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Interview with Nature on being a couple in academia

Mette Bendixen

Published on Valentine’s Day earlier this year, what better date to share Lars’ and my experience of being a couple in academia.

We talked with Nature’s Career Editor David Payne about being parents and husband and wife while working together as colleagues. Our situation is also in some ways challenging, as Lars is affiliated with Arizona State and I work at University of Colorado, Boulder. We live in Boulder, Colorado with our five year old son. This means that Lars travels roughly once a month for a short week’s time to Tempe, Arizona.

I know quite a few people in Academia, who have partners in other states, sometimes even in other countries. It’s hard, and there are many ways to work around this - everyone’s different and there sure is no right way of dealing with this. In the article, we describe our situation and how we’ve chosen to balance everything.

You can read it HERE

Denmark’s exemplary gender balance falls short NEW Correspondence in Nature

Mette Bendixen

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Is excellence in Science a man’s domain? 

My colleagues in DANWISE (Danish Society for Women in Science) and I have articulated the need for a better gender balance in academia in Nature as a response to a News Feature article in Nature ‘Science in Europe: by the numbers’

Denmark is among the world’s leading scientific countries in terms of output, citations and funding but its gender balance in science lags embarrassingly behind that in many other European Union countries.

Given the generally high level of equality in Denmark, and some of the best provisions in the world for parental leave and child-care it is alarming that Denmark is still so far behind other EU countries. Danish women constitute significantly less of the professor population, secure less of the larger grants, and constitute a smaller proportion of members of national academies. As an example, between 20-30% of money allocated by Danish funding bodies are received by women.

All these metrics and indices are highly influential in securing the move up the career ladder. Consequently, there is a clear waste of potential, especially since women make up +50% of the graduate student population but only 20% remain at the professor level.

Scientific excellence should not only be a matter of ranking high and having high citation impacts. Only by incorporating women at equal levels to men, true scientific excellence is created.

I am proud to have written this piece and to be a part of DANWISE.

It's time to start caring about sand - New Comment in Nature

Mette Bendixen

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On July 4th, Nature published our Comment ‘Time is running out for sand’.

I really like how this piece came to life; At AGU2018 in Washington, I met Chris Hackney, who is at the University of Hull. He presented his work on sand mining in the Mekong delta on a poster in a session, I hadn’t visited if he hadn’t tweeted about it (hint: twitter is an excellent source to communicate your work!).

I was so excited about his work and excited to see at least one other person among AGU’s 28.000 participants interested in the problem related to the global sand crisis. We met again a few days later as I presented a poster on ‘The promises and Perils of sand exploitation in Greenland’, and decided to stay in touch after AGU.

With Lars Lønsmann Iversen from Arizona State joining in on our brainstorm on how to go further with this work, we Skype’d a few times over Christmas and in the first weeks of January. We quickly realized that there was extremely little data on sand mining and that no global overview of actual numbers on sand dredging exists. So, what to do? We asked Jim Best from University of Illinios if he wanted to work with us on the project, and decided we had to write a call for action - this piece that’s now published as a Comment.

Our hope is, that it will spark interest and gain the attention from peers, this global problem so desperately needs.

Read more about our work on the global sandcrisis HERE

My work featured in the New York Times

Mette Bendixen

On June 1st I arrived in Nuuk - for an intense week. I’d rented a boat through The Greenland Institute of Natural Resources that would take me and a few colleagues to the Sermilik Fjord somewhat 100 km S of Nuuk. With me I had Henry Fountain, a climate reporter and Ben C. Solomon a filmmaker and journalist both from the New York Times. Going there by boat was fascinating as you really got the impression of just how big this site is. The Sermilik delta is one of the deltas in Greenland that has prograded the most since the 1980’s. It’s also the place in Greenland, where most sediment is poured out into on single fjord.

The following day we did a helicopter ride to this site and its neighbouring deltas. To see this place again but from a completely different angle - just 24 hours after we literally was right in the centre of the delta - was one of the most spectacular experiences I’ve had in Greenland.

Henry and Ben have produced this feature article in the New York Times where you can see all the beautiful videos and photos and read the story.

New publication: Greenland and its potential role in the global sand crisis

Mette Bendixen

Nuuk. Photo:  A.Gavin Zeitz .

Nuuk. Photo: A.Gavin Zeitz.

Perspective in Nature Sustainability - open access to the article is HERE

The latest version of Nature Sustainability holds a Perspective I’ve written together with colleagues from Denmark and the US. It’s entitled “Promises and Perils of sand exploitation in Greenland” and we propose the idea that Greenland could develop its economy and create much needed prosperity while contributing to solve the global sandcrisis.

