Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A tale of three conferences

University of Queensland Master’s student, Mr Murilo Pagotto, shares his experiences in participating in three international conferences related to sustainable consumption and production this year …

During the last semester of my master's degree in environmental management I had the opportunity to participate in three different international academic conferences in Europe and Asia. Participation in academic conferences is a very important way to expose your research and ideas to colleagues working in the private and academic sectors as well as to build professional connections that will support and improve your career in the future. However, these conferences seem to be formal and professional. Do not be afraid. The coffee breaks, lunch time and the social events organized after the conference sessions are enjoyable and you can meet people from all over the world with different ideas and perspectives. During these social events, you will probably meet some interesting people that could become your friend or work colleague in the near future. Lastly, before or after the conference you can, and in my opinion you should, do some tourism and visit interesting places in the country that is hosting the conference.

Below is an account of my personal experiences in participating in three international academic conferences. The first conference that I attended this year was organized by the Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society (IAS-STS) in Graz, Austria. Graz is a beautiful and liveable city approximately three hours driving from Vienna. At this conference, I presented one of the papers that I produced under the mentorship of Dr Anthony Halog, as part of my research project at UQ, called ‘Towards a Circular Economy: an Application of Input-Output Oriented Approach to Improve Eco-Efficiency of Australia’s Food Industry’. In this conference, I did an oral presentation in front of approximately 20 people including PhD students and professors from Europe and the USA. In this presentation I was allowed to speak for 20 minutes about my research topic including research background, methodology and acquired results. After the presentation, there were 10 minutes for questions and answers (Q&A). Before the presentation I was a little bit nervous, because as for the majority of people speaking in public is a hard task. However, during the presentation I tried to calm down, finished the presentation in time, clarified and explained the objectives and results of my research. The Q&A was interesting because many people in the audience were interested in my research and asked some challenging questions. Some professors with far more experience than me in the field have given constructive comments and ideas for my research project.

Besides my presentation’s experience, this conference was worthwhile in so many different ways. First, because I was able to attend several presentations of other colleagues, where I received some ideas and learned approaches that I would probably use in my future researches. Additionally, the social events during the conference have provided me a better understanding about the political and social situations of host countries, especially in Europe, and what are the expectations of the academic community for the near future. In the social events, we ate tasty Austrian food, drank Austrian beer and talked about travels and other topics. I had also spent couple of days in Munich before the conference as well as in Vienna after the conference.

City’s organic garden in Graz, Austria

The second international conference that I attended was the International Society of Industrial Ecology in Ulsan, South Korea. For this conference I received a partial scholarship provided by the organizers. Students can normally apply for scholarships or travel grants offered by the conference organiser. Normally any student can apply for this scholarship, however the organizers will first review and evaluate your research project and if they consider it an important and relevant topic for the conference, they will possibly give the students financial support. So if any student is planning to attend to a conference, check in the conference website or with the organizers if there are any available scholarships or travel grants to students. It is important to emphasize that normally there is a deadline application for this travel grant, so if you are planning to attend for a conference, check it as soon as possible.

My friend Benjamin and I catching the bullet train in Seoul to travel to Ulsan

Opening session of the 7th International Society for Industrial Ecology
Biennial Conference in Ulsan, South Korea

At the Ulsan conference I did a poster presentation rather than an oral presentation. Additionally, this conference was longer than the conference in Austria. The Industrial Ecology conference was divided in different sessions during four days.  I presented my poster in the third day of the conference in a large conference room with other posters. Poster presentation in academic conferences is a very interesting and pleasant activity. Basically, you hang your poster in the conference room’s wall, together with posters of your colleagues. The conference participants will walk around the room during the poster session and those who are interested in your research will ask you questions. The poster session is a good time to explain your research, exchange business cards and make important connections for your future career. This conference was important for me to improve my knowledge in the field of industrial ecology as well as to obtain new ideas and learn new approaches, methodologies and technologies implemented by private and government sectors worldwide in the past few years.

Dinner after the conference sessions with new friends met in the conference and
Korean local people at traditional Korean restaurant in Ulsan

The third conference that I attended this year was the International Input-Output (IIO) conference in Kitakyushu, Japan. The conference was organized by the International Input-Output Association (IIOA). This organization is a well-recognized international community including members from private, government and academic sectors. At this conference I also applied and received a full scholarship to travel to Japan. My paper was selected by the IIOA’s scientific committee to receive one of the ten travel grants awarded by the conference organizers.

Opening session at the IIOA conference in Kitakyushu, Japan

In the IIOA conference, we had a pleasant social event organized by the Japanese students who worked on organizing the conference. They called this event the ‘Young Researchers Meeting’. It started after the conference sessions in the third day of the conference. In this meeting all the young researchers participating in the conference were invited to attend to a keynote speech from one Chinese professor about a topic related to the application of Input-Output analysis in the Chinese environmental policy.  After the keynote address, all the participants were invited to go to a traditional Japanese restaurant where we enjoyed really good Japanese food and drinks. In this conference I met interesting people from over the world with different cultures, opinions and perspectives.

My oral presentation during the flash session in the IIOA conference, Japan

Dinner at a traditional Japanese restaurant after the social event organized by Japanese students aiming to gather all young researchers attending in the IIOA conference

Overall, academic conferences are events where you can grow professionally, open your mind to different cultures, political views and future perspectives as well as to have so much fun and meet new friends from every corner of the world. Based in my experiences, I strongly recommend for all students (undergraduate and postgraduate) to attend these events every time they have the opportunity. Also, if someone is interested in attending academic conferences, do not hesitate to contact me at I will try to answer any questions or doubts related to academic conferences’ application and how you can make this experience useful and enjoyable. 

Murilo Pagotto, University of Queensland

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