Everyone would agree that Ecology Across Borders (#EAB2017), the joint annual meeting of the BES, Gfö, NECOV and EEF, was a great success. As usual, the quality of talks and the ecological concepts and findings developed during the conference was outstanding. However, what struck me the most was the increasing number of workshops and events dedicated to the working lives of ecologists (topics that apply to all scientists).
The meeting was an eye-opener on the high amount of diversity in our community; and as all of you know, diversity is a main driver of the functioning and stability of any community. We are all different, yet deserve to be equal. I believe that acknowledging our differences and our complementarities is the key for our community of ecologists to make novel discoveries, be heard, and protect our planet.
Below we give you a sample of the different events and workshops that were held during the conference. I attended the ‘Stress Awareness and Mental Wellbeing at Work’ workshop, Melanie Jane Edgar initiated the Accessibility Network, Senior Editor Amy Austin and winner of the 2018 L’Oréal-Unesco for Women in Science award gave a talk at ‘Early Career Development Day’, and Associate Editor Iain Stott was at the the LGBT+ mixer.
The BES has an Equality and Diversity Working Group (EDWG) that was created 2 years ago to develop and oversee the delivery of the Society’s equality and diversity work. The group, led by Hazel Norman (BES Executive Director), is composed of a dedicated team, including among others Karen Devine (BES External Affairs Manager) who organized many of the workshops at #EAB2017, Associate Editor Iain Stott, Senior Editor Richard Bardgett and myself.
Please find more information here and feel free to reach out to the group if you have any queries or points you wish to raise about diversity and equality.
Stress Awareness and Mental Wellbeing at Work
Who has never experienced stress? I would say no one, because stress is an intrinsic part of being human. Small or positive stress is a driver of human performance and an adaptation to the environment while excessive stress can be harmful and lead to mental illness such as depression and even burnout.
The workshop ‘Stress awareness and mental wellbeing at work’ held at #EAB2017 aimed to increase awareness of unproductive stress and offer techniques for managing it in an academic context.
The session was co-organized by Bernadette Lynch from Mind (the mental health charity) and Richard English (BES Communications Manager). Bernadette taught us how to spot early signs of stress in ourself and our colleagues. For example, insomnia, constant worrying, tightness or pain in chest are signs of anxiety states, while lack of energy and concentration, feeling of guilt/shame, loss of appetite/over-eating are signs of depression.
When you start to feel annoyed, worried or anxious, try changing your mindset by focusing on what excites, interests or motivates you in your every day life or make a list of what you are grateful for: it will help relieve the stress symptoms.
We left the workshop with plenty of websites and resources to manage stress and our mental health. Here I share some with you: Mind, MindTools, BeMindFull, and TimeToChange. Go have a look if you suffer from stress or are interested to know more about the topic to help colleagues who may suffer (a high likelihood if you work in academia).
Pierre Mariotte, Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology (@PierreMariotte)
Launching the Accessibility Network
EAB2017 saw the launch of the accessibility network to support disabled researchers and promote open discussion of disability within the research community. Unfortunately the challenges of snowy weather and international conference travel meant that a few of our initial founders were unable to attend. However myself and those in attendance, under the guidance of Karen Devine, shared our experiences of balancing an academic career with a disability.
I was saddened to hear that all of those who spoke had negative experiences, and even more saddened to be contacted privately by many who did not wish to attend in person as they feared discrimination by current and future colleagues. Across the discussions there were three key issues identified that cause difficulties for those with disabilities:
- Conditions that vary daily, or even hourly, can mean researcher’s abilities change frequently with little ability to predict when changes will occur.
- The implication that others know more about living with your condition than you do; this is particularly prevalent in disability support and occupational health services.
- Sufferers being actively encouraged to hide or even lie about their conditions on paperwork and in person by senior colleagues due to the prevailing stigma that disability equals inability.
The BES is committed to promoting equality and diversity. The Accessibility Network will continue to grow with a series of events and articles aimed at starting open discussions between disabled researchers and their colleagues. If you want to get involved please contact Karen Devine or myself.
Melanie Jane Edgar, PhD candidate, University of Manchester (@agroecofarm)
Early Career Development Day
With snow closing airports, freezing train tracks and my own personal travel odyssey that involved the altruism of a dashing German NATO officer that ensured my arrival in Ghent, I was surprised to see the room bursting at the seams with early career researchers for my talk at Early Career Development Day.
I was pleased to have been invited to share with them a bit about my career journey and really enjoyed my experience at the workshop. It was a new challenge to prepare this talk – as scientists we are trained to put some distance between ourselves and our science and report our results in the most ‘objective’ way possible. But I decided to go another way and tried to discuss some of the back story of what I felt as I ‘stumbled’ along this academic path over the last 20 years.
I recognize that my story sparks interest – a North American scientist living and working in Argentina, and know that for the vast majority of the audience, it is certainly not the path most traveled. I was pleased by the warm response of the participants as I shared some of my more personal moments that perhaps resonated with some of their own feelings of insecurity or uncertainty. So a few feral goats later, a photo journey through Patagonia and some advice on making the most of the ecological opportunities of where you are and where you work, the workshop moved forward. I really wish that there had been more of these type of opportunities (or I had been more aware of them) when I was finishing my PhD.
I think the most amazing part of this workshop was my sensation that in the participants, there was a marked decrease in those feelings of isolation and insecurity – simply by sharing and admitting that some parts of initiating an academic career are really tough is both a huge relief and a big help in figuring out ways to make the most of what you have. I am extremely grateful to Karen Devine and the BES for inviting me to participate – it was an unforgettable experience!
Amy Austin, Senior Editor, Journal of Ecology
Mixer of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and More
On a chilly Tuesday evening in Edinburgh, December 2015, a small number of people collected in a conference centre room for a couple of hours. The same thing happened in Liverpool in 2016, and again in Ghent in 2017 (although this time on a Wednesday with about 20 people). Those people were LGBT+ scientists, attending the BES LGBT+ mixer.
LGBT+ scientists often lack clear role models and professional networks of others like ourselves. It can be hard to meet other LGBT+ scientists: you usually can’t assume someone is LGBT+, and in a professional – or really any – setting, it’s usually taboo to ask. Role models and networks are important support however, for surpassing unique barriers to career progression, including discrimination which still exists in societies worldwide. The mixer provides a place to meet other LGBT+ scientists; a place where we can, for once, assume others will be like ourselves.
Iain Stott, Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology (@iainmstott)