Friday, August 8, 2014

Boundary spanning

I am in the middle of preparing a talk for next week's 99th annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), which will be in Sacramento, CA this year, an easy train ride for me. This is my first slide for my talk, which is (sadly but predictably) still taking shape.

Almost 20 years ago, I spent a couple of years working for ESA, first as a public affairs intern and then as staff with a program within the Society that was called the Sustainable Biosphere Initiative, launched after a paper from Jane Lubchenco and others proposed the concept in what was at the time a controversial paper published in Ecology. While in graduate school at Berkeley, I continued to be involved with ESA, starting the student section in 2000 - it is really exciting to see how that section has truly taken off. I am now ending my final year of service on the ESA Public Affairs Committee and will be going out on a good note with a short talk on California's drought that I will be giving to introduce rancher Dan Macon at a lunch for ESA's Rapid Response Teams. I am particularly honored to open for Dan, whose blog post on the emotional toll of drought inspired my own on live-tweeting the drought.

In addition, my colleague Lori Hidinger of Arizona State University's Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes (who I know from our shared days as ESA staff) and I co-organized a session on "boundary organizations" that will take place next Wednesday. It's a great line-up of speakers. My talk is more specifically about what it means to be a boundary spanning individual - somebody who works at the interface of many different communities and on many different topics. I am looking forward to pushing myself a bit with this talk - somehow over the past few years that has been what I've used ESA for - to keep myself writing, thinking, presenting, pushing the boundaries. A few years ago I gave a talk on contemplative practice in community engagement, two years ago it was conflict resolution, and last year it was relationship-building as part of what turned out to be an excellent session exploring science practice. Every year it has been scary as hell to take on these kinds of topics as I still feel pretty renegade using words like meditation and embodiment at what remains a pretty conservative scientific society meeting. And yet, over these last few years, I've also seen a huge evolution in what at least the ecological and conservation practitioner community is willing to talk about and consider, which is really inspiring.

My goal with my talk next week is to discuss some of the vast changes that I see in what it means to be a scientist practitioner. That terminology can be a bit confusing, but I have seen advantages to beginning to talk about science practice in much the way that the law or medical communities make distinctions between primarily research and primarily practice oriented positions. Of course, the lines are never neat, but my hope is that by making science practice a recognizable thing, we can start to have the conversations that move beyond skill acquisition and into mastery. At this point there are so many of us out in the world working as scientist practitioners (many of us former AAAS fellows!), but we are a challenging group because we work in so many different settings with so many different communities, so these kinds of events can be a place to connect with like-minded folks.

I am excited to give this talk because I think boundary work in particular presents a huge opportunity to diversify and "complexify" what we think of as science practice. My main thesis is that more than ever we are invited to bring our full selves to our work - our messy, emotional, subjective, embodied selves - and I think for many of us, while that is a scary proposition, it is also kind of a relief. I will also spend a bit of time on the kinds of things I've experienced as helpful in surviving this brave new world, from contemplation to relational work. I've only got five minutes and 20 slides that advance every 15 seconds, we'll see if I can do any of it justice.

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