Advancing research and beyond: Impressions of a summer school experience

12th ALTER-Net summer school 

August 30 – September 10, 2017

women carrying backpack in warm sunny location

Summer schools are available around the world in many disciplines, with different time durations. Many of these offer funding opportunities for grad and undergrad students and provide a unique learning environment. This year, I chose to attend ALTER-Net summer school, a laboratory on what it means to be a scientist – personally and professionally. The summer school is organized every year by ‘A Long-Term Biodiversity, Ecosystem and Awareness Research Network’ (ALTER-Net), a European network. Its 12th edition, “Biodiversity, ecosystem services: Science and its impact on policy and society”, focused on putting science into practice and demystifying myths about academia. The summer school took place at Peyresq, France, known as a hotspot for scientific and cultural meetings, where researchers from all over the world get together to meet, discuss, and collaborate on intellectual content and beyond.

For ten days, students, tutors, and professors came together in discussing the emotions involved in presenting work for an academic audience; sharing knowledge and experiences; singing Swedish songs at the church; dancing to Indian music in the classroom; and practicing Brazilian capoeira in the Alps.

Participants of the 12th ALTER-Net summer school hiking in France

Participants of the 12th ALTER-Net summer school hiking in France. Photo submitted by Ana Carolina Esteves Dias.

International summer schools are rich cultural events, providing a diversified environment for co-creation and critical thinking regarding the science we are producing. At the 12th ALTER-Net summer school, participants were stimulated to think critically about the research produced in the realm of ecosystem services, to understand its potential to impact policy, and to push for positive change in society. We were exposed to new methods and stimulated to coordinate activities between five working groups, fostering the enhancement of project management and facilitation skills.

I spent time with peers and renowned researchers discussing different aspects of presentations, from effective poster layouts to the fears and motivations related to presenting work to a scientific audience. More specific to my own research, I received valuable feedback on my research proposal and learned about promising approaches in my field of study. This provided a boost of motivation to think through my proposal and was a source of great input as well.

As a result of the combination between interesting participants, inspiring place, exquisite cuisine and high-level discussions, we seized the learning environment to develop academic skills, constructively criticize the science we are producing, and build meaningful connections with people who share similar interests. Networking with the other participants was a important component of the summer school. Before the summer school started, all participants received a short bio from all other participants in the course, including instructors and lecturers. The bios included the participant’s background, main research areas and contact information. This was an interesting way to let participants get to know each other before the school started and to think about meaningful connections that could be built during the summer school. The organizers also created a Facebook group to discuss up to date information, share publications and advertise interesting scientific events related to our field. The group is composed of the participants of all ALTER-Net summer school editions, so that we can interact with participants from previous and upcoming years. I look forward to meeting Peyresq colleagues again on our academic journey and to continuing to develop the skills I learned through this experience.

Ana Carolina Esteves Dias is a PhD Candidate at the School of Environment Resources and Sustainability, at the University of Waterloo. Ana Carolina’s research field is environmental governance of coastal ecosystems. Specifically, her research topic is the combination of the ecosystem services and the social wellbeing approaches to analyse and inform governance of marine protected areas. 

A related reflection, by Ana Carolina Esteves Dias, was originally published on the Environmental Change & Governance Group blog.

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