Academic networking: inspiring coffee breaks and beyond

UEP member Milja Heikkinen was accepted as a Research Fellow in Earth System Governance project. Here, she tells a bit about the project and how the experience has been so far.

Although I only recently put together my formal application for becoming an ESG research fellow, I first heard about the Earth System Governance project already in 2017. I ended up participating in the ESG conference in Lund, as a recently met colleague recommended it. I was impressed, not only by the great scientific program, but also by the feeling of diverse community, bringing together different disciplines as well as artists and experts outside academia.

In addition, the organisers came up with great creative solutions, such as an internal couch surfing for those suffering with the Nordic hotel prices. Student volunteers invited a couple of colleagues and me to stay in a near-by strawberry farm. One of my best conference accommodation experiences!

What is this community about (except great and creative conferences)? ESG is a global network of researchers. The aim of the project is to bring together social science researchers who study the politics and governance of earth system transformations across local to global scales. Through this, the project seeks to understand and imagine sustainable and just futures, also helping to make them real. To this end, science-policy interface is central.

From the scientific point of view, the Earth System Governance project follows a research agenda driven by a science and implementation plan. This gives a context for the work done in the project. The plan is updated every ten years, the current plan being for 2018-2028. Central piece in the plan is a framework consisting of five research lenses and four contextual conditions.

The contextual conditions, transformations, inequality, anthropocene, and diversity, characterise the core challenges we are currently facing in the context of Earth System Governance. Combined with the research lenses (architecture & agency, democracy & power, justice & allocation, anticipation & imagination, and adaptiveness & reflexivity), the framework gives structure for the activities of the community, e.g. for organising the conference programs.

On the practical level, the project facilitates networking, publishing, and information sharing. Apart from conferences, networking happens through taskforce and working groups specialised in different topics, such as Taskforce on Planetary Justice or Urban Working Group. There is a special group taking care of early career resources, and often the yearly conference is accompanied by an intensive course for PhD students and post docs. When it comes to publishing, the network counts on a peer reviewed journal, a book series, and a series of short books.

However, so far the greatest thing in the network has been the people. In general, it has been happily surprising how people are easy to approach during the dinners and coffee breaks. Even when one is a second-year doctoral student feeling quite shy surrounded by the names one has repeatedly read from article author lists and book covers. Most importantly, participation has enabled building personal peer-support networks. Since Lund, our loose group of early career researchers has met in conferences whenever possible. We have had great fun in our ESG panel sessions, and it has led keeping in touch and planning projects between conference meetings as well.

I warmly recommend to all doctoral students to explore their fields for this kind of communities. Developing personal networks is both useful for work and fun. If you happen to work with sustainability-related topics, hope to meet you in some ESG event!  The 2022 Earth System Governance conference will be organised in Toronto. Call for papers will open soon.