One way to get more involved in Marine Science and Conservation is to go where Scientists and Conservationists go to network.
In 2011 I attended a conference in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. The conference was for an organization called Coastal Zone Canada (an organization that I am Vice President of the Great Lakes area currently. An organization that I have been heavily involved with, including the planning of the conference for Toronto 2016). At that conference there were a lot of scientists and conservationists discussing how to better manage coastal areas; not only in Canada, but around the world. We had international delegates in attendance and it was wonderful. Attendees had the opportunity to present their material, their latest research, their thoughts on where things are going in terms of specific research topics, or hot button themes, and so forth. At the end of the conference, one of the final conclusions was that we need to do a better job of getting in front of the public. Getting our messages in front of the public. I looked around, and it was just after I had finished a wonderful session, one that truly inspired me…and I thought to myself “if more sessions were like the one I just attended, I would feel better in attending and leaving these conferences with something actionable and accomplished. The session in particular that I’m referring to was on the last days of the conference, and it was an interactive session. One where our desks were all facing each other, like a round table discussion. We were talking about how to get people more involved in Ocean Conservation. This was the birth of Speak Up For Blue. There was a gentleman sitting outside of the discussion area for most of the session; he hadn’t said a word. At one point someone stood up and asked him to join the “round table” to share his own feelings and insights on the topics being discussed. His reply was: “I don’t believe that I belong there,” and he revealed that he wasn’t a scientist and that he was: “just a guy, here to get a question answered.” It was the perfect opportunity to not only speak to our ‘ideal audience’ but to also answer this question he had come to the conference to have answered. We discovered that he had just retired, he spent a lot of money buying a house on the coast, because he wanted to wake up and see the ocean everyday. But…he wants to see a clean ocean. And what he is instead seeing, is a green ocean. He didn’t understand why, or if it would continue happening. Many of the scientists and conservationists addressed his questions directly during and after this session, and offered suggestions as to where he could go to get more answers and more information. He felt good about this shared opportunity that he had been part of. It was a great affirmation for all of us as to the importance of what we are collectively doing.
Now just imagine, if that was you. Asking a question that you had long awaited for the answer. Maybe you are in a similar situation; living on the coast, wondering why the ocean is green. Maybe you were walking on the beach and notice there is a huge amount of plastic pollution and you want to know what you can do about it. Going to a conference is one way to engage scientists and conservationists to find out how you can get that done. You don’t have to solely rely on Google to discover conservation efforts. Going to conferences is a way to network with scientists and conservationists and get answers from the experts in the field. There have been many reports lately that express the enormous media bias when it comes to almost every topic. So how do you trust the answers you get from them? Go to a conference. Get the answers straight from the horse’s mouth.
This article, and the podcast episode, I go through three reasons why you should attend conferences.
The first is: to find out what people have been up to for the past 3 or 4 years. Get to know the cutting edge of research. Get to know new technology that is being used. New methods being used. Projects that are, and are not successful. Find out why they were/were not successful. You get to experience and understand firsthand the passion these professionals feel for their projects. And you get updates on all those projects within the course of a few days.
The second is all about Citizen Science. Many conferences now are dedicating specific, all day sessions and workshops on citizen science for people who are managing citizen science programs, they are given the chance to come in, discuss their project, how they’re engaged with their network of citizen scientists, what they expect, and how to retain them, and how important it is. As a citizen scientist, you can go to these workshops to learn about the various projects and talk to the people who are actually in charge, speak to them, and offer feedback.
Third, and finally, is you really get to know each scientist and conservationist. As well as other citizen scientists who are attending the conference. Conferences are a place to meet face-to-face, get to know people over a drink, get to know people over dinner, at an event. It is the best way to interact with people in the field who are there to interact as well. That is their purpose for attending: sharing information and interaction. Collaborations are done, friendships are forged, new colleagues are met, it is a wonderful place where you truly get to see the inner workings of the field. Problems people are experiencing, how challenging this field can be, just by talking and interacting with these people. And they get to hear from you…which is so important.
So, those are three reasons I think you should attend conferences. Plus another perk is that some of these conferences are held in really cool places. 2018 will be held in Malaysia…I just was appointed as a chair to the sponsorship committee for the International Marine Conservation Congress. I’m hugely honored. I’ve never been to Malaysia, and there in and of itself is an experience, a chance to see how people all around the globe are all part of this effort. We get to learn about new projects. And come up with more solutions.
In conclusion, when you’re considering getting involved with ocean science and conservation, don’t just consider ‘googling’ and looking for answers online. Think about attending conferences as a citizen scientist where you can have real impact and influence on people by the questions you ask as a member of the ‘general’ public. You become quite important and interesting at that conference because not many people take the time to participate. But it is drastically important.
Enjoy the podcast! If you have any questions, let me know. Would you attend a conference? If so, what would be your biggest challenges going to those conferences?
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