Science in Seoul: A visit to the 3rd Annual IIES Graduate Student Forum and 5th Annual IIES Science & Policy Workshop

Science in Seoul: A visit to the 3rd Annual IIES Graduate Student Forum and 5th Annual IIES Science & Policy Workshop

Are you passionate about our environment? If yes, then Seoul, the vibrant capital of South Korea, was the place to be for you this November! From the 11th to 14th, Korea University hosted this year’s 3rd Annual IIES Graduate Student Forum and 5th Annual IIES Science & Policy Workshop – four days filled with lively conversations among students and faculty from various backgrounds and career levels. Here, PhD candidate Verena Sesin from Trent University shares her experiences:

Suitcase packed, 14-hour flight, welcome to Seoul! I was very excited to participate in this year’s graduate student forum and annual workshop, knowing that these events are perfect opportunities to chat and connect with passionate students and experts in environmental studies and beyond! These IIES events foster exchange and collaboration across continents and disciplines. They have been my favourite gatherings throughout my graduate school journey.

My friends and I are getting excited for the IIES Graduate Student Forum and Workshop in Seoul (photo by Ainsely Lewis)

Graduate Student Forum: A place to chat about science and life in graduate school

In the first two days, students from more than ten different universities spread across North America, Europe and Asia got together for the forum. Everyone prepared a short talk about their research: The challenge was to explain their project to a diverse audience in just 5 minutes and using only two slides. We heard about all kinds of exciting studies in progress: Environmental effects of mercury in mine waste, biosorption of rare earth elements, analysis of organic pollutants in microplastics, impacts of urbanization on ecosystem services, and many more.

In addition to individual presentations, students formed discussion groups to chat about writing and publishing scientific papers, as well as graduate life and work atmosphere in their research groups. It was interesting to learn about other students’ approaches to surviving stressful times or dealing with difficult situations with their supervisors. Almost everyone had experienced such, and we could learn much from each other’s advice on how to get back on track or resolve issues. Every group was able to share their stories with a panel of experienced researchers that gave advice and explained their different philosophies of supervising students. Finally, Professor Yong Sik Ok, our host from Korea University, shared his approach on “How to write and publish a scientific paper” and emphasized collaboration as key to innovative and productive research.

Exploring the traditional Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul (photo by Verena Sesin)

Fruitful discussions during the first day were followed by a Korean Barbeque dinner near the campus, where we got to taste delicacies prepared on charcoal grills built into the dining tables – just like a traditional Korean family meal. On the second evening, a couple of students and I decided to visit the historic Gyeongbokgung Palace, which is the largest of all five palaces in Seoul and said to be the most beautiful. The palace was once destroyed by fire during Japanese Invasions in the late 16th century but was later restored. Today, you can watch the Changing of the Guards ceremony in front of the main gate. We also walked through the nearby Bukchon Hanok Village, which is home to hundreds of traditional houses, called “hanok,” that dates back to the Joseon Dynasty. Today, these hanoks are still inhabited by families, but many also operate as cultural centers, guesthouses, or tea houses.

Science & Policy Workshop: All disciplines gather to tackle environmental issues

The annual workshop was kicked off by a mixer at Incheon Memorial Hall on Korea University campus to meet everyone and make first connections. The scientific program of the Annual Workshop included plenary talks during the morning and afternoon sessions, a poster social, and ten thematic sessions, including “Environmental policy,” “Waste and water management,” “Environmental remediation,” and “Collaborative research within the IIES.” We could learn from speakers from a variety of disciplines, ranging from analytical chemistry to circular economy, ecology, ecotoxicology, environmental risk assessment and policy.

Graduate students could choose to present their research in a poster or a 15-minute talk. I decided to share recent results of my study looking at glyphosate fate and persistence in wetland plants. I was happy to receive great questions and valuable feedback from my audience. Indeed, feedback from an interdisciplinary audience helps you to think about new ways to approach your data or to find out about new techniques to add to your technical toolbox. When finding peers with similar interests and complementary expertise, this is also an excellent opportunity to combine forces and create a collaboration!

Throughout the workshop, five keynote speakers shared their take on cutting-edge research with us. We heard from Professor Raimund Bleischwitz from University College London on how we can work toward a circular economy, taking into account interdisciplinary perspectives from economics and social sciences. Right after, Professor Daniel Tsang from Hong Kong Polytechnic University explained urban waste valorization for a circular bioeconomy. Exploring the challenges and opportunities for interdisciplinary engagement, Professor Asaf Zohar from Trent University discussed ways to fulfill sustainable development goals. Introducing one tool that can contribute to sustainable development, Dr. Ondrej Masek from the University of Edinburgh talked about biochar and contamination in products. Professor Xiaowen Zeng from Sun Yat-sen University shared results on her study assessing how air pollution can negatively affect health in Chinese children.

To sum up, these four days in Seoul have been a wonderful time, meeting old and new peers, and exchanging ideas and advice. A huge thanks to our hosts and the IIES for organizing this forum and workshop in Seoul, and providing generous travel support that enabled me to make these experiences and share them with you.

Smile! Students and faculty from various backgrounds and career levels met up at the Annual Science & Policy Workshop to chat about science and more (photo by Julia Colley)

Engaging in IIES events throughout my journey in graduate school has been an invaluable experience. It has allowed me to make meaningful connections with students and faculty in my field, to collaborate on international projects, and to learn about different cultures and their approaches to science and policy.

There are many ways to participate in IIES activities: Tune in their many online lecture series or give a talk yourself; attend summer schools, forums and workshops; and many more opportunities to come!

By Verena Sesin