The First of Everything

Guest blog by Melisa Soyluer

Figure 1. The main conference hall of EOU, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

My very first trip abroad, my very first in-person international conference, and very first winner of the OSME’s Travel Grant… Here is a simple overview about my experience and breathtaking moments at EOU 2023 in Lund, Sweden as a young researcher and one of the official attendees of this big event.

            As a young undergrad student, even traveling somewhere out of your country alone was already a big deal, traveling for my first conference, especially one as significant as EOU, was even bigger. As soon as I arrived at the conference hall, I realized that not only I was excited, but also all the other participants were super thrilled and happy to be part of this big reunion after a long pandemic break. Seeing many academics gathering with their colleagues like old friends and discussing each other’s former studies were impressive, made me think academic community as one big family that you can have for a lifetime, indeed. I was probably one of the youngest researchers in the meeting, which made me a bit nervous until I saw the conference venue and felt the supportive atmosphere. The meeting was surrounded by full of supportive researchers and professors, who helped me to ease my stress and start enjoying where I am. My story in EOU started with speed-talk sessions of the Migrant Landbird Study Group (MLSG), of which I am a member. During this session, I was able to introduce myself, my studies, my interests, and my plans as an early career researcher and a student who was looking for a Master’s position in Europe. This session was one of the most important parts for me in the whole conference since it offered me a unique opportunity to shape my career by connecting with academics worldwide and setting the stage for potential collaborations. The main conference itself was also wonderful.

There were various symposium subjects like avian phenotype and climate change, migration, behaviour, molecular ecology, conservation, population ecology, physiology, and ecotoxicology. Each of the plenary talks was super smart, attractive, and inspirational. There were many studies that I found captivating, making it difficult to choose between the parallel sessions to attend one of them. A study in which I was also included as a young researcher ,and funded by OSME, was presented by our project manager, İbrahim Kaan Özgencil in EOU. Breaks provided not only a chance to discuss the studies and my questions with the researchers but also a platform for networking and socializing by building good friendships, which were the essential parts for a young researcher, like me. I even met two professors from different countries who are working on my interested study areas and agreed to collaborate in the future.

Figure 2. Oral presentation of “White-headed Duck” project by İbrahim Kaan Özgencil
Figure 3. A view from Falsterbo field trip, Sweden

On a field trip to Falsterbo, a town teeming with astonishing scenery, history, and avian diversity, I saw 20 lifer species, which was a great thrill for me to be able to see the species that I cannot see in my home country. Sharing the same enthusiasm with the other birders and witnessing how they actually put effort into showing a species that was not visible to other people left an indelible mark on my memory and made me eager to seek more birds.

            For the closing ceremony, there was a big, elegant party with a random seating arrangement, enabling attendees to connect with new people and expand their network web. Thanks to this smart idea, I could socialize more and make new friends that I hope will last for a lifetime. Seeing successful professors, our idols, dancing during the party was also amazing and reminded me that they could also have fun outside the stressful academic world.

            My presence in Lund also led to something good for other young ornithologists whom I do not even know in person in Türkiye. In our Eymir Ringing Station, we hosted young volunteers from the earthquake zone of our country to train them as a ringer candidate. However, we lacked equipment, like binoculars. Thanks to OSME and Opticron, they agreed to send us four binoculars to contribute the capacity building by raising young researchers in ornithology. To get the binoculars, we met Mr. Menzie from British Birds in Lund, and I brought them to our ringing station when I turned back to Türkiye. All the binoculars were used by our young volunteers during the ringing season.

Figure 4. A picture from binocular transfer for Eymir Ringing Station in Ankara, Türkiye with Stephen Menzie and Melisa Soyluer

My participation in EOU not only contributed to my research career but also broadened my cultural horizons. Since I had never left my country until EOU, I was really enthusiastic about visiting another country and experiencing their culture, at least for a while. Even though the only time that I could get a chance to wander around Lund was after the conference due to the busy schedule of the event, I had a lot of unforgettable scenes and memories from every corner of the city. I may have walked into every single green area around Lund and been fascinated by the birds and the scenery. Seeing Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus), a rare bird for my city, Ankara in Türkiye, as one of the most common species for Lund was astounding for me. During the travel, I had to visit Copenhagen, Denmark since there was no direct flight from Türkiye to Sweden, providing a perfect opportunity for me to visit another country and culture, even for a short time.

All these mesmerizing memories and mind blowing experiences would not have been possible without OSME’s support for me. I felt very lucky to be the first winner of the OSME’s travel grant and to feel their trust. Due to the increasing currency fluctuations in my country, I could barely compensate for this trip even with OSME’s help, there is no doubt that it would have been impossible without their help and encouragement. I would like to thank especially Dr. Sheldon and Mr. Haraldsson for their belief in my capabilities throughout this nervous journey; this would have been much harder even mentally without you. To all the members, donors, and volunteers of this precious society, this one is for you: You made my dreams come true at a very young age, in the very early steps of my research career stairs. You guided me, a young girl from Türkiye who is trying to chase her dreams and whose name you may not even know, to be a successful biologist and ornithologist in the future. I will always be grateful for your support. Thank you for everything.

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