As a partner in the International Institute for Environmental Studies (IIES), the students of the University of Eastern Finland were given an opportunity to participate in the 2nd IIES Graduate Students Forum in Hong Kong. Our PhD student Timo participated in this forum that was held November 2-3, 2018 at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). The forum was conveniently scheduled right after the 11th Sino-French International Workshop on Contaminated Soil Remediation in Guangzhou, where Timo and another PhD student in our group, Bhabhishya participated at the end of October.
The topic of the Graduate Student Forum was water and soil contamination and remediation. For two days, graduate students from all over the world presented their research. Talks and discussions were also organized on the topics of writing a good scientific paper, how to get along with one’s supervisor and how to manage time during graduate studies and research.
Timo represented our Ecotox group at the forum and gave a talk about his research topic “Environmental risks of chemicals in effluents discharged from municipal wastewater treatment plants”. Students who performed well in the forum were given awards for different achievements and Timo was awarded for his presentation skills in the forum!
The HKUST campus provided an outstanding arena for the forum. Located at Clear Water Bay, the surrounding landscape is one of the most beautiful in all of Hong Kong. The facilities at the university were also excellent. It is already a great privilege to get to participate to activities like the Graduate Student Forum but to have this kind of event in such an excellent location is truly a dream come true.
Timo was extremely happy with the experience of participating to the forum. Getting to know new people in our field, hearing different views from students around the world on graduate studies and getting to listen to the diversity of student presentation subjects, what more can a graduate student hope for! Our Ecotox group has been involved in many IIES activities before and Timo certainly hopes that more opportunities like this will arise in the future.
Whenever we ecotoxicologists have something to present to the big audience, we participate the meetings organized by the society of environmental toxicology and chemistry SETAC. The mission of the society is to support the development of principles and practices for protection, enhancement and management of sustainable environmental quality and ecosystem integrity. Additionally, SETAC promotes the advancement and application of scientific research related to contaminants and other stressors in the environment, education in the environmental sciences, and the use of science in environmental policy and decision-making. The society also provides a forum where scientists, managers, and other professionals exchange information and ideas for the development and use of multidisciplinary scientific principles and practices leading to sustainable environmental quality.
Annual meetings of SETAC take place annually or biennially in different geographical regions, and our group members mostly participate the European and North American annual meetings held every year, as was the case also in 2016 and 2017. SETAC Latin America organized a biennial meeting in September 2017, and I had an opportunity to participate such an event for the first time. My previous SETAC experiences were from three North American meetings, so I thought I could somehow imagine what to expect. But after all, the experience was far beyond that I could ever have imagined beforehand.
Whereas the North American and European SETAC meetings have about 2000-3000 participants yearly, SETAC Latin America 12th Biennial Meeting this year gathered just about 500 participants. Altogether 17 countries were represented, and a few participants, like myself, came across the ocean from Europe and Asia – me being the only one representative from UEF and the whole Finland. The conference was held in Santos, a coastal city in São Paulo state in Brazil. Everything was smaller and simpler compared to the NA and European meetings – more intimate and informal somehow. In my opinion it was easier to meet new people, get to know them, and talk about science and beyond. Just the fact that I came from Finland, already created an interesting base for various discussions during the sessions, lunch breaks or just in an elevator going from the 1st floor up to the 5th. I got so much courage and confidence about myself by traveling alone and being forced to integrate to the community beginning from the inaugural session. I did not know anyone from there before traveling, but when I came back, I had many new friends and experiences to take home. Who knows, maybe we will have some co-operation with our Brazilian colleagues in the future!?
This was the first time ever that I participated in a conference with three official languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese. Most Latin Americans gave their presentations in their own language, mostly in Portuguese, naturally, because the conference was held in Brazil where most of the participants came from. Fortunately I could understand all three languages, but I felt pity for the North American, European and Asian participants who could only follow the slides, which in most cases were in English though. Q&A part was a mixture of all three. Extremely confusing, but interesting. The actual conference days consisted of platform presentations in the morning, lectures and round table discussions in the afternoon, and poster sessions at 6-8 pm. Lunch breaks were long and gave a nice opportunity to have a little runaway to the beachfront closeby before the next session.
