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Early Career Scientists

The ReSToRE summer school on the sustainable development of Earth resources: reflecting back

The ReSToRE summer school on the sustainable development of Earth resources: reflecting back

How can we source and use Earth resources in an ethical and responsible way? And how can we bring different actors and communities together to achieve sustainable resource development? These are just some of the questions that early career researchers from around the world came together to discuss during the inaugural Researching Social Theories, Resources, and the Environment International Summer School, held at the University College Dublin last month. In this blog post, Anthea Lacchia, a postdoctoral researcher at the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences, and Jen Roberts, a Chancellor’s Fellow in Energy at the University of Strathclyde, share their experience reporting on this summer school.

On the first week of July 2019, we were lucky enough to be part of a very special gathering of geoscientists and social scientists from developed and developing countries at University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland. The occasion that brought them all together was the inaugural Researching Social Theories, Resources, and Environment (ReSToRE) International Summer School.

The goal of the ReSToRE summer school was to enable critical cross-disciplinary discussions around the sustainable sourcing and use of Earth resources now and in the future. Big topic, right? And certainly one that can only be tackled by bringing together different perspectives, as became apparent during the week.

Organised by iCRAG, the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences, the summer school included 42 early career researchers and recent graduates from 28 nations including 18 developing countries.

“Moving forward for sustainable development is very complicated,” said Murray Hitzman, Director of iCRAG. “Not only are there technical challenges in terms of Earth resources and energy, but in terms of how people actually perceive both sustainable development and those challenges is even more critical.”

“This summer school is trying to help with this not just in one society, but in multiple societies, and to get those societies to understand one another as well, which is also a huge challenge,” he noted.

The summer school succeeded in creating a stimulating setting for interdisciplinary collaboration, knowledge sharing and network-building. During the week, participants discussed emerging themes pertinent to the future of resourcing and consumption of Earth materials, such as: what drives societal attitudes toward the extraction industry? How can communities have their say in if and how resources near to them are developed? What are the barriers to a circular economy in the resources sector? How can Earth materials be resources in an ethical and responsible way?

Participants took the lead in deliberating these big questions. They were aided by guidance from expert mentors, as well as plenary talks and discussions. The conversations naturally spilled from the workshops into the social events, which included a fieldtrip to Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, the site of an ancient lead, zinc and silver mine, and now a spectacular glacial valley.

And Summer put on a fine performance for the week, allowing the participants to move outside and seek inspiration amongst the fresh air, daisies and curious ducks.

ReSToRE painting by summer school participant and artist, Meenakshi Poti (joint PhD student at Université Libre de Bruxelles and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium).

“Deposits of the metals that we need are irregularly distributed across the globe, and their value must be assessed with respect to sustainable development, alleviation of poverty and empowering of communities,” said International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) Councillor, Edmund Nickless, at the opening session of the summer school.

“This course is asking the right questions at the right time and the mix of social scientists and geoscientists and environmental scientists together is a triangle we really need,” added Ozlem Adiyaman Lopes from UNESCO’s Earth and Ecological Sciences division, who was able to join the summer school for several days.

Amongst participants and expert mentors 33 different nationalities were represented, including from Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Congo (DR), Croatia, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Lithuania, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkey, UK, USA, and Zimbabwe. What an incredible forum!

Some reflections on the way ahead

Some key themes emerged from the conversations amongst the participants, expert mentors and organisers during the week. Firstly, the different actors necessary for resourcing a sustainable future cannot be considered in isolation. Consumer demand, business practices, environmental and societal impacts, community involvement in decision-making and development are all intrinsically interlinked in a non-linear chain which interweaves resource supply use and reuse.

Future resource development in line with global sustainability goals will require interplay between the technical and non-technical worlds, bridging policy, industry, practitioners and academia, and uniting geoscience and engineering, and social and political science, as well as local communities.

Summer school participants admiring the Irish landscape during the ReSToRE fieldtrip, Sally Gap, Co. Wicklow.

