Plankton and Policy at Challenger 2016

The Challenger Society for Marine Science is the UK’s largest marine learned society. Challenger supports marine students and early career researchers through grants and training opportunities. Challenger 2016, the biannual Challenger Society for Marine Science conference was held in Liverpool in September. Plymouth University Plankton and Policy was well-represented three of my students presenting Plankton and Policy posters: PhD student Jake Bedford and master’s students Hugh O’Sullivan and Beth Siddons. Jake’s and Beth’s accounts of Challenger 2016 are below.

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Plymouth Uni Plankton and Policy – represent!

It was a great week packed with fascinating science and fun networking. I co-convened and spoke in the ‘Marine Science for Society’ session which explored how we can best use science to support decision making. Challenger is traditionally a very biogeochemistry focused society so bringing in application of science is very important to me. This was the third meeting where I’d convened a policy-focused session and I was excited to see that it was even more well attended than in 2014. The lecture theatre was full for our session and the questions ranged from ‘How can I get involved in policy?’ to ‘Do we have the data we need for decision making?’

The Marine Science and Policy Special Interest Group, which I also co-chair, sponsored a well-subscribed and exciting early career event where we invited a panel of policy makers, industry professionals and scientists at the policy interface to speak to early careers in small groups. The early career scientists had many questions about how the panellists ended up in the positions we are in now (the #1 answer was ‘unexpectedly’!), how to engage with policy and industry (our advice: tweet, blog, and practice communicating with non-scientists), and even why they should engage with non-scientists (impact!).

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Fangirlling over plankton.

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Haeckel’s beautiful jellyfish

One of the coolest things we got to do was view some original Ernst Haeckel plankton lithographs in his book Art Forms in Nature (pub 1899). If you don’t know Haeckel’s work, it’s beautiful and amazing and you should totally Google Image it. His life story is also dramatic and full of intrigue and would make a great Broadway musical.

I’m already looking forward to Challenger 2018 in Newcastle!

Abigail, Plankton and Policy

Challenger 2016: A PhD student’s perspective

As a first year PhD student, attending a first conference can be a daunting prospect. Being a newcomer to the marine science community, and only a recent member of the Challenger Society, I arrived in Liverpool with a plenty of positive recommendations and anecdotes from friends and colleagues of past Challenger conferences, but not much of an idea what to expect. I left Liverpool however, feeling completely at ease and inspired, having met plenty of friendly faces and having presented my research poster to a supportive and unintimidating audience. I had people from all disciplines coming up and talking to me, interested in my project and keen to offer advice. What makes the Challenger conference unique is that it is truly interdisciplinary. For example, I found the keynote talk on ‘climate tipping points’ particularly interesting, as it linked all areas of marine science together to give a holistic view of our changing oceans.

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Jake with his poster “Integrating historical and contemporary plankton datasets to contribute to the assessment of Good Environmental Status: A role for indicators”

Another aspect of the Challenger conference that I really enjoyed is the variety of events and activities to get involved with outside of the core conference programme. For example, I attended the careers workshop aimed at early-career researchers. As someone who aspires to work at the science-policy interface, it was especially useful to be able to chat to both scientists and policy professionals on an informal basis about their career paths.  A common theme from the panel was to take opportunities as they come, and not to be afraid to change direction, which was a positive message for a lot of us early-career researchers to hear! I was also involved in the outreach session for local school pupils, where I explained a simplified version of my poster to small groups. Again, this was a valuable opportunity to get involved in a different aspect of science, and explaining your research to a completely non-specialist audience is a great way to clarify the main messages of it for yourself!

Jake Bedford, Plankton and Policy

An MSc’s first conference

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Beth and her poster “Are MSFD plankton indicators regionally transferable?”

As an Applied Marine Science MSc student, the conference was a fantastic first foray into the scientific community. Not only was it my first conference, but also my first poster presentation. The Challenger Society is encouraging of early career scientists and the conference created a very supportive environment, so it was a great place to start. I was fortunate to receive a Challenger Society Travel Award, which helped to cover the cost of attending. The event’s mentor programme paired me with a scientist at CEFAS, a brilliant chance to pick the brain of an established marine scientist and get feedback on my research. We’ve also remained in contact since the event.

I volunteered as a student helper at the conference, which mainly meant helping with set up and being on hand during presentations to help with technical issues. It gave me some insight into the huge amount of work that goes into delivering this kind of event, a chance to meet people involved with the society and to talk with other volunteers about their research and experiences. The week was intensive, with fantastic presentations on a diverse range of subjects and networking with people from a vast range of marine science disciplines. There was plenty of time for socialising too – the conference dinner at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral was a particular highlight. It was the perfect first step toward a career in marine science.

Beth Siddons, Plankton and Policy

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About Abigail McQuatters-Gollop

Marine biologist, guitarist, cat lover, red wine drinker. I like plankton.
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