The Centre held its third annual Research Retreat and second annual Early Career Researcher (ECR) Workshop in Cairns last week with 108 and 74 in-person attendees respectively. It was great to hear from so many of our Centre Members on their recent research achievements and discuss future directions.
The Research Retreat began with a Welcome to Country from the Minjil group who performed a smoking ceremony and welcomed us with local stories highlighting their culture of inclusivity, and a gift of a cross boomerang, traditional to the region.
Honorary Professor Henrietta Marrie AM, Elder of the Gimuy Walubara clan of the Yidinji people, Sovereign Owners of the land on which the City of Cairns and southern suburbs are now located, gave an outstanding and inspiring opening address on the challenges relating to Indigenous foods. I would like to share some highlights of that here. Indigenous peoples (~5% of the world population) currently protect around 80% of the remaining biodiversity on Earth (State of the Environment report). It’s a sobering thought that of the approximately 6700 currently spoken languages, 40% are in danger of disappearing within a century, including many Indigenous Australian languages (UNESCO data). At the same time, and very much tied to this, we are losing traditional knowledge of native foods and food systems, and losing traditional knowledge of sustainable resource usage and management of ecosystem integrity. Meanwhile, we know agriculture has impacted and continues to impact biodiversity. A major challenge presented by Henrietta to address this was how to inspire young people in learning Indigenous knowledge as well as developing rewarding careers. This presentation was such an impactful way to stimulate our research endeavours as well as to better inform us of the challenges faced by Indigenous communities with the protection of knowledge.
An important benefit of being part of a Centre of Excellence, apart from the enhanced opportunity to undertake transformative multidisciplinary research, is to impact the community and to have our thinking impacted by the community. Henrietta painted a clear picture around the concept of ‘land rich but dirt poor’. This refers to the challenges Indigenous people face in being able to live on the land yet being constrained in the way they may develop it to preserve and benefit from their traditional knowledge. Given this and many other issues it is wonderful to see the deep relationship forged between Henrietta and the law team led by Brad Sherman.
Liz Visher, a Director in the Office of the Chief Research Officer at the Australian Research Council, joined the Retreat virtually to officially launch the Legal Fact Sheets. These Fact Sheets are a real achievement and a fantastic resource not only for the Centre but for Plant Science more broadly and I congratulate Brad Sherman’s team for putting them together. Brad’s team is also working hard on processes to easily enable us to be consistently Nagoya Compliant.
Other initiatives introduced at the retreat were a misinformation and disinformation policy on enabling free speech (online shortly) and Authorder, a multi-criteria decision-making approach for determining author order in publications. This authorship approach builds on the Australian Code of Conduct for Responsible Research, is consistent with conflict resolution theory, and enhances effective communication across interdisciplinary boundaries and among diverse participants.
As expected, many discussions on our science involved a degree of creative tension where researchers from different disciplines sought to deepen their understanding. Reading through the retreat feedback, it was clear that our shared understanding of the Centre vision is developing well. Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos and I introduced a new way of thinking about the Centre’s research and pathways to impact using the analogy of a tree with its roots in disciplines and its impact described among the upper foliage heading to faster breeding technology and better understanding of how to identify vulnerable plants and mechanisms underpinning adaptation. It is crucial that we keep focussed on these types of discussions to ensure we make the most of our opportunities and obligations and continue to strengthen the trunk of our tree.
One of the challenges of the retreat is how to cover the research of 100 researchers and provide our diverse group with both quiet and interactive times that will foster deep thinking, collaboration and synergies. Thank you to those providing feedback, we do find it very useful in reflecting and planning ahead.
“I was genuinely impressed by the high-quality of scientific presentations and posters, particularly by the ECRs. It was fantastic to see the first glimpses of cross-disciplinary research projects and given the collaborative culture across the Centre, I’m sure those projects will continue to grow. I’m excited to see what comes next and how the journeys ‘along the Impact Tree’ unfold.” – Bettina
“Perhaps the most impressive observation from the 2023 retreat was the growth of Centre ECRs, especially in terms of emerging cross-disciplinary bonds being forged to address complex questions.” – Bruce
Congratulations again to the well-deserved winners of our Retreat awards – Best Presentation was awarded to Nick O’Brien, Chris Ray, and Melanie Wilkinson. Best Student Poster was awarded to Chantelle Beagley with an honourable mention to Karen Velandia. Best Postdoctoral Researcher Poster was awarded to Nouman Sohail with an honourable mention to Raul Ortega Martinez. During the Retreat we were also able to acknowledge the Centre for Plant Success Core Values awards winners for the year – Candice Bywater, Hannah Drieberg, and Emma Horswill for Inclusivity; Jazmine Humphreys and Melissa McKain for Integrity; and Berris Charnley and Hamish MacDonald for International Excellence.
Thank you again to Candice Bywater and Jazmine Humphreys for their contributions in organising the 2-day ECR workshop on behalf of the Researcher Development Working Group. The event covered science communication, preparing for varied career paths, and hands-on coding workshops delivered by Jan Engelstaedter, Mike Charleston and other helpers.
Lastly, a big thank you to all our presenters and organisers, it was a fantastic week!
Christine Beveridge FAA
Centre Director, The University of Queensland