Life post-YRS: Learning towards sustainable research, reflections by a 2013-YRS student

By Ruchira Ghosh, TERI University

Edited by Hanna Stahlberg, UNU-IAS, ESD Communications Associate

Young Researchers’ School (YRS), an initiative of ProSPER.Net, provides the distinctive opportunity for doctoral and graduate students in the Asia-Pacific region, to better understand the continuum of sustainability. The school is organized yearly among ProSPER.Net member universities. In 2013, the school was jointly hosted by Chulalongkorn University, the Asian Institute of Technology, and Prince of Songkla University in Bangkok from 9-20 September on ‘Partnerships in Water and Biodiversity for Sustainable Development’.

Each year, 15 students from ProSPER.Net member universities are selected to participate and embrace their budding research aptitude. On Sunday 8 September, participants started to arrive at SASA International, Chulalongkorn University. We all met for dinner on the same evening, where the ice finally broke. Everyone was excited to spend the next two weeks together as a team, to learn collaboratively about research in sustainability. Most of us experienced sleepless nights, while being exposed to intercultural, trans-boundary learning, knowledge-sharing and interactive get-togethers of all researchers.

It was a unique opportunity to be part of ProSPER.Net’s YRS, to learn, exchange knowledge, and carry forward sustainability in research. Sharing information among experts, peers, and scholars in the school not only helped in building a robust understanding of urban sustainability, but also strengthened the overall research network in sustainability. The school is distinct in its activity-based learning via different groups and individual events that help participants to interact and understand cross country research, and come up with solutions that can be adopted for similar problems elsewhere. Activities like field trips, communicating with local communities, competition on presenting doctoral research in just three minutes, proposal- making and other similar activities, create a strong understanding of the links between different sciences, societies, resources, governance, economy and policy. The most significant learnings made during the programme are how research can be linked to communities and the importance of research and knowledge dissemination in society.  The participants gained invaluable experience and knowledge that will make them better role models and leaders in sustainable society.

The school started with a lecture series on various aspects of biodiversity, water resource management, water partnership, and respective sustainability challenges.  Lectures were combined with field visits on the following days. During these field trips, participants were divided in three groups of five members each. Participants visited different provinces of Thailand. One of them being the Royal Projects in the Petchaburi Province of Thailand, located on the coast, south of   Bangkok, facing the Gulf of Thailand. Each visit started with an introductory lecture on key aspects of the location and its importance for an ecologically and economically viable society. Groups were asked to compile visit information in form of a brief write-up. The close knit group of participants managed to draft all information needed for the report, in spite of being in their host country, shortly after the School had finished. Group activities also involved proposal writing. This included exercises such as identifying objectives, methodologies, budgeting and making a plan for timely and result oriented completion of the proposed work.  Groups were formed with participants from various research fields, ranging from social to scientific to economy and policy sectors in each, combining all necessary aspects. Furthermore, individual activities included competing against fellow participants in a three minute thesis presentation and in writing lecture summaries. During both group activities, participants developed team working skills, and learned how to frame research proposal and write project reports. Additionally, efficient presentation techniques and skills were also learnt by candidates. Two weeks of intensive lectures, group discussions and other activities not only encouraged a vigorous interaction among sustainability co-researchers but also strengthened the network beyond its scope as well.

Fellow participants continue to network up to this day, through facebook, linkedin, emails and face to face, despite their different research backgrounds. Such a strong network has proven useful in addressing research issues and questions as well as national and international sustainability issues, portrayed in their research.

