Dr. Jeremy Yoder
Assistant Professor of Biology
California State University Northridge
Start Date: August 2017
PhD: University of Idaho, with Olle Pellmyr
Postdoc: University of Minnesota, with Peter Tiffin
Postdoc: University of British Columbia, with Sally Aitken
About California State University Northridge (CSUN):
CSUN is the largest campus of the CSU system, with more than 41,000 students, 72% of whom identify as non-white. Our Biology program is similarly big and diverse, with 41 tenure-track faculty organized in five "areas" of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology; Cellular, Molecular & Physiological Biology; Marine Biology; Microbiology; and Genetics & Developmental Biology — I'm one of four new TT faculty this year.
About the research:
I study coevolution and the population genomics of local adaptation, particularly in mutualisms. I've used evolutionary theory, population genetics and genomics, greenhouse experiments, and field studies. Most of my empirical work has been with the Joshua tree-yucca moth pollination interaction and the legume-rhizobium interaction (working with Medicago truncatula as a model); but in my second postdoc with Sally Aitken, I focused on adaptation to climate by lodgepole pine and interior spruce.
What has been the biggest challenge as a new PI so far?
A huge challenge of setting up the lab has been prioritizing, and timing. I've tried to spend my first year getting started with projects that will pay off in the longer term, but I'm also trying to wrap up postdoctoral work and save startup funding — and my own energy — for later down the line when I have grad students and their projects to support and supervise.
Are you recruiting? If so, how do you/ will you choose new lab members?
I have been pretty lucky with recruiting, I think. I have two very good prospective students to start next fall, and I'm expecting I'll want another one or two to start in 2019. I've been looking specifically for students who can articulate how their research interests and career plans fit with the kind of work I do, and with the program at CSUN. We have a fully supported, Master's-only graduate program in Biology, which has some advantages for students interested in that kind of degree, and the grad student community is terrific.
When and why did you become a SSE member?
I've been a member of SSE since I joined for my very first scientific conference, Evolution 2006 at Stony Brook. I presented the very first data of my PhD research, and was kind of awestruck to have Doug Futuyma come to the talk and ask a (non-terrifying) question. One of the things I continue to appreciate about Evolution is how accessible it usually makes folks at the top of the field to students who are just starting out.
Do you teach evolution? What is the hardest concept to teach?
I'm currently teaching my first class, which isn't evolution per se but flowering plant systematics — and I've gotten, I think, a lot of evolution into it. I've seen students struggle with some of the same concepts that were hard for me to wrap my head around, back in undergrad, particularly the idea that evolutionary change may not always be driven by natural selection. Next semester I get to take on our core evolution course, though, and we'll see what else comes up.
Are you involved in evolution outreach? Tell us about it.
I've been involved in science outreach since graduate school, mostly through blogs. I'm continuing that as that manager/editor of The Molecular Ecologist (www.molecularecologist.com) though I don't get to write for that venue as much as I'd like to. I also very occasionally pitch the odd article or book review to more mainstream sites or publications, and it's fun to get to write about biology for a truly broad audience.
Do you have a time management tip to share?
I've been experimenting with using Toggl (www.toggl.com) to track my time — shout-out to Holly Moeller at UC San Diego for pointing me to it — and it's pretty helpful for making me more mindful of what I'm doing on days when I really don't have a moment to spare, which is most of them now. Alternatively, it's mostly just showing me how much time teaching a class for the first time can eat up.
What advice would you give to a starting graduate student or postdoc?
For both starting grad students and postdocs, my advice would be: figure out what comes next. I think I did a pretty good job of this as a grad student — I started looking for postdocs and had a great position sorted out when I graduated — but I was less ready to be strategic once I actually got to the postdoc stage. I was not really ready for how much effort the faculty job market would take, and the degree to which the promotion from postdoc to faculty is beyond planning. I'm very, very happy with how it's worked out in the end, but if you'd told me when I finished my PhD that it'd take six years and two postdocs to land a tenure-track position, I think I'd have put more effort into applications earlier on, and maybe carved out some time for non-academic career path development, too.
Did you ever have something go wrong in a talk?
My best talk-catastrophe story was at an invited symposium at the Canadian Society for Evolution and Ecology meeting last spring. I brought slides in PDF format, as I always do, because PDFs are pretty close to fool-proof. But the laptops provided by the conference center had some nonstandard PDF reader installed, and when I got to my first data slide, it glitched in just the right way to remove only my data — the slide title, the explanatory text, the axes and labels were all there, but the actual line plotting the result was gone. I had to scramble for the PowerPoint version and I lost a couple minutes and the rest of the talk was a rushed mess.