The 2016 Global Scholars' Symposium (GSS) took place 13-15 May in Oxford, with the theme 'Spaces in Between'. Now in its ninth consecutive year, the GSS first occurred in 2008 at the University of Cambridge, and has swapped between Cambridge and Oxford every few years. Its founding mission was to connect international postgraduate scholars in an environment that challenged them to draw upon their wide variety of interests and expertise.
A report on the first day by the GSS team:
The 2016 Global Scholars Symposium kicked off on the morning of Friday, 13 May. After registration, we all sat down to listen to the Symposium start. The afternoon began with an opening discussion on the theme from GSS Executive member, Rebecca Peters. Rebecca discussed the origins on the 2016 Symposium theme Spaces in Between.
She then introduced the Warden of Rhodes House, Mr. Charles Conn. Mr. Conn told delegates that almost ‘everything in today’s world will be found in intersections, not the disciplines.’ He emphasized the space between finding technical solutions to problems and implementing them, the space between the humanities and the sciences, and in reference to his time as an environmental advocate, the space between the human and non-human.
Executive member Michael Mackley then gave delegates an overview of how sessions would run. Michael then introduced the first panel of the day, featuring Baroness Helena Kennedy and Sir John Bell in a session titled ‘From the clinic to the courtroom: the future of genomic medicine.’ Sir Bell explained the reasoning behind the UK’s current effort to sequence not one, not two, but 100,000 genomes over four years. Baroness Kennedy told us delightful stories of papparazi snooping in celebrities’ rubbish to find used dental floss for paternity testing, as well as other ethical pitfalls of sophisticated genetic technologies.
Executive member Anne State introduced Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government, Ngaire Woods. Dean Woods talk, ‘The revolt against globalisation,’ aimed to find the space between concerns over inequality and globalization. Her answer: people feel like economic system’s are rigged. To fix this, Dean Woods emphasized the need for transparency in global trade. She called for politicians to take responsibility for economic problems, instead of sending central banks to ‘the frontline’ with risky monetary policy. Next, Dean Woods introduced our panel speakers, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Israel Dr Nadine Baudot-Trajtenberg and Cambridge Professor Bill Janeway around the topic the “Economics of innovation”. Dr. Baudot-Trajtenberg explained the recipe and ingredients of Israel’s prolific start-up culture: investment in higher education, state support of venture capital, and the bitter pill, mandatory military service. Professor Janeway warned delegates about the limits of prospective cost-benefit analysis for infrastructure: the costs are always easier to calculate than the benefits.
The first breakout session featured nine simultaneous hour long facilitated sessions. Here are a few highlights.
This panel titled “Can ‘effective altruism’ change the world?” featured Max Harris, Salil Tripathi and Sam Deere. The conversation generated heated discussion, but everything cooled off following in the Rhodes garden to enjoy the sunshine and drinks.
A report on the second day by the Global Scholars Symposium team:
Our opening keynote on Day Two was from Professor Margaret MacMillan, on “Learning from the past: history in the present”.
Professor MacMillan encouraged everyone, regardless of their background, to learn history, and not just the facts, but how it’s made as well. History changes over time; Professor MacMillan explained how genetics and archaeology have revised understandings of human migration over time. History cannot predict the future, but it can help formulate questions. For example, in the first age of globalisation, before World War I, radical politics emerged in response to large economic shifts. Perhaps most important, Professor MacMillan told the delegates that history helps us realize humility.
Next, GSS Executive member Amba Kak introduced Rhodes Scholar Seham Areff in conversation with Panashe Chigumadzi, titled “Sweet medicine, Coconuts and Kool-Aid”.
Panache shared a passage from her debut novel, Sweet Medicine, then spoke with Seham and delegates about the Rhodes Must Fall as well as Fees Must Fall movements in South Africa. Panache emphasized how the movement confronted issues of access and belonging in higher education at the intersection of race, gender, and economic status.
Isabel Hilton’s keynote broadened nomadic peoples, about the ‘low-intensity’ proxy wars fought in Central America and thought of as marginal by elites from hegemonic countries. She spoke about the consequences of siloed knowledge in disciplines, noting that ‘managing mangroves isn’t on any engineering syllabus,’ and the disastrous environmental consequences that has produced.
After lunch, GSS Executive member Anne introduced Sir Paul Collier. Sir Collier carefully explained a novel economic model he constructed to understand corruption among tax collectors. His advice for non-economist delegates: read outside your field. Sir Collier gleaned a key part of his theory from perusing the quantum mechanics literature.
Throughout the day, delegates met for breakout sessions.
After breakouts, GSS Executive member Michael Mackley introduced MIT President Professor Susan Hockfield, who delivered a rousing talk on “The 21st Century’s Technology Story: The Convergence of Biology with Engineering.” In her talk, Professor Hockfield highlighted the fascinating work happening at MIT to improve renewable energy and medicine. She implored delegates to remember the critical role of government Research and Development funding.
GSS Executive member Carlos Gonzalez then introduced Ambassador Michelle Gavin in conversation with Master of Public Policy Student Mastewal Terefe about International diplomacy in Africa.
Ambassador Gavin, who became pregnant while serving, explained that being a mother both limited her work and allowed her access to communities and topics that would have otherwise been closed. ‘A conversation about kids turns into a conversation about the future real quick,’ she opined.