Engaging early career researchers in ecohydraulics: A participatory approach

PART 3 – Major challenges in ecohydraulics

The requirement for high levels of originality for PhD and postdoc projects, combined with the need to read deeply and broadly at early career stages, means that ECRs tend to work at the cutting edge of research. This ought to make them an excellent source of information on disciplinary challenges. A substantial part of the workshop focused on discussing and shortlisting the major challenges in ecohydraulics, a young discipline with a long way to go until full maturity.


Many of the points raised by ECRs in this part of the workshop echoed previous commentaries on the major challenges in the discipline, including Maddock et al’s Ecohydraulics: An Integrated Approach. Whilst ECRs generally agreed on the broad categories challenges facing ecohydraulicians, they clearly did not agree that ecohydraulics is “an integrated approach”. Not yet anyway!


Among their top priorities for moving the discipline forward were: defining a common vocabulary, successfully establishing the new Journal of Ecohydraulics, overcoming disciplinary separatism and integrating tools and concepts from different disciplines.


Compared to the commentaries of more senior colleagues, ECRs put much more emphasis on integrating a wider range of concepts, including ecosystem services and ideas from social sciences and economics. They also identified public and political engagement as a key area for improving the impact and reach of ecohydraulics. Furthermore, they thought that citizen science would be an excellent way to both educate the public and engage them in research partnerships through citizen science, something that colleagues in the hydrological and ecological sciences have been doing to great effect in the last decade (e.g. Dickinson et al. 2012; Buytaert et al. 2014).

The group’s identification of key challenges in ecohydraulics during the workshop laid the foundation for discussions of barriers and opportunities for ECRs in trying to overcome those challenges. This will be the topic of the next blog.

Engaging early career researchers in ecohydraulics: A participatory approach

PART 2 – Context and approach

As ecohydraulicians we try to understand extremely complex, dynamic biophysical systems using a huge variety of methods. Our findings, and the application of our results to environmental management, are often fraught with uncertainty that biologists and engineers may perceive in vastly different ways. Despite this, ecohydraulics has made, and continues to make, important contributions to knowledge and society at large. How can we ensure that it continues to do so in the future? How can we harness the maximum potential of the next generation of ecohydraulics specialists in a way that is inclusive of nationality, gender and disciplinary background? How can we guarantee the welfare of ECRs as they attempt to overcome the scientific and professional challenges consistent with an emerging discipline? One of the major reasons for establishing ECoENet was to address such questions.


The participatory action research process

For the early careers workshop in Melbourne we chose to initiate a cyclic framework known as “participatory action research” (PAR). The framework is intended to enhance mutual learning and empowerment through continuous cycles of participation, action and reflection. It is most commonly used in the social and medical sciences but its popularity is growing in hydrology and ecology (e.g. Karpouzoglou et al., 2016).

PAR encourages equality in contributions to discourses characterised by great uncertainty and skewed power relations, such as those that exist between scientists (‘researchers’) and stakeholders (‘people’), between funders and scientists, etc. The classic paper by Cornwall and Jewkes (1995) casts PAR at the end of a spectrum of participation, from the contractual to the collegiate.


It’s easy to see the basis for applying participatory research in the context of ECRs – simply substitute ‘ECRs’ for ‘people’ and ‘bosses’ for ‘funder’!

The ECR workshop was a very light application of PAR, yet nonetheless effective. We began with an outstanding keynote in which John Nestler established a firm basis for the workshop by emphasising the principles of innovation and planning ahead in your career (“don’t wait until the bullets begin to fly!”). John ended with a strong recommendation that we should “think at a fundamental level once in a while”, a message repeated in his recent TJOE paper.


After some Q&As with John, we split the 25 participants, consisting of postdocs and postgrads from 10 different countries, into five groups. Each group was assigned a member of the ECoENet organising committee or a conscripted researcher from among the more experienced participants (thanks to Ana Silva and Paul Franklin!) whose role it was to stimulate discussion. The groups were introduced to each of the main questions we wanted to consider in the workshop and given up to 30 minutes to discuss and reflect on the question. We asked the groups to note each of their main points on a Postit (100s of Postits were sacrificed for this workshop!) and report them back to the other participants.

Later, we undertook a process of merging and splitting the main points, attempting to make connections between each of the three questions considered. Throughout this process we tried to maintain fluidity in the proceedings. No themes were preconceived or “written in stone” until the last moments of the workshop when all participants were satisfied that we had formed something coherent.


We ended up with five broad themes that cut across the three main workshop questions, connecting the major challenges in ecohydraulics with the barriers and opportunities facing ECRs, and the role of ECoENet in facilitating progress. These themes have been instrumental in the direction of ECoENet since.

