Alexander MacLeod, NASAC Chair, University of Maryland; Elizabeth Miller, YES LOC Chair, University of Wisconsin – Madison; and Sara Nason, YES Program Chair, Johns Hopkins University
The 7th Young Environmental Scientists (YES) Meeting was recently held from 25–29 March in Madison, Wisconsin. This was the second YES meeting held in North America, and it included 63 student and recent graduate attendees from 12 countries, representing all five geographic units of SETAC. Students and recent graduates came together to present their research, forge friendships, and participate in laboratory and “soft skills” short courses focused on the timely theme “Stand up for Science.”
The University of Wisconsin–Madison was a superb venue surrounded by lakes, boasting an expansive campus with large green areas, and incredible volunteers (many new to SETAC!) made the experience pleasurable to say the least. During lunch breaks, participants ventured along the partially frozen lake bordering the campus – a great opportunity to socialize beyond the science. To improve the sustainability of this meeting, much of the food provided was donated by Dane County Healthy Food For All, a community-based food recovery effort that collects excess produce from farms and prepared foods from corporate cafeterias that would otherwise go to waste and then distributes it to Madison events.
The Sunday opening ceremony was kicked off with a warm welcome and introduction to the YES meeting by Sara Nason, the YES Program Chair. This seamlessly led into an overview of the mission and activities of the North America Student Advisory Council (NASAC) and how students can get involved, presented by Alexander MacLeod, the NASAC Chair. Teresa Norberg-King, a member of the SETAC North America Board of Directors, followed with an excellent introduction into SETAC as a whole, including discussion of the publications offered and the incredible networking opportunities. The closing presentation spurred excitement with an overview of the short courses and activities that would encompass the week ahead, delivered by Liz Miller, the YES Local Organizing Committee (LOC) Chair. All of the organizers brandish the lovely conference t-shirts, which was decorated with the theme image to ensure all attendees could identify organizers and ask questions. The first social event was held that evening in an inviting atmosphere with joy and fried cheese curds, a Wisconsin specialty.
The full-day opening workshop on Monday, organized by new SETAC member Ben Petersen, focused on the “Stand Up for Science” theme, emphasizing science communication and public perception. A fascinating keynote presentation expertly delivered by Dietram Scheufele, Professor of Science Communication at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, discussed methods of communicating to the public and the importance of understanding the different worldviews held among individuals, using the United States as a case study. In the spirit of crowd participation, Holly Kerby, the Executive Director of Fusion Science and co-founder of Wisconsin Story Works, led an interactive workshop on storytelling where all attendees participated by turning their scientific research into a story that could be consumed by people with any background (especially non-scientists). After leading us through a demonstration of her own, we all set out to turn our research into a palatable story, which turned out to be more difficult than expected. A couple of brave souls presented their stories and were helped by the audience; it was an exciting event! After a delightful lunch, a panel of experts, comprising a research hydrologist at US Geological Survey Wisconsin Water Science Center, the Institute Director of the Wisconsin Sea Grant and two freelance science writers, presented “Stories from the Field.” Career talks were a staple at the end of each day from Monday through Wednesday, each one highlighting a different sector of SETAC’s tripartite structure.
Tuesday and Wednesday were primarily composed of scientific platform and poster presentations by every attendee, a key facet of the YES meetings. The eight scientific sessions were method development for environmental analytical chemistry, terrestrial ecotoxicology and chemistry, molecular toxicology and –omics approaches, marine ecotoxicology and chemistry, environmental modeling and risk assessment, nanomaterials in the environment, public health and epidemiology, and the largest, chemistry and ecotoxicology of lakes, rivers and streams. All presenters received evaluations from other participants as a means to encourage growth in communication and science.
In line with this year’s theme, public outreach was highlighted through a Science Slam hosted at a local bar on Tuesday evening. The turnout was great with more than 110 audience members, of whom more than half were from the local community. At the Slam, six YES attendees had 5–7 minutes each to present their topic to the crowd. Topics included nanomaterial use in watermelon farming, sea sponges and effects of illicit drugs on aquatic worms, and audience heckling was encouraged (#whatabouttheworms). Cameron Hird, a student at the University of Exeter in the UK, was crowned as the inaugural YES Science Slam Champion. The following evening, all were invited to relax and socialize with bowling, air hockey and billiards over a few libations and food at the Stress Relief Mixer.
The meeting concluded with a full-day of short courses. In the morning, participants had the choice of “Solid Phase Extraction,” “Software Carpentry: The Unix Shell,” “Risk Assessment in Global Research” or “Microscopy Imaging.” The afternoon courses included “Patenting and Licensing in the Life Sciences,” “Effective Mentoring Strategies,” “Translating Scientific Information Into a Story That Can Influence Decision-Makers,” “Data Management for Researchers” and “Publishing Your Research.” Clearly, it was difficult to choose which courses to attend, especially since all were free for attendees, keeping with the precedent set by previous YES meetings.
This year’s YES meeting was truly an extraordinary experience. The next one will take place from 5–10 February 2019 in Ghent, Belgium. Mark your calendars now and learn more!