Case Study: Science Camps for Early Careers Researchers with Earthwatch

Earthwatch is an organisation which envisions a world where we are able to live in balance with nature, and aims to achieve this through engagement and connection with nature which is powered by science. Based in Oxford, UK, Earthwatch was a partner of the Engaging Environments project, led by Co-Investigator Sarah Staunton-Lamb, with its main programme of work being to co-produce Science Camps for Early Career Researchers (ECRs), focusing on community engagement, citizen science, and science communication. In this post, we share the aims of this work, the methods and principles applied, the outcomes.


  • To develop an immersive learning experience for researchers at an early stage of their careers, built around principles and practices which can be incorporated into future work.
  • Establish an engaged cohort of early career environmental scientists, equipped with skills to work equitably with and for communities.
  • Offer peer learning opportunities and a chance to build networks, capacity and collaborations.
  • To build ECR skills in communicating their story and their work, and their ability to promote engaged research for the benefit of wider society, as well as the academic community.

Methods & Principles

Through a process of co-design and collaboration with Engaging Environments partners, Earthwatch was able to develop the structure and content of the Science Camps into a comprehensive programme for early career environmental scientists. The structure of the course has been targeted towards developing understanding, confidence, skills, networks and advocacy, addressing issues of environmental science and the climate crisis. Having previously switched to online delivery for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Camps have returned to being in-person, located at Hill End in Oxford, with an ever-growing cohort of ECRs being engaged.

Participants are able to increase their understanding of a community-centred approach to research which enables integration of local knowledge, engages minoritised communities, encourages critical and constructive dialogue, and empowers collective and community action. ECRs engage with real-life case studies, reflect on and share their own experiences of community engagement, and address the impact of colonialism on how we perceive and value knowledge in society. In doing so, they are able to critically reflect on community engagement practices and co-create guidelines for community-centred approaches to research. This building of knowledge has been enhanced by sessions run by Engaging Environments co-investigators on key topics of community engagement, from Dr Cecilia Mudupin of the University of Manchester and Anita Shervington of BLAST, based in Birmingham.

By building knowledge and developing skills in key areas, participants increase their confidence and ability in being able to adopt and adapt these approaches to research. Through the camps, they are able to draw upon the lived experiences of facilitators and speakers and harness community organising and storytelling approaches to be able to meaningfully engage and communicate their work in an inspiring way. The cohort is also encouraged to adhere to the following core principles of engagement:

  • Authentic – genuine, honest and engaging
  • Practical – real-world, useful and applied
  • Accessible – easy to understand, multiple entry-levels, jargon-free
  • Inclusive – of values and welcoming diverse perspectives and experiences
  • Simple – straightforward, take people step-by-step on a clear journey
  • Impactful – have a powerful effect and influence which leads to behaviour change
  • Purposeful – have clear goals and objectives, make a difference

In terms of science communication and storytelling, sessions have been hosted by Dr Erinma Ochu, Storytelling Lead and Co-Investigator for Engaging Environments, on the value of crafting stories relating to scientific research, whilst relating to people, place, and cultures, and how this generates impact and connects with communities. There have also been sessions with The Conversation and Pint of Science, with insight into ways of engaging the media, and in-turn the public, with scientific research.

Beyond this, there is a clear emphasis on the value and importance of creating networks of engaged researchers that are inspired and committed to embedding community-centred approaches to research. In coming together for a full week of learning, collaboration and sharing of experiences in a safe environment, ECRs have the opportunity to form bonds and build relationships. This provides a platform for continued dialogue post-training, further facilitated by shared online spaces associated with the Science Camps, and supports skills development which can bring learning back into institutions.


The Science Camps have now engaged over 80 early career researchers across more than 40 higher education institutions, with the most recent iterations reflecting a greater interdisciplinarity of research interests. The diversity of participants continues to increase in terms of ethnicity, nationalities, and backgrounds, with Earthwatch taking great care in developing its recruitment process to make the Camps as open and accessible as possible. This diversification is also reflected with new partnerships with institutions in Oman, where a contingent of ECRs will now come from to attend the biannual Camps.

Of the alumni that have graduated from the Science Camp, there are many success stories in terms of the individuals and institutions which have seen a positive impact. One such story is Dr Emmanuel Junior Zuza , who attended the Science Camp in 2019 – Emmanuel is from Malawi, and has taken learnings on community engagement and science communication back to his home nation to work with farming communities on the sustainability of macadamia nut farming. He has completed a PhD on this subject with The Open University and has subsequently begun a role as a lecturer at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, UK. Another Science Camp graduate, from the 2020 cohort, is Dr Holly Broadhurst, who combined community engagement and citizen methods taught at the camp with the innovative use of eDNA (environmental DNA) mapping, to monitor and estimate the diversity of mammalian communities in UK rivers as a step towards their management and conservation. Holly has subsequently moved into a role as Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Infectious Disease Ecology at The University of Salford, incorporating these research approaches into her work.

The Camps have also influenced organisational change at Earthwatch, with Sarah Staunton-Lamb having moved from her role as Senior Community and Learning Manager to Learning, Communities and EDI Lead. Through this role, Sarah is able to focus more on recognising the importance of communities and diversity across all of Earthwatch’s work, applying principles and practices from Engaging Environments, as well as developing a Community Charter, with a particular emphasis on inclusivity and diversity.

As the cohort of graduates continues to grow, networks are maintained by Earthwatch to retain the connections between all those involved – both staff and students – with alumni being invited back every year to share their stories, build capacity around training and leadership, and seek or share opportunities for support as they move through their careers. This has created an engaged research network, both in a public-facing sense through working with communities, and being part of an engaged network with other like-minded scientists.

More information on the Earthwatch Science Camps can be found here:

Credits & Further Information

Sarah Staunton-Lamb, Learning, Communities & EDI Lead, Earthwatch Europe

Katrin Nolland, Programme Manager, Earthwatch Europe

Matt Burrows, Editor, Engaging Environments, University of Reading