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Sophia N. Wassermann


PhD student in Marine Science at the National University of Ireland, Galway & Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholar. Interested in computational approaches to issues at the intersection of fisheries and climate change. Currently modelling mackerel collective behaviour. MSc in Biodiversity & Conservation (with Distinction) from Trinity College Dublin; B.A. in Environmental Studies from Vassar College.


What I've been doing in my 'spare time': The 5th International Conservation Congress

Ahh hello dear reader, summer greetings and warm salutations to you! It’s been almost a month since the culmination of ~ 1.5 years of working on the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress, held at the end of June in Kuching, Malaysia (on Borneo!). I was the Student Chair / Deputy Co-Chair of the conference as the lion’s shark’s share of my role as the Student Representative to the Board of the Society for Conservation Biology’s Marine Section.

In the weeks leading up to the conference, I spent my time answering emails, finalizing the student events, and putting together the abstract booklet. A crash course in LaTeX and a couple late nights later, I flew off to Asia for the first time. We started in Singapore for a couple of days, taking in the sights, sounds, and mostly tastes, of the big city. Beyond the food, I enjoyed the orchid garden, and the warm, humid air, but it’s a little bit too big and shiny of a city for me. My partner saw a dog he used to follow on Instagram, so there’s that.

We then flew to Kuching a couple days before the conference started to get our bearings. We were very lucky to stay in the conference hotel, which had a pretty sweet infinity pool. Kuching itself was charming, quiet, and relaxed. Much more my speed than Singapore, full of families strolling down the waterfront, small restaurants and bars, layer cakes, and cats. Unfortunately, I was too busy to enjoy much of the pool or Kuching, but what I did see was wonderful and I would love to go back!

infinity pool

View from the hotel pool. I posted this on Instagram with the caption 'I swear I'm here for work'. I'm not sure anyone believed me.

As for the conference, it was amazing to see it all come together in the end after countless hours put in by the incredible organizing committee. Everyone on the committee (save our meeting manager extraordinaire, Travis Nielsen) was a volunteer. I would like to thank those who helped me organize the student events in particular: Shaili Johri, Rina Hauptfeld, Rachel Skubel, and Melissa Márquez, and the organizers I worked with most closely: Edd Hind-Ozan, Holly Niner, Travis, Heather Penney, and Matt Tiethbol, and the entire Marine Section Board.

Speaking of student events, we arranged three events in particular for students, following from previous IMCCs. We did a student social, (held on a boat!), a lunch where students could chat and share a meal with our incredible plenary speakers, and a networking workshop where we worked through the stages of networking: how to approach a cold open, how to pitch yourself or a project, and how & when to follow up.

On a personal level, I wasn’t able to attend as many talks as I would have liked, but I did have the chance to chair sessions for the first time. It was a nerve-wracking experience when the AV wasn’t working, or during my lame attempts to fill open time with jokes. The talks that I did see were inspiring and challenging, of the high caliber I have come to expect from IMCCs. The immediacy of conservation challenges facing the oceans was clear, but presented with optimism and determination. The tone was set by our plenary speakers who challenged us to think interdisciplinarily and to recognize the past and present issues surrounding colonialism and lack of diversity in science and conservation, especially highlighted in the plenary by John Aini.

There’s no way I can recap all of what was covered and discussed at IMCC, but if you’re interested in hearing more about the conference, Andrew Lewin recorded a bunch of episodes for his podcast, Speak Up For Blue, about the conference.

Also, beyond the science, we worked hard at IMCC to create the most welcoming and inclusive space we could. The lack of travel funding, especially for local delegates, is the largest challenge we face. We are always striving to include more and more people and lessen the barriers to participation. To make the conference more accessible to parents, IMCC5 also included the first International Marine Kids Congress.

We also had a Safety Officer to help uphold our Code of Conduct. For more information about why every conference should have a Code of Conduct (especially prescient given recent events), check out this paper by the IMCC4 organizers.

Looking forward to the next IMCC (in Kiel, Germany!!!!), I hope we can continue to build on the legacy of the previous conferences. I’ll be involved as one of the co-chairs under the indomitable Holly Niner. If you would like to be involved, my position as Student Rep will become available, as will other positions on the Marine Section Board and on the conference organizing committee. If you’d like to be involved, make sure you’re a member of SCB and the Marine Section and keep your eyes out for election announcements!

Thank you to everyone who made this such a wonderful experience and I can’t wait to follow along with all of your adventures on Twitter!

bye bye Kuching!

Sunset on our last night in Kuching. I'll be back, Borneo!