New Zealand delegation to the Scientific Committee meeting in Hobart

Dr Clare Adams (front row, far right) was a member of the New Zealand delegation to the Scientific Committee meeting in Hobart, Australia in 2022.

Highlights from the desk of an accidental science 'diplomat'

9 May 2024

Over the past year and a bit, I’ve had the pleasure of stepping into a world unknown. No, I’m not talking about Antarctica (although I wish I could have set foot in that winter wonderland!) — I’m talking about the policy realm.

As an environmental geneticist who had recently finished my PhD and was looking to expand my skillset beyond the usual academic track (teaching, research, and service), I was fortunate to have an opportunity to take a peek into policy and governance through a Science-Policy Postdoctoral Fellowship / Ministry for Primary Industries Internship. This inaugural position was established through a partnership between the Antarctic Science Platform (ASP) and the Ministry for Primary Industries. While the position was sold to me as “chat to scientists about their Antarctic research” (networking, anyone?), it was so much more. Here, I hope to highlight just a few of the amazing experiences I’ve had that few other early career researchers have experience in their career journey.

Clare Adams at CCAMLR

Dr Clare Adams attended the CCAMLR Working Group on Ecosystem Monitoring and Management in Kochi, India, as part of her science-policy fellowship position. Photo: Enrique Pardo, DOC

The position was created to enhance the connection between the ASP and New Zealand’s representative (Nathan Walker) to the Scientific Committee of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). CCAMLR is part of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), which is the international agreement governing Antarctica. Antarctica is to be used for science and peace, and CCAMLR helps to conserve the Antarctic marine living organisms. I learnt that conservation also includes the rational use of these resources – in fact, New Zealand fishes toothfish from the Ross Sea region and this fish stock is worth >20 million NZD annually. New Zealand’s infrastructure supports the science around both the fishing industry and conservation in the Ross Sea region.

One of my most valuable take-aways was a chance to peer into the ‘secret lives’ of government officials. I interacted with the Antarctic team as they talked through national Antarctic priorities, which is led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and includes the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation. Understanding how and why government officials made certain decisions, especially through the lens of weighing up risks and benefits for long-term strategy, was immensely interesting. Learning to think more broadly by synthesizing science with economics and geopolitical positioning, and gaining insights into interpersonal international relationships, was something I’d never had the opportunity to do in a research environment.

Hobart NZ delegation

New Zealand representatives Dr Clare Adams and Nathan Walker (New Zealand’s Scientific Committee Representative) at the Scientific Committee Meeting in Hobart, October, 2022. Photo: Alistair Dunn, Ocean Environmental

While my science training was originally in molecular ecology, I expanded my horizons and learned more about social science. To help bridge the gap between science and policy, we need to know how these spheres interact. So, I developed a survey which was delivered at the 2023 New Zealand-Australia Antarctic Science Conference. From this survey, we learned there are different ways that researchers interact with the science policy interface to disseminate research. There was a range of experience levels, from scientists who interact with policymakers very closely, to others who are unsure of what role policymakers may play, or who they are. Generally, more senior researchers had contributed more to policy, whereas early career researchers had not yet had the opportunity or become aware of policymaker needs. Read more about this study and recommendations here.

Clare Adams at Scientific Committee meeting

Attending the Scientific Committee meeting in Hobart, Australia in 2022. Photo: Dr. Clare Adams

Finally, I would be remiss to not mention the amazing opportunity to represent New Zealand on the global stage. This was perhaps the best opportunity that this fellowship offered, and the one I will treasure forever. I attended the CCAMLR Working Group on Ecosystem Monitoring and Management in Kochi, India (July 2023) and helped to host the CCAMLR Workshop on Climate Change here in New Zealand (September 2023).

However, my first experience threw me into the deep end at CCAMLR’s Scientific Committee meeting in Hobart, Australia (October 2022), when I was just a month into the job! Scientists can submit their research through their national delegation, here in New Zealand they are usually vetted by the Antarctic Working Group run by our Scientific Committee member, which can then be recommended to the Scientific Committee to support governance decisions. I even had a hand in drafting a submission to CCAMLR (for CCAMLR Special Meeting III on Marine Protected Areas in Santiago, Chile in 2023) on behalf of the New Zealand delegation!

This was a steep learning curve, but it was really rewarding to see a small push forward in New Zealand’s conservation agenda. Being able to see how science can be used to inform policy at an international scale and interacting with international collaborators was a highlight that I would describe as a ‘mini-model-UN with science.’ These experiences tied together my understandings of how governments co-operated with each other to push forward mutual goals.

Fig 6 Hobart

Dr Clare Adams, Nathan Walker, and Alistair Dunn representing New Zealand at the 2022 Scientific Committee meeting in Hobart, Australia.

Of course, my experience would be nothing without those who have taken the time to mentor and help me in this journey. There are too many people to name, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some despite their enormous help, but I would like to at least extend a small “thank you” (in no specific order) to:

  • the government science team: Nathan Walker, Enrique Pardo, Jennifer Devine, and Adam Berry, Alistair Dunn,
  • the ASP leaders: Ian Hawes and Nancy Bertler,
  • and my science-policy help: Natasha Gardiner, Daniela Liggett, Melissa Climo, and Andy Reisinger.

This has been an eye-opening experience and a very cool (no pun intended) position. I’m hoping to take my broader perspective back to the research sector. As an early career researcher, I still have much to learn and hope to integrate my science diplomacy training from this position into an impactful research programme that answers the necessary questions policymakers need to deliver on. I hope MBIE is still considering a narrative CV!

Until next time.

Clare I. M. Adams, PhD.

National Institute of Oceanography

A picture in front of the National Institute of Oceanography while attending the 2023 Working Group on Ecosystem Monitoring and Management meeting in Kochi, India. Pictured: Dr Clare Adams, Dr. Jennifer Devine, Enrique Pardo. Photo: Enrique Pardo, DOC