Thursday, November 8, 2012

IRRI Young Scientists Conference opens today. :)

This time, I write snippets as I attend the IRRI Young Scientists Conference. 

During the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) Asia Review, I observed that early-career scientists are being given the exposure they need to move their careers forward. Just four weeks after, they are once again given the chance to talk about their work, to meet their peers, and to hear what their peers in other scientific fields are doing. I am talking about the two-day IRRI Young Scientists Conference (#IYSC2012) going on at the International Rice Research Institute.

According to Govinda Rizal (IYSC conference chair and current president of the Association of Fellows, Scholars, Trainees, and Residents in IRRI), the conference serves as a platform to bridge "between experienced senior scientists and those following their footsteps". Indeed, the conference did allow me to talk with more established scientists. I was able to discuss with the likes of Jauhar Ali (who used to be a post-doctoral fellow at IRRI and is now a scientist involved in the Green Super Rice project) and Randy Barker (Cornell University professor emeritus and former head of IRRI's Social Sciences Division) during the technical sessions... they're not grain quality specialists so I don't see them often. 

During the opening program, Robert Zeigler (IRRI Director General) reminded us, young ones, to enjoy the experience of being a student or a post-doctoral fellow because this time of our lives won't last. One day, we'll start getting administrative and managerial responsibilities and may not be able to be as productive, scientifically, as we are now. On the other hand, Achim Dobermann (IRRI Deputy Director General (Research)) remarked that IRRI has a growing population of young scientists. In the past three years, the numbers of PhD students and post-doctoral fellows have approximately doubled; MSc student numbers have gone up; the number of nationally recruited staff has risen too. The IYSC is a venue for these budding scientists to share their research with a wider audience. Thus, he hopes that the IYSC is not just a one-time event.

The abstract book for the IYSC shows just how vibrant our set of young scientists are. On the first day of the conference, there were six concurrent sessions with about 78 speakers! The variety of the presentations indicated that rice science is not just about being in the farm. It's also about crop improvement and protection, markets and policies, genetics and molecular biology, innovations, and environmental issues. Really, rice science is a mix of so many different scientific fields!

Despite the complexity and diversity of rice science, there are people who tend to go only to sessions that are related to their fields of study. Both Drs Zeigler and Dobermann thus urged us to go to presentations on topics we don't normally listen in on so we don't become intellectual silos. Instead, we'd get the opportunity to become well-rounded, balanced scientists. Perhaps, this is one way to follow on Dr Buresh's lesson during the Mentoring Program lunch this week: learn to see the big picture.

No doubt, the future of rice science appears to be secure. The young scientists at the IYSC are surely "sustaining excellence in rice research".