Friday, 26 October 2018 11:29

RAID Speed-networking - Tips from the Experts in International Agriculture

For those of you haven’t attended a speed-networking event or haven’t yet read Jack Koci’s blog, speed networking is speed dating for early to mid-career researchers and more experienced experts. Groups of early career researchers move from expert to expert to introduce themselves and discuss a range of important topics. The idea is to facilitate networking amongst a range of people from different disciplines and stages in their career, and give people a chance to chat with more experienced professionals. RAID held two of these events (TropAg2017 Brisbane and the USC Research Showcase 2017) and we decided to pick through all the best bits and share them with our RAID community, so read on for some hot tips from the Pro’s!

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Flashback to our TropAg networking event

Making multidisciplinary research - how do you juggle such a variety of tasks?

Ram Dalal listed three important components to making multidisciplinary research work:

  1. Understand the problem well
  2. Identify the key indicators for progress
  3. Ensure realistic timelines

Hans Braun highlighted that multidisciplinary research is important because you gain from the many members of the group, but it is essential that people understand their roles. It is important to realise the contribution of each discipline. Synergy between areas is essential. People naturally like to work in silos, but managers need to make sure there are outlets for communication. Communication is key, and language is likely to be one of these barriers.

General Advice: You may have to communicate your research objectives in several diverse ways, languages or diagrams. You need to make sure the recipients understand the messages and encourage people to ask questions and get involved.  A great way to achieve this is to develop common goals and measures of success to gain trust within the team.

The perils and blunders of working in agricultural development - How do you gain credible research in such uncontrolled and high-risk environments?

Judith Kimiywe commented that we need to understand where people are really coming from as motivating them is a big challenge. We need to work closely with the government to provide much-needed resources within the context of their regions, such as arid areas that have very little resources. Judith has experienced introducing new agricultural technologies that people didn’t continue to use after the project because it didn’t fit in with their culture. Researchers need to ensure agriculture is sensitive to culture, and the key is understanding the cultural context.

Some of the other key tips for this topic included covering the “unknown unknowns” with replications and good training and the “known unknowns” by analysing the risks at the start, evaluating the costs, and being there as much as possible. Be flexible and adapt as needed. Work with local partners and respect their knowledge, and don’t go it alone - look for people who can help you. And when it comes to publishing, use different journals who will accept data collected from non-traditional approaches.

Gender and Agriculture: Practical tips for involving men AND women in research activities

Robyn Alders suggested that we aim for gender balance across teams at the research and community group level. It’s important to try and ensure there is a balance where possible. The tricky thing is for young Australian women going to other countries. They need to be aware that gender relations are different in different countries.

Women do a lot of the work in agriculture and Scott Waldron identified that every project you do has a gender component. Often female activities in agriculture are marginal and his team tries to identify women working in key roles and work with them. However it is hard to have a balance, it can depend on the culture. In some cultures, they are completely dependent on women, but the opposite is in others. You have to think about the cultural context, not just gender, include women and have open participation. The key tip is listen, listen, listen! Context and scale matters - some questions might not be appropriate in group discussions, consider power structures and hidden dynamics and again understand the culture. A local or academic in a similar field may be able to help you establish some cultural ground rules to establish techniques to achieving a gender balance.

What mistakes have you made (in your career) and what is the best thing to learn from them?

Rob Cramb - “At 26 I was in Borneo travelling on a river in a canoe with my agriculture assistant. The assistant was poling us up river and I felt so at home I decided to help. But when I stood up to help I capsized the boat. My assistant asked me not to try and help again. I learnt a great lesson in humility as a result and I continue to remember that.”

Peter Horne commented that you need to keep in mind that our mistakes might not be mistakes for others. Peter chose an academic job after a very exciting research project but found he was unhappy in that type of role. He added that “if you want to work in as an academic, then there is a big commitment.” You need a solid technical background and then spend a good amount of time applying that. But there’s also numerous opportunities for a career outside of academia that still involves research.

Other key advice included: even though you are an expert in one area after completing your PhD, you need to look to all disciplines or you will not succeed; you need to draw from many disciplines to support your work. Also, you need to manage your expectations.

In Summary

One of the key themes to come out of each topic was communicate and listen. Understand the community you are working with first. Don’t assume what others know - spend time at the start of the project to get your team up to speed with knowledge and encourage explanations from peers rather than instructing. Find a mentor who can help you out along the way in your career, draw on those around you for sound project, management and technical advice and never be afraid to ask questions!

Thanks again to our senior researchers and roving facilitators who made this event possible! If you’d like more information about running your own speed networking event - contact your state reps!

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