Marinna Martini, OES secretary
Let me open this piece by saying, we are human, and as humans we need personal contact with each other to be the most effective at working together. The pandemic has shown us, however, that the amount of in person contact necessary is likely less than we think. Now you may be thinking, this is the Secretary of the OES writing, what does that position have to do with travel? A lot, in the past. It was my job to plan, contract, execute the bookings for and attend the thrice yearly ExCom meetings and the biannual AdCom meetings. In addition to the minutes for same plus other duties. With AdCom meetings I had a lot of help from the OCEANS PCOs as the AdCom meetings were part of OCEANS. Travel to places I would not have been able to see was a great perk. It was also expensive for the Society. Travel to places on the other side of the planet takes time, and even if one’s employer is supportive, that is time away from family and work priorities. Indeed, there were a number of OCEANS meetings I simply could not attend, as AdCom and one as Secretary.
Now in my second stint as Secretary, under pandemic conditions, I have to admit I am happy to leave most of the complications and paperwork of travel behind. It is a much easier job now. Once we are all using the features of Office 365 and Teams it will be easier still. Thankfully, because I have less time to accomplish the work with other new commitments in my life. As an introverted geek, I have had an easier pandemic than most, psychologically. I can get away with it though, because I have already met in person just about everyone I’m working with on ExCom and AdCom at least once, so voices, manners and even some cultural differences are familiar, and they are familiar with my foibles. Perhaps it is better that they can’t see me peering over my glasses at them from behind a laptop saying “Can you repeat that?” I hope to lose that advantage soon, though, as more new faces appear on AdCom, and hopefully in time, on ExCom. Yes, OES is changing. OES needs to change with a changing world. And travel must resume so that the new members of leadership can meet and get to know each other in person, over a beverage or meal, in and outside of meetings to have conversations in formal and informal settings. To get comfortable with one another across walks of life, professional specializations, age and nationalities.
So, the question becomes, how much travel is necessary? How much can we afford? As a committed environmentalist, I posit that it cannot be the level of travel we did as a Society before. As a practiced manager, I know that it cannot be nothing. We are humans. We will require personal contact for the best understanding of each other, and we are a global organization. Remote meetings open the door to more diversity. It is easier for underserved populations to have access to meetings and conferences. We may use this to our advantage to recruit more volunteers and get members more involved. It also makes it easier for Young Professionals to be involved in leadership, as they may not have a lot of vacation time to use for meetings, or flexibility in their jobs. In addition, students are restricted by the school calendar. Both are at points in their lives where finances can be tight. Yet both groups would benefit greatly from in person networking at meetings.
I do not know the answer to these questions. This is a debate for the membership and leadership of the Society, perhaps a very urgent debate. IEEE advances technology for humanity. OES endorses the UN Decade of Ocean Science (see Dr. Atmanand’s article in this issue on the Indian Ocean Blue Economy Summit); one way we can put actions behind those words is to look carefully at air travel . Then there is the question of the expense. OES has been very fortunate to have the funds in the past to pay for a lot of travel. We got used to it. We might even have started taking it for granted. We do not yet know how much of it will be restored as the world economy revives. Every dollar spent on travel for ExCom and AdCom is a dollar not spent on professional activities for members, chapter funding, student scholarships, diversity and inclusion, production of quality distinguished lectures. OES leadership has some difficult prioritization to do this year.
Secretary, Oceanic Engineering Society https://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/pandemic-show-us-can-cut-carbon-emissions-sort-rcna715