Results from the Early Career member survey

Post written by Sarah Supp

In October, we took a brief survey of our members to try to identify what topics are of key concern for the Early Career Ecologist (ECE) Section and to address a few questions that ESA leadership specifically had regarding early career perspectives on ESA membership. I attended the ESA Governing Board meeting November 5-6, 2015 and had several great conversations with ESA scientists and staff on the topics identified in the survey responses, and by members who contributed to our ESA 2016 planning google doc.* I’d like to note that ESA Leadership is very receptive to addressing early career concerns and interested in staying up-to-date with the perspective of its early career members.


77 of our members responded to the survey across many different career types and career stages – Thanks!

From the survey, I was able to identify 4 main areas of feedback and potential priorities for our Section to tackle and discuss within the Ecological Society of America: Membership, Career Resources, Family and Work-Life Challenges, and Costs. Some of these are relatively low-hanging fruit, some require more time, human, or financial investment to make happen, and some are potentially out of our control. If you have further ideas or would like to make suggestions or volunteer help, please get in touch with us in the comments, via twitter, or by sending us an email (

1. Membership


Roughly 55% of early career members plan to automatically renew their ESA membership yearly, regardless of their attendance at the annual meeting. Approximately 30% do not plan to renew each year, and 15% aren’t sure (many of these were new members or cited recent moves or changes in career). Renewing members most often cited professional allegiance to their society as a reason for renewing, followed by access to year-round benefits, and reasonable cost as their main motivations for maintaining membership. Non-renewing members cited unstable job status, don’t always attend annual meeting, unsure of the value of year-round benefits to membership, and non-reimbursed cost as main obstacles to re-joining yearly.

2. Career Resources and Opportunities

Access to career resources (academic and non academic) were also a top concern among early career ecologists. Members would like to see a more organized job board at the meeting, and better online resources. Currently, job postings are scattered across Ecolog-L, The Physiological Ecology Section website, google job wiki, google docs spreadsheet (for 2015-2016), Science Careers, USA Jobs, etc… There is also a need for more guidance on applying to academic and (especially) non academic jobs. These are topics that the Early Career Section can potentially take the lead on in the future, with the help and support of ESA and of members who are dedicated to building and/or maintaining these resources. Any volunteers?

3. Family and Work-Life Challenges

As indicated in the survey and in the planning document for ESA 2016, many early career members are thinking about challenges related to intersections of work and life, including job flexibility, family leave, and childcare policies. Access to the appropriately flexible family politices and accommodations disproportionately affects attendees in the student and early career stages (representing roughly ~10% of ESA membership), although it certainly impacts many other members.
Many of our members have expressed an appreciation for ESA’s family-friendly policies at meetings, and for providing access to on-site childcare. However, there appears to be some confusion on if there are accommodations for nursing or bottle feeding parents of infants who attend the meeting, or if caregivers are able to access the meeting for baby hand-offs. Several ECE members worked to bring together information on what other large meetings offer for parent attendees, compile a list of what accommodations are needed, and to propose ways we can help set up accommodations and better advertise them to ESA attendees. After discussing this with ESA leadership and staff, I am happy to report that:
  1. There are plans for private lactation rooms, equipped with outlets and comfortable chairs, to be at the 2016 Ft. Lauderdale ESA annual meeting.
  2. Infant caregivers who attend the meeting with a parent requiring a baby hand-off during the meeting will be allowed free access, but they need to request a special (FREE) guest badge. Caregiver access can be requested during meeting registration, under the tab for ADA or Special Accommodations. Caregivers with free access to the conference center will not be allowed in the exhibit hall (poster room) or into any special meetings, socials, or receptions – this would require registration for the meeting.
  3. The ECE Section will work to help advertise these accommodations as the meeting gets closer, and to hopefully make the available accommodations more clear on our website and on the ESA annual meeting website so attendees can plan more easily.

