Creating environmental expertise in early-career researchers

Picture of people making notes at a conference.

The role of an academic is to generate and communicate knowledge through research, teaching, and service engagement for the general public. Balancing these three tasks is not always easy. But could engagement in expert organizations help foster academics’ expertise and identity development, and does this process provide insights on how expert knowledge is created?

In an article published in Environmental Sociology, Karin Gustafsson, member of CESSS, investigates these topics by studying the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an organization that provides the public with world-leading expert knowledge assessments on biodiversity and ecosystem services. The IPBES hosts a fellowship programme which offers early-career researchers the opportunity to obtain additional scientific training and to collaborate with senior experts in the field. Through interviews with 14 researchers who took part of the fellowship programme and participated in the production of the IPBES’s Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Karin Gustafsson investigates how the IPBES fellowship programme promotes academic identity development among early-career researchers. The study also provides new insights on the role of expert organizations in both constructing new expertise as well as maintaining of the boundaries of what constitutes expertise.

By participating in the fellowship programme and becoming members of the IPBES community, the researchers not only widen their networks, work contexts, and bases for their careers, but also their understanding of what it means to be successful academics. In this process, they learn to embrace an academic identity that puts a larger focus on service engagement by allowing service actors to inform them of which research questions to ask, explore, and answer. The product is a more dynamic balancing of the academic tasks of research, teaching, and service engagement, and a career development in a new direction towards being a senior academic able to contribute with environmental expertise.

Gustafsson, K. M. (2022). Expert organizations as a space for early-career development: Engaging in service while balancing expectations on research and teaching. Environmental Sociology. Read the full article here.