Imagine having to present your master thesis’ research at a conference for the first time, now, imagine having to do that virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic and still manage to come in first place. This was the exact experience of Swati Surampally, a doctoral candidate at the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, who I had the opportunity to meet virtually and interview for this article.
Swati was in India in a town near Mumbai at the time of the interview while I was in my studio apartment in Prague, Czech Republic. Turns out that with her smiley and bubbly personality, Swati is focused and determined that her research is always connected to the sustainable development of cities. Swati, an architect, found herself questioning the incessant construction of buildings and the environmental repercussions that come with it, concluding that it is unsustainable and not the correct path to growth and development. She later was involved in the conservation of buildings, but in her words, “there was something more that I was looking for.” For Swati, planning emerged as an answer, which had the potential to trigger large-scale impacts.
When I asked her why she decided to attend the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, she smiled and was quick to respond that there were two major factors: the program itself, as it combined planning, landscaping and management of natural resources, and second, the city of Prague. While at the Faculty of Environmental Sciences as a master’s student in Landscape Planning, her thesis titled ‘Tracing the links between forest-cover and terrestrial precipitation: a case of four city areas in the Czech Republic’ focused on land use and its impact on the local climate, by making a comparative analysis of four urban areas, namely: Prague, Brno, Most, and Třeboň. Ultimately, it was this research that won her first place at the Euroleague for Life Sciences (ELLS) Scientific Student Conference in November 2020. Once the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in Europe, the ELLS conference was swiftly moved online early in 2020. Swati explained to me that there were various reasons why she was motivated to apply to the conference. After receiving an email informing her about the conference, she realized that she wanted to get her work out there, “I wanted to get more reviews on my thesis, and I wanted to see where I stood internationally, especially since I knew I wanted to pursue a PhD,” Swati confessed. In other words, she wanted to check out the competition, and clearly, her research was more than competitive.
“It was unexpected,” Swati said about her winning first place at the ELLS Student Scientific Conference, which is an annual conference hosted by a leading life sciences institution in Europe (this year it was hosted by BOKU) within the ELLS network, of which the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague is part of, along with the ELSA (Euroleague Student Association). Swati explained that while there were pros and cons about presenting online, she took comfort in being able to focus on her presentation from her room rather than focusing on an audience. She also credits her win to the fact that the theme of her research perfectly matched the theme of the conference for this past year (The World of Tomorrow – A Green and Sustainable Society).
As a big part of conferences is networking, I was interested to know how Swati was able to interact with other participants, “there were opportunities to connect with others, but the focus for me was on presenting and preparing, I did not have the opportunity to connect,” Swati explained. Lastly, she was gracious enough to give tips on being bold enough to apply to conferences, and she suggested the following, “first, the research and the theme of the conference should concur. Secondly, make sure you show the bigger picture to the audience, the significance of your research, and the novel perspective it represents. Share the story behind the inspiration.” After hearing these words, I agreed with Swati, as young scientists, it is always important to ensure we present our research with its impact and bigger picture in mind. Swati shared a few last words of wisdom with me, “convince other people why your research is important and how it benefits the society.” With this last piece of advice, let’s apply for this upcoming year’s scientific student conference, and just maybe someone from us will be as fortunate as Swati.
The ELLS Scientific Student Conference will be again online, and the theme for 2021 is “Green (r)evolution: from molecules to ecosystems”. The organizer for this year is Warsaw University of Life Sciences, Poland, so save the dates 19-20 November 2021 and submit your abstract at https://www.sggw.edu.pl/ells-conference-2021/ells-student-conference/.
You can see Swati's presentation of her Master thesis research here.
The author of the article is Glindys Virginia Luciano is a CZU student representative of the Euroleague Student Association (ELSA).