PhD Retreat

March 20, 2013

At the Integrated School of Ocean Sciences PhD candidates are encouraged to network personally outside their own academic field, to think beyond the PhD and to be enthused and inspired by role models who have forged individual career paths.

Discussing common themes in a socially conductive atmosphere – the ISOS PhD retreats are two-day events providing an opportunity for PhD candidates to address a theme of common interest, network with other PhD students and pick up new ideas. Invited experts give input and insights into their fields, and share personal experiences. For these retreats a group PhD-organisers work with the ISOS office to choose the theme and the invited guests.


5th ISOS PhD Retreat

Science when Facts are Uncertain yet Decisions Urgent:

Scientific results are continually in use: to set fishing quota, predict ecosystem changes, assess the risks of hazards, preserve biodiversity, advise on geoengineering, set up carbon trading systems and so on… Does this affect the way you do your science? Should it? Do you agree with the way your science is used? These and other questions were discussed with leaders in science, ethics, economics and sustainability at our ISOS PhD Retreat.

ISOS PhD candidates from natural sciences, law, a philosopher and an economist responded to the invitation, arriving on a snowy March afternoon at the seaside resort of Travemünde. From the start, they were challenged to take positions outside their own. They consulted in groups on a real-life problem where a decision was required based on conflicting scientific results. Five groups, five recommendations; a real-life result, as we heard from Jeroen van der Sluijs, who joined us from the Copernicus Institute of Sustainability Research in Utrecht. Jeroen spoke about uncertainty, a permanent companion of science, and the simultaneous need to communicate results to policy and action. Ulrike Kronfeld-Goharani, a political scientist, picked this up in stakeholder dialogue issues. Jan Behrmann from GEOMAR was asked to respond to our five questions that were asked also to the participants (see their answers in the box), and he gave a rare insight into the personal perspectives of a senior scientist. Konrad Ott introduced the philosophy of science, spoke about its value systems and norms. Reactions were highly individual, from “it’s not my job”, “it compromises my scientific integrity” to “it is the responsibility of scientists to get it right” and “decisions are made anyway, we must be involved”. A final role-playing game led by Cluster Scientists Jörn Schmidt and his colleague Christina Röckmann from IMARES Wageningen pitched fisheries lobbyists against citizens groups, NGOs, scientists and governmental authorities. It left no doubt that the situational perspectives was crucial – scientists wanted more money, fishermen open exploitation rights and we had some very authentic bureaucrats! What were the highlights? Probably a combination of personal interactions and new insights, but also probably the long walk at the seafront, and interacting with peers from different disciplines and the heated conversations during drinks at the bar!