Doctoral student attends prestigious international ecology program in France

Patricia Covington and fellow program participants explore the forests of France.

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock doctoral student has found a passion for international collaboration after attending a prestigious summer ecology program in France. 

Patricia Covington, a Bryant native and Ph.D. student in applied biosciences, was one of just 25 doctoral students to be admitted to the COTE Summer School 2019 in Bordeaux, France, taught by 21 international experts in the field.

The Summer School is part of the COTE Cluster of Excellence training program and gathers Ph.D. students in environmental sciences, each specialized in different disciplines such as ecology, chemistry, biology, and sociology. Through talks, field trips and round tables with international experts on integrative ecology, the program provides a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach on frontiers and boundaries in ecology and society.

“It was the most amazing experience I have ever had,” Covington said. “There were students from over 16 countries and different walks of life. It was the first time I’ve been in the room with such a diverse group of people.” 

During the program that ran June 3-7, she met with international experts on integrative ecology, participated in interactive round table discussions to encourage cross-disciplinary research and collaboration among the participants, and took field trips to sites in France to study agriculture, hydrosystems, and forests.

“The program is about getting Ph.D. candidates together to promote interdisciplinary work,” Covington said. “It brought all of us together to identify collaborative and innovative ways to address issues through interdisciplinary work. We talked about what we can do in the areas of science that would solve common problems around the world.”

To keep the collaborative spirit going, Covington created a Facebook page where the program participants keep in touch. They share articles, give advice on papers and projects, and discuss collaborative research ideas.

“It serves as a way we can keep in touch and get feedback on other pursuits,” Covington said. “I made lifelong friendships, and I networked with a lot of people from different disciplines. I am so grateful that I got this opportunity. I want to thank Scott Woolbright (assistant professor of biology), David Tonkyn (chair of the biology department) and Sarah Beth Estes (dean of the College of Arts, Letters, and Sciences) for their help in getting me to France.”  

Covington was one of only three students from the United States and the only student from Arkansas to attend. The summer school program, food, and accommodations were paid for by the program organizers. Covington also received a travel grants from COTE and the UA Little Rock Department of Biology.

Covington’s mentor, Dr. Scott Woolbright, encouraged her to apply after learning about the summer program from Tonkyn, who said it was an opportunity most academics do not have until they are much older.

“Patricia is a leader among our students, and shows initiative in many ways,” Tonkyn said. “Winning admission to this workshop is yet another example. No single university could assemble a team of instructors of this caliber from their own staff, and the training and connections Patricia has made with students and scholars from all over the world is incredible. We are proud that one of our students was able to participate in this elite program.”

In the upper right photo, Patricia Covington and fellow COTE Summer School 2019 program participants explore the forests in Bordeaux, France. 

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