A summary of 2017 and some goals and hopes for 2018

I started of 2017 with a blog post summarizing what I had done, research wise, in 2016, what the highlights had been, and what I wanted to accomplish during 2017. As 2017 was coming to an end, I realized that I could use that post and go back to see if my goals had been met. And they had.

These were my 2017 goals:

  • To get the remaining three papers published CHECK
  • To attend a conference on “Crisis and Conflict in the Agrarian World: An Evolving Dialectic” in Paris and write a paper for the conference proceedings CHECK
  • To write a paper on drought and how it’s defined and portrayed in the context of conflict, present it at a conference and get it published CHECK
  • To apply again for International Post Doc and for an Advanced Study Group CHECK
  • Give several popular science talks about climate and conflict in South Sweden CHECK
  • To blog about interesting research on population and environment in the Middle East CHECK, or sort of, I wrote several popular science articles instead of blog posts.

In hindsight, you could say that these goals were very realistic and I remember that I knew that I would be able to reach them. And that’s a good thing! I don’t see the point of setting goals that are impossible to reach – there’s too much stress in the academic world as it is.


Recycling at Anafora Eco Camp in Egypt

2017 – a great and terrible year

From a career perspective 2017 has been really good. I’ve published three academic papers that I had been working on for a while, and the papers have all received some attention from both the academic and non-academic community.

Research Articles

In April me and my colleagues published a paper called “How conflict affects land use: agricultural activity in areas seized by the Islamic State” in Environmental Research Letters, which is a really good open access journal that I frequently read papers from. The paper has been downloaded from the website >8000 times, has been mentioned on Twitter 95 times (by 54 different users), and has been cited by the New York Times and Finnish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet.

In June me and my colleagues finally published a paper that we had been working on since 2014, but that had been delayed because two of us were finishing our PhDs. The paper “From Producers to Consumers: The Challenges and Opportunities of Agricultural Development in Iraqi Kurdistan” was published in a special issue in the Journal MDPI Land, and was made “Feature Article”. It has been downloaded 785 times, and viewed 974 times, which is less that the article about ISIS, but still an exciting number for me who have been told again and again that we just publish for an audience that doesn’t exist. The fact that this article came out a few months before the Kurdish independence referendum that took place in September this year was positive since it could provide information about Kurdistan’s ability to support itself with domestic agriculture, and was cited in Bloomberg Businessweek. This has inspired me to do more research on agriculture in Iraqi Kurdistan, as there is very little being done on the topic.

The third paper to be published was “Differences in resource management affects drought vulnerability across the borders between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey” where me and my colleague compared land degradation, drought response, and resource management between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. In summary, the paper tried to answer the question why the 2007-2009 drought was so devastating in Syria, but we heard nothing, or very little from the neighbors Iraq and Turkey. This paper also provided the foundation for a popular science article that me and the same colleague published in the Conversation this summer (< 10000 reads!).

A year of science communication

The year’s biggest highlight for me has been my involvement in communicating my research to the public. I have had four public talks about climate and conflict in Syria at libraries in South Sweden leading to very interesting discussions. In addition to that, I found myself talking in front of 350 high school students and their teachers, at world water day in Lund.

A major highlight of my year was my participation in the Vega Fellows workshop on Science Communication and Leadership. I spent a week in Finland learning about how to communicate well, with colleagues, journalists, relatives, and other people who are curious about my research. It was an intensive program but it really helped me develop my confidence and ability to talk about my research in an interesting way. The training came at a good time, because since the workshop I have both written news articles and summaries of my own research, and been interviewed by journalists and research communicators.

I also spent ten days in Egypt at the Second Climate Communicators Network Meeting. It was a great experience to meet other researchers, journalists and climate activists, mainly from the Middle East Region, and learn about the issues there. First we spent two nights at Anafora, a monastery in the desert with a strong focus on environment and sustainability. Then we went to Alexandria and spent a week at the Swedish Institute with lectures, seminars and workshops about climate and sustainability. We ended the week with a 9K bike ride in Alexandria with >800 participants. It was not only great fun, it was also meant to inspire people to bike more, and it sure inspired me. We just need to work on safe bike lanes in some parts of the world…  Hopefully we can make use of this climate communicators network that we have created and do something good in the future.


Biking in Alexandria


Start of the bike “race”

Another highlight was my participation in the yearly politics week in Sweden in Almedalen, Visby. We organized a panel discussion about food supply in crisis situations (in Swedish), comparing the situation in the Middle East and in Sweden.

The popular science articles I published this year:

Drought Not the Only Environmental Problem in Syria Before 2011 (2017), SyriaUntold.com

Is Syria really a ‘climate war’? We examined the links between drought, migration and conflict (2017), The Conversation

Feeding the Caliphate? Agricultural Activity in ISIS Zones of Iraq and Syria (2017), Muftah.org

I’ve also created one video abstract for each article I’ve published as a way to make my research more accessible (and to learn more about making videos).  Watch two of them here:


Research applications – the backside of a research career

I’ve applied for several research grants this year, both as Primary Investigator, and as a participant in a bigger application. One was successful, and the rest failed, but with very positive feedback. The one that was successful was a grant from the Pufendorf Institute of Advanced Studies, which has allowed me to work together with an interdisciplinary group from Lund University on the topic “Nature of Peace” that includes environmental effects of peace as well as environmental peacebuilding. As for the other applications, it becomes very tiresome to apply and not get funding despite very high scores, with barely no feedback on what needs to improve. This is a major issue for researchers, and makes it difficult for us to plan our life long term (yes, researchers have lives outside of the academic world) when you have to wait for decisions for over half a year, and learn that you don’t get funding for next year, just a month before said year begins.

These were some of the highlights and challenges of 2017. The terrible parts I mentioned in the beginning has mostly been related to the fact that there are so many terrible things going on in the world, such as Trump, climate change, war and poverty. In that sense, it was not a great year.

For 2018 I aim to:

  • Finish an article about how drought impacted land use and migration in Syria before the Syrian uprising
  • Write a single authored (maybe!) article about agriculture and land use in Iraqi Kurdistan
  • Make 2-3 videos about my research
  • Write 2-3 popular science/news articles
  • Travel by train instead of airplane within Europe in an effort to fly less
  • Take a sabbatical and do something other than research for a while

I’m pretty sure the last point will be the most difficult, but very necessary. I have a few ideas about what I would like to do and I’m sure whatever I decide will help me be more creative in my research and communication efforts. However, it’s not something that people in general encourage because it does mean less (or no) publications for a while, which is bad for your CV. Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about taking a break since two years into my PhD and I’m pretty sure I will find a way to go forward from there. Unless I get offered a dream job (hello potential employers!).

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