October 11, 2018, by Lexi Earl
Innovations in Agriculture and Food for Healthy Societies: Workshop Report
This post is written by the Future Food Beacon Nottingham Research Fellows, on their recent workshop in Shanghai.
We are a multi-disciplinary team of early-career researchers based in the Schools of Biosciences, Computer Science and Physics at the University of Nottingham. We are all Research Fellows in the Future Food Beacon. Our research focuses on delivering the global challenge of enough nutritious food for a growing population, produced in sustainable and ethical ways.
We were extremely happy to represent the Future Food Beacon at the Innovations in Agriculture and Food for Healthy Societies workshop in Shanghai, China. This workshop was funded by the British Council Newton Fund, and hosted by The University of Nottingham and Nanjing Agricultural University. The workshop aimed to foster new and exciting collaborations with partners abroad. The workshop brought together people from various research institutes and universities from the UK and China, and provided a wonderful environment for networking. Over the course of three days, we were challenged to identify potential areas for collaboration, particularly those that address current challenges in Chinese agriculture. We were then asked to develop solutions in the form of potential multi-disciplinary project proposals, and had the opportunity to pitch these ideas to a panel of experts.
The workshop began with high speed introductions, in which we were introduced to every other early-career researcher, their projects, their motivations and aims during intense five minute presentations. Getting to know each other helped us identify common interests and potential collaborators from the get go. The introductions also provided us with an opportunity to talk to each other, and understand each other’s plans for our work in the Future Food Beacon. Some of us are new in post and this was therefore an invaluable opportunity to spend time together. During the first and second days, all attendees presented posters showcasing their work and research interests. This allowed a more informal discussion of potential areas of collaboration, and provided more time to expand on our work than was possible during the brief introductions.
Throughout the workshop we were guided by an experienced team of mentors from the UK and China including: Professor Nick Harberd, University of Oxford, Professor Fangjie Zhao, Nanjing Agricultural University, and Dr. Levi Yant, University of Nottingham. Each mentor presented their own research in masterclass sessions, where they put particular emphasis on their journey from research bid to successfully funded project. We are all looking to forge successful independent research careers, and the advice of established academics is incredibly useful, and thought-provoking.
The remainder of the workshop was focused on establishing new collaborations between researchers in the UK and China. In teams, we explored potential projects, and began designing competitive grant ideas that will be taken forward over the coming months. The mentors helped us identify the strengths and weaknesses of our proposals, and hone these into more realistic and fundable projects. Spending this time with respected and established academics was extremely useful, they were able to provide insights into possible avenues for funding, and focus in on what parts of each idea were key to success. This kind of training is crucial for early-career academics in becoming competitive in this process.
The climax of the event was a pitch session, in which teams were able to present their projects to the group, answer questions, and receive feedback from the mentors, and from other researchers. This was extraordinarily helpful in making us think about the ways we craft and write research bids, and how we might do this better. We all left with a number of exciting avenues for future research, and we will be developing these ideas with the help of the Future Food beacon in the next few months.
The workshop was a highly interdisciplinary meeting, with researchers working in fields as diverse as agriculture, urban planning, law, human perception of foods, plant physiology, computer vision, plus many others. We really enjoyed the interaction with other conference delegates. We all learnt a great deal about the technologies and techniques that are currently used by other researchers to address the challenge of providing the world’s growing population with a sustainable food supply. With researchers from a wide variety of fields, we were exposed to new ideas and viewpoints, all of which broadened our project ideas, helping us think outside the box more, and will contribute to our writing and research in the future.