An Aca­demic Pil­grim­age to Bhutan

Bhutan Times - - Editorial - Kazi Akib Bin Asad

A few weeks back, I had the tremen­dous good for­tune to par­tic­i­pate in an in­ter­na­tional aca­demic con­fer­ence. Wikipedia de­fines an aca­demic con­fer­ence to be “a con­fer­ence for re­searchers (not nec­es­sar­ily aca­demics) to present and dis­cuss their work”. I did just that, and much more.

The 2nd In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Sus­tain­able and Re­new­able En­ergy De­sign and Devel­op­ment (SREDD2017) was or­gan­ised by the Col­lege of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy of the Royal Uni­ver­sity of Bhutan. The three-day event took place on April 3-5, 2017 in Thim­phu, the cap­i­tal of Bhutan.

Look­ing back at the ex­pe­ri­ence, I’ve de­cided to com­pile a set of anec­dotes so that you, the reader [who is hope­fully a stu­dent], may re­alise the worth of at­tend­ing such con­fer­ences at home and abroad.

RE­SEARCH

The core con­cept of an aca­demic con­fer­ence states that stu­dents, teach­ers and re­searchers from around the world con­vene at a lo­ca­tion to present their re­search work, on a range of top­ics. Of­ten times we shy away from dis­cussing what we’re work­ing on, per­haps due to in­se­cu­ri­ties. At a con­fer­ence, how­ever, it is im­per­a­tive that one break free and em­brace what comes their way. For me, it was crit­i­cal ob­ser­va­tion and feed­back.

Be­ing in the au­di­ence, I learned a lot about my own re­search from the pre­sen­ta­tions of my peers. My pre­sen­ta­tion was sched­uled for the sec­ond day and I spent the en­tire night be­fore fine-tun­ing an MS Pow­erPoint file. The process had me cor­rect a lot of er­rors and de­tect loop­holes in my work. Ac­cio crit­i­cal ob­ser­va­tion. Later that day, I had de­liv­ered a won­der­ful per­for­mance on solid waste man­age­ment with ku­dos pour­ing in from ev­ery­where. Ac­cio feed­back. There were many who mis­took me for a fac­ulty mem­ber or a PhD stu­dent. Need­less to say, that kind of recog­ni­tion is a huge con­fi­dence booster for any stu­dent.

NET­WORK

The most im­por­tant as­pect of a con­fer­ence is “networking”. There, I said it.

Par­tic­i­pa­tion in con­fer­ences guar­an­tees that a re­searcher meets like­minded en­thu­si­asts from dif­fer­ent parts of the world. And it is of much sig­nif­i­cance that the per­son makes the best use of it. How? Talk. It starts with a sim­ple “Hi” or “Hello” at the food counter and be­fore you know it, the con­ver­sa­tion flows to how the in­tri­cate ar­chi­tec­ture of Bhutanese buildings is ac­tu­ally a method to keep the rooftops cool dur­ing warm sum­mers and warm dur­ing cool win­ters. Be­fore long, I con­nected with stu­dents, pro­fes­sors and pro­fes­sion­als in my field of re­search. If noth­ing, I’ve col­lected a lot of busi­ness cards over the course of the con­fer­ence.

Even now, I stay in touch with par­tic­i­pants who hail from Bhutan, Nepal, Ja­pan, Colom­bia, the Nether­lands, and so on. Networking not only helps in mak­ing in­tel­lec­tual ac­quain­tances but opens doors to op­por­tu­ni­ties world­wide.

EX­PLORE

The head­ing it­self is self­ex­plana­tory. Like the one I went to, in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences roughly trans­late in my mind to “a chance to travel”. Bhutan is a coun­try with a favourable cli­mate most of the year; the pop­u­la­tion of its cap­i­tal, Thim­phu, is only 70,000.

I was able to take a few long walks in the city, hap­pily los­ing my way a cou­ple of times. The monas­ter­ies and tem­ples were at a walk­ing dis­tance. The high­light of my trip, how­ever, was the trek to Tiger’s Nest in Paro – Tak­t­sang as it is locally known – with my re­search su­per­vi­sor. A 5 kilo­me­tre up-and-down hike took me 10,232 feet above sea level, and my lungs and mus­cles to a whole new level. In ac­cor­dance to many quotes on top of blurred out pho­tos on the in­ter­net, trav­el­ling does bring out the best in peo­ple. It was a check off the bucket list.

If you do get the chance to present your work at a con­fer­ence, do some ex­tra re­search on the venue and its at­trac­tions – it pays off.

In my opin­ion, con­fer­ences are aca­demic pil­grim­ages. They’re the best mix of field trips and study tours. Noth­ing beats meet­ing aca­demic peers from around the world, get­ting your work dis­cussed and a bit of sight-see­ing – all in one itin­er­ary.

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