The recent Graduate Research Conference on Food, hosted by the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, was a truly international and inter-disciplinary event with 35 participants in attendance, representing fourteen universities from ten countries across the U21 network.
Given the breadth and depth of the conference theme, papers were grouped under the headings of Health and Nutrition, Social and Cultural Contexts of Food and Food Security, Climate Change, Disease Resistance and Genetic Modification. The sessions were complemented by three keynote speeches, delivered by senior academics from the University of Nottingham UK and Malaysia Campuses. Professor Sayed Azam-Ali, VP Research and Internationalisation Malaysia Campus, opened the event with a discussion on Food Security Research: breaking out of the subject silos; Professor Jerry Roberts, Head of School Biosciences UK Campus, delivered a talk on Global Food Security: is there a role for the genetic manipulation of crops? and Professor Neville Wylie, Dean Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Malaysia Campus, closed the conference with a talk on the Social and Political Implications of Research on Food and Food Security.
The programme was split between the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus and the Kuala Lumpur Teaching Centre to provide students with a variety of experiences and exposure to the climate and vegetation of Malaysia. The social programme included a welcome dinner, a cultural tour with a Malaysian dance performance, a Putrajaya agricultural tour and a Gala Dinner on the final evening, hosted in a rooftop venue with views of the KL Petronas Towers.
Over the course of the conference participants were encouraged to take part in an interdisciplinary research poster competition. Participants were divided into groups, which mixed institutions and disciplines in order to promote cross-subject interaction and development. The groups were then charged with producing a poster outlining a potential research project that drew upon the collective experience and diversity of their members. The posters were displayed during the Gala Dinner and judged by a panel of academics and non-specialists. In addition, there was also a peer award that the students themselves judged.
The conference was a resounding success with the participants fully engaging with the subject matter and discussing complex and relevant issues such as cultural approaches to food and how it can shape and define a community; the necessity for scientific development to address, and be sensitive to, local and traditional knowledge; the ever increasing pressures which population growth and climate change will place upon our ability to produce food in a sustainable and responsible manner; the entire supply chain of food and the implications this has for food security and the broader issue of how we problematise the concept of food security and, in turn, respond to it.
This conference demonstrated not just the importance of the subject of food and its many implications for our development and survival, but also the quality of graduate researchers within the U21 network. The debate was lively and informed and the willingness and ability of the participants to engage outside of their immediate discipline areas represents a solid foundation for the future of international research and the potential solution to some of the highly relevant and critical questions raised during the conference.
Dr Christopher Hill
Director of the Graduate School
University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus