Last week I was fortunate to visit the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology as an invited speaker for a workshop on Ecological and Socio-economic Impacts of Marine and Terrestrial Conservation Policy.

The impressive OIST campus
The impressive OIST campus, balanced over the ravine which may, or may not, contain venomous snakes.

I was, at first, a little skeptical of the OIST workshop format – a series of hour long seminars, with no intended “output” from the three days. I was however convinced by the impressive line up of speakers (L-R above: Mike Bode, Chris Costello, Kerrie Wilson, Morena Mills, Rebecca Weeks (me), Kathy Bayliss, Amy Ando, Payal Shah, Satoshi Mitarai, Erik Meijaard, Takahiro Kubo, Jonah Busch, Steve Gaines, Perry Aliño, Shinichiro Kakuma), and a chance to visit Japan.

As a conservation scientist I attend a lot of conferences (hundreds to thousands of people giving 12 minute talks and a rush to “network” in between) and working groups (small groups who mostly know each other, working to write a paper or other predetermined output); this was something completely different. We can certainly learn from other disciplines here though! The format was perfect for making connections with a small group of researchers working in related disciplines on conceptually or thematically similar problems.

For me, there were a few familiar faces, many familiar names, and some completely new colleagues. There was plenty of time for discussion and getting to know one another – over sushi and sake of course! Given the huge scope of topics presented, there were a remarkable number of common themes throughout our research. We might even turn these ideas into a paper…

And then there’s OIST itself. A relatively new research institute focused on graduate training, which has been designed (literally) from the ground up to foster interdisciplinary collaboration. It was fascinating to hear about how the buildings and workspaces had been designed explicitly to cross-pollinate ideas. The buildings themselves are truly spectacular, so much so that Google actually lets your tour inside the campus.

Many thanks to Payal and Satoshi for organising the workshop, and to the OIST team for helping us to navigate Okinawa.

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