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Postdoctoral position in Vancouver! Using Stan! Working on wine! For reals.

Lizzie Wolkovich writes that she is hiring someone to help build Stan models for winegrapes. Here’s the ad:

Postdoctoral Fellow in Winegrape Research—University of British Columbia

The Temporal Ecology Lab is looking for a bright, motivated and collaborative researcher to join the lab and develop new winegrape models using Stan (mc-stan.org). The project combines decades of historical records with modern Bayesian modeling to address the challenge of shifting climate regimes on the wine industry, with implications for crops across the globe. The fellow will join an interdisciplinary team of researchers based across Canada, the United States and Europe.

The position would be based at the University of British Columbia in the Forest and Conservation Sciences Department. Applicants must be willing to travel to the Okanagan winegrowing region (in southern British Columbia) and France for field work and to meet with collaborators. Travel costs are covered by the lab (in advance of travel as needed).

The ideal researcher will be both able to lead current projects, develop their own projects, and support ongoing work in the lab. Current lab research covers a broad range of topics—climate change impacts via phenology on forests and winegrapes, community assembly via the temporal niche—using a variety of methods from field empirical data, to meta-analyses and analytical coexistence models. More details on the lab’s research can be found at www.temporalecology.org.

A successful applicant would have/be:
• Either a Ph.D. in agriculture, ecology or related fields with a strong interest in statistical modeling or a Ph.D. in computer science, statistics, physical sciences or related fields with a strong interest in agriculture and/or ecology.
• Strong quantitative and computational skills.
• Experienced with R or Python (or similar skills), ideally with proficiency in LaTeX, git and Stan (applicants without experience in these languages must be excited to learn them quickly).
• Comfortable working with diverse file structures and large datasets (e.g., climate data in formats such as NetCDF).
• Excellent writing skills and good publication record.
• Experience relevant to mentoring undergraduate and graduate students
• Excellent record of being a good lab and community member.

To apply email the following in PDF format (preferably one file) to E. M. Wolkovich at e.wolkovich@ubc.ca (informal inquiries welcome):
• Cover letter (see ‘successful applicant’ list above and detail relevant skills and experience)
• Curriculum vitae
• Brief Description of research interests (maximum of two pages)
• Two examples of published papers (one in prep acceptable).
• Names and contact information of 3 references.

Application review will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled.

OK, it’s not flying squirrels. But it’s still pretty cool.

23 Comments

  1. Rahul says:

    Wouldn’t it be cool to come up with better wine grapes through modelling than study the effect of climate change on wine? Study the effect of climate change on variable X is the new assembly line.

    So much abstract research than actual interventions!

    • Andrew says:

      Rahul:

      You write, “So much abstract research than actual interventions,” but changing climate is an actual intervention. I could flip your comment around and say: It’s fine to study the effect of some small intervention that might never be done in practice, but it’s more important to study the effect of a large intervention that’s happening no matter what.

      Also I assume there is an expectation or hope that this research will be relevant to other crops, not just grapes.

      • Rahul says:

        Fair enough. It’s hard to argue about such things. It’s a subjective preference about what we should be researching I guess.

        • Lizzie says:

          I can see how this reads as abstract, but — as Andrew said — climate change is a major intervention. We’ve also intervened dramatically with winegrapes through domestication over the last several thousand years. There are already over 1,100 planted winegrape varieties — that vary a lot in things like heat and drought tolerance, and phenology (plant different varieties of winegrapes side by side and you can get over 6 weeks difference in their budburst, flowering, veraison and maturity timings). Phenology is a major variable X for climate change because it controls the climate that a plant experiences during critical developmental phases.

          So this project is the start of the path for actual interventions. We only have data now to try fewer (more common varieties) but my hope is this forms the basis for helping winegrowing regions adapt to climate change through shifting varieties (and hopefully getting more variety diversity grown around the world). Winegrapes grow across a big range of climate and the best variety for different climates certainly co-varies with phenology.

          And while this project is on winegrapes, the idea that we should use existing diversity across varieties is widespread in the agriculture literature (e.g., think of all the varieties of apples), particularly now as way to mitigate growing region losses and yield declines with climate change. But we don’t have enough information yet to know how best to exploit that diversity, and how much it will allow us to maintain crops with warming. Winegrapes have the data to get that started.

          It’s also a fun project, with a great team.

