Why do you go to meetings?
Is it to impart knowledge? Has your research, or your life experience or a project at your work taken a turn that you’re excited to share with others? Do you hope to learn? Are you going only because you were specifically invited? Is it for the chance to see a new city? Or reunite with old (and aging) friends and colleagues? See the new people coming up? Or are you often a reluctant attendee? Did your company need to send someone, and you drew the short straw? After all, business travel is often a hardship. It tends to be held in highest regard by those who don’t have to do it.
Chances are that your motivation is a blend of two or three, or maybe more of the motivations listed above. Mine usually is. But whatever your incentive and mine might be, chances are also good that the meeting participation turns out to be more important to us than we’d anticipated – and for reasons more fundamental than we realize.
The fact of the matter is that business travel – participation in meetings and conferences of whatever size – is as important to your professional health and continuing vitality as jogging or other forms of regular exercise are to your physical wellbeing.
For the simple reason that most of us, when left to our daily work routine, gradually fall into a rut. We may think we’re being creative. We may feel we’re being productive. But in reality, we’re seeing the same people every day. Even though they likely differ from us, and challenge our thought processes, and intrigue us with what they’re working on, they’re in ruts of their own. Our interactions have a certain sameness. Those interactions are good. They’re vital. We need and profit from them. But our work colleagues are few in number, and often imbedded in the same city- and/or organizational culture.
The result? A meeting or workshop with those we don’t know quite so well, or those we haven’t seen in six months, or a blend of people we know with folks who come from another “tribe,” is often jarring. Not jarring in a bad way. Jolting in a necessary “smell the coffee-,” or “slap you on the upside of the head” way. Unsettling and upsetting in a double-your-productivity-and-awareness kind of way.
For me, every meeting I’ve attended over more than forty years has had this effect. If anything, the wonder is that I’m not prepared for it in advance. Instead, my usual experience every time is “Wow! I needed this!”
This year’s AMS Summer Community Meeting is proving to be just such a session, thanks to the hard work and thoughtful planning of a large number of meeting organizers, and a truly dedicated few at the top of the organization chain – and thanks to the willingness of two hundred leaders in our field to devote a week of their time to this cause. [More information is available here.]
A few vignettes from the conversation so far, to give the flavor. First, there was yesterday afternoon’s introductory session. The meeting had opened with several speakers who reflected a little on the meteorological enterprise and how far we’ve come – particularly in one respect.
What was that? The growing comity across the academic, private-sector, and government members of our community – and the (generally) improving collaboration that is the result. But then along came a panelist who listed about ten companies in our field – companies with wonderfully exotic 21st century names. He asked the room, “How many of you have heard of these companies?” Hardly any hands went up. He then made his point. Many such firms were emerging out of nowhere at such a rapid clip that they were likely to be dominant players in just another few years. And how relevant will they find the more established companies and institutions?
A leader from the Department of Transportation spoke this morning. Part of her message? In the name of improving traffic safety, federal agencies, NGO’s, and auto manufacturers were mounting a demonstration project to determine whether and in what ways vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure sharing of in-car data and information might be used to alert drivers and reduce collisions. But as things stand as of this writing, they weren’t planning to incorporate in-vehicle weather information as part of the test. How much did our community care? She asked. She suggested that the window of opportunity would be open at most a few more months, whereas our community had been talking about this for years. We needed to act. The Q&A? It danced around this topic, but for the most part focused on policy issues – privacy and liability concerns and the like – that seemed to some to make this whole opportunity problematic. [The guest speaker’s concerns were addressed, but only in subsequent side meetings.]
In the afternoon, we heard a remarkable set of presentations from two panels. The first dealt with renewable energy – mostly solar and wind – and the needs of this community for weather information. But several of the speakers hit on the importance of the policy and regulatory environment in both creating opportunity and constraining growth. They contrasted European and US policies. In European countries such as Germany and Spain, renewable energy is considered the primary source, and fossil fuels are used to build to supply any unmet needs. In America, it’s often the other way around. Fossil fuels are frequently considered the primary source, while renewables are the add-on. The second panel zeroed in on offshore wind energy.
So far so good. But then, during the Q&A, some of the speakers from the earlier panel argued that in their view, government interest in offshore energy was compromising prospects for onshore wind farms.
For me, one highlight of the day was an afternoon side conversation with a colleague from the aerospace world. He generously took time to give me a tutorial on his perspective of the Washington DC policy environment and the prospects for our field. His points and the background he gave to back them up are causing me to rethink what I thought were some manifestly obvious ways to proceed. [You may be subjected to more on this in future posts!]
The importance of weather science and services for transportation and energy sectors? Reevaluating the links between our science and public policy? Disruptive innovations remaking our field?
Now that’s a great meeting! And it’s only halfway done.
I can’t wait for tomorrow.