Short courses at EGU 2018

Short courses at EGU 2018

At this year’s General Assembly there are loads of short courses to choose from for broadening your expertise. You can supercharge your scientific skills, broaden your base in science communication and pick up tips on how to boost your career – be it in academia or outside. There is also a course aimed at making your time at the conference easier – be sure to take part, especially if it is your first time! And, if you do attend the short courses, don’t forget to share your experience with other conference participants on social media using the dedicated hashtag: #EGU18SC. Here’s a small selection of what’s in store at EGU 2018:

Supercharge your science – new techniques and dealing with data

Tips and tricks to boost your career

Being able to secure your own funding for research is key to a successful academic career and will give you important skills applicable to industry jobs too, so why not check out these three grant writing courses?

A selection of short courses focused on career development and improving your chances of landing your dream job. (Photo by Nick Youngson, distributed via Blue Diamond Gallery)

Additionally, you can also improve the chances of landing your dream job by attending these career development sessions.

You can also gain very useful insight from those who have done it before, so why not take part in your Division’s ‘Meet the masters’ session? Here you’ll be able to meet experts in the field who can give you tips on how to get the most out of your career.

Science communication skills

With a growing emphasis on engaging the public with science and research, we have many workshops designed to develop your communication skills.

The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 8 to 13 April. Check out the full session programme, for a complete list of short courses available, on the General Assembly website.

Migrating scientists

Migrating scientists

Scientific research is no doubt enriched by interdisciplinarity and collaborations which cross borders. This, combined with the scarcity of academic positions and the need to further ones horizons by experiencing varied research environments, leads many scientists to relocate (if only on a short term basis) to a country which is not their own.  In today’s post, freelance science writer Robert Emberson explores the pros and cons of the nomadic lifestyle many researchers find themselves embracing in order to forward their work.

Scientists can consider themselves a lucky group of people. Having colleagues across the world working passionately at advancing the spectrum of human knowledge offers more opportunities to collaborate across national borders than perhaps any other field of human endeavour. Working with researchers of different nationalities is a chance to share ideas and experience; more often than not, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In many cases though, this collaboration requires scientists to move their whole lives, temporarily or permanently, to new countries. Research on a given topic is almost never focused in one geographic region, and so a significant minority of scientists leave their homeland to pursue their careers. In September this year, the Twitter account @realscientists started a discussion about the implications of this movement, under the hashtag #migratingscientists. Many researchers shared inspirational and personal tales about their peripatetic lifestyles, and these brief snippets serve as a useful insight into the disruptive nature of crossing borders for work.

What are the deeper lessons we can take from scientists who migrate for work? What impact does it have on their scientific, and personal lives?

A recent analysis of published studies has suggested that migrating might well improve the career prospects of scientists. Sugimoto and colleagues analysed the citation scores of 14 million papers (between 2008 and 2015) from 16 million authors, and found that, in general, those written by scientists who moved country during that time have citation scores 40% higher than those by authors who remained put. Surprisingly, despite a perception that international collaboration is widespread, only 4% of the scientists in the dataset moved during the window of observation.

The perception of extensive movement for researchers may be coloured by science in the English-speaking world. Foreign-born researchers make up 27% of scientists or engineers in the USA, and 13% in the UK. These countries seem to benefit significantly in terms of the impact of the research produced within their borders; countries with greater mobility tend to produce more highly cited papers. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, at least in terms of citations, and moreover researchers returning home can bring with them a wider network of colleagues, potentially boosting research and development in their own countries.

I spoke to the lead author, Professor Sugimoto, about these trends, and she told me that much of it comes down to what is available in these countries.

“Scholars do best when they have access to resources (personnel, infrastructure, and materials)”, she says. “Countries with high scientific capacity and investment also tend to have a critical mass of scholars. Collaboration has been linked to higher production and citation, so it is no surprise that those with access to enlarge their network are likely to be successful on these metrics.”

The US and UK are two countries where open borders are increasingly under attack. Immigration is always a hot-button topic, and while in both countries an opposition to immigration is not necessarily new, increased restrictions on immigration are now more likely with a Republican-led government in the US and Brexit in the UK. Already there are suggestions that researchers are increasingly looking elsewhere for positions; based on the studies, this could lead to a decline in the impact of research from these countries.