          • Framing the research as collecting information about how well the large portfolio of existing winegrape varieties would fare in the future and predicting how best to invest land into planting different varieties to reduce risk or better yet maximize a reward/risk measure (through diversifying a portfolio in a useful way) is a great way to think about this type of research.

          • Anoneuoid says:

            mitigate growing region losses and yield declines with climate change

            How confident are you there will be a rising temperature along with growing region losses and yield declines?

            What I would be concerned about in taking on a “climate change” project is that I would be disallowed to find data indicating contrary to these premises and still get published or more grants.

            • Ben Bolker says:

              I understand your concern, but it seems reasonable to have a strong prior expectation that grape varieties that have been grown in a particular region for decades or centuries would do worse rather than better under climate change (I agree that priors on growing region loss vs expansion would be less obvious).

              • Anoneuoid says:

                it seems reasonable to have a strong prior expectation that grape varieties that have been grown in a particular region for decades or centuries would do worse rather than better under climate change

                While there is no doubt a role on growing season, etc I would expect CO2 to increase yields ceteris paribus. Eg, this random paper I only read the abstract of:

                We can conclude that the expected rise in CO2 concentrations may strongly stimulate grapevine production without causing negative repercussions on quality of grapes and wine.

                https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1161030100000939

                Basically, I think it can work out either way.

    • Anoneuoid says:

      It is more comparable to Eugenics than the assembly line, which was the big fad about a century ago:

      It was Francis Galton, a cousin of Darwin, who coined the term “eugenics” in 1883 while advocating that society should promote the marriage of what he felt were the fittest individuals by providing monetary incentives.1 Shortly thereafter, many intellectuals and political leaders (e.g., Alexander Graham Bell, Winston Churchill, John Maynard Keynes, and Woodrow Wilson) accepted the notion that modern societies, as a matter of policy, should promote the improvement of the human race through various forms of governmental intervention. While initially this desire was manifested as the promotion of selective breeding, it ultimately contributed to the intellectual underpinnings of state-sponsored discrimination, forced sterilization, and genocide.

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2757926/

      You can see the same pattern of researchers tying it into widespread topics, mixture with “folk” knowledge as it is popularized, and advocating for massive government intervention.

      Eventually this drives the research to become mired in politics, any dissenters are shunned, and powerful political groups actually follow the bad ideas generated by the resulting echo chamber to their logical conclusion. This then leads to some horrific outcome that eventually wakes people up.

      Not sure what the last two steps will be in the current case, perhaps some “weather modification” program that goes awry…

      Afaict, mixing politics and science brings down science rather than raises up politics.

      • Andrew says:

        Anon:

        I’m confused. Are you saying that you think Lizzie’s project is a bad idea because you don’t think scientists should study climate change?

        • AllanC says:

          I think Anoneuoid is suggesting that there is a perverse incentive for researchers to somehow link their research programs to hot topics of the day (e.g. climate change, artificial intelligence, etc.). But not necessarily because it makes for a better research program, but because it’s the cool thing to do and….you’re more likely to get grant money.

          If that is in fact the sentiment Anon is expressing, I would generally agree with it. Is that the case in this exact research program? Donnu.

          Also, I agree with Rahul. A more interesting direction (for me at least) would be to apply modeling with the intent of making better grapes (however defined) and then map back to climate change, if desired.

          • Anoneuoid says:

            I think Anoneuoid is suggesting that there is a perverse incentive for researchers to somehow link their research programs to hot topics of the day (e.g. climate change, artificial intelligence, etc.). But not necessarily because it makes for a better research program, but because it’s the cool thing to do and….you’re more likely to get grant money.

            Yes, I remember we would hear rumors that “NIH is all about aging this year”, so everyone submitting grants would slightly modify their protocol to used “aged” mice or whatever. That is something that goes on all the time, and I don’t think it is a particularly productive way of incentivizing good research into a topic.

            The eugenics/climate stuff goes far beyond that though.

            • Dalton says:

              You seem to have the causality of politicization backwards. Climate change science is politicized because the action it requires if you take the science seriously is detrimental to certain powerful industrial/political powers.

