Can meaningful research connections be made through a video call? We spoke to interdisciplinary UK-Pakistan researchers who have linked up through a series of virtual workshops to tackle a sustainable energy transition in Pakistan.
Held between 8-10 June 2021, the workshop aimed to bring together teams of early career researchers (ECRs) from the UK and Pakistan to share research expertise and develop collaborations relevant to enabling a sustainable energy transition in Pakistan.
There was a particular focus on interdisciplinary approaches to this complex challenge, including technical/engineering solutions for renewable energy production and storage and the socio-economic and policy implications of sustainable energy in a Pakistani context.
The workshop coordinators were Dr Mark Symes from the University of Glasgow, UK and Dr Salman Noshear Arshad from the Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan.
Contributions were made from other leading researchers as mentors: Professor Jillian Anable (University of Leeds, UK), Professor Serena Corr (University of Sheffield, UK), Professor Irshad Hussain (Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan) and Professor Mohammad Irfan (University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar, Pakistan).
Q&A with Dr Mark Symes, University of Glasgow and Dr Salman Noshear Arshad from the Lahore University of Management Sciences
Why did you host this workshop? What were your main workshop objectives?
Mark: We really wanted to bring together a diverse cross-section of early career researchers from the UK and Pakistan, to share research expertise and develop collaborations relevant to enabling a sustainable energy transition in Pakistan.
We wanted to encourage these early career researchers to start building collaborations and thinking about how their work could be applied to ensuring that Pakistan's future energy needs are met in a sustainable manner.
Salman: This workshop provided the ideal platform to develop international collaborations and interactions, which can otherwise be difficult for early career researchers in Pakistan to find. Importantly, the available seed funding catalysed these collaborations into very exciting short-term projects.
How was your workshop delivered? What kind of activities did it involve?
Mark: The workshop was delivered by remotely by Microsoft Teams over three days.
On Day 1, the delegates saw presentations by some of the leaders in sustainable energy generation, storage, distribution and policy from across academia, industry and government.
This helped to set the scene for the delegates so that they could fully appreciate the context of the challenges.
On Day 2, some of these expert mentors led small-group break-out rooms with the delegates to discuss particular aspects of the sustainable energy conundrum from various perspectives. This allowed the delegates to interact with each other and begin to see how they might form collaborative teams to tackle some of these issues.
On Day 3, the delegates then formed themselves into teams and started to work on collaborative research proposals.
Two weeks after the end of the workshop these proposals were submitted back to the organisers and mentors, and the best eight of these were selected to receive seed funding to pump-prime these collaborations.
Who took part in your workshop?
Mark: In total, 39 early career researchers (20 from Pakistan and 19 from the UK) took part, and nearly 30 different universities and government departments were represented.
The early career researchers were all within 10 years of completing their PhD studies and currently working in fields relevant to the energy transition.
What is the main initial outcome from the workshops?
Mark: The main outcome from the workshop has been a large number of new collaborations between UK and Pakistani researchers.
At least a dozen new collaborative teams have been formed, and eight of these will receive seed funding to start work on specific projects that will address challenges related to delivering a sustainable energy transition for Pakistan.
These projects cover a wide range of topics, including developing new and cleaner cooking stoves, investigating how hydroelectric power schemes are perceived and used in rural Pakistan, developing new battery technologies for indigenous energy storage in Pakistan and researching new ways to convert agricultural and municipal waste into fuels.
‘The most uplifting part of the workshop was seeing the genuine desire of early career participants from both the UK and Pakistan to engage with one another and form lasting collaborations and friendships to help solve a global issue.’
Dr Mark Symes, University of Glasgow
Were there any interesting or unexpected findings, results or discussions you would like to mention?
Mark: The most uplifting part of the workshop was seeing the genuine desire of early career participants from both the UK and Pakistan to engage with one another and form lasting collaborations and friendships to help solve a global issue.
Salman: For me, the most interesting discussions during the workshop happened on the second day during the breakout rooms which were led by the experts in the field. The excitement during these discussions was very rewarding to see. The activities on Day 3 picked up from here and translated into formation of core teams.
Mark: The seed fund projects will all begin by 1st September, with their initial results due by the end of March 2022. We hope that this will just be the start though, and that these collaborations will grow in size and scope over the coming years and decades.
This workshop was supported by a Researcher Links Climate Challenge (RLCC) Workshop Grant, ID 710884527. RLCC is one of many activities the British Council is delivering as part of The Climate Connection programme in the run up to COP26 - the UN conference on climate change taking place in the UK this November. The aim is to harness the power of people all over the world to connect and collaborate through culture and education to combat climate change.