New times call for new science

by Emily Cousins | March 5, 2020

Students from around the world will attend an international environmental science meeting over spring break, run “by students, for students” to present their research and collaborate. 

The 9th Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) Young Environmental Scientists (YES) Meeting is being organized by three Baylor environmental science students: Oviedo, Florida Ph.D. student Bekah Burket, Boynton Beach, Florida Ph.D. student Kendall Scarlett, and Guatemala City Ph.D. student Marco Franco.

Bekah Burket
Kendall Scarlett

“Overall, we kind of help each other out where needed. I would say specifically I’m considered the local organizing chair. I do a lot of the local logistics in terms of rooms, getting things ready for the event here and Marco is the scientific program chair. So he focuses more on creating the content for a lot of the presentations,” Scarlett said.

Scarlett said this is the first time the YES meeting will take place in Texas and is one of the few times it will have been in the U.S.  

“We strongly believe that it is a big deal for Baylor just because of the interest the university has in becoming one of the top research universities in the country. So Baylor’s goal of becoming an R1 institution is an excellent driver for us to be involved in this meeting… We’re part of this big global organization that devotes a lot of research for students, and the fact that we are able to bring people from all over the world to Baylor to present scientific research is just a big accomplishment,” Franco said.

Franco said the opportunity for Baylor students to interact with students from other countries is a great way to collaborate and make connections. The beginning of these relationships could open up doors for the young scientists. 

Marco Franco

Scarlett said this meeting is a great place to discuss issues with other students. It also is a more comfortable environment for students, as opposed to a large, formal conference.  

“The nature of the YES meeting is that it’s organized by students, for students, so we’re talking about a low stress environment where … you don’t have the pressure of being in front of thousands of people, top of the line scientists, that will eventually you know, look at you like, ‘Oh, you’re still a student so there’s not much you can contribute.’ Which we know that’s not the case, but that allows us to just present our work without that stress,” Franco said. 

Franco said there are 10 scientific sessions and seven short courses. During the scientific sessions, students will present their work and will be able to receive feedback from their peers. The short courses provide students more experience in specific topics. They may have taken this general class before, but this time it pertains only to the environmental science side. 

The theme of the YES meeting this year is “New Times, New Science.” This is directed towards 2050 and the way the world is going to change according to many scientific reports. 

“So with that emerging topics of concern, our goal is to inform people that environmental factors that used to be research topics in the past, while they’re still important, they’re no longer the only ones … Now we have a lot of chemicals being produced that we don’t … know what potential effects they have on humans and the environment,” Franco said. 

In addition to the scientific sessions and short courses, there will also be a career panel available to the students and notable key-note speakers: Dr. Alistair Boxall and Dr. Paul Van den Brink. 

“We wanted to provide students the access to career professionals in a more relaxed setting, and also having several keynote speakers from across the globe that are very influential in our field. That can kind of provide insight to a lot of us as upcoming scientists in this field,” Scarlett said. 

Boxall is well known for a large study for antibiotics in hundreds of rivers. Van den Brink has discovered a way to identify key research needs in different continents. Franco said having these speakers can provide perspective to research needs around the world.

Franco said this meeting is covering students of a wide variety of ages. From high school students to Ph.D. students, they all will hopefully learn something new. For Baylor students who want to attend the meeting, they have a luxury that other students will not.

“So just because the meeting is taking place at Baylor, Baylor students have the opportunity to attend the meeting, after they pay their registration fee, to attend every single event without having to present,” Franco said.  

This international conference is one of the stepping stones for Baylor to become a top research institution. The university has Burket, Franco and Scarlett to thank for organizing an event that brings Baylor closer to the rest of the world. 

“We’re trying to bring people that are getting involved with these new topics and highlight their methods, the type of work that they do to address these issues, how we can improve the management and … environmental wealthfare,” Franco said.