Submitted by Christian Kelly Scott, a second-year dual doctorate PhD student studying Rural Sociology and International Agriculture & Development at Pennsylvania State University in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education.

This past November I was lucky to travel to two international conferences. The 2017 Food & Society International Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was hosted by the National University of Malaysia (UKM). UKM were generous hosts and the conference highlighted a range of talks and workshops focusing on eastern cuisine and food systems. Another focus of the conference was ethics in the food system. The Institute of Ethic Studies (KITA) did a wonderful job of sparking interesting and critical dialogue between conference attendees. Live chef demos and a truly multidisciplinary setting was a breath of fresh air when juxtaposed with many traditional academic conferences. Traveling to Malaysia I did not expect the diversity of food options available in markets and restaurants, it was a vacation for my taste buds for sure. It was a wonderful experience' I had never been to a conference where I was one of two Americans in attendance. This meant that every interaction I had with the diverse set of brilliant scholars was an opportunity for not just an exchange of knowledge, but also a chance for a conversation centered around culture. One of the highlights came when my wife, Michelle, and I were able to meet my mother's friend and colleague, from her PhD program, for lunch. It was a special experience that left me feeling appreciative of the power of friendship to span temporal and international borders. She was truly an inspirational scholar who has used her PhD, as I hope to, to make a career out of bettering peoples' lives in service of not only science, but of society as a whole.

The Annual Conference of the AESOP Sustainable Food Planning group hosted by the University of Coventry's Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) in England was a challenging and highly constructive setting. The focus of the conference was centered around agroecological paradigms in the food system. I never thought I fit in so well at a planning conference. I guess it just goes show that the book really is much more than its cover. The conference planning committee included a PhD workshop that helped me articulate and write about my research. Here again was a bountiful diversity of disciplines, personalities, and nationalities within the conference attendees. It can be hard to pull yourself out of your academic disciplinary bubble which is heavily emphasized in graduate school. This is not to say that this bubble is in anyway nefarious, in order to obtain a PhD, one must go in depth on a very specific topic for their dissertation. I really like my research but even as I get more and more immersed in rural sociology, I appreciate the value of interacting within these diverse and challenging situations. It through these challenges, collaborations, and co-creations of knowledge that make some of the most profoundly practically significant scientific endeavors in our increasing interconnected global society. It was obvious at the AESOP conference that there were engaged scholars that cared deeply about the communities in which they worked. From Belo Horizonte, Brazil to the Netherlands, it was inspiring to see the breadth and intricacies of engaged food systems scholarship. Following one session during a lively discussion I was challenged somewhat directly by a farmer and scholar who's work I very much admire. When discussing change in the food system and the concept of 'development' she asked, and the question stumped me, "what does development really mean?" Clearly 'development' is not just raising national GDP or increasing pre-tax income. The question of 'what is development', it was settled, to be a context specific term. The difficulty I have with that however, is that words have weight and it is in the absence of common agreement of meaning in a dialogue, that is to the detriment of the common good and general discourse. I guess it is something to reflect on and grapple with as we look to the future.

This January I was able travel to The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) 2018 Graduate Student Workshop on Socio-Environmental (S-E) Synthesis in Annapolis, Maryland. The workshop put me in another challenging and diverse setting. I found myself outnumbered as a social scientist among ecological modelers. The workshop was designed specifically to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations among PhD students and candidates to work on a synthesis project focusing on ecosystem modeling, environmental dynamics and food systems, globalization, 'shock' events, and water, people and ecosystems. That is a diverse grouping of themes that was able to engage and challenge a couple dozen for the entirety of the 3.5 day workshop. It was yet another challenging setting that was one of the more intellectually fatiguing experiences I have had in graduate school. Ultimately, the one thing I took away from the experience was the value of openly and honestly putting yourself out there during collaborative work. One of the things that I am keenly aware of more and more in graduate school is that there is simply no way to know every method or book and that there is no shame is asking questions, no matter how elementary they seem. Often in this workshop, we were talking in different languages of scholarship and much of the actual work is just translating your disciplinary language to others, and having their language translated to you. It is tough work to stay engaged for hours on end within that setting but it is certainly necessary if we are to have science address the applied and theoretical problems of the future. Following the workshop, I have remained connected with some of the fellow attendees and we are currently collaborating on a socioenvironmental project. It is very rewarding to have a weekly skype meeting with my esteemed peers. I really enjoy all of bringing our disciplinary lenses to our discussions. Being a Michigander, it is additionally rewarding to hear about my peers' perceptions of contemporary issues given that they are from China, Ethiopia, Puerto Rico, and Guatemala. I consider myself very lucky to have graduate school friends from all over America, and for that matter, all over the world, that are such wonderful scholars and are genuinely kindhearted.

Biography: Christian Kelly Scott is a second-year dual doctorate PhD student studying Rural Sociology and International Agriculture & Development at Pennsylvania State University in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education.

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International Programs

Address

106 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802