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Lindsay Chura

Senior Policy Advisor in Science and Innovation

Part of Global Science and Innovation Network

26th January 2015 Washington DC, USA

Falklands Symposium: Q&A with Dr Kate Sherren (Canada)

Following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, the first ever Pan–American Science Delegation to the Falkland Islands is participating in a week-long mission to showcase the beauty of the UK South Atlantic Overseas Territories and immense opportunities for scientific research and collaboration in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.

Scientists from the US, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Mexico and Columbia have the opportunity to form partnerships and collaborate with the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) with the aim of establishing the Falklands and the wider South Atlantic as a place for groundbreaking scientific research.

Follow the delegation at #FalklandSci

This week we will be posting a short Q & A with the participants, discussing their research and what they learned from this unique, pristine environment.

Kate SherranQ: The Falkland Islands are a largely un-researched, pristine environment for scientific exploration but also due to its remote location not much is known about life on the island.  What did you expect the Falklands to be like in terms of culture and heritage? How is the reality different to your expectations?  

I am not sure that I would call the Islands pristine, and I do not mean that as a criticism. The terrestrial area is very much a cultural landscape, co-created by humans and nature over a long history of sheep and cattle grazing, and increasing amounts of tourism. There is built infrastructure for inhabitation, fishing, farming and military use. The place has a decided human footprint, but this footprint makes it feel like home to those who live here. I did not entirely expect such a fully formed and independent country, with a confident and cosmopolitan citizenry, and it has been a privilege to be immersed in it this week.

Q: SAERI and the Falkland Islands Government highlight that environmental stewardship is vital to establishment of home for scientific expertise on the Islands as well as its long term sustainability. What have you observed in this regard on the Island?

It is wonderful to see such an authentic commitment to sustainability, but not surprising. The Falkland Islands must be self-reliant, and so need to manage their resources with the long game in mind. So many of their industries need functioning ecosystems in order to thrive: farming, fishing, and tourism particularly. My perception from this brief time is that great efforts are being made to balance resource extraction and ecosystem integrity, and that for many their long residence in this place – a real connection to the landscape – in part drives this stewardship.

Q: As a scientist and expert in your field, what are you hoping to get out of this delegation?

Place understanding and potential collaborative relationships. Being a very place-driven and applied researcher I need a certain amount of immersion to understand what issues exist in a place, and how I can be useful. I do not seek to test theory, but to contribute to local issues. So I really needed to get here, but I also need to meet people who can help refine and carry out the research. This is particularly critical given I do social science, and this calls for local understanding and buy-in.

Q: The UK places a great deal of value on excellence in Science and the importance of the internationalisation of Science. Do you have international collaborations in place with the UK?  If so, please describe

Not yet!

Q: Global environmental challenges require international cooperation to achieve effective solutions. SAERI is a world class research institute working in the South Atlantic. What ways do you see SAERI contributing now and in the future.

The formation of SAERI is a critical step towards a Falklands-focused science programme to inform its decisions. It is wonderful to hear about all the international research that has been done in these Islands, but sad to hear about the intellectual capital, such as reports and data, being lost when they go home. The high quality researchers who form the nucleus of SAERI will attract commensurately skilled researchers, funding, and attention to the knowledge and understanding gaps in these Islands.

Q: Describe what you do and how the Falklands Islands provide an environment for scientific study. What are the broader applications of your work?

I am a social scientist who uses maps and images to understand how landscapes and people are connected, and the implications of those connections for the well-being of both. This is usually inspired by pending change such as climate change, or the burgeoning oil and gas industry in the Falklands. The Falkland Islands is unique, but also a microcosm of challenges felt elsewhere. I think the interest the government has of getting baseline data and monitoring that through this oil and gas transition will hold lessons for other resource-dependent places. Social data will be an important part of this.

Q: This delegation was designed to bring together delegates from a diverse range of countries and academic backgrounds in order to build a network of people who know about and use the Island as a scientific resource. What role do you think this scientific delegation will play in creating links between countries and disciplines?

There is nothing quite like a face-to-face discussion for identifying opportunities for research collaboration, as well as immersion – however brief – in the system of concern. The Symposium program has been well designed and facilitated to give us time to find overlaps in our interests, a sense of the ecology as well as the challenges of doing field work to understand it better. At this half-way point, I have a long list of research ideas, potential collaborators, and a deep desire to do more work here. I do not think I am unique among this delegation.

Dr Sherren joined Dalhousie University’s School for Resource and Environmental Studies in 2010, after a postdoctoral fellowship at the Australian National University on the social and ecological sustainability of grazing landscapes.  She investigates spatially enabled and enriched social science to understand the intersection of people, landscape and change. 

About Lindsay Chura

Dr Lindsay Chura joined the British Embassy in Washington as a Senior Policy Advisor in Science and Innovation in September 2013 after completing her PhD as a Gates Cambridge Scholar…

Dr Lindsay Chura joined the British Embassy in Washington as a Senior Policy Advisor in Science and Innovation in September 2013 after completing her PhD as a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge. Lindsay received her doctorate in Psychiatry for her research that applied neuroimaging techniques to investigate brain structure and function in children with autism she worked with across England. Prior to studying in the UK, Lindsay was a Fulbright Scholar at a clinic in Australia specialising in reproductive medicine. An alumna of Mount Holyoke College, Lindsay has published across a range of scientific domains, and has previously written for US News & World Report as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mass Media Fellow. At the embassy, Lindsay manages the life science and climate portfolios, and is working to strengthen UK-US partnerships across academia, industry and the public sector. She enjoys engaging with schools and the wider community through science outreach activities.

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