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Greenland Research Collaboration Displayed at American Geophysical Union Conference


The new Dartmouth IGERT in Polar Environmental Change enrolled its first group of PhD students from the departments of earth sciences, engineering, and ecology in the Fall of 2009. This interdisciplinary group of two men and five women, including one Native American, one African American and one Asian American student, began working as a team almost immediately. Under normal circumstances, graduate student from different departments have few opportunities to learn about each other’s disciplines, let alone collaborate and share resources to enrich their graduate experience. But our Fall core course, “Introduction to Polar Systems,” required trainees to work in cross-disciplinary groups on problems and issues which at times were unfamiliar to them. Biologists had to learn about the isotope compositions of ice cores; earth scientists dealt with environmental policy issues; and engineers learned about plant diversity.

During this time, the trainees were given a large common space of their own in which to meet—the Institute of Arctic Studies Library. Almost immediately they began working together and planning for one of the most important aspects of the program, a required Field Seminar in Greenland during the following summer. At times the more experienced trainees who had been to Greenland served as teachers or mentors to those who had not, helping them understand the complex environmental and logistical issues facing the group.

In anticipation of that research trip, and after working together for only three months, they submitted an abstract for publication and presented a poster at a major national conference, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in December 2009. The poster, “Interdisciplinary Graduate Training in Polar Environmental Change: Field-based Learning in Greenland,” described the objectives of the Greenland Field Seminar, which will work in Nuuk (the captial), Kangerlussuaq (a terrestrial research station), and Summit Station (on the Greenland Ice Sheet). The authors described the partnership created between Dartmouth IGERT departments, and between Dartmouth and Greenlandic educational, governmental, and advocacy institutions, for the purpose of increasing trainee understanding of scientific research methods, traditional ecological knowledge of climate change, the principles behind ethical research with indigenous communities, and to increase skills in science communication. In August 2010, the poster will also be displayed in Greenland at Katuaq, the cultural center in Nuuk, Greenland, as an educational outreach product of the Field Seminar.

Address Goals

Development of the AGU poster was a significant early trainee accomplishment, coming within the first term. It required trainees to learn collaboration skills and to describe the Field Seminar in terms that could be understood by a scientific as well as lay population. Several trainees traveled to the AGU meeting in San Francisco to present and discuss the poster with their peer community and they early experience in the science and culture of large professional meetings. This experience gave the IGERT trainees and early success. It also set a high level of expectation regarding initiative and shared responsibility, and had the overall effect of building a strong working team.