By Charlotte Weber,

Reflections on the ICES MSEAS Young Researchers Workshop in Brest, June 2016

This June I had the great pleasure to be accepted for presentation at the ICES MSEAS conference with the theme: “Understanding marine socio-ecological systems: including the human dimension in Integrated Ecosystem Assessments”. Apart from presenting my research I also attended the Young Researchers Workshop which was organized as part of the conference. This workshop was set up for early career scientists to be able to pose a question to senior scientists in a relaxed environment.

Charlotte presenting at the ICES MSEAS Young Researchers Workshop, with Jake Rice on the right, who was invited as one of the senior scientists.

The workshop had invited some of the “big guys” of fishery science, like Jake Rice and Doug Lipton, to engage in the discussions and to give advice to the youngsters. The organizers asked for alternative presentation methods and provided snacks and drinks during the sessions, which gave the event a laid-back feeling.

I decided to pose the question: “What is the human dimension for you?

The human dimension seems to be very fashionable at the moment in fishery science. Everyone talks about it, ICES throws an entire conference about it and yet, the concept of the human dimension is neither defined nor very straight forward. So why is nobody asking what it is? People from very different disciplines and research fields all use this term. Yet, what do we all mean by it? Are we actually talking about the same thing?

However, when I asked what the human dimension was, I received some quite strong responses, especially from the older senior audience. A lot of the feedback I got through the open discussion was more critical about my question, rather than the lack of definition. I was told it was too big of a question to ask. The question was seen as too shallow, the problem too big. I was told to “get over it” and move on.

I admit, I was startled. These weren’t the responses I had hoped for. I didn’t expect an easy answer in the first place, but to just drop the question? That came as a surprise.

So how come my question upset the crowd like that? Did I hit a sore spot? Or was it just the question that was stupid? I was always told there is no such thing as a stupid question. Science lives from asking questions. So are there good and bad questions? Or are some questions just better than others? Maybe sometimes we are just a little afraid of ‘big’ questions?

Isn’t it a bit ironic, though, to attend a conference which is entirely themed around ‘the integration of the human dimension into ecosystem assessments’, but avoiding the discussion of what that human dimension really is? How can we talk about the integration of something if nobody knows what that something is exactly? Yes, one could argue that the term is quite broad and might mean different things to different disciplines and researchers. But nobody at the conference defined how they interpreted it.

As you might see, this workshop raised much more questions for me than it answered. Yet, I feel inspired, because it made me not only think about the concept of the human dimension a lot more, but also about science as a community with different ongoing discussions, mindsets, opinions and believes. There is so much more to science than just methodology, research and publications. There are some things you cannot read upon, you need to experience them to learn about them, and I am glad this conference workshop gave me exactly that.

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