An organizer’s perspective on the 3rd NEST conference: Stimulating and fun

Spots around the globe, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Google Hangouts call with the organizing team of the #3rd NEST: Julius in Germany, Denise in The Netherlands, Paul in Switzerland, Kristina in Australia, and me in Nicaragua. Just trying to find a date and time that would work for all of us across 12 time zones was a challenge; the slowwwwwww internet functionality in Nicaragua was another. As the others’ voices faded in and out, I tried to make comments to the conversation but they sounded like Morse code in the ether. Frustration from all sides.

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Final prep for #3rdNEST .. the first time we were in a room together since June 2017!

Utrecht, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. For the first time since IST 2017 in Gothenburg, Sweden, we #3rdNEST organizers gathered together in a room at Utrecht University. Due to the worst luck ever, Denise had hurt herself quite badly in an accident the previous day – so after 9 months of being the only person on the team actually on the ground in Utrecht, she had to miss the home stretch and most of the conference… and the team was missing its local point person. T-1 day to the conference: and despite everything, we as the rest of the team hit the ground running!

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Ready for everyone to start arriving!

Utrecht, Friday, March 16, 2018. 5pm: For the last time, all participants gathered in a room at the Janskerkhof building for the final good-bye. The room pulsated with energy, enthusiasm, and good vibrations. People hugged, exchanging goodbyes and good wishes after two solid and fruitful days of peer-to-peer learning and interaction. Success!!!

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All 5 #3rdNEST organizers at the final session

Around 70 researchers of the junior transitions community came together for the 3rd NEST conference (#3rdNEST) at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University on March 15 and 16, 2018. The #3rdNEST was organized by a team from the core NEST group and funded by the Copernicus Institute (thanks again, Prof. Marko Hekkert!). PhD candidates and early career researchers (ECRs) arrived from countries and universities around the globe, and presented research covering topics such as the circular bioeconomy, bioclusters, the sharing economy, energy, water, agri-food systems, and bottom-up community initiatives, based on case studies from a wide range of countries. Keynotes by Prof. Anna Wieczorek, who provided an overview of the history and current developments in the field as well as on what the transition community can learn from transitions research in emerging economies, and Prof. Marko Hekkert, who gave points on how to create real-world impact with transitions research, opened the conference. Three workshops gave a more hands-on approach to topics such as the resilience of sustainability transitions (led by Susan Mühlemeier, EPFL Lausanne), science communication (from Utrecht University’s Communications Office) and using transition frameworks for mission-oriented innovation policy (led by Joeri Wesseling, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University). However, the bulk of the conference was sessions dedicated to PhDs and ECRs presenting their research to their peers, without the involvement of senior scientists.

As a member of the organizing committee, I wanted to share some thoughts and impressions of this event. What struck me – and many participants I talked to – the most was the wonderfully open and supportive atmosphere at the conference. Participants were very involved, energetic, and enthusiastic … nobody sat around the sessions bored and played with their phone, as I have seen happen many times at ‘senior’ conferences. I was further impressed by the really high level of feedback people gave on their peers’ presentations. It became clear that we have a very smart, well-read, and extremely engaged cohort of junior researchers in the transitions community! To me, the absence of senior researchers was a blessing in disguise – it facilitated much more interactions and interchanges between us peers (when senior researchers are in the room, I feel like we juniors tend to defer to them. Since they were missing, I feel like we, as a group and individually, rose above and beyond the occasion and gave really constructive advice to each other). I learned so much during those two days…. And not just learned but had a lot of fun. It was obvious during the conference that many people were having so much fun… not just during beers at Winkel van Sinkel or during the conference dinner, but during the sessions themselves and during the coffee breaks. The brain was both intellectually piqued and happily stimulated .

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As abstracts rolled in on the due date, it quickly became clear that after the two successful “PhDs in Transition” conferences in Greenwich (UK) in 2016 and Lausanne (Switzerland) in 2017, the #3rdNEST conference in Utrecht demonstrated an exponential growth in transitions research by juniors. With over 120 submitted abstracts, we had a lot to read as well as some difficult choices to make on whom to invite to the conference! Participants were a mix of ‘starters’ in the transitions field (about 30%) and late-stage PhD candidates and early career researchers (about 10%), with the majority being PhDs in the middle of their research. We are always looking for more interested people to collaborate actively in NEST activities, so please get in touch if you are interested – pretty much any contribution is welcome!

The #3rdNEST organizers and I are very much looking forward to seeing many of you again at IST this June in Manchester, or at the latest at #4th NEST in 2019! Cheers and go team Sustainability Transitions!

  • Katharina Schiller, on behalf of the #3rdNEST organizing team: Julius Wesche, Denise Reike, Paul van Baal, and Kristína Hojčková

    NEST_4organizers
    Happy to get the show on the road!
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