My impression was that the hot topics in ecotoxicology in Latin America are the effects of pesticides to the environment (agriculture is strong in LA) and topics related to pollution of the ocean. Metals and nanomaterials are only now making its way to the Latin American field of ecotoxicology, whereas in Europe and North America they have been a hot topic already for several years. I took with me two posters from Finland, one about my own research about PCB bioaccumulation and passive samplers, and another of Kukka’s and mine, about joint effects of traditional xenobiotics and nanoparticles on aquatic species. The poster session was a success: many interesting dialogues I had, and many new friends I made. This was also the first time that I could present something in my second best language: Portuguese. Everything went better than I excepted, and next time in SETAC Latin America Biennial Meeting, which will be held in 2019, in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, I will definitely encourage myself to have a platform presentation in that language, too. This experience was a wonderful experience as a researcher and gave an interesting insight into ecotoxicology in Latin America. This was also a prefect getaway from my daily routines in order start preparing for my PhD defense, which was about to follow soon after coming back home.
The conference trip was financed by Unipid FinCEAL+ program for international mobility between Finland, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), financed by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. The great adventure has also been documented on Instagram and Twitter @uef_ecotox.
In August last year we wrote a blog post about the 2nd IIES work-shop that took place in Kuopio, Finland. To refresh your memory, you can click yourself to the post HERE.
This year was the 3rd year that this kind of a conference is held, and the location changed from chilly Kuopio in Finland to super-hot Shanghai in China. Yes, truly overheated…. during the conference week, we experienced the hottest day in Shanghai in its recorded history, which is 145 years.
The conference was held at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, which everyone knows for its Shanghai list of top universities in the world. SJTU is the university that originally compiled and issued the list in 2003, which is not known as renowned Academic Ranking of World Universities, ARWU, being among the most prestigious ones globally. More than 1,200 universities from around the world are evaluated in ARWU ranking. The criteria include, among other things, Nobel and Fields prizes, articles published in Nature and Science, and citations. In the latest 2017 ARWU the University of Helsinki was ranked 56th, being the leader among the Finnish universities. The University of Eastern Finland (UEF) maintained its position and was ranked among the leading 301–400 universities in the world, thus being ranked once again as the second best Finnish university. Aalto University, the University of Oulu and the University of Turku were ranked in the rank range 401–500. Congratulations! Like in the previous years, the top of Shanghai Ranking comprises Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Cambridge, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT. Here is more information about The Shanghai Ranking.
Okay, back to the IIES annual workshop. This year the 3rd Annual IIES Science and Policy Workshop was held simultaneously with International Conference on Low Carbon Development—Responding Post-Paris Agreement on Climate Change: Energy Transmission and Innovation which was also being sponsored by the IIES, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University with the GlobalTech Alliance. The two meetings were held simultaneously and offered participants the opportunity to meet colleagues from a wider range of institutions and to participate in both meetings. The participants came from Asia (mostly China, naturally), Europe and North America. There were sessions on atmospheric pollution – health Interactions, collaborative projects – ongoing or prospective, green technology, low carbon economies – technology and policy, soil resources – contamination and remediation, water resources – contamination and remediation. The workshop lasted four days and consisted of interesting presentations, fruitful discussions, conference dinners and informal get-togethers. IIES welcomes everyone to join the workshop next year – although the location remains unknown yet. You can read more about IIES.
The Finnish delegation representing UEF this year at the workshop included four PhD students and three senior researchers complemented with two professors. Two researchers from the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) added their forces to the Finnish delegation. Our ecotox group sent two final stage PhD students, Kristiina and Kaisa, to the venue with great success! They both had interesting oral presentation regarding their own research areas: Kristiina about metals in environments, and Kaisa about PCBs in aquatic food webs. Both of them had obviously learned the lesson (HERE ) and managed to speak and discuss their topics and co-operate with others with great success. IIES is now starting a post-doc program together with Nanjing University, and who knows, maybe this would be a great possibility in the future also for our soon-to-be PhDs at ecotox research group!
