Home is where the impact is: Why the geography of offices matters

I’m off to see my colleagues in-house now!

Reblogged from curt-rice.com:

Home is where the impact is: Why the geography of offices matters.

From the archives – GRC on Organometallic Chemistry (July 2012)

View of the coast from Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island

When Hurricane Sandy tore into the eastern seaboard of the US, I actually sought out the local news for Newport Rhode Island, as well as the university sites of several US colleagues to see whether they had been badly hit. I know that travel for conferences and meetings is considered, especially by members of my family, as one of the perks of the job (at which point incredulity is expressed if you mention that you haven’t been to visit all (any) of the highlights of not just the nearest city, but the entire country). And meanwhile, back in the real world, sometimes it just becomes a chore, especially if you haven’t been home for a while, or it’s hot and you end up sitting in lectures and meetings all day, deprived of both sleep and decent food.

View of the coast from Salve Regina University

But both points of view conveniently forget one thing – there is merit in travelling abroad for researchers as it’s often easier to connect with people in person, and that ranges from meeting somebody for the first time to discussing a long-term joint project, as well as from chatting over lunch with a distant colleague to completing a significant publication with your old boss. All of it is much easier (at least for me) if you are actually meeting the other party. So, despite being a fairly grumpy traveller, I tend to pack my suitcase several times every year and put my trust in conference organisers, airlines and hotels, to meet up with colleagues, friends and former students, and to catch up about work. And I usually come back not just with a backlog of work, but also with new ideas, new contacts and sometimes even with progress on papers that have been languishing on somebody’s desk until we had a chance to kick ideas around and get them done. A Skype call just can’t beat that.

I think this is the Columbia, winner of the 1958 America’s Cup

So in July this year, I went to the Gordon Research Conference on Organometallic Chemistry, which takes place every year in Newport, Rhode Island, on the campus of Salve Regina University. If you’ve never been, Gordon conferences have a slightly different format, with talks both in the morning and late afternoon/evening, but a few hours after lunch free for other activities. While it was nice to see the sun (and actually necessary to stave off jet-lag), I passed on football (sorry, soccer) and other sporty activities, and explored the local area on foot instead, as well as networking with colleagues in the breaks. I even managed to go “sight-sailing” – not as good as controlling the boat yourself, but at least an opportunity to get out on the water for a couple of hours. And the best bit – no guilt! No skiving required! And plenty to talk about, as you could always ask about afternoon activities as well as research interests. I even used some of the photos, as well as maps of both areas (Newport, UK and Newport, Rhode Island, USA) in my talk about “Prediction of Ligand Effects on Organometallic Catalysts”, which is all about maps (of ligand space) after all.

View of the bay at Newport, RI

Having made these personal connections with both site and people, I actually wanted to know whether anybody had been badly affected by Hurricane Sandy and whether the Salve Regina site, which is incredibly close to the sea as you can see in the photos, was still standing. So I’ll be dropping a line to some, and listen to the jungle drums about others. But, and this is my point, the important thing is there is now a personal connection, because I’ve been there. It is difficult, especially for students and early-career researchers, to meet colleagues on other continents and so make those broader connections. But it is worth doing because you can’t divide the world neatly into work and private life when work takes up most of your time and passion. Now I just have to remind myself of that next time planes or trains go wrong…

A schooner in the bay, Newport, RI