Over a year ago my husband decided that his 2020 sabbatical plans would include a trip to Australia to work with a colleague at the University of Queensland. Not wanting to be left out, I started hashing out my own plans to join him...and Jenn’s Australia Roadshow was born.
The goal of my trip was to meet as many researchers as possible in Australia -- especially those I’d never interacted with before as reviewers or authors -- working on projects relevant to my editorial remit at Nature Climate Change and Nature Energy. This means anyone working on social science research with a behavioural component that has a climate change or energy angle. Learning about many different disciplines has been one of my favorite parts of this job, but the scope of what I cover presents a major challenge for setting up university visits. I can’t organize my trips around visiting specific departments, like for instance Psychology or Political Science Departments, because not every psychologist or political scientist does research of relevance to my journals; I can’t just target Environmental Studies departments, because not all members of such departments are social scientists.
So how do I find people I don’t already know to reach out to, short of looking up every single university department and reading the research blurb for each faculty member? And this doesn’t even consider that many researchers do not define their research program around climate change or energy issues, even though they are doing relevant work, that people who have previously worked on projects relevant to climate change or energy may now be tackling more general environmental issues that wouldn’t fit the scope of my journals, and that in some cases social scientists have positions where you wouldn’t expect to find them, like in Chemical Engineering Departments.
After doing some research on different institutions and departments in the cities I planned to hit, I took to Twitter:
The volume of responses and the enthusiasm exceeded all of my expectations. In fact, after some (hilarious) prodding from researchers at ANU (thanks Christian Downie and Hedda Ransan Cooper!), which snowballed into offers (over twitter!) from the ANU Climate Change Institute and ANU Energy Institute to coordinate a visit for me, I ended up modifying my itinerary to include a stop in Canberra; the two days at ANU turned out to be a highlight of the trip.
By the time it came to actually solidifying plans things were looking somewhat ominous-- we started booking our travel and setting our itinerary when the Australia fires were at their worst. But when we arrived in Australia, the fires were old news, as there was a new disaster on everyone’s mind: Coronavirus. At first this meant awkward jokes during my lab visits about not shaking hands (I perfected a “jazz hands” alternative), but by the time we reached our last stop, Brisbane, things had escalated enough where I no longer felt comfortable visiting the University of Queensland campus; within hours of arriving two of our friends at UQ were informed that they had to self-isolate for two weeks due to contact with a student who had tested positive.
This was disappointing, as my contacts at UQ had organized three full days of meetings with faculty from 10 (!!) different departments. I have to give them a tremendous thanks for rescheduling everything online the night before I was due on campus. And so I spent two days in an AirBnB on Zoom while my husband, whose UQ plans also turned sour, sat in the bedroom closet (to block out the sound from my meetings!) recording video tutorials. Unfortunately, my last day of meetings had to be cancelled when our internet connection went down; I hope to have a chance to connect with those of you I missed in the future.
Our time in Brisbane was abruptly cut short by the announcement that international flights were being cancelled indefinitely, and our conclusion that we did not want to live in Australia forever. The Epic Tale of getting back to NYC is best told over a stiff drink, but suffice it to say we made it, with few hiccups...once we actually managed to get tickets (shout out to the Qantas guy at the Brisbane airport, who helped us get on flights that night even though the sales counter was technically closed).
I am incredibly grateful that I got the chance to go through with the roadshow, despite the circumstances. In the end I spent 9 days visiting 6 institutions across 4 cities, gave 6 publishing talks, and had individual meetings with more than 60 researchers.
Thanks to Karyn Bosomworth, Yolande Strengers, Paul Munro, Sara Fuller, Bec Colvin, Karen McNamara and Tony Heyman for your help in organizing my visits, and to all those who took the time to meet with me. I learned so much and had a great time; I hope to be able to do more trips like this in the post-COVID world