A visit at the 4th Annual IIES Science and Policy Workshop in Edinburgh – lots of science and a “wee bit” whiskey

In this post, Verena Sesin shares her experiences at the 4th Annual IIES Science and Policy Workshop in Edinburgh from 1-3 July 2018, co-hosted by University of Edinburgh and the International Institute for Environmental Studies (IIES).

With a focus on international collaboration and interdisciplinary exchange, IIES events bring together passionate experts from various backgrounds and career levels. Following my great experiences at the 1st IIES Graduate Students Forum Asia in Hong Kong last year, I was very much looking forward to participate in an IIES-hosted get-together with a broader audience, including experienced researchers from many fields of environmental science, policy and planning.

The scientific program included plenary talks in the mornings followed by 14 thematic sessions

The three-day IIES Science and Policy Workshop 2018 started off with an ice breaker event at a Scottish pub to meet everyone and make first connections, followed by two days of scientific program, and wrapped up by a tasting of traditional Scottish whiskeys – which can be quite strong and smoky when aged for 32 years! The scientific program included plenary talks in the mornings followed by 14 thematic sessions, such as “Ecosystem impacts of emerging/persistent contaminants”, “Sustainable technology & economic strategy” and “Environmental protection & management”. The speakers and audience came from Europe, North America and Asia to share their research and new developments. It was great to listen to speakers from a variety of disciplines, ranging from spatial ecology to analytical chemistry, ecotoxicology, risk assessment, environmental policy, sustainability sciences, and social sciences.

Graduate students could choose to present their projects in either a poster session or a 20-minute talk. I decided to share some recent results from a risk assessment of agriculture-related pesticide pollution in water and sediment of a protected, biodiverse wetland. I was happy to receive valuable feedback on this risk assessment project and other topics I am currently working on in the scope of my PhD at Trent University. I enjoyed the opportunity to network and get input from the interdisciplinary audience, adding relevant ideas to my project that I would not have thought of myself. A new perspective from experts of policy, social or indigenous sciences can be an eye-opening benefit to everyone’s research.

The Bach Ensemble of Edinburgh adding some class to the IIES banquet dinner at Dovecot Studios (photo by V. Sesin)

In addition to the scientific sessions, our hosts organized a special banquet dinner at Dovecot Studios, a fine art tapestry studio located in a renovated Victorian pool. It was a unique atmosphere to dine in such a location, and we were very impressed by our host Margaret Graham of University of Edinburgh playing live classical music with her band for us. Moreover, the workshop was conveniently located at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, just a short walk from the famous Royal Mile, so I could make good use of some session breaks to explore Edinburgh Castle and surrounding gardens with fellow participants.

Trent University students surrounding IIES Director Douglas Evans (3rd from left, photo by J. Colley)

I can highly recommend this annual workshop and all other IIES activities to any graduate student or faculty. I had a wonderful short trip to Edinburgh with the perfect mix of learning about international environmental science and policy, and Scotland’s history. In a casual atmosphere, I chatted with graduate students, professors and researchers from many different countries about their work, different cultures and views on science, and the possibility of future collaborations. Back in Canada, I am sharing stories with my fellow students and friends, along with a glass of real Scottish whiskey and ten varieties of buttery delicious shortbread cookies.

A huge thanks to our hosts and of course the IIES for organizing this great workshop in Edinburgh, with surprisingly the most beautiful sunny weather I could imagine for Scotland. And many thanks to generous travel support from IIES, enabling me to make these experiences and share them with you.

If you want to find out more and possibly get involved in the various IIES activities – which include online e-courses, summer schools, forums and workshops – have a look at the official IIES website and get in touch.

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