              Speaking for the role of scientists and policy makers, our job as scientists is to provide the best possible information on the coupled physical/biological systems without advocating for a particular policy action. Imagine that process as: If you do A, then consequence B will follow. On the otherhand if you do C, then D will follow. It is the role of the policy makers (elected officials) to make policy based off that science. In my professional capacity (not personal capacity as a voter and citizen), I am 100% fine if a policy maker says “you know what, we’ve considered your science and your results, but we’ve decided that the economic consequence of doing A outweigh the environmental and human health consequences.” What I am not okay with is having my personal and scientific integrity attacked because certain powers don’t like what the science says.

              Unfortunately, certain forces have decided that it is a stronger rhetorical strategy to attack the science and the integrity of scientists and DENY the overwhelming evidence of climate change, rather than say to the public that “yes climate change is happening, and it has profound environmental and economic consequences that will only get more severe, but the unborn don’t vote and I much prefer the short-term gains of pumping more oil” (In other words, “F*** ’em, I got mine.”)

              So while you’re obliquely attacking the integrity of climate scientist by comparing them to eugenics, I’m going to skip the subtlety, because frankly I’m tired of being polite with so-called-skeptics pretending at being principled. To wit: you’re a goddamn idiot, Anoneuoid.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                You seem to have the causality of politicization backwards. Climate change science is politicized because the action it requires if you take the science seriously is detrimental to certain powerful industrial/political powers.

                What does it matter to the researcher? The field is politicized so they can’t do the unbiased work. The rest of your post goes on about this irrelevancy, until it closes with an ad hominem attack.

                It comes down to: Why would I, the researcher, want to do work I think may be suppressed if I happen to get the “wrong” result?

                That is why I would stay away from any politicized topic. You can’t do honest work and may end up wasting your time fighting political battles (“changing peoples minds”).

                I’m not someone who enjoys that type of thing. I left academia because I found myself wasting most of my time arguing about statistical significance instead of doing research, and the people misusing statistical significance made themselves impossible to ignore by demanding I design my research around it at every turn.

        • Anoneuoid says:

          I don’t know anything about this research in particular, but studying how to best grow various crops under various future climates seems like a good idea. Due to the politicization, I suspect they are only focused on one possible future climate scenario though.

          • Anoneuoid says:

            I looked at the most recent paper from the site to get an idea:

            Our results suggest that predicting the spring phenology of communities will be difficult, as all species we studied could have complex, nonlinear responses to future warming.
            […]
            These trends combined with our results mean that all 28 species we studied could potentially show complex, nonlinear responses in the future, with cascading community and ecosystem consequences.

            http://temporalecology.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Flynn__Wolkovich_2018.pdf

            Future warming is assumed. I suspect no one is even studying other possibilities, which I have mentioned on here before I find very dangerous.

            Also, from skimming it, that paper doesn’t seem to be too biased towards framing whatever the effects of “warming” would be as “bad”. However, I see phrases like “cascading community and ecosystem consequences”, which sounds more ominous than need be.

            And I was surprised to see they do not include an effect of increased CO2 in their experiments (only temperature, photoperiod, and chilling), since that is what is supposed to lead to the warming. The increased temperatures they study (~5 K) assume something like a doubling of CO2 (if you believe the IPCC climate sensitivity values). I would think doubling the amount of food available would make the plants more robust to other issues.

          • Rahul says:

            How to grow grapes in future climate conditions would be good. But isn’t that different from studying how grapes affect climate? My impression was that the latter was the goal here.

            • Anoneuoid says:

              From reading the summary and skimming papers from the lab it is clear they are more concerned with what the effects of (one specific possible scenario) of climate change will be on grapes. They hope to pick and choose which cultivar (correct term?) would be best for various regions under the scenario they studied.

  2. Roy says:

    I’m sorry but everyone has clearly missed the most important part of this:

    “Applicants must be willing to travel to the Okanagan winegrowing region (in southern British Columbia) and France for field work and to meet with collaborators. “

    How dare they expect that??!!!?? When I first saw this elsewhere, I passed it on because some people I know might be interested in it, but also added that I was hoping to have my Position Description changed so that I would be “required” to go to Napa and Sonoma. Or if you saw the other position that went along with it, as a colleague said:

    “Any job announcement that has the phrase “Chardonnay versus Cabarnet-Sauvignon” in it, is my kind of position….”

  3. awinter says:

    That looks like a great position and some excellent travel opportunities. I briefly thought about applying for that over my morning coffee.

  4. Ben says:

    Can we have grapes too?

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