Impressive Ozonation Talk Despite Lack of Dress Pants
‘Here I am, Miami!’ On 05/18, I officially got to set my foot in this ‘heard-of-for-long-but-never-visited’ and humid city. After a long red-eye flight, I arrived in the morning with excitement, but soon this feeling was replaced by anxiety as I became lost several times on the sinuous traffic system of Miami! Finding the right exits, avoiding toll roads, and trying not to get honked at by other drivers were not easy feats - even under the navigation of Mrs. Google Maps. Yet, fortunately, I got to the conference site alive.
I never expected that the experience of attending this conference would be so serpentine. As planned, I tried to check in and pick up my badge in the afternoon, however, the staff told me I am not registered and I haven’t paid the fee. ‘Dang! This is ridiculous; I received a confirmation email, how come I’m not registered…’ But luckily Diane and Carole helped me solve this issue over the phone. Aplomb is a virtue in any case like this, when you encounter a problem as to money, call Diane and Carole!
My presentation was on the second day, so I went back to the hotel for preparation after check-in. Everything seemed fine until the second morning that I tried to dress up, I couldn’t find my dress pants!!! ‘Ok, seems like I have screwed it up before it starts. Alright, there is not enough time to buy a new pair, so I will just go with shorts and shirts!’ Luckily, I was mostly able to forget that I was not dressed formally (though everyone else was) as the breakfast provided by the conference for speakers was really nice. I got to know the session chair and other members (two professors and two seasoned industrial engineers) during the breakfast, however, the ‘composition’ of this group made me feel a little stressed as I was the only ‘no-publication-and-never-attended-a-conference-before’ student, plus, it was my first time attending, which exacerbated my tension. I don’t quite remember what I did between the breakfast and my presentation as the slight nervousness accompanied me all the way until the end of my talk…Then I realized that maintaining equanimity is really not my thing….
Going back to the presentation, I felt my topic was sort of singular among others; the theme of the conference was bioremediation, while my speech held the title of ‘ozone enhances the bioavailability of residual petroleum hydrocarbons in soil’. Whatever, the opportunity was terrific for me to practice and procured a high profile. I was the 3rd presenter in the session, the session chair was really nice and funny, and he prepared jokes for the transition between speakers. The hall was filled up with people (several hundred I guess), which rendered me even more nervous… Fortunately, the podium was high and wide enough to shelter my shorts… All I remembered about the presentation was that I finished talking 5 min ahead of schedule (I hope I didn’t say any grammatically incorrect things when talking that fast…) and everyone applauded, which I took as a good sign. Later, only two questions which I was able to answer quickly and accurately came out of the audiences, thanks to the jokes from the session chair, otherwise standing at the stage waiting for more questions and the time for the next speaker would be awkward…
Anca also gave a talk on soil biorememdiation, which was wonderful; Burcu only attended the Chevron mid-year meeting, but she was able to impress everyone by her field application design. Burcu’s narrative is below.
Anyway, this was a great experience (great food and great conference site); I also got to know some of our peers in this field during lunch. And obviously, I had some fun on my own; I went to the Key West beach and had crocodile meat (not very good). More importantly, the conference and Chevron mid-year meeting held me for almost a week in Miami, which interrupted my daily working-out routine…so I hit the gym the second day after I came back to Tempe.
Bhagavad Gita-Inspired Approach to Reseach Feedback
It's May 21st, 2015: The Japengo Room of the Miami Hyatt Regency is about 65 degrees Fahrenheit and everyone is freezing. I've drank too much coffee and Bruce is about to present our mid-year report and broad plans for deployment. I'm shivering: from cold, from caffeine and from nerves. I'm also trying hard to recall a powerful passage from a sacred Hindu text: The Bhagavad Gita.
The Bhagavad Gita is conversation between Sri Krishna (who ultimately reveals himself to be God and Existence itself) and Arjuna, who is a young demi-god and a warrior. The context of the conversation is a bit paradoxical -- Sri Krishna asks Arjuna to fight in a great battle and Arjuna resists because he does not wish to inflict catastrophic violence. Though the interpretation of this context is highly debatable, Sri Krishna ultimately conveys straightforward advice to Arjuna on how to live nobly, honestly, wisely, and justly.
Tengfei shoots me a quizzical look -- I'm googling "Bhagavad Gita". It's a weird thing to do before an important presentation -- I could be looking up a thousand things to do with this massive project that have scientific and engineering relevance, but personally I know that the best thing to read at this moment is the Gita. I'm looking for a particular verse between the eternal God-head, Sri Krisha, and Arjuna, the warrior. Here it is, Chapter Four "Wisdom in Action" of the Bhagavad Gita:
"Sri Krishna says to Arjuna:
The awakened sages call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results; all his selfish desires have been consumed in the fire of knowledge. The wise, ever satisfied, have abandoned all external supports. Their security is unaffected by the results of their action; even while acting, they really do nothing at all. Free from expectation and from all sense of possession, with mind and body firmly controlled by Self, they do not incur sin by the performance of physical action.
They live in freedom who have gone beyond the dualities of life. Competing with no one, they are alike in success and failure and content with whatever comes to them. They are free, without selfish attachments; their minds are fixed in knowledge. They perform all work in the spirit of service, and their karma is dissolved."
There are many wonderful passages in the Gita, but this is one that I wanted to remember because it has such exquisite relevance to the kind of the work we do. Going into this presentation -- I was in high danger of getting my ego involved.
That PowerPoint had cost me enormous personal effort -- it's hard to overstate this. Going in -- we had data to support the team's vision and the use of ozone technology to treat petroleum in soil, but we needed figures, animations, tables that would make it come to life. We also needed a very in depth analysis showing that this massive remediation effort is feasible, both financially and technically: the deployment scenario would need to accommodate so many factors it would be boring to list them all here. I'm happy to say the end product accomplished a great "first draft" of this but not before countless iterations and edits from the team.
It's easy to see at this moment -- and a thousand moments like this -- that our hearts and souls and egos can easily get wrapped up in the work we do, and how others perceive that work. It's wonderful to be passionate but it is also important to remember to detach. This project, in particular, will require tremendous effort and solid thinking from many people to become realized. And although our team presented a good vision in the Japengo room, there is always a better way to do something as a scientist and an engineer. My personal goal was to honestly and simply ask this room of experts, "Here's what we've started, how can we do this better?"
Reading that passage helped me tremendously -- it helped me to say "I don't know", when I didn't know. It also helped me to say "You're right" when someone made a valid criticism, and to say it with sincerity.
The presentation was well received and that was good. But one shouldn't forget that the Gita says “alike in success and failure"; after all, a "life of selfless work" is just that. This was a baby step in what will hopefully be a long and fruitful process of teamwork -- one that may actually make the world more clean and beautiful for everyone. I look forward to doing what I can and continuing to contribute to this goal in coming years.
"They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego cage of 'I', 'me', and 'mine' to be united with the Lord." -- The Chapter 3, The Illumined Man, The Bhagavad Gita
Reports Dr. Rittmann: This is a very thoughtful piece. I like that our blogs are taking a personal tack, and this is a great example. Science is not only about numbers, equations, and theories. It is about people who experience highs and lows, cold and hot, too much coffee, forgotten dress pants, ....and still do wonderful things.