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Final Conference for Junior Research Groups

by David

Veterinary Anatomy Theatre, Berlin
Veterinary Anatomy Theatre, Berlin

The POLISES project is part of a specific funding format of the German Ministry of Education and Research: the Junior Research Groups “Global Change” 4+1. We had first been introduced to the other 18 groups in our cohort at the kick-off meeting back in 2015, and recently, we met them again during the program’s final conference.

In one of Berlin’s historic lecture halls, which was not ideal in terms of acoustics or seating comfort but looked very pretty, all project heads presented the progress their teams had made over the past four years. The range of results was truly impressive, and was illustrated further by the instructive posters each group had prepared. However, many contributions, while meaningful in their own right, were not connected to any of the work done by the other groups. To establish a more constructive dialogue, it would have been worthwhile identifying some common themes and concepts and specifically discussing those.

For example, I would not be able to say what we have really, collectively, learned about “global change” on an abstract level. This vague concept is itself rarely problematized, but simply used without further explanation. An author had observed this pattern three decades ago, and things do not seem to have evolved much since: “Clearly, there is no generally accepted operational definition of global change. This lack allows politicians and scientists to discuss almost any topic of international concern within the framework of the concept” (Price, 1989, p. 42).

One possible definition focuses on man-made change on Earth’s systems, but this hardly narrows the concept down. Aren’t all regions equally “prone to global change” then? Historically, usage of the term really took off in the late 1980s and reached a peak around 1999, as suggested by this relative frequency diagram. But such conceptual questions remain unresolved, perhaps conveniently so.

At any rate, the final conference represented a great occasion to (re-)connect with young researchers from the other teams; and the attempt to use innovative presentation formats, namely the “science slam” on day one, was successful and refreshing. All participants clearly agreed that the specific funding format of the Junior Research Groups is worth being preserved and expanded in the future.


Price, M. F. (1989). Global change: defining the ill-defined. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 31(8), 18-20, 42-44.

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