AGU wrap-up and intellectual satiation -- Meha Jain, CHANS Fellow
Hello again! I wanted to write to you to let you know how the rest of my time at AGU was spent and some of the highlights of being a CHANS fellow. At AGU, I had the chance to attend over 20 different talks, see (literally!) hundreds of posters, and attend workshops and dinners related to research on coupled human and natural systems. It was a wonderful experience, and every night of the conference my head hit my pillow intellectually satiated.
One theme that became evident from the various sessions and talks that I attended was the importance of sharing our research findings with those outside of academia. This can be by informing policy or by creating media and educational tools that portray our research findings in a different light that is more easily digestible by the broader public. Ira Flatow of Science Friday gave an inspiring talk with the theme “Science is Sexy” (and if you don’t believe that science is sexy, Flatow suggested checking out this photo of a young and dapper Albert Einstein: http://www.panopticist.com/graphics/einstein.gif. As Flatow described, a majority of Americans state that they are very interested in learning more science and, given that less than 20 percent of science education occurs in the classroom, this leaves a lot of room for us as scientists to share our research and knowledge more widely. What are some ways that we can do this? It can be as simple as presenting your research at an inter-disciplinary conference, becoming involved with a local school and presenting your research and ideas in the classroom, or mentoring a high school or undergraduate student on their own independent research project. If you’d like your research to be disseminated even more broadly, you can team up with a videographer to create a short film that you share online, give lectures at local venue open to the public (start your own Secret Science Club perhaps? http://secretscienceclub.blogspot.com/), or start a blog about your time in the field or the methods that you use in your research (for example, here is a great blog on statistics: http://andrewgelman.com/). For more inspiration or ideas for how to share your work, you can find Flatow’s full talk here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=5yYcwCQ2m8k).
The second theme that emerged was the importance of conducting inter-disciplinary research. This was inherently the main message that was carried throughout our various CHANS events during the week, and one that was echoed by human-environment research presented more broadly at AGU. While most researchers can agree that conducting inter-disciplinary research is important, it was interesting to think of the different ways that this can manifest itself when actually implemented to research real-world problems. However, after learning about various interdisciplinary research projects and attending discussions with members of CHANS-Net, I was left with more questions than answers. How can we link the more local, qualitative work conducted in fields like Anthropology and Sociology with the larger-scale quantitative work often conducted by Economists and Geographers? Is it better to be an inter-disciplinary scientist who understands the language and methods of multiple disciplines or is it better to be a specialist who works with others in a team to tackle one common research question? Discussions with fellow CHANS-Net members gave me hope that even though there are no clear paths for the best ways to conduct inter-disciplinary research, there at least is a growing body of researchers who are truly interested in working across disciplinary boundaries and are becoming even more fluent in the jargon and methods of different disciplines, which is necessary for inter-disciplinary collaboration.
Overall, I had a wonderful experience as a CHANS fellow. It gave me the opportunity to attend one of the largest earth science conferences in the world, receive invaluable feedback about my research, and most importantly, meet great inter-disciplinary scientists that I am already collaborating with and will continue to collaborate with in the future. If you’re an early career scientist doing work with coupled human and natural systems, I strongly encourage you to apply today!