A Perspective cannot present new data, so instead we discuss the idea and the pros and cons while engaging into existing literature on the topics related to Greenland and to the sand crisis. We wrote a short comment in Science last year called “Greenland: Build an economy on sand”, and the background for the present work is based on this idea.

Greenland operates as a self-governing country under the Kingdom of Denmark. Roughly half of the national budget is subsidized by a block grant, thus Greenland has a great need to develop new sources of revenue to gain increased economic independence and to meet rising social costs associated with an aging population.

As global temperatures are rising, the warming is particularly pronounced in the Arctic regions. This means a continuous mass loss from the Greenland Ice sheet. With the increasing rates of glacier calving and melting comes an increase in river runoff and transportation of sediment to the ocean. These contributions are so massive that they are relevant in a global context and could serve as potential sources for the global market.

Despite the global prevalence of sand, this natural resource is running low, largely due to exponentially increasing human appropriation. Simultaneously, as climate changes, the world’s population becomes increasingly vulnerable and faces great challenges in adapting infrastructure to changing climate, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather events. These changes and growing threats from climate change further strain global sand deposits. To put it into perspective; China used as much sand the last decade, as the US did the last century.

A sand mining industry in Greenland can help to create prosperity for the country, if the establishment and implementation is managed with strict Greenlandic legislation. Future research will be essential to document the persistence and quality of sand delivered to the coast and how sand mining impacts local ecosystems and associated ecosystem services. With the Perspective, we propose Greenland could benefit from the challenges brought by climate change.

Read the story ‘Behind the Paper’, I’ve written for the Nature Community HERE

The year 2018 was...

Mette Bendixen

… the year where I moved to Boulder, Colorado with my husband Lars and my son Bille to start my Carlsberg fellowship at The Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at University of Colorado, Boulder.

…the year where I, for the first time, could add an award to my CV. I’ve never won anything before - besides from a blue plastic watch when I was 8 - but I was awarded the SCIENCE PhD Prize from University of Copenhagen for best PhD at the Faculty of Science.

… the year where my imposter syndrome has thrived the most, I think. Starting the fellowship I was awarded by the Carlsbergfoundation was nerve wracking in the sense, that I felt “You got the money, now go make some kick ass research”. I remember the first days in my new office - I spent quite some time putting up stuff on my walls to make my office seems like mine, so that I felt at home and safe to start working on something slightly outside my comfort zone. Luckily, as a postdoctoral fellow you have the freedom to pursue your ideas and that helped me a lot to get started. I started working on a Perspective, that got accepted right before Christmas. More to come on this!

… the year I engaged into diversity and general working conditions in academia. This led to a comment in Science “Funding agencies can prevent harassment” written together with my husband Lars, and I’ve gotten involved in establishing the network DANWISE (The Danish Society for Women in Science) which will be launched in the new year. More on this in the new year!

Exciting to see what 2019 will bring!

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I have won a prize!! The PhD Prize 2018 from the Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen

Mette Bendixen

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I am so very honoured to receive the 2018 PhD award for most outstanding PhD dissertation from the Faculty of Science at University of Copenhagen.

Tuesday I flew to Copenhagen to participate in the ceremony for the annual PhD Graduation Ceremony that was held Friday afternoon in the beautiful auditorium at the Frederiksberg Campus.

I was asked to give a short presentation on the main findings of my thesis, and this is the first talk I’ve given where I’ve solely showed photos. This has always been something I’ve wanted to do. Simply showing beautiful photos while telling a capturing story is to me the most interesting way to communicate your research. And beautiful photos of a changing Arctic combined with impressive and colourful photos of the Greenlandic deltas constitute a good background for a good story.

The main findings of my thesis in two lines:

“In my PhD I showed, that the deltas of Greenland react completely opposite of the remaining coasts in the Arctic and the worlds deltas, when climate is warming; They grow bigger!”

Read more about it HERE

Vacation 2018 Rocky Mountains

Mette Bendixen

Since we just moved to the US in Spring this year, we thought why not spend our summer vacation in the area and get to know the “local” mountains better. We live in Boulder, Colorado which has mountains in its backyard - For this vacation we wanted to go a bit further away into the Rockies…. 

So, we decided to do some car camping just North of Rocky Mountain National Park. With a four-year old, we need to plan for great places to cool off during the day - preferably also with space enough for a good soccer match too. We did a rather thorough job in finding some great places beforehand, where we could do ‘dispersed camping’, meaning we could camp there without booking a site in advance and instead just camp whereever we wanted without getting in trouble with the rangers.