4. Hierarchical Fee Structure

Many early career members brought up cost as a central concern – an issue that our Section may or may not be able to address, given constraints on the Society’s current structure and budget. But because it was mentioned so often in our survey, I wanted to include it here as representative of early career concerns. Often, early career ecologists are in transitional or unstable career positions, or even unemployed between jobs. Because a higher proportion of their salary goes to benefits/taxes than most student salaries, they are not always adequately supported to travel to meetings by their advisers’ grants, and because this time in their life often coincides with major, costly, life changes (e.g., moving, starting a family) it could be beneficial to offer an intermediate rate, or an alternate option, for lowered meeting costs, instead of equating early career ecologists to established professionals in the cost structure. For example, at the 2015 ESA Centennial meeting in Baltimore, the registration cost difference for students vs. post-grad attendees is more than double ($170 greater for early registration, $215 greater for regular registration and $220 greater for on-site registration).


Full-Week Registration Fees (from ESA100 registration link)

Early Bird
thru 5 PM EST June 18

June 19-5 PM EST July 23

After 5 PM July 23

ESA Regular Member $335 $390 $415
ESA Student Member $165 $175 $195
Emeritus Member $165 $175 $195
Regular Non-Member $485 $550 $580
Student Non-Member $210 $235 $265
K-12/Pre-College Educator $210 $235 $265
Developing Country Member* $155 $175 $195
There are examples of other conferences that scale attendance fees based on number of years post-terminal-degree, or have a reduced fee available upon request or petition. Members made many different suggestions, including: intermediate fee for postdoc/early career members, an option to petition for a lower meeting registration fee (e.g. if unemployed), sliding scale membership fee based on income level or number of years post-grad, reduced lifetime membership fees (for those joining at early career stage), and make it possible to pay lifetime membership fee in installments instead of all at once.

Additional member comments and suggestions

We also asked members to tell us what benefits the liked most about being an ESA member, and what areas they felt ESA could most improve on that Early Career Ecologist Section could potentially help tackle in upcoming years. I’ve highlighted a few of the responses below, in no particular order:

ESA membership benefits

  • discounted registration cost for ESA annual meeting
  • year-round access to ESA journals (e.g. Ecology, Ecosphere, Frontiers, etc.)
  • reduced publication costs in ESA journals
  • access to networking and positive, collaborative environment and colleagues
  • opportunities available through joining a Section
  • a sense of community

Potential areas for improvement within ESA, and that ECE Section to focus on

  • enhanced mentoring for postdocs and early career folks in general**
  • promote more networking and mentoring interactions for early career members***
  • continued commitment and improvment to family friendly accommodations****
  • Lowered early career meeting fee
  • increased funding opportunities for non-US citizens, or more advertisement for these opportunities if they already exist
  • more year-round activities to stay engaged and have a sense of community (e.g. regional meetings, webinars)*****
  • better designed online and at-the-meeting job board
  • more linkages outside the academic community, for careers, collaboration, and outreach opportunities
  • workshops/guidance on publishing in ESA journals
  • more formal early career representation in ESA governing board and committees
  • default open twitter policy******
  • increased diversity of ESA members


* I just want to state that using a google doc to collect ideas, discuss options, mobilize and delegate members to take leadership roles with planning proposed events, and to keep track of progress towards our Section’s goals worked AMAZING. I highly recommend it. Thanks everyone for stepping up and working together!

* this was brought up by many respondents

** This ECE Section has submitted a long-range grant proposal for mentoring activities, that builds on last year’s Centennial Mentoring Program

*** Members would like to see enhanced family accommodations and flexibility both at the ESA annual meeting and in their workplaces

**** The ECE Section’s proposed long-range grant includes funding for a webinar series, as this is also feedback we got during our annual Business Meeting at the ESA meeting this year.

***** The confusion surrounding the twitter policy at the Baltimore ESA meeting has already been addressed, and the official guidelines for the Ft. Lauderdale meeting can be viewed here. The default assumption will be that it is OK to tweet talks, but that presenters’ wishes to “opt-out” should be made clear and respected by attendees.