What was supposed to be a casual “meet and greet” between fellows of the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Hydrology Section in June 2022 quickly became much more. The fellows recently published a video recording of the informal conversation in Perspectives of Earth and Space Scientists that evolved into a deep discussion about the problems facing the field and how scientists can address them. Due to ongoing challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the session was hosted online and recorded.
Scott Tyler, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno and the former president of the AGU Hydrology Section, moderated the conversation. As the conversations continued and deepened, Tyler began to recognize that they highlighted some of the pressing issues that the field and the broader scientific community face.
“It’s quite obvious and will be obvious to all those who watch this that our AGU Fellows are deep thinkers and are thinking about current issues,” Tyler said. “I think there is an evolution coming along, and I’m very proud to see that coming from…our AGU Fellows.”
The conversation included AGU Hydrology Fellows Suzanne Anderson (University of Colorado, Boulder), Paul Brooks (University of Utah), Aaron Packman (Northwestern University), Remko Uijlenhoet (Delft University of Technology), Andrew Western (University of Melbourne) and Xubin Zeng (University of Arizona).
The conversation started with Packman describing how he tries to focus his work at the intersection between impactful and interesting research. Some of the broad examples of impactful hydrology work Packman mentioned includes COVID-19 wastewater tracking and basic research to understand the effects of climate change. He adds that work that interests the researcher is important to maintain creativity and drive future projects.
Zeng spoke about the importance of innovation in research. Zeng said he is concerned that innovation in science has stalled but proposes some changes to the publication review process to push innovation forward. He adds that scientists should share their failed ideas.
“There is no such thing as a failure, but just ideas you have tried that never worked,” Zeng said. “If we are open, if we take the lead in sharing our unsuccessful stories, that will help accelerate the science.”
Brooks spoke about the lack of socioeconomic diversity in academia. He notes that there have been small improvements made in the field in other areas of diversity, but that socioeconomic diversity has decreased. He points out that the ties between people of a lower socioeconomic status and other historically excluded groups are closely linked.
“We’re propagating people that are more and more like us socioeconomically,” Brooks said. “So how do we stop the trend toward becoming a more and more isolated ivory tower, and making more and more connections with broader society?”
Anderson shared her personal experience as a woman in the field, and how she’s seen strides made in improving gender diversity in hydrologic sciences. She also shared the importance of learning outside her immediate field of work to deepen understanding of the research she was doing.
The conversation evolved into discussing recognition of career development outside of accomplishments like citations, papers published, or academic legacy and focusing recognition on opportunities provided to students, even outside academia.
The video, slightly edited for time by the University of Nevada, Reno’s former College of Science marketing and communications director Jennifer Kent, a coauthor on the publication, is about one hour long. In that hour, researchers discuss the philosophies of their research and the importance of community, along with other themes. You can watch the Perspectives of Earth and Space Scientists recording.