Creating Lectures for Citizen Scientists

I have a fantastic job at Earthwatch, and I’m going to tell you about a day-in-the-life of me and my team, specifically from our lecture last week at the Royal Geographical Society in London. There are lots of Earthwatchers who do great work for this incredible organisation, and I thought you’d find it fun to see what it takes to put on a remarkable event.

Climate Change and Forests: Earthwatch and the HSBC Climate Partnership

Climate Change and Forests: Earthwatch and the HSBC Climate Partnership

History of the Earthwatch Lecture Series
Earthwatch has been holding public lectures since it all began – 41 years ago. More than a decade ago, Earthwatch hosted a series of “Travellers Tales” at the Royal Geographical Society, which gave the opportunity for volunteers to tell audiences about their experiences on Earthwatch projects all over the world. These were very popular, so much so, that it was decided to crank it up a level and invite the scientists running the projects (i.e., Principal Investigators, known as PI’s) to tell us about projects, in their own words, and give the public an insight into life working with them as volunteers.

Over the years, lectures have included, Can Economics really save Wild Nature?, Farming and Sustainable Environment, The Big Science Questions for Society and From the Ashes – Volcano research in Central America. These lectures gave the public unique insight into a myriad of scientific research and archaeological projects all over the world, and have been an important way to engage the public and volunteers.

This year, in March, we hosted a lecture entitled Protected Areas: Do they improve outcomes for key species? where Professor Luke Dollar (Assistant Professor of Biology at Pfeiffer University, US) told us about his research in Madagascar, and Professor John Cigliano (Associate Professor of Biology, Cedar Crest College, US) about his fascinating work with Conch in Belize.

These lectures don’t just happen on their own. To put on these events, you need funding. This is why the support Earthwatch receives from the Mitsubishi Corporation Fund for Europe and Africa (MCFEA) is so important. Their title sponsorship of two lectures and one debate each year, held at the prestigious Royal Geographic Society, allows our supporters and the media to hear first-hand about the vital work Earthwatch research teams are doing around the world. Of course, you also need a hard-working team – and we are certainly fortunate in Earthwatch to have energetic and enthusiastic staff, who all pull together for such events!

Whilst we’re on the subject, it is probably worth mentioning that Earthwatch’s work with MCFEA is a great example the numerous ways in which our corporate partners help Earthwatch to deliver its mission. MCFEA also provides funding which allows our research team to present at important conferences – such as Planet Under Pressure and the IUCN World Conservation Congress – and is helping Earthwatch to train early career conservation scientists in developing countries, by supporting the Earthwatch Emerging Scientist Programme.

So, back to the day-in-the-life
Picture this: It’s the month of May at the beautiful Oxford Spires, and two of the most important Climate Change specialists in the world are in the back seat of my car, munching sandwiches, pouring over a laptop, and discussing the vital future of our beautiful planet. Sometimes in life, you just KNOW you are in the right place at the right time.

(OK – stop – rewind. If someone had told me a year or so ago, that I would be spending yesterday, wizzing round Oxford, picking up Professors from Oxford University and diving off to London, with bounty in car, to run a lecture for Earthwatch, to be chaired by the utterly charming and talented Kate Humble, I would have told them they were off their collective rockers…)

We arrived just after lunch, were met by Nigel Winser (Earthwatch Executive VP) and our third speaker Ravi, and made our way down to the Ondaatje Theatre. The RGS staff are incredibly helpful – coffee, biscuits, general fortification saw us through two hours of intensive rehearsal, and we were ready!

At 4:30PM – almost on the dot, there was a general commotion and hubbub at the entrance of the RGS – heralding the arrival of the Earthwatch Team! Two dozen members of our Oxford team piled off the bus – armed with boxes, banners and general materials. After a short break (to get over the jetlag of travelling from Oxford to London) everyone immediately got stuck right into the setting up of the event. Watching the Earthwatchers doing this makes you realise what a well-oiled machine it is!

At 6:00PM on the dot, everyone in place, the audience start to arrive, and we’re off! We were busy! We were actually sold out on the internet, but allowing for the typical 10–15% “no show,” we were still very close to capacity – well over 600 attendees. The bar was buzzing. The theatre was occupied with our speakers and celebrities, recordings of interviews for the website, and then, just before 7:00PM – everyone piled into the theatre to enjoy the two hour lecture.

On this occasion, the lecture was “Climate Change and Forests: Earthwatch and the HSBC Climate Partnership.” On the stage were Dr. Dan Bebber (Head of Climate Change Research – Earthwatch Institute), Professor Yadvinder Malhi (Professor of Ecosystem Science, University of Oxford) and Professor N H Ravindranath (Director of the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Indian Institute of Science).

It was amazing, a real celebration of the considerable achievements within the HSBC Climate Champions Programme, and also the importance of the work still to do. If you would like to read more about the lecture and see the interview, please see the Lecture Highlights for tons of video.

And then – the Q&A. This is such an important part of any lecture. It is when the audience play their part. It is fantastic to have immediate feedback and hear from the audience how engaged they were with what the speakers had to say. They ask for more – challenge – and in the case of last night – the most valuable question any citizen scientist can ask – “Yes, but what can I do…?”

That is the point. That is why the community of citizen scientists is so important, because they listen and they act. And that is surely the best way to safeguard the future of our planet.

Earthwatch May RGS Lecture Series

Anybody have any questions?

It may be time to wrap up, but the work is never done
Some leave straight after the lecture – trains to catch, places to be… For those who remain, it is a fabulous opportunity for staff and audience to engage. At 10:00PM, it’s all over. The audience depart, the staff clear up, and the bus arrives to take the team back to Oxford.

So, you think it’s all over? Well, it is until the next time! DO JOIN US, we promise you all a proper Earthwatch welcome. If you are interested in this, and in attending one of our public lectures or debates, please sign up for our next in October, entitled Empowering Future Conservation Leaders: Models of Success. I hope to see you there.