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For locals, late June in Hanover, NH means Sophomore Summer, boating and swimming in the Connecticut, sunbathing on the Green, and the general bliss that warm summer days inspire in Northern New Englanders who know winter is just around the corner. For 20 early-career energy and society researchers hailing from 17 universities around the world, however, late June in Hanover also meant the opportunity to connect with other emerging scholars seeking to foster a sustainable energy future for all during the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society's inaugural New Energy Summer Summit.
From June 26-29, the New Energy "Summiteers" engaged with Dartmouth faculty and staff; shared details about their current work and research interests with each other; made intellectual, professional, and personal connections; strategized ways to carry the momentum of the Summit forward — and enjoyed some summer fun in the Upper Valley.
The idea for the Summit grew out of the New Energy speaker series, which was launched by the Irving Institute in spring 2020 to provide a platform for advanced PhD students, post-docs, and assistant professors to share their emerging work in energy and society during a time when travel was challenging. The series, which has become a noted forum for gaining insight into new energy and society research and identifying rising talent, has hosted 38 speakers to date — including Dr. Erin Mayfield, who has since become a Thayer School of Engineering faculty member.
With the opening of the Irving Institute building in the Dartmouth campus' West End Innovation District and pandemic travel restrictions easing, the Institute team saw summer 2022 as the perfect time to bring the series alumni — as well as a new cohort of early-career scholars — to Hanover to build on virtual connections and see what kind of intellectual sparks might fly during an in-person gathering.
"By convening this diverse group of scholars working on everything from the thermodynamics of energy storage to the impacts of offshore wind on bat populations, we hoped to catalyze new opportunities to meet their shared research goals, advance their careers through collaboration, expanding knowledge and creating community," said Dr. Megan Litwhiler, Institute Program Manager for Advanced Learning Initiatives. "We designed the Summit to give the participants the opportunity to first get to know each other and learn about each other's research, and then ample time to connect more deeply in small groups, as well as share reflections and ideas during plenary sessions. Now, we're excited to continue to foster the sparks and potential collaborations that emerged during the Summit and see what outcomes lie ahead."
Participants by and large found the Summit productive, stimulating, and fun, remarking on how the diversity of fields and methodological practices represented by the attendees inspired new ideas for their own research topics and methods. "For the last two years on Zoom, generating new ideas was like pulling teeth," noted one participant during a group discussion. "With three days in person with this group, I'm overwhelmed with new ideas!"
There was clear consensus that this was a useful departure from conferences and other convenings they had attended. As an early-stage academic, observed one attendee, "it can be hard to make deep connections at conferences" that are dominated by well-established scholars who already know each other. The New Energy Summit, on the other hand, offered a "less intimidating, more open" space for researchers who were at a similar place in their careers. "It was incredibly valuable to be in a safe space with researchers that care about the same issues and are also at about the same level in their careers. This helped me not only make networking connections but also friends!" shared one participant in a post-Summit survey.
On the final day, the group brainstormed ideas to keep the energy and momentum generated by the Summit going and to stay connected with the Irving Institute. Participant enthusiasm for keeping the new network alive – by collaborating on research, reading, responding to, and sharing each others' work among their own networks, and ideally, gathering again in person soon – was high.
"One of our goals at the Irving Institute is to be fantastic conveners – to bring people together across the incredible diversity of perspectives in energy and climate," observed Institute Academic Director Amanda Graham. "We operate on the hypothesis that great minds don't always think alike – and that is a good thing for the creativity and innovation required to craft pathways to more sustainable and just energy futures. The New Energy Summit was an experiment in this vein – and we are thrilled to welcome the Summiteers into our Irving Institute and broader West End community to help push the envelope of entrepreneurial and engaged scholarship."