Informative, Friendly and Free – MSc student perspectives of the UKCCSRC Spring Conference

Molly James, Laurent Chan and Millicent Sutton (all doing the MSc Environmental Change and Management at the University of Oxford) attended our Spring 2023 Conference in Cardiff. Molly and Laurent came in person, and Millicent online. Jen Roberts (UKCCSRC Deputy Director and Early Career Researcher lead) was curious to hear what attracted them to the conference, how they found the experience and how best to support future students to come and be part of the UKCCSRC community.

How did you find out about the conference and why did you come along?

Molly: All three of us found out through our dissertation supervisor, Dr Emily Cox, who works on public perceptions of carbon capture and storage. The topic of the conference – geographically dispersed areas – was particularly relevant to my dissertation idea, so it was a great experience to get familiarised with the CCS landscape.

Laurent: I wanted to learn more about the current state of CCS in the UK. The conference was an excellent opportunity for me to hear the most up-to-date research on CCS and to network with industry professionals.

What did you find particularly valuable or surprising about coming along to the conference?

Molly: I was surprised about the amount happening in academia and industry, in particular how advanced and complex the landscape is already. It was enlightening to meet people working on different aspects and everyone was really welcoming and friendly. The emphasis seemed to be around government policy comparative to UK, Europe, US and China. I learnt a lot about different stakeholders and the growth of this industry. As our MSc projects are on onshore storage, we were (somewhat naively) surprised about the complete absence of onshore storage in the UK, and the talk of extensive pipelines, trucks and rail for dispersed areas, but it was great for our project to be contextualised in the broader landscape.

Laurent: Attending this conference felt like great timing as the UK government had recently made significant progress in deploying CCS. Stepping out of academia and seeing things being put from theory into practice was incredibly insightful.

Millicent: I agree.  Also, I was very surprised by how much traction has been gained by the UK CCS industry.  Before the conference, I was under the impression that it was a more latent/nascent industry. I was shocked that there was no more detailed consideration of justice concerns, research into how these CCS plants will affect communities and alter economic landscapes in specific locations i.e. the jobs market.

Photo of 3 students smiling at the camera, standing on grass with a university college behind them

Were there particular aspects to the conference that enabled you to come along?

Molly: The conference was outside of the teaching semester and so we had more time to attend. It was also free to attend and that was a great incentive for us because, as Masters students, there is less funding available. I decided to attend in person because I’m from Cardiff so that was great serendipity.

Millicent: I agree. The conference taking place outside of term time allowed me to attend and there being no registration fee was a great incentive due to funding constraints. Conferences that are free are more accessible to earlier career attendees.

Was it your first conference? How was the experience for you?

Molly: For me and Laurent, it was our first scientific conference – Millicent had been to a conference before. I was apprehensive when I arrived about being new to the field but it was good: there was a lovely social space, good questions asked and everyone was friendly.

Laurent: I found it enlightening to meet the diverse range of experts from various backgrounds in the CCS field. Overall, I felt that the conference struck a good balance between presentations on CCS policy, planned projects in industry and new findings from academia. Having the social space and catering after each presentation gave us breathing room and the chance to network and meet other people.

What would you advise other students thinking about going along to conferences?

Molly: I found it an incredibly valuable experience at the beginning of my research journey to get familiarised with the landscape, industry and different areas of research. I’m looking forward to attending the next one when further into my Masters dissertation, in order to network and discuss with people researching in different areas or working in policy.

Laurent: This conference was especially helpful for me in trying to refine the research pathway for my Masters dissertation. Attending this conference has not only furthered my understanding on recent developments in research and industry, but it has also allowed me to discuss opinions and research interests with experts in the CCS field. As someone who has not attended a scientific conference before, I would advise other students who are considering going to conferences to have some form of name card to give to other attendees during networking sessions, especially one that has a QR code to save on printing. I had a great time at the conference and it offered so much more than reading published papers. I would definitely attend subsequent UKCCSRC conferences in the future.

Millicent:  I have so many more questions after attending the conference, which, I think, is a good starting point for my Masters dissertation project! One thing I thought about afterwards is how we don’t really get taught how to do academic networking. At undergraduate level, you are taught material and ways of thinking more than you are taught to network and make contacts that can enable further research.