The circular economy, which aims to extract the most value out of resources and materials whilst in use, can act as a useful model for the resource sector: wherever one is placed along the supply chain from producer to consumer, we should all be supporting ways of producing resources cleanly and efficiently, with reduced, managed and – where possible – reused waste. And the management of mining waste has had increased profile in the past few years, with several tragic and preventable collapses of tailings dams which have had major societal and environmental consequences.

Our role

As reporters of the ReSToRE summer school, our role was to take note of the event and support the delivery of key outcomes. This meant that we were very busy capturing thoughts from participants, organisers, speakers and mentors through interviews, soaking in the atmosphere at the various social events and workshops, and carving out occasional moments to sit down by the lake at UCD and reflect on the week and how it was going. We relied on a trusted voice recorder and notebook, and quickly became acutely acquainted with the opening hours of cafés around campus. The participants’ WhatsApp group also proved incredibly useful for gaging how participants were feeling, as well as asking people to gather round for a photo, check a nationality or give advice on the best sights in Dublin, or pubs showing the Women’s World Cup.

More importantly, the summer school provided opportunity to create a diverse, international network of like-minded individuals working in the interdisciplinary sphere, as well as enabling everyone involved, including participants, mentors, organisers and ourselves to learn, reflect, and to create potential new avenues for research and collaboration.

One of the highlights has to be the mix of nationalities and cultures represented, as well as a general spirit of openness to new ideas and perspectives. Although the week was intense and the workshop participants were tasked with preparing presentations of their findings for the final day, the support and lack of competition amongst participants was palpable, and paved the way for creativity to emerge. Together, they created a safe space in which to be open, reflective, responsive and curious, and to bravely tackle some very complex questions.

We hope to continue these conversations at the interface of societal issues and geoscience at future conferences, such as the EGU General Assembly 2020. We hope you are inspired to join in. See you there!

By Anthea Lacchia (Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences at University College Dublin) and Jen Roberts (University of Strathclyde)

Find out more

A suite of summer school resources, including live-streamed videos of the presentations and discussions by experts in the field and blogs from the delegates, can be found on the ReSTORE webpage: https://www.icrag-centre.org/restore/

iCRAG, the International Union of Geological Sciences and Geological Survey Ireland were the organising sponsors of ReSToRE, which was run under the patronage of UNESCO.

Sponsorship also came from BHP, Boliden, Rio Tinto, Teck, with additional support received from Irish Research Council and UCD College of Business.

About the authors

Anthea Lacchia

Anthea grew up in northern Italy, in a town at the foot of the Alps. Having studied Classics in high school in Italy, she moved to Ireland and obtained a BA in Geology from Trinity College Dublin.  During her undergraduate studies, she developed a keen interest in thinking about the lives of ancient animals preserved in rocks – fossils – which led her to pursue a PhD in palaeontology, specifically looking at extinct relatives of squid and cuttlefish called ammonoids. She spent many seasons of fieldwork perusing the rocks of Co. Clare, in western Ireland. In parallel with her research, she gained experience both in science writing and newspaper editing. Following completion of her PhD, she spent a year working as a press officer for Springer Nature in London. She then returned to Ireland to start postdoctoral research in iCRAG, the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences, in University College Dublin, where she is studying public perception and understanding of geosciences, with a focus on the geology and communities of Co. Clare. Her postdoc allows her to combine her passion for geology with that for science communication and public engagement. Anthea also works as a freelance science writer. Anthea took part in the ReSToRE Summer School as a reporter.

Jen Roberts

Jen is a Chancellor’s Fellow in Energy at the University of Strathclyde. Her research is interdisciplinary and applied, and addresses the social and environmental risk of geological resources – often relating to energy. Jen uses her technical background in geology to tackle questions relevant across geoscience, environmental science, environmental psychology, environmental engineering and political science. These questions relate to the perception, assessment and communication of risks relating to low-carbon energy technologies, which, for many, the subsurface plays a vital role. Ultimately her work aims to inform how the necessary transition to a net zero carbon future can be implemented in a way that is acceptable to society and to the environment. Jen took part in the ReSToRE Summer School as a reporter.