As shown by Prof Sugimoto and colleagues, scientists don’t exactly fit into the standard definition of immigrant. The researchers point toward mobility, rather than migration, as the important descriptive term here. Scientists tend to return to their home country after spending time abroad, and as such represent temporary migrants, rather than permanent. Social attitudes towards skilled workers tend to be different to those surrounding long-term immigrants and it would benefit researchers if policymakers went out of their way to emphasise that scientists fit into this category.

According to Professor Sugimoto, the short-term nature of mobility is what is most beneficial.

“Unless these scholars maintain ties with their home countries, emigration is likely to yield to deficits for other countries. Circulation, on the other hand, should yield benefits for all countries. Short-term stays can establish ties and provide an influx of resources, without necessarily removing scholars from their home networks.”

Treating scientists as visiting experts, then, is perhaps a more productive way forward.

But immigration visas and increases in citation indices are just one side of the story for scientists. Reading through some of the tweets tagged with #migratingscientists, many focus on the upheaval of their personal lives, for better or worse. It’s sometimes too easy to think about researchers as ‘human capital,’ but each of those humans have personal connections and a definition of home. Some studies suggest that foreign-born researchers may be more productive than their home-grown counterparts, but their satisfaction with life tends to be lower. What’s the deal?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a framework commonly used in sociology to understand the different human requirements and personal development, suggests that the human need for Belonging is more fundamental than the requirement for Self-fulfilment. In other words, before researchers can genuinely accomplish their best work, they have a more basic need for a network of friends and family to belong to, or a place to call home. Finding this sense of belonging can be tricky in a foreign country. Language barriers can make it a struggle to meet new friends, and cultural tropes and mores may be more difficult to transcend than it first seems too, particularly when attitudes towards the researcher’s race or gender differ.

Early career researchers on short-term contracts may also struggle to maintain a sense of belonging to a particular place; extensive travel and fieldwork can exacerbate this. As a PhD student, living in a foreign country and travelling for labwork, field campaigns and conferences I sometimes felt like George Clooney’s character in the film Up in the Air, where he struggles with a life lived out of a backpack and in airport lounges.

Migrating scientists must make choices about close personal relationships; should they leave a partner behind or try to make it work long-distance? It’s doubly difficult to find positions for two people, let alone moving a more extended family. Many of the stories on twitter stress the importance of supportive partner or family.

Pay may also be lower for foreign-born scientists, too. Despite their outsize contribution to research output, foreign scientists in the US may be paid less than their peers, both in terms of salary, and the availability of funding sources. These hurdles make an already tricky transition to a new country significantly harder.

So it seems the research impact on a national and individual scale may benefit from increased mobility of researchers, but at the same time the personal tribulations may make this a challenge for many scientists.

How do scientists weigh up these pros and cons? Well, if Twitter is anything to go on, they’re clearly an enthusiastic bunch of folks, since many of the stories tend to emphasise the fun had along the way, as well as the positive experiences.

Given that these nitty-gritty questions about personal experience are unsurprisingly hard to quantify, our understanding of the impact of mobility on scientists personal lives is often based on these kind of anecdotes; it would be greatly beneficial to survey researchers more widely to ascertain what kind of systematic effects migration induces. A more qualified comparison with the citation-based indices would then be feasible.

For now, even if removing the obstacles to scientists moving across borders may raise questions amongst some policymakers, it would reduce the negative connotations of migrating for research – which might allow for wider collaboration, and a more effective global body of scientists.

By Robert Emberson, freelance science writer

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post that expresses the opinion of its author, whose views may differ from those of the European Geosciences Union. We hope the post can serve to generate discussion and a civilised debate amongst our readers.

GeoTalk: Eleanor Frajka-Williams, the 2017 Ocean Sciences Division Outstanding Early Career Scientists Awardee

GeoTalk: Eleanor Frajka-Williams, the 2017 Ocean Sciences Division Outstanding Early Career Scientists Awardee

Geotalk is a regular feature highlighting early career researchers and their work. Following the EGU General Assembly, we spoke to Eleanor Frajka-Williams, the 2017 Ocean Sciences Division Outstanding Early Career Scientists awardee. In her work, Eleanor uses real-world measurements – from ships, satellites, sea gliders and moorings – to understand how the world’s oceans work. In today’s interview we talk to her a little more about why the oceans are so fundamental to our planet’s health and some of the lesson’s she’s picked up while her career has developed.

