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.
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.
Last week, the first ECR Net Zero Conference took place at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, with over 200 in-person and 75 virtual attendees.
It was a fantastic opportunity to gather early career researchers together from across the net zero community, giving them the opportunity to network and learn more about different but related disciplines.
It was also an incredible organisational collaboration between nine centres – C-DICE, CO2RE, CREDS, ERA, EnergyREV, IDRIC, TFI Network+, UKERC and ourselves.
Every session was a highlight, but most noteworthy were our two amazing keynote speakers. Mercedes Maroto-Valer, IDRIC Director, opened the conference by sharing her insights and experiences into “Net Zero: Past, Present and Future”, and Matt Winning, Senior Research Fellow at UCL and climate change comedian, closed the conference by giving career and communication tips, as well as showing us how to make jokes about climate change (!).
Full programme details can be found on the Conference page, and recordings and slides will be available soon (where we have permission to share).
Our ECR Meeting Fund helped support the attendance of many of our ECRs and here they are to share their experiences of the event…
Catrin Harris, Imperial College London
The ECR net zero conference was a great opportunity to meet researchers from a range of different research councils. I helped to organise and run one of the parallel sessions focused on “The social and environmental challenges of net zero”. The session involved ECR panellists giving their viewpoint on the main challenges, before breaking out into small group discussions. I learnt a lot from chairing this session, and it provided me with many interesting discussion points on the wider challenges of net zero.
Siqi Wang, Cranfield University
I found the “ECR Career Pathways and Knowledge Exchange” session very useful, in particular the workshop on developing elevator pitches. I had the opportunity to think about how I should present my PhD project according to the audience I am facing, and was able to practise it with fellow ECRs and receive feedback. It was also very interesting to hear about other people’s research and exchange my thoughts with them.
Jacqueline Penn, Newcastle University
The best and most surprising part of the Conference for me was the closing keynote speech from climate comedian, Dr Matt Winning. It was great to hear about his career journey and how he uses comedy to share important messages about climate change. His informative and entertaining speech was a great way to end the conference.
Oludayo Asuni, University of Sheffield
The ECR Net Zero Conference was the first academic conference I’ve attended as a Ph.D. student and it was an enlightening experience as I got to network with other ECRs and gain a new perspective on skills needed to address the Net Zero challenge. The Industrial Decarbonisation Panel was a personal favorite because I was able to discuss the key obstacles we are facing to foster effective stakeholder engagement and their potential solutions. After the completion of the conference, I was left with a deep impression of the importance of my work and the potential for significant impact if stakeholders were effectively engaged.
Doug Smith, BGS
We covered a lot of ground in the two-day conference, from reflections on COP27, industry engagement, implementing a just transition and obstacles to achieving Net Zero. It was great (and important) to hear how my research fits into the bigger picture and get a flavour of the many other projects that are underway. However, my highlight was meeting so many driven scientists at the outset of their careers who were keen to make a difference. It was also wonderful to meet some of the people that make the events like the ECR Net Zero conference and ongoing forums happen, as these connections enable (and sometimes force) us to come out of our own research bubbles.
Samuel Macpherson, University of Southampton
As researchers we often tend to focus in on our own area of research, but the ECR Net Zero Conference broadened my horizons hugely especially with regards to considering the effects of net zero technologies on society as a whole. The conference introduced me to “Just Transition”, the idea by which the transition to net zero must not negatively impact local communities and workers’ rights. This is something I will now take to heart going forward and will introduce to others, as well as incorporate the idea where I can in my future work.
Imran Ahmed, Newcastle University
For me, the best part of the ECR Net Zero Conference was discovering the increasing engagement from industry. This is exciting as it highlights the opportunities the push to Net Zero is generating for industry at all scales, from start-ups to larger companies.
Idris Bukar, Imperial College London
I’ve always wondered about how to get society more actively on board the journey to net zero; how to get the people to act beyond granting the social licence to deploy net zero technologies, and so I put that question to climate comedian and author Matthew Winning after he gave the closing keynote of the conference. The response I got was quite enlightening, which was that it is ultimately up to the people to decide to act, but that if I played my part and communicated my science clearly and passionately, it would make overcoming that inertia a whole lot easier.