Kristina Bitter, RWTH Aachen University; Samuel Moeris, Ghent University; and Mafalda Castro, Stockholm University

The 8th Young Environmental Scientists (YES) Meeting took place from 5–10 February in the beautiful city of Ghent, Belgium. More than 120 students and recent graduates from 29 different countries gathered at the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering of Ghent University for the latest edition of this unique concept.

The YES meeting is a conference organized by students for students and recent graduates. A team of young researchers, including the members of the SETAC Europe Student Advisory Council (SAC) and several local students, formed the Local Organizing Committee (LOC). In alignment with previous versions of the YES meeting, participation was free and linked to the simple condition of a poster or platform presentation in one of the nine sessions. Thanks to the generous support of several meeting partners, more than 60 travel grants were offered to facilitate student involvement from all SETAC Geographic Units.

The meeting kicked off with an opening ceremony. First, the country of Belgium, which many of the international participants had never visited before, was briefly introduced, including the rather complex political situation. After a few welcoming words by the heads of the LOC, Josef Koch and Samuel Moeris, SAC Chairs Katharina Heye and Mafalda Castro, SETAC Europe President Karel De Schamphelaere and SETAC Europe Executive Director Bart Bosveld, everyone was invited to meet over Belgian fries and local beers. After our appetites were appeased, an entertaining pub quiz helped to further break the ice.

The first full conference day was dedicated to a workshop according to the meeting’s topic “From test results to decision making.” The three invited speakers – Mark Egsmose (EFSA), Frederik Verdonck (ARCHE Consulting) and Iseult Lynch (University of Birmingham) – representing SETAC’s tripartite structure, gave insights into the perspectives of different stakeholders. Later in the afternoon, the first ever YES Job Corner event allowed participants and meeting sponsors to get in touch with each other in a casual environment.

In the evening, the first of three career talks gave participating students a perspective on possible future steps in the world of environmental sciences. During the conference, Bart Bosveld (SETAC Europe), Louise Camenzuli (ExxonMobil) and Karel De Schamphelaere (Ghent University) shared their career experiences and gave valuable hints for the students’ future career planning. The social program was initiated with a pub crawl where students formed several groups and explored the multitude of unique bars in the ancient city center of Ghent.

Thursday was the first of two days of scientific presentations. The participants had the choice between two parallel sessions, which covered:

  • Aquatic ecotoxicology
  • Effect and exposure modeling
  • Environmental analytical chemistry
  • Environmental science and climate change
  • Risk assessment and regulation
  • Microplastics and nanomaterials
  • Molecular and genetic ecotoxicology and omics
  • Terrestrial ecotoxicology
  • Environmental engineering and sustainability

In the afternoon, an extensive poster social gave everyone the opportunity to present their work based on their posters and get into further scientific discussion. The day was closed by one of the highlights of the social program, the student party, providing a chance to compare international dance moves.

Participants listening to training course

The participants listen carefully to the training course “Marine environmental data: Principles of good data management and access to open data resources.”

A special part of the diversified program were the professional training courses on Friday. Participants had the chance to attend one of the free training courses covering marine environmental data management, bioinformatics, ecological modeling with Python, simple dynamic energy budget modeling, the Pacific Garbage Screening project, and research in the modern age, in which experts in their field used the whole day to share their knowledge. This day was reported back from the participants as one of their favorite activities of the YES meeting, in some cases going as far as “Such a day devoted to these types of courses should be mandatory in everyone’s scientific training.”

Members of SAC and LOC enjoying their time

The members of the SAC and Local Organizing Committee enjoyed their time at YES 2019.

Time passes faster when you have fun – all too soon, the second day of scientific presentations had also passed, it was Saturday evening and time for the closing ceremony. Accompanied with numerous pictures and videos taken by the busy film team around SAC members Paul Böhm and Markus Schmitz, the highlights of the meeting were reviewed, and the meeting officially closed. A last chance for networking was offered over farewell drinks, and a photo booth gave the opportunity to make lasting memories with our newly met peers.

For the ones who felt like seeing even more of Ghent, a free walking tour on Sunday morning completed this extraordinary week.

With the words from SETAC Argentina student representative Macarena Rojo, Universidad Nacional de La Plata,

“I travelled more than 24 hours from my home country to Belgium, and I was very excited for that, because I never thought that I could have the opportunity to meet students from other continents and exchange experiences of our journey on the science.”

From enthusiastic participant Quyen Do, Ochanomizu University, Japan,

“I came excitedly and extremely inspired by the enthusiastic experts and brilliant students from all over the world. Then coming back with a head full of ideas and a list full of friends. Thank you SETAC and SAC Europe, Local Organizing Committee for a friendly yet professional and the most enjoyable meeting that I ever participated!”

The inspiration now just needs to be preserved until the next YES meeting, which will be held at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, from 8–12 March 2020. The meeting website will be available soon.

Once more, the SAC would like to thank the SETAC Europe office, the SETAC Europe Council, all sponsors, the scientific committee, session chairs, local organizing committee and volunteers, as well as all invited speakers and training course lecturers for making this 8th edition of the YES meeting another success. Last but not least, we would like to thank you, the participants, for contributing to this conference, and we hope that we could trigger your interest to become further involved in SETAC and help improve Environmental Quality through Science®.

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