Sharing & talking isn’t enough – we need a change in culture around mental illness

Sharing & talking isn’t enough – we need a change in culture around mental illness

The EGU Early Career Scientists’ (ECS) Great Debates offer early career scientists at the EGU General Assembly the chance to network and voice their opinions on important topics in the format of round-table discussions. At the end of the debate, each table delivers a statement that summarises the discussion and recommendations. By publishing the results, we hope to highlight some of the needs of the EGU ECS community and how these matters should be addressed.

Early career scientists (ECS) demand more open and honest discussions around mental health in academia to combat stigma and create supportive environments – they also acknowledge that, while their own approaches are part of the change, assistance from the top is required as well.

At this year’s ECS Great Debate, the topic was mental wellbeing.  The main question was “How can Early Career Scientists prioritise their mental wellbeing?”, which was discussed by almost 100 participants – mostly ECS but this topic is relevant to everyone. To guide our debate of this very broad topic we focused on two aspects:

  1. What can ECS do themselves
  2. What support would ECS like to see from institutions

Even though this is a very personal topic, we could have discussed both aspects all night, and in fact just having the topic in the General Assembly programme sparked debates during the week. I’m grateful that all participants debating this topic with us felt safe to share some very personal stories.

Early career scientists having round-table discussions on mental wellbeing in research and academia at the EGU General Assembly 2019.

Approximately one in four people will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime – this number is even higher for PhD students, early career scientists and academics. This means it is time to discuss this aspect of research life more openly, not only to provide support but also to reduce the stigma around mental illness and ensure it does not turn into career enders. By openly discussing all aspects of research careers, we make certain that diversity is celebrated and ECS feel supported.

Increasing demands on researchers, highly competitive working environments, uncertain career paths and expected relocations were some of the challenges highlighted at the event that can impact ECS mental wellbeing. As ECS face these challenges, it is important to find ways to protect and care for oneself to ensure that mental health is not ignored and that ECS feel supported to seek help or guidance if they encounter mental health issues. The top tips from the ECS debating this topic can be summarised in three key themes:

  1. Be more than your research: have hobbies and find communities outside your lab or office. This helps to find perspective, get additional assistance or just to distract yourself. This can be difficult if you are new to a research group and have to relocate regularly. This is where online communities can be very helpful as they provide support and local knowledge irrespective of physical location.
  2. Be kind to yourself: selfcare is important, so know your limits and don’t fall down the trap of overworking; work smarter not harder. Take regular stock of your achievements, such as a DONE list rather than a To-Do list. It can be tempting to compete with your colleagues who is in the office first and who ends up staying the longest, but are all these hours productive? Figure out your best times to be productive and let the flexible working hours of academia work for you.
  3. Share with others and learn to be an ally: it’s ok to not be ok; we play a part in sharing this to help to create a more open, accepting environment. It’s not only about speaking openly about your own mental health but it’s also about listening without judgement when others share their experiences – this allows supportive environments to flourish. In this kind of space, everyone can feel comfortable to share their experiences, worries and fears, as well as celebrate successes, good practices and support.

These are big asks, and it was acknowledged that a supportive workspace environment is also key to allow researchers to look after their mental wellbeing. Institutions have a key role in creating and maintaining the right kind of working environment and office culture. Stigma around mental illness is probably the biggest barrier, and employers have to do more to both reduce the stigma and foster kind, safe and judgment-free office environments. Offering awareness training and handing out phone numbers for support or help lines is a start but not enough. ECS listed these things as key actions they would like to see implemented to create supportive environments:

  1. Specialised training and guidance for supervisors and managers: These kinds of workshops should not only teach employers how to identify needs and offer help but also how to raise awareness and create a more open working culture.
  2. Open discussions (such as coffee mornings or discussion groups) should be encouraged by institutions across all career stages to allow people to share their experiences.
  3. Celebration of available support: far too often finding guidance or the right person to talk to is a difficult task, especially when you are in crisis or difficult situation. Raising awareness and celebrating support programs provided by institutions and other organisations can make it easier for people to reach out and get help at the right time.
  4. Research culture changes: work environments that bolster and celebrate diversity are key for ensuring that ECS feel supported.

