Early Career Climate Researchers: Why Our Voice Matters

On the 22nd and 23rd June 2021, a group of Early Career Researchers (ECRs) from GW4 universities organised a Symposium on Climate Change. After two days of insightful presentations and stimulating conversations, the organising committee and conference attendees gathered for a final roundtable. They discussed the roles ECRs should play in the next ten years of climate research, and why their voices should matter in this endeavour. The statement presented below is the outcome of this roundtable.

As humanity rounds off the first quarter of the 21st century, the effects of anthropogenic climate change are becoming increasingly pronounced, disproportionately harming the most vulnerable. These impacts will grow exponentially in the decades to come. In this context, academic research has a critical role to play in developing ideas and strategies that can help mitigate this crisis and adapt to its consequences.

As climate researchers in Ph.D. or postdoc positions, we are willing to contribute to this endeavour. In this statement, we present three reasons why ECRs are uniquely well-positioned to take part in this conversation, and why they ought to be listened to.

3 key commitments from ECRs to produce impactful climate research:

  1. We commit to adopting an interdisciplinary approach to understand and tackle climate change.
  2. We commit to place global ethics at the centre or our work, and to make research processes more participatory.
  3. We commit to communicating our research broadly and creatively to reach different audiences.

Primarily, ECRs tend to be newcomers to their respective disciplines, allowing them to position themselves more easily between disciplines, or offer fresh perspectives on their home discipline. This position allows ECRs to develop the interdisciplinary networks and skill sets necessary to tackle the next generation of climate research. In fact, while facing “wicked problems” such as climate change, siloed perspectives limit the creation of  holistic and long term solutions. An example of this interdisciplinary approach was the Climate Symposium we recently organised. The symposium’s organising committee members possess highly diverse backgrounds including ecology, engineering, combustion science, history, epidemiology, education and management studies. Capitalising on this opportunity to work with a breadth of experiences, the organising committee put together a symposium that foregrounded our common passion to address climate change, associated issues and improving society, rather than putting forward a specific discipline.

Furthermore, on average, ECRs belong to the generations who have lived and will continue to see the increasing effects of climate change and its social and economic consequences. Consequently, a central motivation is to elaborate concrete alternatives that can benefit society as a whole. However, although climate change is global, it is fundamental to mention that its impacts are not equally distributed. In the course of our conversation, we stressed the need to acknowledge our positionality and privileges as researchers based in the Global North. This requires us to adopt a global ethics approach and to put climate justice at the centre of our work. Another approach rests on the creation of global collaborations and networks with a variety of stakeholders, including civil society organisations, businesses and policy-makers, to ensure that our work is inclusive and impactful, in line with participatory research approaches.

Finally, we are keen to communicate our work beyond academia using a variety of tools. This includes social media, blog posts, policy-briefs and artistic productions. The Climate Symposium 2021 sought to develop such skills. In addition to providing a platform for ECRs to present their work, we partnered with Protect Blue, an ocean focused creative agency, who delivered a workshop on research communication. This gave us some critical tips on how to communicate our work more effectively and engage with a wider audience. Our key takeaways included the need to frame our message based on our audience, being solution-focused and to present challenges as opportunities, in order to give a sense of optimism about the impact of our projects.

If you are at the early stage of your academic career, and the arguments we brought forward in this text resonate with you, we would like to encourage you to speak up, now, because your voice matters.