We have all been there. You have done your research for a while, got your first results and want to go to a conference to present your work. What then? At least I and my colleagues wanted to start with having a poster presentation. I did not have enough data (or confidence) for an oral presentation, so poster it is! These are my opinions and experiences about making a poster, feel free to disagree :).
Think about your title
For larger conferences, you need to send your abstract months beforehand. It is really difficult to prepare it so early, since you may not even have all the data by that time. With an abstract, you need to come up with at title. I would advise to use a lot of effort in planning your title. It is the first step where audience decides, if they want to see your poster or not. Use keywords in your title and be precise enough. Think in advance, what kind of audience you would like to attract.
How to do it?
Conferences usually have guidelines for posters – check them! In Europe, posters are usually smaller than in North America, most often size A0. Also, European posters are typically as portrait, compared to American counterparts in landscape. It is really disappointing to prepare a poster just to find out that it doesn’t fit in the poster stand at all.
What would you like to tell in your poster? As a young scientist, it is tempting to present everything you have done. For my first poster, I was feeling a bit insecure and embarrassed to be such a newbie, so I wanted to show all my work in order to appear more professional. Stop right there, it’s the worst plan ever! Think about your most important/interesting result and focus on that. It is better to highlight an exciting point than tell a little bit of everything.
This leads to the next step – compress, compress and compress. A text overload is a common mistake and it makes the poster look dull and scare the audience away. Leave only the most important content to your poster. Use columns, figures and pictures to make it more readable. Use different colors and font sizes, play with layout to emphasize your main message.
If there was a poster like the one below, it would have to have an extremely interesting title for me to stay and read. And even in that case, I’d prefer to have a handout and read it back home. If I have hundreds of posters to see, the time spent on one poster is something between few seconds and couple of minutes.
Fonts Use large enough fonts. I would think twice before going below 30 pt (and I would use this small font only for footnotes, captions etc.). Things you want to highlight could be with a larger font, e.g. conclusions. Print a colored A4 copy of your poster and put it in front of you, arms straight. If you think your professor might have even slightest difficulties reading the text – make it larger! Another tip is to set screen to 100 % and look at your poster from 1.5-2 m away. For body text, serif fonts are easier to read. Titles are ok with sans-serifs.
Figures can help you a lot. You can use them to balance your layout and to convince your audience. But be careful with the figures, they have to be self-explanatory. You are not standing next to your poster for the whole day, people need to understand it without explanations. And they need to be understood without reading the whole poster. Show a figure to a friend or a colleague that doesn’t know your work that well. If he/she understands it in no time, you are fine to go. Also, it is not the best idea to use red and green to separate “good and bad” in your results, quite many people have problem with distinguishing red from green.
Colors As we noted in our earlier post (Here), it is advisable to use colors. A dull poster does not attract the attention. However, you don’t have to overdo it. I think I had a bit of that problem with my first poster shown below. Make few different color versions, ask opinions from other people. And remember that the colors in the final poster may not print exactly the same as in your printer.
Software Use the software you are familiar with. If you have an opportunity to learn a new one (e.g. Adobe Illustration), go for it. But don’t do like me and waste too many hours struggling with too difficult software, finally giving up. With Power Point, you can actually go quite far.
The final touch
Finally, proof reading. Read your poster carefully for several times. Let other people read it as well. Print a copy and read that, sometimes you spot the mistakes better from a print. Note that in final printing, bits from the edges of your poster may be cut out (trimming edge). Therefore it’s good to have margins not to lose any of your important content. Make sure that you have your contact information on the poster (email and postal address). It is also a kind gesture to mention your sponsors somewhere on the poster.