We spent one night close to the tree-line south of Red Feather Lake, followed by a night at The Lost Lake - where we also celebrated my son Billes fourth birthday. Presents, flowers and sweets for breakfast made up a good start to his day! Our final night in tent was spent at a beautiful place with a river running by and we had the pleasure of being woken up by a moose grazing outside our tent!!

I keep being amazed by the similarities parts of the landscape has with North-East Greenland, once you get up high enough - though the flora and fauna here in The Rockies is much much more diverse and green. My son knows I work in Greenland, and since he hasn't been yet, it's nice to show him a landscape that in many ways resembles Greenland. I’m planning on bringing him with me for next field season in Greenland.

New publication: Letter in Science

Mette Bendixen

Funding agencies can prevent harassment

In Science this week, I've written a letter together with Lars Lønsmann Iversen as a response to the vast amount of stories and research on harassment in academia. Editorials and #metoo-stories - predominantly told by women - have revealed that experiences with unsafe working environments, inapropriate behavior, harassment and sexual assaults are widespread within science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The letter propose that funding agencies have the power to be a part of this highly necessary shift in the academic culture. By incorporating code of conducts for acceptable behavoir from their grant recipients, they are forced to integrate safety standards into grant proposals. 

The broad spectrum of players involved in science should all participate to create an inclusive and responsible culture to ensure a safe workspace in academia. 

Read the Article HERE

 

Post doc funding from Carlsbergfoundation

Mette Bendixen

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Yep, my postdoc grant comes from a beer company! - or the story is as it's written on the webpage "The Carlsberg Foundation is one of the world’s oldest industrial foundations. Here, ambitious brewing enterprise blossoms side by side with research and support for the finest science, art and culture". The foundation supports basic scientific research within the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. 

I've received two years of funding to focus on my research at University of Colorado, Boulder at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. I will work on the PROGLAKE project to investigate the role of proglacial lakes in Greenland on landscape dynamics. 

Luckily, my husband Lars Lønsmann Iversen has received money from the foundation as well! So we're currently one big happy family - pretty busy preparing for a big change though!

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AGU FALL MEETING 2017

Mette Bendixen

At this years AGU Fall Meeting in New Orleans, I'll be presenting the work, we published in Nature earlier in October this year. 

The title of my poster is 'Delta progradation in Greenland driven by increasing glacial mass loss' in the Cryosphere session C31A 'Arctic Coastal Dynamics: Processes, Rates, and Spatial Variability Posters' - Wednesday 13, December in the morning session.

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Writing a Nature paper with your boyfriend

Mette Bendixen

In late 2015, during my PhD, I couldn't get rid of this idea I've had since I started the position in summer 2012. Eventually, I kept talking so much about it, that my boyfriend Lars Lønsmann Iversen, who was also doing his PhD at the time, started to give me so many great inputs to things I (which later became WE....) could do - AND that's how I ended up sharing a first-authorship with my boyfriend. For almost two years, we've worked on this paper together with friends and colleagues. 

It has been quite a ride - and I wont hesitate to do it again. 

The long and winding submitting phase requires beer and licorice

The long and winding submitting phase requires beer and licorice

Submitting 40-something documents

Submitting 40-something documents

Read Lars' version of the whole process on his webpage www.lifeinmud.com

New publication: NATURE paper about the deltas of Greenland

Mette Bendixen

October 5, 2017 was a great day - It was the day, the paper I first-authored was published in Nature. 

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Here's Editor Michael White's summary of our work:

"Climate change has the potential to erode coastlines, for example as a result of increased wave activity, but the net effect depends on the balance between creative and destructive forces. Mette Bendixen and colleagues show that deltas in southwestern Greenland have grown over the past few decades, following a period of stability in the mid-twentieth century. The delta expansions occurred during periods of reduced sea ice and increased melt from the Greenland Ice Sheet. Although many coastlines remain under threat, these findings reveal the intimate interactions that arise in a warming climate. A loss of ice seems to lead to increased sediment delivery, which has resulted in the expansion, rather than degradation, of Greenland's deltas."

You can read the article HERE

ZACKENBERG, NE GREENLAND - September 2017

Mette Bendixen

In september, I visited the fantastic Zackenberg research station in NE Greenland for two weeks. My latest visit was in 2013, where I collected data for my PhD. 

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The purpose of this years fieldwork was to investigate beach-ridge plains in the Young Sound Fjord and collect ground penetrating radar (GPR) data and sediment for optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) datings. With this, we want to establish relative sea-level curves for the Northeastern part of Greenland.