Life post-YRS

Most participants were in their initial phase of graduation at the time of YRS’ 2013. During the three minute thesis presentation, candidates were shy at first to present their research and ideas. But the school helped candidates to improve their communication skills and research methodologies. After the school, they found themselves confident enough to present their research elsewhere. Initially, most participants were not well versed in writing a research proposal. But for those who attended the YRS, it was indeed a step-by-step learning process. Post-YRS, students defending their thesis and presenting their research papers were now more confident than ever to face the forum. Indeed, for many, it was the first time of travelling overseas and meeting people from other countries. Many of us are now connected via joint publications. Sessions like “Life post-PhD” in YRS showed the possible research paths we could take. Being now in a later stage of our PhDs, the knowledge we acquired during YRS comes in handy when drafting reports and being involved in more extensive projects.  Being also Prosper.Net alumni, we are updated on other initiatives via the ProSPER.Net newsletter. A yearly YRS alumni meet with a specific research theme could be a great way of strengthening the network even further. Coincidently, the ProSPER.Net Leadership programme is such a platform for alumni to reunite. This further reinvigorates the bond among YRS participants from different years.

Overall, the school provided us with opportunities to understand sustainability challenges in a multicultural and multidisciplinary environment. It works for capacity building of budding researchers, broadening our outlook in interdisciplinary research, and connecting the dots in research for and with communities.

Testimonials of YRS 2013 participants

“The significance of YRS for me was receiving a basic knowledge and understanding of a multi-discipline approach regarding sustainable development issues. We should think more comprehensively and consider possibilities in other aspects” (Nurrohman Wijaya, Indonesia)

“After the YRS workshop I changed my mind set regarding research. The quality of research is one of the most important things in academia. However, communication is essential too. I learned a lot on how to communicate our work to society and how my work can benefit our world. In conclusion, I would like to contribute something to our beloved world” (Nattapong Tuntiwiwattanapun, Thailand)

“I really liked my experiences at UNU, YRS! I loved the lectures, the friendship with the students from different countries, and the hospitality of the local staff and students! I went to Thailand for YRS for a sustainability subject, which was my first time in Thailand, and gave me very valuable memories! The topics broadened my research area as well” (Dashi Zhang, Australia)

“The experience from YRS helped me to improve my research work and also my presentation skills. I thought the 3-minute thesis was extremely useful as it reminded me for the need to keep the message simple and effective. I have also published one paper on the co-benefit that is somewhat inspired by Mr. Zhixiao Ma, a fellow participant” (Amornchai Challcharoenwattana, Thailand).

“Because of the YRS course, I became more confident in sharing knowledge and in making a presentation. As a consequence, I have done well in my final defence and finished my PhD. Now I am working in a consulting company. I can share our experience of YRS life with others” (Aung ye Htut, Myanmar)

“From my experience, participating in YRS gave me access to a wider network of researchers who work in the same area for example in sustainable development. Sharing knowledge and experience between PhD students as well as with lecturers during YRS was very helpful and can later be applied at everyday work” (Benchawan Terrakul, Thailand)

“In my opinion, YRS gave me a great opportunity not only in terms of knowledge but also many skills such as how to conceptualize the research in a  3-min presentation, working as a team to solve environmental problems by brainstorming with many researchers in different fields, and especially the connection of YRS friends” (Mongkolchai Assawadithalerd, Thailand)

 “Being chosen to participate in the 2013 YRS was a privilege that has boosted my career academically and personally. In the two-week intensive workshop, I have acquired advanced knowledge in sustainability research, from world experts in the field, together with invaluable guidance on research design, planning skills and research proposal writing that have been proven to be beneficial for the success of my candidature. More importantly, it was a great opportunity to develop a network of collaborators through interactions with other scientists from various research and cultural backgrounds. The YRS is an experience that I will never forget” (Jessica Pandohee, Australia)

“It was a great experience to be part of YRS-2013. Personally, the YRS theme ‘Partnerships in Water and Biodiversity for Sustainable Development’ was a highlight as it clearly fitted my research exposure and interests. Being an early career researcher, aspiring to build a long term career in sustainability research, this programme immensely contributed to contextualise my research experiences into a larger global frame. Moreover making new friends, getting to know different cultures and meeting new people were all exciting.” (Dhanya Vijayan, India)

Photos of the event can be found on facebook.