By: Kait Farrell, Sarah Lynn Bartlett and Ian McCullough.
It was a dark and stormy night. Well not exactly stormy, but it had been dark since 5 pm and was exceptionally cold (mostly for those joining the group from warmer areas of the world); nothing but a typical January evening in central New Hampshire. It was the night following the fourth and final day of the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) Fellowship Program workshop at Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire, a quaint lake side community largely dormant for the winter.
An international group of twelve graduate students, all pursuing doctoral degrees, was gathered around a roaring fire partaking in a friendly competition — a flexibility contest, of all things. It was quite a finale to a productive week.
Given the level of progress and enthusiasm that characterized the entire week, seeing the workshop culminate with this kind of collective energy was by no means surprising. Earlier in the evening, when fellowship leaders Paul Hanson, Kathie Weathers, and Hilary Dugan asked the group to recount the highlights of the week, the fellows spoke glowingly of the positive and productive atmosphere, the encouraging interactions with program leaders and local stakeholders at the Lake Sunapee Protective Association, and the prime opportunities to learn important and practical skills for building careers as leading scientists. The nature of the workshop was highly collaborative and tailored toward the interests of the fellows. Not surprisingly, fellows had a difficult time coming up with program low points and were reduced to lamenting the consistently freezing temperatures and lack of moose sightings, common and unusual occurrences at Sunapee, respectively.
The workshop began with introductions and overview material, but quickly gave way to brainstorming about key issues and questions in limnology. The twelve fellows represented both a diverse array of interests within the aquatic sciences, as well as a few whose research focuses on terrestrial ecology. This interdisciplinary richness in expertise and scientific perspective soon proved useful, as the fellows managed to combine their skills, experiences, and interests to form two working groups that will carry the fellows through the remaining 1.5 years of the program and potentially beyond. This is not to say that agreeing on topics happened immediately; however, collectively struggling though the process of brainstorming ideas to satisfy their diverse interests pushed the fellows to tackle big, challenging questions in ecology that truly require interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration.
Working groups within the 2nd cohort now fondly refer to themselves as the ‘SALT’ and ‘SOS’ groups, with ‘SALT’ looking at lake salt trends over time and space, and ‘SOS’ looking at lakes as sources or sinks for carbon. Like true professional scientists with tight schedules and deadlines, the two working groups developed preliminary research plans and agreed to remain in close virtual contact until the next face-to-face meeting. Fellows are already looking forward to reconvening in August, in Wisconsin, where there will be renewed hopes of moose sightings amidst the gloriously unfrozen lakes.