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An excursion in the Bavarian National park on a conference in April this year. Lots of beautiful dead wood!

The drone can also make nice group pictures! Surprisingly, not all forest researchers wear green. Instead, classic black or powerful colors are fashionable.

One year of Confobi: Looking back and ahead

I can’t believe it’s already one year ago when I walked into the Wildlife Ecology Department meeting room of Uni Freiburg. In the morning of that day, after making (and losing) our way through the castle-like Herderbau which hosts the Faculty, all twelve new PhD students and supervisors met for the first time. Being very excited, I couldn’t even remember the correct subproject number and title when I was introducing myself. But some glasses of welcoming Champaign later, I sat at the Dreisam river and had the first Pizza with some of my new colleagues, making new friends. Many pizzas (and Flammkuchen) followed after that. Some people say that having a lot of running water around facilitates fluent thought. Luckily, the Black Forest has many little streams and there are little canals, or ‘Bächle,’ spread all over Freiburg. Since there is even one next to our faculty building and ConFoBi needs a lot of thinking and coordinating effort, I hope what is being said is true!

Right now it is summer again and I am sitting in the now nicely furnished ConFoBi office, which I share with seven of my colleagues, HiWis and interns, flying in and out at the most random times. Most of my natural sciences fellow PhD students are busy running up and down the Black Forest hills doing field work, while the socio-economic project people are spending more time at their desks, reading and writing. I am looking back at one year full of experiences, some of them amazing and others more difficult. Being on this forest path on my PhD journey feels both challenging and liberating at the same time.

Since I never dealt with forestry or forest ecology as a sociologist before, a whole new world began to open up for me one year ago. I had to quickly learn a lot of fascinating new vocabulary, such as “Z-Baum” (a word especially important when doing interviews with foresters) or “edge-effect” (I still don’t know how to explain that) or “saproxylic” (dead-wood dependent organisms). But also my colleagues from natural sciences backgrounds took some time to understand that I am not very much interested in crunching numbers (“quantifying and correlations”), but in meanings, understandings and different perspectives, since I am doing qualitative research on professional cultures related to forest biodiversity conservation. This means that I do interviews and ethnographic fieldwork in order to find out how local foresters and forest ecology scientists work, what they find important, and how they interact with each other – in other words, how knowledge is being produced and translated. During the last months, I especially enjoyed participating in a variety of meetings and conferences of foresters and ecologists. In my daily work, I experience for myself what my research subject is about: professional epistemologies (or “cultures”) of foresters and scientists from different fields. All are seeing different things when looking at a bunch of trees. While all of ConFoBi is about habitat trees, Marlot, the bat researcher, looks for tree holes serving as bat dwellings. Julian takes the perspective from above and looks over a whole plot with a camera on a drone. Thomas thinks of a variety of microhabitat structures, different BHDs and tree species, and so it continues…

By now, we have established some structures for exchanging perspectives. Our weekly Journal Club meetings serve as occasions for exchange and to shine a light on specific disciplinary and interdisciplinary questions and approaches. Every week one of us suggests an article to discuss with the fellow PhDs. These meetings also serve as a means to keep track of each other’s challenges and identify possibilities for cooperation. In round table meetings we deal with organizational matters, together with all PIs. Sometimes we do courses together in order to acquire specific knowledge, and invite experts for cooperation.

In March of 2017, we held our first annual symposium to present the progress of the individual projects and exchange expertise, especially with our Mercator fellows from different European countries.
My personal highlight this year was the outdoor first aid course in the faculty’s hut in the Black Forest, and I am very much looking forward to our project excursion to Białowieża in October this year.

by Ronja Mikoleit (D1)