Eighty Stanford graduate students with a shared interest in the environment recently learned about – and demonstrated – the benefits of communicating across disciplines at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment’s 2015 Young Environmental Scholars (YES) conference.

“We often hear how scientists need to be better communicators,” said Stanford biology PhD student Julia Mason, during her presentation at the December conference. “I have learned that they also need to be better listeners," she said, referring to the disconnect that can happen between people who study marine life and those who make their living from the sea. “People who work in the seafood industry don’t always believe that their knowledge is being used or respected by scientists who want to work with them,” she said. “Some even feel threatened by scientists.”

Mason’s presentation on how disparate groups view ocean management was one of 13 given at the conference, which drew master’s and PhD students, as well as postdoctoral scholars, from all seven schools on campus. Focused on environmental science, policy and behavior research, the YES conference is one of few opportunities students have to network and learn from their peers across campus.

“The YES conference provides a critical opportunity for graduate students and postdocs to build community and learn about each other’s research,” said Graduate School of Education faculty member and Woods Center Fellow Nicole Ardoin, the faculty organizer of the conference. “It is one of their few opportunities to meet each other and build a sense of camaraderie.”

2015 Young Environmental Scholars Conference

Mason’s presentation was especially applicable to the conference’s theme of “communication across disciplines” chosen by the conference's student organizers. “Several of our peers told us that they wanted to present at the conference to find collaborators from different disciplines and schools,” said conference co-coordinator Anna Lee, a PhD student in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources. “That’s how we chose this year’s theme – to give attendees the opportunity to stretch the boundaries of who they are talking to and communicating with,” added Lee, who coordinated the conference with Carly Sponarski, a postdoctoral scholar at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Graduate School of Education.

YES conference organizers brought in experts from the Stanford Storytelling Project and Threestory Studio who led morning workshops on communicating research through storytelling and graphics, followed by the keynote speech from Jim Leape, a consulting professor at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Cox Consulting Professor in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences. Student research took the spotlight in the afternoon with 13 presentations and 26 posters, six of which were voted “best of class” by conference attendees.

Three presentations and three posters were chosen as “best of class” by student vote:

Oral Presentations

  • “Engineering the infinite metropolis: Mexico City’s water resource engineers and the crisis of urban growth” by Dean Chahim (anthropology)
  • “Adapting with trees in the mountains of Tajikistan” by Igor Rubinov (anthropology, intimate climate)
  • “Engaging diverse stakeholders for conservation solutions” by Julia Mason (biology, Hopkins Marine Station)

Poster Sessions

  • “Biodiversity preservation through innovative bioenergy production” by Tomasz Golinski (civil and environmental engineering)
  • "Hand and object mouthing of rural Bangladeshi children 3-18 months old” by Laura Kwong (civil and environmental engineering)
  • “Public-private educational partnerships: Environmental education in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica” by Samantha Selby (education) and Austin Cruz (Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and INOGO)

“As a researcher working on environmental education in rural Costa Rica, YES was an incredible opportunity for me to learn about the diverse environmental research and actions being undertaken on campus with local, national, and international impacts,” said Austin Cruz, who submitted one of the winning posters. “The exposure to fellow young scholars across disciplines and schools really brought attention to how we can and must communicate and collaborate effectively and responsibly in order to enact meaningful, lasting social and environmental change.”

Stanford graduate students and postdocs interested in attending next year’s conference can sign up for event updates from the Stanford Woods Institute here.

See the 2015 YES conference agenda