Big Thinking: Kavli Frontiers of Science

How do you develop big ideas on the frontiers of science?

Last September I was lucky enough to be selected as an Australian Academy of Science delegate to the US-Indonesian Kavli Frontiers of Science Symposium in Malang, Java. As with all the Australian delegates, I was selected based on my demonstrable links with research in Indonesia (for example, see my recent paper on multi-objective planning in Kalimantan), as well as by broad interdisciplinary experience and interest.

As a conservation scientist, I’m quite familiar with a certain level of interdisciplinarity. Say, working across ecology, economics, and ethics. This makes intuitive sense to me. However, this symposium took it to a whole other level.

The Kavli Frontiers of Science program brings together really diverse scientific fields. For instance, in this year’s Indonesian symposium, topics included big data and marine conservation, green chemistry, mass extinction and citizen science, non-communicable disease and ageing, robotics and information systems/innovation, and social decision making/behavioural economics.

But not only do they bring together different disciplines, they also bring together scientists from diverse backgrounds. Bright young Indonesian students mingled with emerging Australian ECRs, top Indonesian professors and industry representatives, and leading researchers from the USA.

How did it go?

I was initially skeptical. I wondered if this was just too much diversity.

But that feeling soon dissipated, indeed even before we’d left Australia I was happy to find among the delegates old friends, friends of friends and colleagues, and new friends.

The first days in Indonesia included an excellent day of workshops by Geri Richmond, from, including some tips on launching your career, academic writing and publishing, science presentation, and the art of negotiation. Hot tip: the course materials are available from the international section of her website.

The conference itself was super interesting. In particular, it was really exciting to see so many young, often female, Indonesian students asking some really insightful questions in all of the sessions. This alone gives me great confidence in the future of science in Indonesia!

One of the key premises of the Kavli symposia are the opportunities it gives not only for Indonesian researchers to connect with the international research community, but also for shared experiences among the US (and now Australian) cohort. And in this respect it was fantastic, the group mingled fluidly through the many opportunities over breakfasts and lunches, excellent coffee and endless Indonesian snacks, on the bus, and during the cultural tours we were lucky to enjoy (including the vibrant Reog at the Tugu Hotel, the cool tea plantation, the surprisingly interesting mental health hospital and museum, and the beautiful sunrise from Mt Bromo).

Mission success! And a very big terima kasih to all the organisers and sponsors.


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