The overarching theme of the debate was that mental health management cannot be left to the individuals alone, but instead together we can all play our part in making sure our work environments become more accepting, less judgmental and truly value diversity.

By Stephanie Zihms, lecturer in researcher development, University of the West of Scotland, UK 

If you are looking for someone to talk to or resources, here are some phone numbers and websites:

UK:

Samaritans: 08457 909090
Abuse Not: 0808 8005015
Brook Young People’s Information Service: 0800 0185023
Eating Disorder Support: 01494 793223
Anxiety UK: 0844 477 5774
Depression Alliance: 0845 123 23 20
Rape Crisis Centre: 01708 765200
Rape/sexual assault: 0808 8000 123 (female) or 0808 8000122 (male)
Miscarriage Association: 01924 200799
LLGS Helpline (LGBT): 0300 330 0630

Germany:

TelefonSeelsorge Deutschland: 0800 111 0 111 or 0800 11 0 222
https://www.telefonseelsorge.de/?q=node/6293

China:

Helpline 1: Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center Hotline: 800-810-1117 or 010-82951332
Helpline 2: Lifeline Shanghai: (english-speaking) (021) 6279 8990
Website: http://www.lifeline-shanghai.com
Helpline 3: Shanghai Mental Health Center: 021-64387250

Italy:

Helpline 1: 199 284 284
Website: http://www2.telefonoamico.it/

France:

Helpline 1: (+33) (0)9 51 11 61 30
Website: https://www.sos-amitie.org/

USA:

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-8433
LifeLine: 1-800-273-8255
Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
Sexuality Support: 1-800-246-7743
Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-847-831-3438
Grief Support: 1-650-321-5272

Austria:

Helpline 1: 142
Website: http://www.telefonseelsorge.at/

Krisenhilfe: 0732 2177

Switzerland:

Die Dargebotene Hand (Schweiz) phone 143 or https://www.143.ch

Netherlands:

Helpline 1: 0900-0767
Website: https://www.deluisterlijn.nl/

Collection of helpline numbers around the world:

https://togetherweare-strong.tumblr.com/helpline

Coping tips:

https://www.rethink.org/diagnosis-treatment/symptoms/suicidal-thoughts/today

Resources to be a better ally:

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk
http://www.sane.org.uk
https://www.wie-gehts-dir.ch/de/

Challenging challenges in Earth science research at the EGU General Assembly!

Challenging challenges in Earth science research at the EGU General Assembly!

At the EGU General Assembly 2019 last month, if you walked through the dark basement and the most distant hallways of the convention centre,  into room -2.62 on Wednesday evening, you may have heard people introducing themselves followed by the words “… and I have a problem.” This may have sounded like a support group. In fact, if you had entered the room it would have been clear that you had just walked into a kind of support group – a scientific one. In the Crowd-solving Problems in Earth Sciences short course scientific, career-related and logistical problems were shared and discussed.

After the success of last year’sCrowd-Solving problems in Earth science research’ session, a group of young geomorphologists decided to organize a second crowd-solving session at the EGU 2019 meeting, but this year for a broader audience, covering various EGU divisions (including Biogeosciences, Earth Magnetism & Rock Physics, Geomorphology, Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Petrology & Volcanology).

This short course aims to provide a platform especially, but not exclusively, for early career scientists (ECS) to network and brainstorm with fellow researchers. Discussing the challenges you face in your research among your peers may help you to find the core of the problem, a path to the solution, or even other ECS that face similar problems and may become your fellows in the search for an answer.

Despite the unlucky scheduling of the session (from 19:00-20:30) 35 scientists participated this short course. In this blog, we summarize the problems highlighted in the event and share the discussions, ideas and solutions that emerged from the brainstorming session with those who didn’t find this safe place at the EGU General Assembly and the wider EGU community.

