Dr Kate Scott, Research Fellow in the Sustainability Research Institute and inaugural Priestley Centre Piers Seller prize winner, was recently selected to attend Science for Sustainable Development Early-career Leaders Day. In this blog Kate shares her experience.
The Network of Early-Career Sustainable Scientists and Engineers (NESSE) teamed up with the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS), Royal Society of Chemistry, British Council and to organise a Science for Sustainable Development Early-career Leaders Day on the 2nd of December in London. Researchers across a range of disciplines met to share ideas, build connections with other young leaders and discuss how to contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) through a facilitated workshop.
Guido Schmidt-Traib, the Executive Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, opened with a talk inspiring us, as scientists, to think creatively about the challenges ahead. The SDGs are to be implemented universally and provide a framework with the aim to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all, not an easy task. The SDGs comprise of 17 goals and 169 associated targets, for example to eradicate poverty, provide quality education for all, and implement affordable and clean energy.
We set to work in small groups, with a deliberate disciplinary mix, to develop a collaborative 3 year funding proposal to contribute to at least one of the SDGs. We were encouraged to develop a solution-focused research approach, to identify our target audience and to think about how to engage with them throughout the course of the project. We were to build on the expertise and strengths of our working group.
In just 3 hours, my group had developed an ambitious 3 year proposal to create sustainable and resilient agricultural communities in rural Indonesia, a topic quite far from my research on climate mitigation policy in the UK. We set out to investigate and find solutions for (1) the social sustainability of agriculture in Indonesia, which is dominated by Multi-national Corporation’s production of palm oil; (2) the environmental impacts of different agricultural practices, which are currently depleting the areas forests and biodiversity; and (3) the economic sustainability of business practices in the region and opportunities to diversify community income. Through discussion we were able to identify how our different strengths and skills could be put to practice. I research the environmental and social impacts of global supply chains and could look at the global implications of unsustainable production processes, the social imbalances among producers and consumers, and the potential risks to business supply chains. Everyone in the group was able to contribute, and it was a definite strength of our proposal.
Whilst a challenge, there was definitely momentum for truly interdisciplinary research that shows a clear route to having impact on the ground. It needs researchers to be proactive and get out and talk to people, even when the connection might not be so obvious. In 20 years’ time the research landscape could look quite different than today’s. It is likely that more priority will be placed on interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving, and there was support for more emphasis to be placed on research impact compared to a publication benchmark. As Early Career Researchers we can help shape this.
If you would like to find out more about how to get involved see NESSE’s website (http://www.sustainablescientists.org/).