Planes, trains and meeting rooms

I find myself traveling quite a bit again these days. I used to travel a lot for meetings to discuss and plan research cruises when I worked for the USAP, then not so much during my rather brief stint in science publishing. Now it’s back to a relatively busy travel schedule.

Then my travel was mainly in the US – sometimes to the East Coast, sometimes to the West Coast, depending on which large US oceanographic research institute happened to have the lead in the project I was supporting. Now I am going to places like Paris, Brussels, Grenoble and… Culham in Oxfordshire.)

Regardless of where I’m going though, what I have never been very good at is planning in enough time for some sightseeing and, generally, the good things in life.

Hey little guy - sorry that I didn't even come to say Hi last week!

My PhD project involved a lot of traveling to and from Chile – the USAP supports work around the Antarctic Peninsula from Punta Arenas. Did I make time for a tour of amazing Patagonia? Barely: together with a few other PhD students and post docs, we squeezed in a 1.5 day trip to Torres del Paine.

We saw most of the sights from relatively far away, through the windows of an old bus (Cordillera del Paine)

My excuses at the time were my extremely tight field work schedule, which involved a turn-around of only two months in the lab (at a maximum) between research cruises, and a thin wallet.

So I get to see airports, planes, trains, metros… and meeting rooms all over the world. Sometimes it’s fun (in an – admittedly – sick way) to compare the different buildings and meeting rooms: who has a fancy new one with all the latest equipment and who is stuck in the seventies or eighties concerning the interior is not always predictable and sometimes surprising in an amusing kind of way. Let’s just say that just because someone is sending rockets into space doesn’t necessarily mean that the air conditioning unit in the meeting room has to be functioning reliably.

On my return travel from such trips, I regularly resolve to plan the next trip with more time. But I never do, although my excuses have changed over time (the biggest one for a while now has been a swift return to my family). Which doesn’t keep me from being jealous of people who manage to combine business and pleasure in a more productive way though…

About steffi suhr

Once upon a time, I was an enthusiastic and hopeful biological oceanographer who did a bunch of work in the Antarctic. I was alternately wearing labcoats or extreme weather clothing and hard hats, but have long since swapped survival suits for dress suits and do science management, currently as the BioMedBridges project manager at the European Bioinformatics Institute. I still like to use my brain. I'm a German serial expat, currently - again - living in the UK.
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9 Responses to Planes, trains and meeting rooms

  1. Steve Caplan says:

    Ahhh!!! Torres del Paine! I spent 10 days in the park in 1990 after my undergraduate degree in the course of a year off backpacking through S. America. Then I returned to the park 7 years later during my Ph.D. for another 10 days to do the “circuit route” and climb up to the base of the “Torres”. What a wonderful and magical place–I have so many of those beautiful pictures!

  2. ricardipus says:

    That is an astonishing photo, Steffi.

    I think it’s important to find the interesting no matter how dull the surroundings, and I can certainly appreciate the finer points of meeting-room-comparison. Airports can be fun, too – I’m often surprised by the works of art that find their way into the most nondescript bits of arrivals and departures concourses. Given enough wandering-around time, you can discover all sorts of interesting things. And if you’re lucky, you wind up in an airport like Calgary, where you can actually see some fabulous scenery (far away on the horizon, but fabulous nonetheless).

    At the risk of going completely off-topic, here’s my pick for “best airport ceiling” – Ronald Reagan International in Washington, DC:

  3. steffi suhr says:

    You know, I’ve actually come through Reagan airport on a couple of occasions and completely missed that ceiling!

    Concerning finding interesting things on the road: last week, a colleague and I were very surprised indeed to find that the person at the gate of the German research ministry in Bonn was Italian. Since she is Italian as well, they had a little chat – and I felt slightly disoriented afterwards. We started wondering whether maybe there’s a German person guarding the gate to the Italian research ministry… (hardly!).

  4. ricardipus says:

    Steffi – I think it’s upstairs, maybe where the food court is? Don’t quite remember, though.

    And before anyone complains, yes I know that Reagan airport is actually in Arlington, Virginia. 😛

    Here’s my pick for “weirdest thing found in the basement of a mundane airport hotel”:

  5. steffi suhr says:

    Ok, the challenge is on – who has the “oddest observation/experience while traveling”? Should we keep it restricted to business or conference travel?

  6. I started my blog while I was at a conference! There was lots of downtime on that one…

    Actually, travelling is one of the things I miss the most about my last job. I usually went to 3 or 4 conferences a year, mostly in North America although I did once swing a free trip home to the UK for two weeks (there were conferences in Sheffield and Edinburgh, with about 5 days off in between to visit my family). That was just often enough to make it fun rather than a chore, and there was usually enough down-time to see the sights and visit nearby friends. I got to visit Boston, Washington DC, Halifax and San Diego for the first time on those trips, and re-visit Toronto and LA (where I started the blog, because I don’t like LA and my hotel room had a window alcove seat that was the perfect place to curl up with a cuppa and a laptop).

    In my current job I go to San Diego twice a year to visit collaborators. I also once went to Calgary airport for the day – we literally didn’t leave the airport or go outside at all, because our meeting was in an airport hotel conference room, and there was only about half an hour to spare between flights and meeting at both ends of the day. There’s an outside chance I might get to visit Japan, but if so it’ll be a flying visit packed with meetings and with no down-time at all, if the previous trips have been any guide. We stay in an absolutely gorgeous hotel in San Diego, but I’ve never had time for even one lap of the pool – we take the first fight of the day down there, go straight into a meeting, then dinner, then crash out, then start another meeting at 8am the next morning, then take the last flight home that night. BLAH.

  7. steffi suhr says:

    Yes, having a meeting right at the airport certainly tops the list! I haven’t had to do that yet, but I’ve come close… {shudder}

    After writing this post, I actually (guiltily) remembered a rather lovely day on Martha’s Vineyard after a meeting at WHOI… and we did do a quick 4-day trip to a ranch in the middle of nowhere in Patagonia after one of the Peninsula cruises (I probably forgot about that because everything was a blur at that point..)

  8. My boss always plans business trips around personal time, rather than the other way around. He’s been doing this for years. He also knows which car park to park in (which floor and where too), sleeps as soon as he gets on the plane and wakes for the meal, gets the best room, knows the best restaurants and bars. It’s a completely different mindset that I don’t have and don’t really want. Like you, I prefer rushing back to my family and would rather fly out at 05:00 on a Monday and return at 23:00 on a Wednesday so that I have some quality time with them. Each to there own I guess. Oxford is great by the way. Just walk around and take it all in. Don’t try cycling (you’ll get killed) or punting (you’ll drown) !

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