Fatherhood and parental leave: How to balance career and family in the 21st century?

Fatherhood and parental leave: How to balance career and family in the 21st century? Credit: Johannes Buckel

(Samuel Wharton, University of Leicester, United Kingdom)

One of the most important events in a man’s life is the day when he becomes a father. During these special times, it is inevitable that young fathers still want to spend time with their new-born child. However, in science, new fathers are usually early career researchers on temporary contracts and the paternity leave offered can be poor, as little as a few days to week. Thus, new fathers can often be torn between wanting to take time out to be with their child and the battle to retain job security for their new family. As a result, the majority of childcare is provided by the partner, who often ends up sacrificing their own career ambitions.

In the discussion, we found that the underlying problem is that scientific environments are built on short term contracts. This conflicts with the need for paternity leave to be more flexible, allowing men to take up to six months leave if necessary and to accommodate their partners’ ambitions. Therefore, taking time out should be considered in both partners’ CVs, so that they are not punished in their careers for producing less papers, for example. Most importantly, future fathers should not be afraid to proactively talk to their partners, supervisors and colleagues about the expectations that are placed upon them. The enjoyment of fatherhood, if granted time, could be for the benefit of every scientist.

Ground control to Major Tom: How to identify fixed reference points in a dynamic landscape?

(Eike Reinosch, TU Braunschweig, Germany)

Ground control to Major Tom: How to identify fixed reference points in a dynamic landscape? Credit: Johannes Buckel

When using satellite data in research, finding reliable and fixed reference points is essential for analysing how an object or surface moves over time. Without a reference point, the satellite data is much like ‘Major Tom’ from David Bowie’s song ‘Space Oddity’: Helplessly floating in space. Choosing a bad reference point however, could make all results invalid and completely useless. But how can we be certain, that the points we choose are reliable, even in a highly dynamic study area?

Luckily we crowd-solved some ideas and suggestions. As a first step, we can use the data available to perform a preliminary selection of reference points following a few criteria: the selected points must feature a stable backscatter signal of the satellite radar waves over time, be present and clearly visible in all images, be far away from moisture sources which could disturb the signal and, if possible, be located on bed-rock material. A second step would be to perform a statistical clustering of areas based on similar patterns and features to ensure that results are comparable.

However, during the discussion we realized that while a statistical evaluation of reference points is absolutely essential, it is just as important to verify those reference points in the field. Following field observations of potential fix points the data needs to be reprocessed with remaining reliable reference points. This should produce the best grounded result possible.

Crowdsourced data: How to use citizen science to study natural hazards in remote areas?

(Joanne Wood, King’s College London, UK)

Crowdsourced data: How to use citizen science to study natural hazards in remote areas? Credit: Johannes Buckel

Researching natural hazards in remote locations can be a challenge. Natural hazards are often only recorded if they impact humans, so records do not accurately reflect the quantity or frequency of hazards in remote regions. This means data for research into natural hazard frequency in remote regions is often incomplete.

In the brain-storming session, we talked about how citizen science provides an opportunity to bridge this gap in data availability. One of the notable outcomes of the session was the idea that citizen scientists, from children to grannies, could inspect satellite imagery from remote areas to identify the location and timing of natural hazards using online platforms. This could be supplemented with local knowledge by engaging with remote communities to map events as they happen and to help pinpoint events that have happened in the past.

We also came up with other creative sources of information, such as utilising tourist photos for high temporal resolution monitoring and even strapping cameras to animals (llamas were suggested for Jo’s case study of Peru) to access the most remote locations.

Communicating science to the public: Are we missing something?

(Stacy Phillips, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)

Communicating science to the public: Are we missing something? Credit: Johannes Buckel

Science communication events are becoming increasingly common and more scientists are now feeling the need to communicate science to the public. However, the parts of the public that participate in science communication events are often self-selective groups that are already interested in science. How can we reach an entire cross-section of the public?

