This year’s Centre of Excellence workshop at Wollongong, structured by a committee of Michael Reeder, Andy Hogg and Amelie Meyer, thoroughly broke with tradition and introduced some intriguing innovations.

The committee had three key goals: to make early career researchers feel part of the team, to forge cross disciplinary research programs and to introduce all staff to the science underpinning the Centre of Excellence.

The key to this approach were the Primer sessions, which outlined the science at a level where everyone across the programs could understand the detail. These talks then extended into challenging areas of each of the Centre’s research programs, enabling contributions across the Centre. You can see a collection of the presentations here.

There was also a focus on a single significant climate extreme – the current drought that has primarily affected New South Wales and Queensland for the past few years. What has made this drought a particular challenge is that it does not seem to have been instigated or prolonged by the usual climate contributors.

Two sessions on the first day were devoted to the causes of the drought with contributions and presentations coming from all research programs. This was followed on the third day by an ad hoc meeting of researchers who wanted to pursue the drought problem over the coming year. This final meeting focused the Centre’s next research steps to enable our scientists to understand its causes and perhaps improve future forecasts of drought events in Australia.

Two other ad hoc meetings were held at the same time. One was a school outreach stocktake to find out who in the Centre had been involved in outreach and was developing school resources. The other meeting led by the Climate Variability and Teleconnections research program scoped out near-term plans for running ACCESS-OM2 simulations

This year also saw extended scientific poster sessions with different Centre personnel assigned to review the design and scientific content of posters. This was a break from lightning lectures used at past workshops, with the poster review system being used as a means to get more meaningful engagement with poster presenters.

And it seemed to work, with many animated and engaged discussions in front of posters throughout the session. There was also a noticeable improvement in the design of the posters with many of the presenters saying they had used the poster guide when putting them together.

Improvements continued with the State of the Centre presentation by Director Andy Pitman painting a picture of a Centre in rude health and picking up steam as it tackled some of the toughest problems in climate science. Highlights of the presentation included multiple examples of publications in high impact journals; the strength of the researcher development program; two new citizen science initiatives and the development of the knowledge broker that is now reaching out to stakeholders.

Another highlight was the plenary talk by the Chairman of the Centre’s board, Dr Tony Press, who led us through the history of climate policy in Australia. He presented a detailed and, at times, depressing review of Australia’s climate policy but finished on the very positive note that the PhD students and early career students in the room were likely to help shape the future of Australia’s response to climate change.

It wasn’t all just hardcore science and policy. A series of professional development workshops run in parallel focused on Science Communication with Simon Torok from Scientell; Kindness in Science led by Nerilie Abram; and Productivity and Organisation with Christian Jakob.

Another non-science innovation that appeared to lift the energy level of the workshop was a two-and-a-half-hour break on Tuesday afternoon to take part in a range of sport and social activities. This had the added bonus of enhancing the relationships across the Centre.

The annual workshop dinner also focused on building new relationships. It had arranged seating that was designed to ensure that people from different nodes and research groups were seated together, breaking them out of their usual groups. Each table was headed by a Chief Investigator whose role was to facilitate discussion and take on mentoring roles of students and ECRs during the course of the workshop.

These may seem minor additions amid our science, but the relationships established here that extend across our nodes are vital to the work of the Centre of Excellence. In the past they have not only spawned a higher level of collegiality but have become the foundation of innovative research that has set CLEX apart from other ARC Centres. It’s why our annual workshops will continue to be one of the most important events on the Centre’s calendar.

Click on the images to see each of the slideshows – icebreaker, dinner, presentations