QAECO has become quite a large group, and what is the best (and most fun) way for 75 people to get to know each other better? A lab retreat of course. Earlier this month, we travelled up to Creswick with our friends at the Centre for Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis (CEBRA) for a retreat generously hosted by the School of Ecosystem and Forest Science. Over the course of two days, we arranged social and work-related activities ranging from a hilarious set of speed presentations to discussions addressing equity in Science and a fiercely competitive night of pub trivia.
Thursday morning started off with a round of speed presentations, so that everyone could get up-to-date with what members of the group are working on. But there was a catch. Rather than talking about our own work, everyone had to present someone else’s research. In the weeks leading up to the retreat, everyone was assigned a buddy who’s research they had to present in just one minute. This meant lots of new meet-ups and coffee catch-ups between people who had never worked together before and everyone got to learn a little more about a person they sit with every day! At the end of each minute the audience had to guess whose research had just been presented. The chorus of names at the end of each slide indicated that on the whole, we know each other pretty well! There were lots of creative entries, but the first (imaginary, sorry) prize had to go to Amy Whitehead, presenting Chris Baker’s work. Amy came up with an excellent poem to capture all things Chris.
My allocated qaecologist
is not a field ecologist
but plays with numbers instead.
With some gentle persuasion,
they’ll recite an equation
right off the top of their head.
If you need a decision
about how to partition
resources to control feral pests.
They’ll define the parameters
and, unlike the amateurs,
will show how to manage them best.
If you have some confusion
about the use of diffusion
for modelling the movement of things,
they’ll explain the derivation
and its use in conservation
and all manner of mathematical kings.
Before you exclaim,
“no more, stop the pain,
you’re starting to mess with my head”,
they’ll take all the flowers
and raise them by powers,
using flames to show how they spread.
If it’s all double Dutch
and the math is too much,
and your head is about to explode,
There’s always a chance
if you ask them to dance,
they’ll write you instructions in code.
As a group, we then had a discussion about improving equity in Science. Cindy Hauser gave a great overview of gender bias in science and reminded us of the evidence that having greater diversity makes for a better workplace. We saw some sobering stats about gender biases, before starting a discussion about how we can address these biases within our own lab and University with a back-casting exercise facilitated by Bonnie Wintle and Mark Burgman. We identified where we’d like to be in 15 years, and what steps we can take to get there. While these long-term goals will take time and a concerted effort to achieve, the conversations and actions have continued after the retreat, for example with efforts to collectively brain-storm how to write a CV with career interruptions (if you have ideas, we’d love to hear them!).
The lovely Creswick folk generously hosted us for a BBQ lunch of bull-boar sausages, a local delicacy and Thursday BBQ tradition at the campus! The afternoon consisted of more speed talks (sitting through all 75 in one go might have been a little much!), before we broke up into smaller groups for some dedicated science-ing. This freeform session allowed us to work on ideas that had been proposed before the retreat, capitalising on the fact that we had so many ecology brains trapped in one room. Some groups will be writing those ideas up into papers (so keep your eyes peeled!), whilst others used the time to brainstorm future plans, like conference symposia.
We headed into the town for a dinner at the local Creswick pub (all in the name of group bonding, of course!), followed by some highly competitive (from some quarters) trivia, MC’ed by some brave qaecologists! The next morning, some a little worse for wear after a late night of table tennis and pool, we attended the Creswick Friday seminar series, given by our own Mick McCarthy. Mick taught us all a little something about accounting for stochastic events, like fire, when thinking about sustainable yields from forestry, which you can read more about here. Whilst this was going on, an intrepid band of volunteers headed out to help Honours student Zoe Stevens with her project assessing the new habitat hectares method.
After a delicious morning tea (again from our lovely hosts), we all trundled back to Melbourne, thoroughly bonded! On the whole, the retreat was a great success, and hopefully will become a more regular occurrence in the future.