Cross Talk 2016
Cross Talk 2016 –I joined a world café session in the cross-talk 2016 at Shuzenji. You might have no idea about what is world café, but it was the same for me before attending. I was supposed to organize a small group with 5-6 people as a host to facilitate the discussion. Although I’ve never experienced this kind of events even in Japanese, the discussion we had was unexpectedly enjoyable and stimulating to me.
At table No. 5, our group tried to discuss about “diversity in science.” How brave to choose such difficult topic! At the beginning, one member asked an important question. “Because we still do not know whether diversity can contribute to science, first we should ask if it can or cannot, then need to discuss ‘why’ or ‘how’ diversity can contribute to science.” So we started it by raising both positive and negative sides of diversity especially in the research environment.
There were lots of aspects of diversity we knew, including gender, age, nationality, position, and cultural background. Is it beneficial to do scientific discussions? Because we had a wide variety of nationalities in the group, we focused on the differences based on the nationality and cultural background. Many of our discussion members had already experienced troubles in English communication in Japan, even though it is considered that the most common global tool for science communication is English. It was not simply due to our poor ability to speak in English, one of our member told. When a word in English language does not have corresponding word with exactly the same meaning in another language, then the English word can indicate slightly different meaning in that culture. Thus, we need to consider the case that you and your friend imagine different things from one word, resulting in the misunderstandings between you.
In addition, we talked about different values in different cultures. In Japan, ‘telephone boxes’ still survive and many people use bicycles to commute in city area, but in another country these tools are consider to be ‘low-tech’ things and nearly extinct. But once an emergency situation such as electricity breakdown occurs, those ‘low-tech’ tools became surprisingly useful. One member said, she wants to tell the merit to have diverse tools for the people in her country when she back home.
In the second round, after shuffling all discussion members excepting the host, we tried to continue the diversity conversation at the table No. 5.
One member studying auto-recognition of spoken language talked about an interesting research result. It says that, people from different countries sometimes have very different English accents. When two speakers with extremely different accents meet, initially they had difficulties in communication. However, they eventually ended up an intermediate accent between two extremes after several months of communication. I thought our brain might be more flexible than our belief, and the research was very indicative from the point of view of the brain science when we think diversity.
In the end of second round, the advisor on the table No. 5 kindly gave his thought to summarize the discussion. At the emotional levels, most people do not like a confrontation and thus people with similar thought or idea tend to get together to avoid conflicts with each other. However, many different ideas, originating from the different ways of thinking, can be beneficial to the progress of science especially in the process to reach an unknown right answer.
In the third round, these points were confirmed by the members in the first round, coming back from other discussion tables. They brought back different thoughts, ideas, and stimulated and deepened the original discussion of diversity.
In the summary of the World Café, I found through the comments from each host that the word ‘diversity’ had been transported to other tables repeatedly. It seemed that the members who once joined the discussion at table No. 5 stimulated many other members at different places later. It was one of the best exciting points of World Café I found. “Cross-pollination of ideas” stimulated so many members and lead their discussion to unexpected consequences during the session.
The World Café was great experience for me to hear actual voices from international graduate students directly, whether the diversity can contribute the promotion of science. Also it was precious as an Once-in-a-lifetime chance because it would be difficult to have the same members next time.
（Dr. Yoshiko Nakamura）