Sunday, July 21, 2019

Landscape Ecology and Caffe: Reflections of a Graduate Student/Barista

Text and photos by Jabez Joshua M. Flores
Ph.D. Environmental Science student

This is the wonderful view from our room in Ostello Parco Monte Barro.
I began my professional career as a barista back in 2007. I worked behind the bar and operated the espresso machine like a musical instrument. Every day was like a performance. And of course, going to Italy--the birthplace of the espresso--was a dream for me. Fast forward 12 years, little did I know that what would bring me to Italy was my research as a graduate student at a scientific gathering. In retrospect, I realized my coffee dream was not hindered by a career change. It's like hitting two birds with one stone. So every time I passed by a bar in Italy, me and my wife would savor every sip of 'caffe'!

My classmates  listening to a lecture (L-R): Martina, Adriana, Xingyue, Xueying, Gaoyuan, Tasuka, and Annegreet

Attending the 10th International Association for Landscape Ecology (IALE) World Congress in Milan and the IALE-Europe Ph.D. course in Monte Barro, Italy was life-changing for me for two reasons. First, it's Italy. And second, it was a scientific gathering where I felt my research belonged to. To those following this blog, you already might be familiar about what we do. But in a nutshell, my research is both weird and complicated. Probably it's because of the complexity (or obscurity) of the subject matter? It's not what you would call a 'mainstream' topic in science. I don't know. Sometimes I believe the funding we get was given out of the sheer novelty of our work. Anyway, I felt that the papers I presented during the past two events was at the right place at the right time. 

Our paper session group discussing our final presentation for the course.

People studying landscape ecology are very particular about patterns and processes...and design. And not just aesthetic design but also functional and ecological design. I met a lot of architects, landscape architects, and urban planners and I also talked to some civil engineers, geographers, and biologists. We shared experiences and exchanged insights (and calling cards!) regarding each other's work. For me permaculture design was not hard to communicate. Some people may call it other names but we're basically talking about the same thing. A common ground was not hard to establish. Opinions and approaches may vary but we all wanted to design a sustainable future for our world. By the way, the world congress theme was 'nature and society facing the anthropocene: challenges and perspectives for landscape ecology'.

Our excursion to the Parco Archeologico dei Piani di Barra 

Out of the 900+ world congress participants (but I think there were at least a thousand people over there), 14 of us went up to Monte Barro Regional Park (an hour away from Milan by train and then by van) immediately after the closing program to take part in a 5-day Ph.D. course organized by the IALE-Europe team. It's like they were taking us to the mountains to make us focus on our research projects...and give direction to our lives. 

Mentors and students listening intently to the final presentations

All of us were Ph.D. students at different stages of our research. Most of my classmates were on their proposal stage and some of us were just writing our manuscripts (actually, it's the hardest part!). I wasn't supposed to be in this event but my academic adviser encouraged me to participate because he said it would help me with my writing process. And it sure did.  

Jacques and Veerle discussing during our last session

At the beginning of the course, we presented our respective posters explaining the scope and progress of our research. There were 14 students and our 5 mentors spent a considerable amount of time asking questions and commenting on our presentations. It took us the whole day to finish this exercise! I'm not sure if I did great job explaining my poster, I probably blacked out. But I had the feeling they understood the scope of my study and what I was trying to accomplish. So that was a good experience for me. Another is learning from the presentations of my classmates. We came from different disciplines, so I took notes, asked questions, and tried to learn as much as I can. Learning about their research topics and how they do research really broadened my perspective. It made me aware of the social and ecological contexts of their places and how they respond to it.

My classmates (L-R): Zhengkai, Leajim, Tasuka, Caleb, Laura, and Adriana

Our mentors brought books for us to read during our stay at the hostel. I borrowed the Multifunctional Landscapes book and read it every night before I went to sleep. I wanted to make the best out of my stay in Monte Barro and focused on listing down questions that I would ask for the paper sessions. Plus, I needed all the inspiration I could get to finish my manuscript. 

Xingyue, Xueying, and Gaoyuan  discuss during the poster session

Our class was divided into four groups for the paper sessions. This was the time for us to discuss a specific section of our research with our mentors. I was grouped with Annelise (Belgium), Gaoyuan (China), and fellow Filipino, Leajim. Annelise and Leajim are studying heritage sites while Gaoyuan is researching on public parks. We were lucky enough to be in the group with two mentors, Veerle (Belgium) and Andreas (Denmark). I consider it a special opportunity to discuss one's work with a small group of people who can really dissect and scrutinize your work. Honestly, I haven't discussed my research this extensively to anyone. I was yearning for fresh input and honest opinion. What's great about this exercise is that one session is dedicated entirely to your study! Receiving insights from landscape ecologists was what I needed. I now know what to do. 

I enjoyed this session with Francois and Tasuka where we discussed the beautiful Italian landscape from the terrace of the hostel

I enjoyed the lecture sessions by our mentors, Jacques, Andreas, Angela, and Veerle. And also Francois whom I always had the chance to talk to especially during meals. My classmates...such a special group! I think having a small class works best because I got to talk to all of them and really form friendships with each other. I hope we could get the opportunity to collaborate on projects and visit each other's countries. Overall, I'm just really happy I was able to be part of this landscape ecology community. This doesn't happen very often. But I'm sure this bond will last a lifetime!

With my roommates Zhengkai and Caleb

Our only group photo! I apologize for the quality, it was taken by a drone at night!

Lunch at Lecco with my classmates

Special thanks to my funding agencies for making this trip possible: UP Office of International Linkages, SEARCA, Fondazione Cariplo, IALE-Europe, and DOST-SEI.

Follow me on Instagram for daily photos of our trip to Italy: @thebeigetable
You can also follow our research at @permacultureresearchph


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