Spotlight on early-career researchers: sophie shields

My name is Sophie Shields, and I am an early-career researcher from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland. My research with the Hub focuses on interlinkages and intersections between children’s human rights and the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, including a healthy ocean. I am particularly interested in participatory human rights approaches and decision-making, and bringing an intersectional approach to children’s human rights, considering differing impacts on different communities of children.

What’s your greatest achievement since you started working for the One Ocean Hub?

My greatest achievement since joining the One Ocean Hub is publishing my first peer-reviewed journal article ‘Children’s Human Right to Be Heard at the Ocean-climate Nexus’ as lead author in the International Journal of Maritime and Coastal Law. The article focuses on children’s right to be heard at the ocean-climate nexus, and posed a great challenge to myself and co-authors as we sought to bring together both ocean experts and child rights experts to outline mutual points of entry and opportunities to bring children’s voices to the table in vital decision-making and governance processes. I’m pleased that this article is the basis for future work to come, and the creation of a framework which can be utilised by adult decision-makers and children alike to provide avenues for meaningful partnerships and collaborations for an equitable and sustainable future in international fora.

How does your work contribute to shaping the One Ocean Hub’s interdisciplinary endeavours?

As an interdisciplinary researcher myself, with a background in law, international relations, and diplomacy, I deeply value partnerships and collaborative working and know from first-hand experience that forging unlikely friendships can lead to unique innovations in research and practice. Working with the Hub, I’ve explored a different world of marine scientists, oceanographers, law of the sea experts, historians and many others. Overwhelmingly, I’ve noted how powerful it can be to bring together communities of specialists to share common challenges, address gaps in knowledge, and learn from each other. The common challenges shared between the ocean community and the child rights community include working in spaces where there are often gaps about your specialty area. These messages are shared in world of children’s human rights, where research and practice on human rights and the environment has been historically adult-driven, despite the breadth of harms facing children, young people and future generations. This has led to powerful messages and action from the Hub on ensuring both the ocean and children form part of this global movement.

What opportunity has the Hub provided you to lead on innovative research? How has the Hub enhanced your leadership skills?

Working with the Hub has given me opportunities to work with experts from a range of different disciplines who use a variety of methodologies, to create publications and resources which utilise innovative methods. This has enhanced my leadership skills in communicating my area of expertise to audiences who may be unfamiliar with my area of research, developing my ability to synthesize complex information in an accessible way. I’ve also had the opportunity to present my research and findings to a range of audiences, such as in the 2023 Summer/Winter School on Human Rights and the Environment organized by the UN Environment Programme and the Global Network of Human Rights and the Environment.

What, in your view, have been the Hub’s most impactful activities?

The Hub’s most impactful activities have been those which directly relate to and impact communities of people, especially those facing great adversity, vulnerability, and those at risk of having their human rights violated. Working with these communities through innovative ways, including through art and theatre, has had powerful results.

Specifically, the Hub’s work on UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No. 26 on children’s rights and the environment, with a special focus on climate change has been really powerful and has transformative potential. The Hub contributed to a number of consultations during the development of this General Comment, to secure a more holistic interpretation of children’s rights and the environment, raising the importance of the inclusion of the ocean and biodiversity. Since the General Comment’s publication, the Hub has also published a number of policy briefs on the General Comment’s national incorporation, and peer-reviewed journal articles on children’s human rights at the ocean-climate nexus, including children’s right to be heard and children’s rights to development and culture (forthcoming). Together, this comes as part of the Hub’s wider movement on protecting children’s rights at the ocean-climate nexus, and the vital nature of biodiversity and the ocean for the realisation of children’s human rights.

What are the aspects of working in a collaborative environment such as the One Ocean Hub that you value the most?

I greatly appreciate and value hearing different perspectives from different researchers and communities around the world. This broad scope widens our understandings and appreciation for the breadth of the human experience and critical research on land and seas, and drives our work to be internationally-focused for wide reach, whilst also being routed in national applications, all the way down to positively impacting tiny communities of individuals.

What are the challenges and new demands that early-career researchers face today?

It can be difficult for early-career researchers to juggle existing workloads with opportunities to broaden their knowledge and areas of expertise. This is even more difficult in the current landscape of research, facing cuts to funding and precariousness. It can also be difficult to defend your point of view or school of thought when working in such an interdisciplinary way. However, working within these complex and competing challenges can be positive in strengthening our drive and willingness to develop and thrive in this space and makes us better researchers.

What is your advice to fellow early-career researchers working on a global development project?

My advice to early-career researchers is to ensure that your work always strives for impact – whether that be through systemic change to policies and practices, whether you are uncovering a previously unstudied or understudied area, or bringing a new spin to an established area of research. Keep in mind who your research is aimed at, and ensure those stakeholders are engaged in the process in a meaningful way. Be open and willing to listen and adapt to where the research takes you, but keep your core values at heart.

Second, find time to unplug and relax. None of us ever create our best work when we are stretched too thin, or when we are overcome by stress. We may not always be able to put off deadlines, but we can work in space for breaks which are so important for our physical and mental health. Don’t neglect life beyond the screen of your laptop – enjoy time in nature, spend time with family & friends, and make time to do what makes you happy.

Read more about the work on children’s rights and ocean-climate nexus, that Sophie has contributed to, in this impact story.

Related SDGs:

  • No poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Quality education
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Reduced inequality