In the discussion we didn’t find a unified approach which would enable us to reach out to the entire public, but rather decided that knowing your audience was key, that each group is different and requires a different communication style. We should remember that we, as scientists, are part of the public, and instead of ‘communicating to’ the public, we should be ‘engaging with’ the public, having two-way conversations and getting them actively involved.

Good science communication however is hard, and requires time and expertise to get it right. To improve public outreach in the future, we first need to train our scientists in communication skills at an early career stage. Science is all about communication, making such skills beneficial for your entire career. Outreach work also needs to be valued at an institutional level, required on academic CVs, and incentivised in career pathways, in order to reward those who are passionate and who excel in science communication.

Sharing is caring: How to improve accessibility to scientific infrastructure beyond national boundaries?

(Adrián Flores-Orozco, TU Wien, Austria)

Sharing is caring: How to improve accessibility to scientific infrastructure beyond national boundaries? Credit: Johannes Buckel

Geoscientists want to ensure data quality, and thus ship their equipment, and materials abroad, and prefer to analyse collected scientific samples in their own laboratories. This is a challenge when conducting research and field work beyond national boundaries, especially in remote or conflict areas (Latin America, Iran, etc.).  However, in the discussion we found out that these difficulties even arise within European countries.

There are several different kinds of research limiting issues that you can encounter when trying to get samples from across borders to your laboratory, including political restrictions, expensive shipment costs, long duration with associated delays in publications and graduation. A solution could be to improve accessibility to scientific infrastructure abroad. This would entail collaborating with local researchers and sharing equipment and laboratories. Feasible solutions could be:

  1. the creation of an international logistic consortium and a network of geoscientists working abroad,
  2. an international inventory of available infrastructure and laboratories, and
  3. convincing national or European financing agencies to invest abroad to avoid constant exportation and importation of equipment and samples.

We recognize that these are great solutions, but we need to take action to make them real. We urgently need to improve communication between researchers, stakeholders and financing agencies. To raise the pressure for change we can publish on the problem in an open access journal. We should take advantage of social media to interact among geoscientists working abroad and to share their experiences and possible solutions. We all could start caring about others, and actively share our scientific infrastructure without borders.

The mean mean: Can we trust average erosion rates?

(Günther Prasicek, University of Lausanne, Switzerland)

The mean mean: Can we trust average erosion rates? Credit: Johannes Buckel

We try to resolve the stochastic and sometimes random nature of surface processes, like erosion and sedimentation in both time and space, by averaging. By doing so we introduce biases and misleading impression. A mean thing about the mean rate is that processes might seem to be continuous, while in reality erosion and deposition rather occur as discrete pulses with hiatus, thus time spans without anything happening, in between. A common bias, such as the so-called Sadler effect, is introduced due to the temporal and spatial scales we average over.

The discussion posed a number of interesting questions: How can we approach these trust issues concerning the mean as they seem inevitable to many of Earth science research questions? Do we need methodological and conceptual frameworks which provide the bounds of the data as well as their interpretations? How can we stochastically scrutinize the data and its limit? How can we technically advance and thus trust mean rates?

To bring back this Meta discussion down to Earth, the proposed solutions are simple: let’s change the sampling strategies, sample more, spatially random and in very low erosion environments. Combine diverse methods to use varying spatial and temporal resolutions to bootstrap rates in between. And if possible, simply, develop new methods with different averaging time spans. Next steps in practice would be to first compile data of possible hiatus length and data from different methods/strategies, and then cross-compare their timespan and resulting rates at different landscape activities. We need to be ruthless with what we can actually tell with the mean data we have and should embrace low rates – as they are exciting!

We are planning on organising crowd-solving session(s) again next year. If anybody has any problems they want to solve, they can let us know!

By Eleanore Heasley (King’s College London, UK), Renee van Dongen and Anne Voigtländer (GFZ Potsdam, Germany), and Felix Nieberding, Liseth Perez and Johannes Buckel (TU Braunschweig, Germany)

Organizing team of the session also included: Harry Sanders and Richard Mason (Loughborough University, UK)