Orchestrating a National Workshop on Coral Reef Social Monitoring

Bob Crimian is a master’s candidate in the Environmental Studies program at the College of Charleston. He is in his second year this fall and has recently started his thesis work on perceived changes in ecosystem services. The basis of his research comes from a restoration project based in North Charleston. In addition to being a student, Bob has also dabbled in event planning as he recently hosted a workshop for the National Coral Reef Monitoring program at the Hollings Marine Laboratory. Read on for more of his thoughts about the experience.

Bob helping facilitate

There are tasks that school does not prepare you for; first-hand experience serves as your schooling, even if you have no idea what you are doing. “Winging it” becomes your means of tackling problems you have never encountered, and to my surprise trusting your instincts often pays off.  This was the case for me when I was given the job to organize and plan a national workshop at the Hollings Marine Laboratory (HML) for the Human Dimensions Research Program. The workshop title, “Developing Social and Economic Indicators for Monitoring U.S. Coral Reef Jurisdictions”, intimidated me as I was just beginning to learn about indicators. I have studied coral reefs in the biophysical sense, but never in the social or economic sense. Additionally, experts from around the country were setting time aside from their ridiculously busy schedules to travel here to Charleston to work through developing indicators to help coral reef jurisdictions monitor social and economic changes. “How am I even remotely qualified for this?” I kept asking myself.

It turns out that I was more qualified than I realized. All the participants thanked me for organizing everything so well and for making their job “easier”. The biggest realization out of this entire process was how quickly I was able to learn “on the go” and produce quality results and products. In my opinion, and this experience solidifies this opinion, learning by doing is the best way to learn. Having little understanding of social and economic indicators before this workshop, I am certainly more knowledgeable on this topic. I even contributed to some of the discussions in the workshop with the experts who have been actively involved in this field for years. Furthermore, organizing workshops and meetings takes communications skills and patience (lots of it). It may sound silly, but tasks that people take for granted are often very important parts of a well-organized workshop; “Is the conference room reserved?” or “How is this participant getting from the hotel to the lab?” or “Is she a vegetarian?” are all questions that need to be answered correctly to allow for the workshop participants to accomplish all they can. That is the ultimate goal and as an organizer that is what you set out for. Other specific skills I gained from this experience included working with a budget (a real one – not one you make up in class), creating and editing agendas, learning how federal government funding and research actually works (you would be surprised how much can be gained from just listening to conversations), and facilitating small working groups. This last one was definitely a skill that will certainly benefit me in the future and I urge everyone to gain facilitation experience.

Overall, it was a great experience that I would have never had in a classroom setting. I made some great contacts, which I think will greatly benefit me when it comes time to apply for jobs, and I learned a ton of new information about social and economic aspects of coral reefs.


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