Have enough time for printing and possible errors in the process. In our group, we have sometimes needed two re-dos for a poster and that may take a lot of time. Maybe you have made too many spelling errors or something has gone wrong in the printing company. When you finally get your poster from printing, check everything one more time. Hopefully, you don’t find any mistakes at this point. Additionally, print A4-sized handouts to give out in the conference.
For me, making posters is not an easy task. I don’t have a natural eye for making interesting and practical layout. My sense of color is non-existent and I get easily stuck with my initial (often bad) ideas. Time, practice and friends help though. I was actually a bit proud of my latest poster. But, a great way to get better is to follow the more talented colleagues. Our research group used to have a “Master of Great Posters” researcher Inna Nybom, who has won best poster prizes with several of her poster. I don’t know yet, how she always manages to create such delicate, beautiful and informative posters. But I continue to look her work closely, hoping to get to her level one day.
6th Joint Nordic Meeting on Remediation of Contaminated Sites was held at Aalto University in Otaniemi, Espoo. This nicely organized lively meeting gathered over 200 participants. Biggest crowds outside Finland came from Sweden (45), Denmark (38) and Norway (28). There was a few participants even from Japan and US. Difference to “ordinary” scientific meetings was the large number of participants and presenters from private sector and authorities. I think that that people representing academia were a minority. However, that was not a problem, but offered a good chance to catch up the current status of the environmental management and remediation. Therefore, below you can find a list of lessons learned during the conference.
Retuperän WBK is still going strong.
PFAS-compounds are more problematic than previously thought. They tend to accumulate also to remote areas.
Remediation of contaminated soils is serious business. This observation is based on the high number of consultancy companies and diverse presentations about different types of soil remediation methods.
Remediation of contaminated sediments is not serious business. However, there is an exception to every rule. Except to the previous rule, which stated that remediation of contaminated soils is serious business, there’s no exceptions. But in the case of sediments, Norway is the exception. There they invest quite a bit of public money to remediate contaminated sediments, whereas soils are more land owner’s problem.
The reason why remediation of contaminated sediments is not a big thing is simple. No-one forces us to do anything. We have tools for risk assessment and also small number of methods to remediate, but steering from above is still missing. EU level does not have such regulation (at least not yet) and at the current economic situation makes sure that we won’t do anything extra at national level.
After a cruise to see Espoo and also part of Helsinki from another angle legendary “Kalastajatorppa” offered a great venue for conference dinner with live music and everything. The food was great. The welcome toast, ice-cold Koskenkorva with one lingonberry in the bottom, raised some questions among people. We are pretty much used to sparkling wine or something like that. Well, empty stomach and that was quite a combination. On the other hand someone said that it is not a drink but traditional Finnish berry salad. Luckily the organizers had organized the schedule so that I had my talk in the next morning, so I left early.
Philomela choir is also great.
To sum up, the conference was really worth to participate.
Going to a scientific conference for the first time is always exciting, and it is also great opportunity to learn, network and have fun. In this blog post we have gathered some practical tips and information, which you might not even consider before going to a scientific meeting for the first time. The internet (and also your boss and co-workers) are a good source of important advice about scientific meeting etiquette, in which we will not get into details now. We shall discuss about all the little details and practicalities that no-one else tells you.
It will probably be the first time that you are about to present your own work and results to a scientific public, and there are many ways that you can prepare yourself for that and make everything run smoothly in the event itself. Going to a scientific meeting also needs lots of preparation, and the more prepared you are, the easier things are likely to go. Scientific meetings may vary in size, atmosphere and procedure. In most cases you are expected to give a presentation in the conference, whether oral presentation or a poster presentation. Whether it is your financer or your boss/supervisor that requires that. They both are good ways to make your work visible to others, but there are also clear differences that you might want to consider.
Plan your presentation
Technical problems are likely to happen, so have the presentation file with you in at least two different places/storages and in a format that is most likely to be accepted worldwide in different computers or desktops. Practise your presentation in advance!! Also take printed handout of your notes, if you are likely to be nervous and forget what you were about to say. Do not fill the slides with too much information, and consider placing pictures and photos to visualize your presentation and making it more interesting.
Poster sessions, instead, are nice opportunities to discuss about your work face-to-face with time with those that are interested in the topic, or have something to contribute with or share new ideas. The negative thing about giving a poster presentation is that you have to make the poster, have it printed out well in advance, and carry it to the meeting and back. You might not want to have it with your hand luggage, because it is easy to forget in an airplane – or to be lost by airline, but putting your poster tube into the actual luggage might be even more risky. If you have colleagues traveling with you, consider sharing a poster tube together and carry in turns. Before leaving from office, print out A4 handouts to be given to those that are interested, and do not hesitate to hand cards with your contact details to people passing by your poster. You can also print a QR code (and put it in your poster) linking to a website where your contact details or your research group can be found.
In many poster sessions there are hundreds of posters and limited time to go through all of them – those that are interested and with limited time in the conference, might get back to you afterwards. Do not forget to take nails and pins for hanging your poster on the wall! Not all conferences provide those. Check the poster regulations in advance. If a European conference wants you to have a portrait poster in A0 size, it might look ridiculous in a North American meeting, there the larger is the better and poster walls are at least twice as big! Use colours in your poster and do not do what I did: grey poster on a grey poster wall was not a brilliant idea. I did not win the best poster’s prize. Remember that most people who come to see your poster, know nothing about it. Prepare a short “speech” or summary to highlight the main principles, methods and findings to be shared with the curious listeners.
Prepare well your source of nutrition and hydration
Some conferences include coffee breaks and free lunches for the participants, while the others do not. Make sure that you are taking some snacks and a water bottle with you – otherwise you might get hungry and suffer from low blood sugar, loss of liquids and get cranky and uncomfortable. The disadvantage of carrying too much stuff with you, is that your bag might get too heavy and give you painful neck and sore shoulders. Avoid laxative food and snacks, and make sure that your snacks are not wrapped in a paper that makes noise in the lecture room.
Especially if you are a woman, consider taking various pairs of good shoes with you. What is good for an evening get-together in a fancy restaurant or a cocktail party, might not be a good choice for standing by your poster for several hours, or walking long distances between the lecture halls (especially if the conference happens to be one of those with > 5000 participants and 8 sessions going on simultaneously). Some hotels have spa, poor or Jacuzzi facilities for their guests. Do not forget your bathing suit at home! This is especially important, if you are travelling to a scientific meeting in Florida in November. It would also be a good idea to pack clothes that are comfortable to wear and do not get wrinkled in your suitcase during travel. An extra pair of pantyhose might not be a bad idea, since they break easily and you might not have time or opportunity to look for new ones in the middle of a conference day.
Have enough sleep
Although the social programme might be interesting and networking possibilities tempting, do not forget to have enough rest! When you have slept enough, you can handle the long days and flood of information that you are most likely to get. Especially if you have small children at home, take a scientific conference also as an opportunity to have good sleep and rest well. If you travel to a distant city/country where you have never been before, take advantage and travel 1 day before, or if possible, take some extra days after the conference to see around and get to know the new destination.
Good luck! After the trip be prepared to share the experience with your co-workers, and why not, prepare a blog post about your journey, if you or your research group have an active blog. Use social media as a tool for networking and raising awareness about the event and yourself as a scientist! Twitter, Facebook and Instagram offer good opportunities for that. See and be seen!
The University of Eastern Finland is one of the 17 international university partners taking part in the International Institute of Environmental Sciences (IIES), initiated in 2015 at Trent University, Canada, where the 1st Annual IIES Scientific Workshop was held. The vision of the institute is to become a global leader in the development of research and policy for the management of environmental issues having international dimensions, and it brings together world class research scientists and policy analysts from institutions from around the globe to work collaboratively, sharing expertise, facilities and research programs. The 2nd annual scientific workshop of IIES was held at the University of Eastern Finland, in Kuopio, August 21-24. Altogether 74 scientists from seven different countries took part on this workshop, each one presenting scientific work, new methods or ideas to the international audience of environmental scientists.
