with a focus on both research design and statistical inference, for almost a decade. This course has undoubtedly transformed the quantitative skills of our students and they way they design and analyse their PhD thesis projects.

This year, the main change to the course is as follows: we will cover less material but will add depth (the breadth will be added in a second course in Jan 2019). While Kavita will teach Research design in the first half of the course, I will teach basic statistics – starting from probability distributions to point estimations and linear regression – in the second half of the course. We really want to ensure people understand basics of what they are doing – including associated math and programming.

We will be assisted by our joint PhD student Aakanksha to conduct tutorials in math, R, grading assignments, etc.

Hari Sridhar’s recent paper on Mixed-species flocks covered in Indian Express

Amitabh Sinha at Indian Express has a nice summary of Hari Sridhar’s recently published paper on “Friendship across species borders: factors that facilitate and constrain heterospecific sociality”.

Click here for the Indian Express article with the nice title: “Costs and benefits: Why birds of a feather sometimes don’t flock together”. This is how it looks in the newspaper!

Sridhar-Guttal-Indian_express-Coverage

Click here for the original research article.

 

 

(New) Paper on dryland ecosystem transitions and coverage in Deccan herald

Although I have tweeted quite a bit about this paper, I have been rather slow to announce this paper on this blog.

Chen Ning, Kailiang Yu, C Jayaprakash, Vishwesha Guttal, 2018, Rising variability, not slowing down, as a leading indicator of a stochastically driven abrupt transition in a dryland ecosystem, The American Naturalist, 191: E1 E14Data and Codes via Dryad. 

In this paper, we conduct an empirical test of early warning signals in a dryland ecosystem in China. This was based on a very cool email-collaboration with Chen Ning, a graduate student at that time.

The empirical analyses closely match with results of one of my PhD thesis paper with Prof C Jayaprakash, who is also a coauthor on this paper.

Suma from Gubbi Labs wrote this really nice popular article for Research Matters and it was also picked up by Deccan Herald, a very prominent English newspaper in South India !!!!

 

New paper: Friendship across species borders: factors that facilitate and constrain heterospecific sociality

Check out this new paper by Hari Sridhar, an INSA postdoctoral fellow in our lab.

Hari Sridhar and Vishwesha Guttal, 2018, Friendship across species borders: factors that facilitate and constrain heterospecific sociality, Phil. Trans. Royal Society of London B, 373: 20170014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2017.0014PDF

Hari did some fabulous work on mixed-species flocks during his Ph.D. thesis, advised by my colleague Kartik Shanker. Hari continues that trend with another piece of fundamental contribution to the field. I am quite lucky to have been involved with him on this and had lots of new things to learn from him on the topic. The main proposal of the paper is nicely captured in the abstract:

Our understanding of animal sociality is based almost entirely on single-species sociality. Heterospecific sociality, although documented in numerous taxa and contexts, remains at the margins of sociality research and is rarely investigated in conjunction with single-species sociality. This could be because heterospecific and single-species sociality are thought to be based on fundamentally different mechanisms. However, our literature survey shows that heterospecific sociality based on mechanisms similar to single-species sociality is reported from many taxa, contexts and for various benefits. Therefore, we propose a conceptual framework to understand conspecific versus heterospecific social partner choice. Previous attempts, which are all in the context of social information, model partner choice as a trade-off between information benefit and competition cost, along a single phenotypic distance axis. Our framework of partner choice considers both direct grouping benefits and information benefits, allows heterospecific and conspecific partners to differ in degree and qualitatively, and uses a multi-dimensional trait space analysis of costs (competition and activity matching) and benefits (relevance of partner and quality of partner). We conclude that social partner choice is best-viewed as a continuum: some social benefits are obtainable only from conspecifics, some only from dissimilar heterospecifics, while many are potentially obtainable from conspecifics and heterospecifics.

This is published as part of theme issue on “Collective movement ecology” – a must read for everyone interested in movement ecology.