This year I have been invited to participate in the Tropical Research Network (TRN), a new network created to bring research students together who are focused on tropical issues. Eight Australian Universities have joined the network, with the first cohort selected in 2012. The biggest event for TRN each year is a conference and last week I joined the 2013 TRN Conference hosted at the Cairns Institute at James Cook University, Cairns.
There were students from a huge range of disciplines and topics, with many students originating from tropical countries but enrolled at Australian Universities. A student from Indonesia (studying in Adelaide) is investigating ecosystems created within oil palm plantations in Sumatra. A student from Kenya, based at Charles Darwin University in Darwin, is investigating an invasive weed that is impacting rangelands in central Australia. Another student from the University of Western Australia is based in Flores, Indonesia, looking at the pathways young people take once they have completed higher education.
There were about 30 students in attendance and I met every one. The organisers devised clever ways for us to develop relationships and friendships over the week and I left the week with a growing number of connections and friendships across the country.
Throughout the week experienced Australian academics and a keynote speaker from Brazil encouraged and coached us to design our research so that it will make a difference to the world. These speakers also challenged us to see the importance of trans-disciplinary research: in tackling complex problems one perspective is not enough.
But one new relationship had the biggest impact on me. One student stood out. Her background is in public health and community development (mine environmental science and management). In several short chats, the student introduced me to the concept of working with Indigenous people in a way that is ‘de-colonising’. Coincidentally, I am reading a book about the same subject by Deborah Bird Rose; “Reports from a Wild Country: ethics for decolonisation”.
Perhaps it was osmosis of concepts from the literature and direct sharing, but this idea has had a profound impact on how I understand my research. Although this budding thought will need to be developed in a later post.
For now, I am following up with new friends and connections made during the conference, and hoping I can make the next year’s conference!