News - November 25, 2015

Blog: Funky academic life at the ELLS

I was among the students who went to the ELLS scientific student conference that took place on 13 and 14 November in Prague. We need more conferences like this!

Seven European universities of life sciences established the Euro League for Life Sciences (ELLS) and annually organise scientific student conferences. Students from these institutes, but representing the whole of Europe and the world, proposed poster presentations and oral presentations in several thematic areas of sustainability and the life sciences. This year’s lead theme was “challenges to and solutions for good environmental management”.

Students not only learn from each other, but are also encouraged to show their talent and compete for awards. Sort of like the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter. However, students here are not fighting against dragons to rescue enchanted eggs on flying brooms. Rather, they compete for being awarded the best poster presentation and the best oral presentation. I must say that Wageningen UR students did very well this year, earning many of the students’ jury and teachers’ jury awards.

But this conference was not at all just about competing for academic excellence. For me it really was about open confrontation among peers from different background in full intellectual honesty. We need more conferences like this. Nothing against the ambitious ‘meet the industry’, the fancy events and the one-way lectures or even the discussions and mingling… But one can learn so much more on occasions like the ELLS scientific student conference! I met inspired and enthusiastic young academics and we could speak about everything from recycling brewery side-products for biofuel production, to the reaction to terrorism, simply the different academic approaches in the seven universities.

I really think that youth events can create networks of knowledge and synergies among students, that in turn might result in a broadened and innovative mindset that we seem to need so much in these complex and hyper-connected times. Because, as Albert Einstein notoriously observed, problems cannot be solved by the same mindset that generated them. For this very reason, it is important that the new generation of scientists and professionals in the broad field of sustainability are able to exchange opinions on how to define the problems, how to find the most feasible (or daring!) solutions within a certain context, and how to put these into practice.