Don’t forget to check out my first post on SCCS Cambridge HERE before delving into this one!

The second day of the conference dawned much like the previous one. After another scrumptious breakfast (see my earlier post for the delicious details), we headed back to the Zoology Department for another round of student talks. The first topic of the day was “What works and what doesn’t?” and this session had some fascinating, diverse talks ranging from poaching and wildlife law to wildlife-friendly roadways. After a quick break for tea and coffee, we returned to the auditorium for our next plenary titled ‘Nature in Decision Making: The Role of Economics and Finance’ by Dr. Emily McKenzie from the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Decisions, UK. 

After the riveting plenary, we broke for the next session of posters. There were many interesting posters on display once again, including one by my fellow ATREEan Nobin Raja on the genetics of invasive fish in India. Another fascinating poster was a study similar to my own on freshwater swamps of Uttarakhand. While the study did not assess other parameters apart from vegetation, it was still refreshing to make a connection with someone working on swamps, just like I am.

Once the poster session ended, we ate yet another working lunch of assorted sandwiches and granola bars and returned to the auditorium for yet another round of student talks. This series focused on the impacts of infrastructure – roads, electric fences, and mining were a few of the topics brought up. All talks in this set hailed from different parts of the world. We travelled from Borneo, Indonesia to the UK, from India to Madagascar. At the end of this invigorating session that left us thinking a little harder about our human impact on the landscapes around us, we smoothly migrated into another poster session. The poster sessions offered a time to mingle and ask questions, which made them quite noisy, unlike the talks. Unfortunately, although the conference was hybrid (online + offline), the online posters were a bit chaotic to view and interactions with the presenters were also a bit difficult.

After yet another tea/coffee break (something I desperately needed in the afternoon), we had the last session of student talks of the day. The topic was Emerging Threats. But my favourite part of the day was right after this talk session – the second workshop. I signed up for a grant writing workshop (yet again) by someone from the National Geographic Society, a funding organisation that I have long been trying to apply to for funds. Thus, attending the session was a high priority for me. The workshop coordinator was a good speaker and went through the pitfalls of applying for NGS grants, the new format for applications, and things to consider while building an application. We also engaged in some hands-on activities designing a project to pitch to NGS and racing against other groups to list as many dos and don’ts of grant writing as we could think of. Overall, it was a very useful workshop and I came away with renewed confidence and energy to go and write a grant!

Day 3:

The next (and final) day of the conference dawned bright and early. Today was the day I would present my talk on the anthropogenic threats to Myristica swamps, and I was starting to feel the pressure as I quickly tied on my saree. One of my favourite parts of presenting at international conferences is representing India by wearing a saree. Not very subtle, perhaps, but satisfying. As I got ready, I mentally went over my talking points and tried my best to limit myself to 12 minutes. Easier said than done, especially when you tend to talk more when nervous! Finally, I deemed myself as ready as I was going to be and set off for the conference venue.

By this point, we had become friendly with other delegates and there was an air of despondency at the thought of parting the next day. Some delegates would leave right after the day’s conference, and they had brought their luggage to the venue so that they could depart easily. Many of us were staying an extra night and departing the next day to London or elsewhere. We chatted over breakfast, taking down each others’ numbers and email addresses to stay in touch and discuss project ideas.

Finally, the conference began. Up first, we had a student talks session on the topic of Human-Wildlife Conflict, something I have worked on in the past. Three of the four talks in this session hailed from India, with the fourth from Nepal, resulting in relatable topics for me. Then came the plenary. The plenary speaker was Dr. Benis Egoh from the University of California, Irvine, USA. Her topic was one of great interest to me – The role of ecosystem services in biodiversity conservation. Unfortunately, I chose to miss her talk as I had to prepare for mine, which would be immediately after her plenary.

Finally, it was time for my presentation. I am not usually a nervous speaker, but the prospect of exceeding the time limit and (horrors) not finishing my presentation caused me to break out into a cold sweat. I paced and practiced for a solid half hour until I heard applause from the auditorium. It was time to go out there and present. I shakily returned to the auditorium and sat down in the corner seats reserved for upcoming speakers. The other three students presenting in my session gave me equally nervous smiles, offering solidarity.

My presentation went surprisingly well, considering my absolute lack of preparation. My love for Myristica swamps carried me through the talk, lending animation to my voice and helping me talk smoothly about the threats to swamps and the way these threats could impact the ecosystem services that swamps provide local stakeholders – both human and non-human. At the end, I received two questions and answered them, unable to stop the smile of relief that spread across my face. As with most trials and tribulations, the talk seemed easy once I was on the other side!

After my talk, three other speakers talked about their research. From malaria mosquitos in Africa to ecosystem services of bats, the talks were engaging and diverse. It was then time for lunch. After eating a quick meal (sandwiches again, the Brits aren’t very diverse in their culinary choices), we returned for the FINAL session of student talks, focusing on peoples’ perceptions of nature.

Then, the chair of the conference took to the podium to announce the prizes. The awards were well-deserved, and while I was a bit disappointed I didn’t win, I came away with extremely valuable feedback on my presentation as well as renewed confidence in myself and extra energy to do even better research and complete my PhD faster.

Overall, SCCS-Cambridge was a wonderful experience, especially as it was my first ever conference as a researcher! The collaboration, camaraderie, encouragement, and energy was infectious, and I came away excited for future conferences and determined to win an award the next time I presented my work.

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