The state of debates at the 2018 Society for Systematic Biologists meeting

This is a guest post from Ohio State PhD Candidate Megan Smith

On June 1-4, 2018, the Society for Systematic Biologists will host its third annual stand-alone meeting. The meeting will be held in Columbus, OH and will include workshops, lightning talks, and debates. The planning committee is hard at work on the schedule, and we’re interested in your input!

The aim of the debates is to discuss ideas and issues that are central to the field of systematic biology. In past meetings, debaters have presented a short introduction to the topic before engaging the audience and other discussants in the topic. If all goes well, audience members will talk as much as the debaters and moderators, and the discussion will push itself forward with little need for the pre-determined questions developed by the moderator. We hope that the debates will be engaging for graduate students, postdocs, and faculty alike, and a big part of designing discussions that will engage all levels of professionals is getting input from as many of you as possible about the topics that interest you.

These topics can be wide-ranging and could focus on both theoretical and empirical issues. For example, you might think about problems that you run into when using next-generation sequence data (or other data) to answer questions that interest you. Are you at a loss when you try to decide on a method to answer a particular question? In what ways are the methods falling short of the data, or vice-versa?

Last year’s four debates covered a wide-array of topics, varying in their focus on theoretical and practical issues. Scott Edwards and Gavin Naylor kicked off the debates by delving into the theory behind gene tree variation, and Mark Holder and Rachel Schwartz wrapped things up with a more applied question: how do I deal with my missing data? In between, Emily Jane McTavish and Matt Hahn argued about when we should use gene trees and when we should use species trees, and Frank Burbrink and Robb Brumfield discussed the ever-present question: what are we actually delimiting when we use ‘species delimitation’ methods?

This year, we hope to come up with just as wide an array of questions, and we hope that you’ll help us organize debates that will make you want to stand up, grab the mic, and get involved (which is highly encouraged)!

If you have ideas, please email them to one of the meeting organizers listed here or comment below. We can’t wait for another productive meeting!


Megan Smith (

Bryan Carstens (

Laura Kubatko (

Marymegan Daly (


About Rob Denton

I'm a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UConn. I'm most interested in understanding the evolutionary/ecological consequences of strange reproduction in salamanders (unisexual Ambystoma). Topics I'm likely to write about: population and landscape genetics, mitonuclear interactions, polyploidy, and reptiles/amphibians.
This entry was posted in career, community and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.