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  • Payal Bal

The Rhodes Lab Visits Alice Springs for ESA2014 – Part 3

Last month, the Ecological Society of Australia held its annual ecology conference in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. A few of us were lucky enough to attend, so we thought we’d offer you our diverse perspectives of the event. We are: a post-doc recently arrived from Canada (Matthew Mitchell), an Australian PhD student (Rebecca Runting), and a PhD student from India (Payal Bal). This is the third and last post in the series. Make sure you take a look at Part 1 and Part 2 as well.

An Indian in Alice Springs (by Payal Bal)

The first international conference of my academic career, ESA was an interesting experience. Apart from the obvious perk of getting to experience a new part of Australia, it was finally at ESA that I was introduced to the Australian ecologist community. And high time too considering I’m about to complete two years as a research student in conservation science in Australia. The conference was a mixed bag of modellers, ecologists, managers and people working on indigenous communities, all driven by their interest in Australian ecology. As an international student, I felt a little out of place speaking about an Australian conservation problem and to a largely Australian audience. But all’s well that ends well and by the end, thanks to my affiliation to the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions and after delivering a successful talk, I could fit right in. But I found myself constantly drawing parallels between the ecology and the ecological community in Australia and India. I compared everything: academics, students, plenary talks, conference organisation, research topics, you-name-it.

The first difference that was apparent was in the nature of conservation issues that were at the forefront of discussions: invasive species and fire in Australia vs. surveying studies (especially camera trapping for cats) and illegal wildlife trade for Asia; and human-animal conflict and sustainable livelihoods of forest communities in India. I realise that this diversity of topics that I have had the opportunity to learn about due to my work in India and Australia, makes me think of conservation problems from varied perspectives.

The second difference was in the people. The ecologist community at ESA came from all corners of Australia while in India most conservationists/ecologists seem to be concentrated in a few hotspots, well one to be exact: Bangalore. And a few scattered in Delhi, Dehradun and Pondicherry. Also, in my opinion, the people who pursue ecology in India are the ones who weren’t forced to opt for an education in engineering or medicine to secure worthy marriage proposals (!!) or people who were ‘financially well-off’ to begin with. Though this restricts some of the diversity in the group, it has also made it a confident, innovative and vibrant community that has much to offer to the world.

Thirdly, though it may come as a surprise to most people, international conferences in India are at par with those in Australia. This is in terms of facilities, quality of talks, plenary sessions, conference dinners, post-conference beer sessions and even weather given that I am comparing an October afternoon in Alice Springs to an Indian summer. The only thing that would be different, though marginally, is that Indians might not be able to stick to time as well as the Australians did at ESA!

But in spite of all our differences, I feel we have much to exchange and learn from one another. And I urge you to attend conferences in India (the odd one that does finally happen once in 5 years) and also consider working and collaborating in India. Needless to say, it might not be easy but it will definitely be rewarding.

Find me on twitter: @payalbal

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