2019 Lab Year in Review

02 January 2020 by Charles cpencepermalink

This year has been amazingly busy. As part of keeping us honest, I want to step back and think about our accomplishments, what we’ve done well, and what we’ve done badly – and speculate a bit about what 2020 might bring!

First, and most importantly, this year we really got properly established and started to flourish at our new home in Belgium. Thanks to the FNRS MIS project, two new postdoctoral fellows arrived in May – Oliver Lean and Luca Rivelli – and thanks to the UCLouvain FSR program (and her awesome project!), Cécilia Bognon joined in September. Our only master’s student graduated (congrats, Antoine!). And there’s a few major grants and further postdoc applications in the hopper – we’ll see what 2020 brings as far as luck is concerned! In short, as far as personnel and local environment, 2019 was a resounding success.

On the publication front, things were pretty quiet. I was buried in my book project for pretty much the entire year – which is going great – and so only had one new article come out, in Biology & Philosophy. Oliver had a pair of articles come out after his move, one in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, and one awaiting final pagination in Philosophy of Science. Not a banner year, but all kinds of really fun stuff on the horizon: I have my book and a handful of other articles that should wrap pretty quickly in 2020 (and a second book queued right behind it), Cécilia is working toward a book version of her dissertation, Oliver, Luca and I have our first major collaborative paper in process, and everybody has a number of super cool smaller projects in the works. Next year should be fun, and hopefully impactful!

Talks were a whirlwind this year. Lab members delivered 15 major public talks on three continents this year, and a couple more private or work-in-progress talks. These included our first few group talks on the digital history and philosophy of biology project, as well as talks aimed at building collaborations with Christophe Malaterre’s group at UQAM (via a Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles/Québec collaboration grant), and a few public talks to broader audiences, including on the ethics of technology and at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory.

That’s also a great segue to another important aspect of 2019: collaborations! We’re building a number of really cool collaborative projects, on climate science models (with Julie Jebeile at Bern), on digital history and philosophy of science (with Christophe Malaterre at UQAM, and the Chavalarias/Huneman group at Paris 1), on the ethics of scientific research (with Nick Evans at U. Mass Lowell), on science communication (through Oliver’s work), on the interpretation of evolutionary theory (with Victor Luque in Madrid), and on the concept of progress (with Michael Ruse and especially Jesse Powell at Florida State). Extremely excited to see what happens going forward on this next year!

To do a bit of evaluation, then, I think we’ve been doing an excellent job of setting ourselves up for the future: we have a number of fantastic projects moving forward now, the lab is stable and well funded, and our selection of active and future projects is looking really strong. Where we’ve fallen down a bit, I think, is in getting things done – 2020 needs to be the year of finishing some of our active and open projects. As I often say to potential grad students and postdocs, we encourage flexibility and an agile approach to our work, but I’m afraid we’re getting close to overdoing it!

Lastly, I’ve been inspired this year by a number of our experiences and collaborations to try to focus more this coming year on outreach. I think that the kind of work that we’re doing – and I’m particularly pushed in this direction by Oliver’s early work on microbiome questions – is, or at least can be, really important for public outreach regarding science. How to do this, though? And more broadly, how to get outside our disciplinary box and work with more kinds of people in the future? There’s always more to do.