  1. Technology and professional development
  2. Welfare
  3. Communication
  4. Dissemination
  5. Funding

The next parts of this blog will report the responses of participants to each of the main questions posed during the workshop, gradually building towards a coherent strategy for enhancing the role of ECRs in ecohydraulics.

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EcoENet Strategy

Based on our vision, we have developed a strategy organised in 4 main activity areas that are interlinked. They include: Online Presence, Outreach, Members and Participation at Key conferences.steps

Each of the above activity areas are coordinated by a sub-commitee. A Chair and Secretary oversee the overall internal management and communication through regular ECoENEt commitee meetings. See below our plan for short to mid-term activities by areas and who does what:


Current roles


Chair: Roser Casas-Mulet

Secretary: Ana Adeva Bustos

Activity Areas

Online Presence: Davide Vanzo, Andrew Neverman, Martin Wilkes

Outreach: Camille Macnaughton

Members: Alexander McCluskey, Ana Adeva Bustos

Participation at Conferences: Martin Wilkes, Roser Casas-Mulet, Ana Adeva Bustos, Andrew Neverman



Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more about our organisation!


Funding Sources

Travel Funding

ECoENet activities at ISE2016, ISRS2017 and ISE2018 were and will be funded by the main conference. This means that costs are kept to an absolute minimum.

Unfortunately we cannot provide direct financial assistance to PhD students and early career researchers to help cover the costs of travel, accommodation and registration for the main conference. We can, however, assist members in securing individual funding. Start by checking your eligibility for the funding sources listed in this document. If you find that you do not qualify for any of these, or would like some advice on writing a funding application, then please contact the organising committee who will do their best to help.


Other Funding Sources

We are currently working on it, won’t be long!


If you have any ideas on how to get funding in future meetings, we look forward to hear them. Please contact us or be ready to discuss when we next meet!

Engaging early career researchers in ecohydraulics: A participatory approach

PART 1 – Introduction

Back in February 2016, as the ecohydraulics community gathered in Melbourne to prepare for what was to be an excellent ISE2016, ECoENet held its first workshop for Early Career Researchers (ECRs). Since then, we’ve been busy organising, analysing, interpreting and publishing the workshop outcomes. Click here to read the paper in the new Journal of Ecohydraulics. Muchas gracias to all of those who participated in the two-day event, including John Nestler for giving an inspiring keynote talk and offering invaluable advice.


The aim of the workshop was to provide an opportunity for ECRs to network, share ideas and improve understanding of how they can contribute towards developing ecohydraulics as a discipline. And, conversely, to explore what senior members of the community could do to help smooth the way, for the benefit of all. We explored three main questions about ecohydraulics and the role of ECRs working within it:

  1. What are the major challenges in ecohydraulics today and in the near future?
  2. What are the barriers and opportunities for ECRs attempting to meet these challenges?
  3. What can ECoENet do to help?

In this series of blogs we will set the context and explain our approach to the workshop. Subsequently, we will explore ECR responses to each of the three main questions in much more detail than we were able to include in the paper.

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Summer school “Protecting river connectivity: Effective design and monitoring of fishways”

We are holding a summer school on fish passage in Concepción, Chile, 16-20 January. Visit this link for details –  afiche-escuela-keepfish-2017

There is a fee of $200 USD for students and $500 for others. Come and enjoy the Chilean summer with us! Contact me if you want to attend and need some help to find funding.

Martin // Concepción

The Making of a Scientist…

is the provoking as well as inspiring title of a Nature article published in 1966. Starting from a recurrent question posed by students (“How does one become a Nobel laureate?”) Sir Hans Krebs proposed a historical regression in his specific research branch constituting a sort of personal scientific genealogical tree. Without any doubts he recognized in mentorship one of the key ingredients for a fruitful research experience, underlining how “scientists are not so much born as made by those who teach them research”. The Author stressed how teachers are fundamental not for their knowledge or skills per se, but for the attitudes they can convey. And which are these attitudes? Selecting the object to be explored; interpreting and evaluating the results; assessing the potentials and limitations of skills and tools with a view to improving and supplementing them. But “the most important element of attitude is humility, because from it flows a self-critical mind and the continuous effort to learn and improve”.

As members of a growing network in 2016 we can find our milestone words in this 50-year-old paper: creativity, criticism, enthusiasm, time are other key concepts for making a scientist. Finally, let me conclude with the last crucial element… “One of the most effective ways of attaining a powerful (scientific) momentum is belonging to a team. […] What the team provides is a background of aggregate skill, experience and help. This background forms the starting point for individual enterprise.”

Will our network become also our “team”? That’s just on us.

Krebs, Hans A. “The making of a scientist.” Nature 215.5109 (1967): 1441-1445.

Davide // Zurich