A little over a month ago, just before 10 am on a decidedly damp day, my wife and I arrived at the venue for a one-day conference and evening meal. There was nothing unusual about the subject matter in terms of my being there: it was on ‘Partnerships in multidisciplinary studies of disordered materials and biomaterials’ – right at the core of my ‘nomadic’ scientific interests, which I’ve written about often (e.g. here and here). No, the profound difference here, and what rendered the conference unique, was that it had been organised by a friend and ex-colleague (Gavin Mountjoy) specifically as a means of “celebrating the scientific career of [yours truly] at his retirement”. What follows is a brief personal reflection on the day.
|The formalities of registration and the ubiquity of accessing Wi-Fi at a modern conference are thankfully followed by …|
|…the first chance for all of us to meet, greet and start the process of catching up over a drink and some biscuits.|
° geographically in that they were folk there not only from all over the UK but also from The Netherlands, Japan and as far afield as Beijing in China (an ex-postdoc in my team who’d flown over just for this event – with a gift to enhance my tea drinking life!);
° with regard to their various pathways in life, with some from my old research team having stayed in science and others moving into new fields of endeavour. It was an especial pleasure to meet spouses/partners for the first time, and in one case their lovely six-month old baby;
° and in terms of time. The latter, time, gave some unexpected and delightful twists. For instance, it was lovely to be able to introduce people to each other who, simply because they’d worked with me at different stages in my three decades as an academic research scientist, had never before met. Hearing recent co-workers describe me as, in essence, calm, wise and measured – which was very flattering – and then folk from the earlier days of my research team pointing out that this didn’t quite match their memories was glorious. Thus, although it was a little frustrating to have insufficient time to spend with each and every one of these wonderful people, there was something rather special that emerged from the conversations within small groups. After all, that’s the way we’d often spent the long hours waiting for data to come in (or the x-ray or neutron source to be repaired and be switched back on); science can be a very social pursuit (see also here). If nothing else, this offered evidence of change and perhaps of growth. If so, that’s a good thing I think; either way, it was very amusing.
|The simple pleasure of spending time with people ought never to be under-estimated; this is as true for scientists as for anyone else.|
|The talks were a real pleasure to listen to (this, left, on synchrotron x-ray methods by Silvia Ramos, late of the Diamond Light Source); Julian Jones asked me to pose for a picture with him before the talks got underway – and then edited it into his slides on bioactive glasses, along with a cute Simpson-esque image to mark our meeting in 2002.|
|One of many images captured by Gavin or my wife during the day: this one was taken after the dinner and captures the group who worked so well together during about 15 years of research on bioactive glasses (see here). The four ‘principal investigators’ are central to the front row – Julian Jones, Mark Smith, me and Jonathan Knowles; we were once described in connection with one of our funding bids as The Dream Team: a label that’s hard to forget.|
|Taken by Gavin, the event's originator and organiser, this image captures many of those who participated.|
2) Do Labels Last a Lifetime? – people and other influences.
3) Nomadic Research: random walk or purposeful journey? – a timeline in research.
4) Tools of the Trade – instruments and gadgets.
5) Suitcase Science: travelling in hope – tales from a travelling scientist.
6) Why so many? – gender balance in the research team
7) Committees: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly – making things work: discussion, consensus and decision?
8) Large-scale Facilities for Small-scale Science – the big ‘toys’ I’ve helped to build and to nurture
9a) Experiments in Teaching and Learning – teaching at a university (part 1)