Our research group of aquatic ecotoxicology attended the workshop with four top-quality researchers and three oral presentations about relevant ongoing research questions and projects: effects of metal mining on fresh water ecosystems, bioaccumulation of PCBs in fresh water mussels and fish, and sediment amendments and remediation of aquatic systems. The actual workshop days consisted of oral presentations in an auditorium, and poster presentations during the coffee and lunch breaks. Altogether 32 oral presentations were heard, added with 14 poster presentations at the poster corner.
Scientific meetings, conferences and workshops are not only about pure research, but also include lots of networking, different cultural and social activities where students meet senior scientists, European meets Asian and American, and academia meets policy makers. The days in scientific meetings can sometimes be very long, no matter how interesting they are. Social activities and get-togethers make an important part of every scientific meeting, and this workshop was not an exception to this. Before the first actual workshop day, the participants of the workshop got together in a dinner hall of the hotel to get to know each other and share ideas and experiences. Some had been in Finland several times before, but many were here for the first time in their life. Some had travelled for a whole day and night from a distant country, while the others came from a city nearby taking just a-2-hour-long bus ride to arrive. On the second evening of the workshop the city of Kuopio arranged a reception at the city hall for the workshop audience – good food, quality wine and good company, what else can you except from a night like this? The third day’s evening culminated in a 3-course dinner at the Puijo Tower Restaurant, where we could see the beautiful sunset over the Finnish lake scenery and the city of Kuopio at the other side. We also got to visit the Puijo Tower FMI/UEF/ICOS measurement station at the top floor of the tower.
The 4th day was for the last presentations and general discussion about the future plans for IIES. During the meeting we also had a possibility to visit UEF/ILMARI aerosol physics, chemistry and toxicology research unit and UEF/Savonia University of applied sciences water laboratory at Kuopio Science Park. Long days, hard work, but also fruitful discussions and new contacts for future research.
Those who are interested can read more about IIES here:
It’s again the time of the year, when at least part of our group goes to the SETAC (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry) Europe meeting. This time it was two of us (me and Inna), who decided to go. I love these conferences – they are a combination of travelling, meeting new people, getting brilliant (and not-so-brilliant) research ideas and learning new things. The days in the meetings are long and sometimes a bit overwhelming, you get a great chance to be part of a large research community.
In my opinion, SETAC provides a great opportunity for its student members to become a part of this community. In the meetings, there are several ways to smoothen your way into science community: travel grants, student mentor lunches, lunch seminars, student parties, student advisory council assemblies etc. If you are a Master or PhD student, make sure that you are a member of a professional society, it will make your academic part of life so much easier and more interesting!
As always, there are several interesting things happening simultaneously – it’s so difficult to choose from them. This year, I changed my tactics. Instead of just concentrating on metals, I was running around like crazy to learn more about environmental assessment of cosmetics and personal care products, life cycle assessment (LCA) and emerging contaminants (micro plastics!). If I would have to choose my favorites this year, they would be (1) Graham Merrington from WCA Environment, UK talking about what has happened in risk assessment within past ten years, (2) John Murphy from Queen Mary University of London, UK with an highly intriguing topic of new approaches in ecological effects of metal-contaminated sediments and (3) Nicolas Pucheux from INERIS, France who’s presentation about implementation of TRIAD approach in ERA of an old lead mine was so interesting that I spent the whole time writing as fast as I could. They were all really inspiring and I feel I got a lot of new ideas and perspectives to think about.
Another nice thing in participating international conferences is travelling, and Nantes was great for that. You can’t go to Nantes without riding the Grand Elephant (picture below). Food was great, people were nice, buildings were pretty and the prices affordable. What’s there not to like! Next year, SETAC Europe Annual Meeting is held in Brussels (https://www.setac.org/events/event_list.asp). And the SETAC World Congress will be at the end of this year in Orlando, Florida (https://orlando.setac.org/). Not a bad place to go in November!