Thank you for talking to us today! Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about your career path so far?

Thanks – and it’s great to be able to talk to EGU.  I’m an associate professor of physical oceanography at the University of Southampton.  I started at the University in 2012 after a couple of years as a research fellow at the National Oceanography Centre.  I originally studied applied math at university, but discovered oceanography through an undergraduate research placement and it seemed like a great way to apply math and physics to understanding the natural world.

Your research focuses on the world’s oceans, what attracted you to study the processes which govern them?

I liked the idea of studying something that was important and intense, but which we couldn’t actually see with the naked eye—because except for the sea surface, everything else is hidden.  But by collecting observations—the right set of observations—we can piece together a picture of what is happening, and maybe think about teasing apart cause and effect.  Add to that the chance to use underwater gliders, piloted remotely by satellite communications, and what’s not to like?

Deep in the bowls of the world’s oceans, huge masses of water move: cold, salty water sinks, while warmer water rises. Your work focuses on understanding how and why this happens. Can you tell us a little more about these processes?

The ocean is typically stratified, meaning that light waters overly dense waters.  The global ocean overturning circulation describes how the ocean circulation moves through the warm equatorial regions, towards the northern North Atlantic where waters are progressively cooled and transformed, to the point where they sink.  These deep waters then move south and are upwelled either around Antarctica or in distributed mixing regions around the ocean basins.

While this circulation pattern is sometimes called the ‘great ocean conveyor’, suggesting that there is a single pathway moving at a consistent speed, it’s really a set of interconnected processes including the sinking, upwelling and also interplay with the ocean gyres (wind-driven ocean currents) and between the atmosphere and ocean.

One of the most dramatic of these processes—deep ocean convection—occurs in the northern North Atlantic when cold dry winds originating over the Canadian arctic cool the surface of the ocean to the point where the waters become as dense as, or denser than, the water 1000 m deep.  During this turbulent sinking, carbon and heat are stored in the deep ocean where they may stay for centuries.

And these ocean processes also have an effect on climate too?

We expect that they do.  On long timescales (paleo-timescales), we have extensive evidence that changes in the global overturning circulation coincided with rapid changes in global temperatures.  In some cases, the shutdown of the global overturning circulation resulted from a large input of freshwater (about 100,000 km3) being dumped over the northern North Atlantic from the ice sheet melting over Canada.  This freshwater would then float on the surface of the ocean, and because it’s so buoyant, could reduce or even prevent deep convection and through it, the overturning.

In the present-day climate, we have seen mini-versions of this happening.  In the 1960s, the ‘Great Salinity Anomaly’, which should really be called the ‘Great Freshwater Anomaly’ saw the input of about 20,000 km3 of freshwater to the northern North Atlantic.  Deep convection was suppressed for several years.  Unfortunately, we don’t have any observations of what the overturning was doing at the time though the deep western boundary current (considered to be the southward flowing limb of the overturning) was still active.

It’s still a tricky problem to try to sort out, because there are limited observations and a lot of moving parts to the problem (the sinking, the southward and northward flow, and the role of the gyres or atmosphere).

If freshwater is the culprit, for a reduced overturning, we will need to keep a close eye on Greenland, which is a major reservoir of freshwater in the region.  It has been melting more quickly and some new evidence suggests that it could begin to influence (slow down) the overturning in the next 10 years.

It wasn’t just your scientific work which led to you being named OS Division Outstanding Early Career Scientists, but also your work to promote and support budding scientists. What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt transitioning between being a fledgling researcher to an associate professor?

Being able to support young scientists is one of the most rewarding things about my job.  It is refreshing and inspiring to work with people starting to make discoveries of their own.

Some of the lessons I’ve learned are that work-life balance is an ongoing endeavour, and it’s rare to always be ‘in balance’, but aiming for a healthy average is a good start.

I’ve also discovered that with each promotion (or each life transition, e.g. starting a family), time becomes less abundant.  So, I’ve added strategies for efficiency along the way—and of course, with more experience, tasks that took forever the first time, take a lot less time now.  And every now and then, I find it can be useful to ‘drop the ball’ and ignore those pressing administrative or other duties, and just do a bit of science.  It helps to remember what I got into it for.

Interview by Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer