Former Stockholm Resilience Centre Master’s student Elke Markey reflects on the conference PhD & Early Career Day, taking place at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sunday 20 September

8h40: Running to the subway. I’m a conference newbie, and my assumption is that academics would arrive sooner rather than later. I gave myself a raincheck from formal attire, this is a ‘PhD students and early career researchers’, what I hope to be the youngsters’ aperitif to a serious science conference.

9h00: Arrive at Stockholm University. Whilst checking the bus schedule, a lost soul grabs my attention and with only one glimpse I know we share today’s agenda marker. I didn’t think the socializing would start this early on, but yes, I did just meet Kelly from rural Ohio, desperately trying to google map her way to science paradise. Franka from Germany is just doing the same thing. Happy to establish myself as ‘the local’, I guide them to the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) under the bright morning sun, the scenic route.

9h25: Eating a vegan, gluten-free peanut butter cup. I find myself mingling with some familiar and unfamiliar faces. The SRC lobby is filled with jetlags, PhD topics, laptop bags and nervous smiles bouncing off the walls. I meet Fabian, he introduces himself as page number 207 of the 440 pages schedule, a trick to remember.

10h10: Carl Folke, science director at the SRC and director of the Beijer Institute for Ecological Economics, who else, is there to warm up the crowd. ‘We, young researchers have a very big role to play. It is us who will create new understandings to guide humanity to a better way’ and other big words to fuel the pit of burning enthusiasm to kick-start whatever it is we will be doing today.

10h20: SRC PhD students Luigi and Jen finally open up the mystery of today’s plan; discussing challenges and opportunities in sustainability science through “open space technology”. Just when I start panicking that I left my UFO at home, they explain us that it implies the most self-organizing structure of a conference possible. It is completely up to us what is about to happen today. Facilitators will guide us through all this freedom, and we should only follow the ‘Rule of Two Feet’: we all have them, and we can use them to walk around and go talk about anything and anywhere we like. I decide to turn my Burning-Man-mode on, and take it as it comes.

10h30: Anyone feeling inspired can make a suggestion for a discussion topic that is then put on a real-time board, flinga. A schedule is developed along the way with different discussion rooms where people can walk in and out of, freely to join an ongoing conversation.

12h18: Attending the “complexity & transformation in social-economic systems’ discussion. I’m really surprised to find that the topic that I bring up is immediately a starting point for our group discussion. (It almost seems as if the struggles I went through writing a Master’s thesis are still valid in a later research career.) “How do we define transformation, and how does it differ from adaptation?” The first definitions come up, but what is rapid, what is fundamental, what does lasting imply? We clearly all use the same words, however in different contexts and therefore create complicated puzzles of what we actually mean. One thing is certain, if we all differ on what the problem is and can agree on questions rather than answers, that means we are dealing with complexity.

13h00: We let it sink over need a lunch break by Brunnsviken lake.

14h19: I choose “controversy” as my next session; overpopulation, ecomodernism and other uncomfortable topics. “Is a person responsible for the emissions of their offspring? Can we use technology to decouple human well-being from environmental destruction? Should sustainability scientists live a sustainable lifestyle? Should we push for an overhaul of the academic system to achieve accreditation for real-world action rather than publications? Jack of all trades, master of none, I’m not a biologist, what kind of an –ist am I? If sustainability is used in terms of continuing an unsustainable model of economic growth, then isn’t sustainability a completely inappropriate term?”

15h45: Over a true Swedish fika, Luigi and Jen conclude the day. We may not have come up with answers to all our questions, but we definitely networked and got the hang of open space technology. People changed the location of discussions as the weather changed, merged and split groups as it appeared convenient, we basically managed to self-organize as a complex adaptive system! And the one big take home message is that we all share a concern on how to put research into action and are very reflective as to how we carry ourselves into the world as researchers.

A big thanks to SRC PhD student Ami, the man behind the day (who will not have his portrait taken but here’s a link to his profile page so there you go), Luigi and Jen and all facilitators and participants for making this day as confusing yet productive and social as it was!

Vi ses imorgon!

Elke, page 183.

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Elke Markey is a former Master’s student from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, where she earned a degree in Social-Ecological Resilience for Sustainable Development. Her roots lie in political science and in Belgium, where she gained another Master’s degree in Comparative and International Politics from KU Leuven University. To complete these endeavours, she packed her backpack for field work on forest governance in the Amazon region as well as on food systems in South Africa.


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