Discovering Dublin: Isolating at Home (3/)

At the start of Ireland’s lockdown, we had some adjusting to do. New ways of living and working, for sure! Aongus was working from home for about six weeks, with the occasional visit allowed to his work site to make sure things were locked up tight and everything looked right. We found new ways to exercise and study together, expanding out the balcony during nice weather. Such weather is rare here, and even our south-facing balcony isn’t usually warm enough for outdoor work.

I really started to notice little things, like how dramatically the sky changes from hour to hour, day to day here. The view from my balcony was every-changing–a painting of gorgeous pastels and a hundred different types of clouds.

Early on, Aongus was completing a training model online. I tried to stay fit with online zumba and Down Dog yoga.

This day was warm enough for balcony use, so I took a little break with one of the books I’ve read this spring, a gift from Inês, called “Quite: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking”. Appropo for this period of isolation!

On the other hand, the look of work didn’t have much diversity. As I do educational/social science research, I don’t require access to a lab. I already had plenty of data collected that I could work with and study during Lockdown.

For me, life during lockdown looked a lot like this, each and every day:

Don’t get me wrong, each of these images captures something I found interesting! The diagrams, for instance, came from a UCL ‘show-and-tell.’ Researchers in Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE) are doing fascinating work tracking Covid—looking for patterns—from how droplets move, to tracking the flow of a sequence of coughs by someone tapping to pay on a bus (shown here), to transmission patterns across cities and countries. Really interesting and important stuff! I was Tweeting up a storm that day, to share knowledge with others. Took care not to give away too much detail as the researchers were reporting, to close colleagues, research they had underway.

For me, it has been fun to attend meetings and events in places and with people I’d not have had easy access to in the spring of a teaching semester—like these UCL events and the Big Engineering Education Research Meet Up.

Here’s a screenshot of our UCL team coordinating one of the EER Meet Ups of the spring–Paula, John, Inês, and me (providing perspectives from REEN and TU Dublin). I love this group of people and was glad to work with them over the spring even though we live in two different countries.

There was also teaching to be done online, and new teaching arrangements to be planned for next year as well. I’m preparing materials for the Tech Graphics modules on hand drawing for the autumn, as the pile of tools on my dining table testifies.

And there was meal after meal after meal to prepare, as you’ll be well aware. Sometimes fancy, sometimes new (fried peaches on the suggestion of my cousin, Rebecca). A colleague from TU Delft, Dr. Gillian Saunders, crated this nifty mask and mailed it over to me. It’s coming in handy, especially since the Irish government has recently stated asking us to wear masks, and requiring them on public transit.

In addition, there’s been the occasional birthday party, with Zoom allowing us to gather from all around the world. Happy b-day, Tarrah Beebe and Mike Miminiris!

Aongus has gone back to work now, and I’m here working from home as has been my norm. I like working at home better when it’s sunny, but I pray most for sunny weekends. I must admit, most of my religious/spiritual intentions have gone for those less fortunate than we’ve been—this facing sickness, stress, and hardship due to Covid or living with addicted or abusive people.

We’ve been blessed and have been able to grow together during this time. We attempt to make each day new and interesting, whether it’s learning a new theory or just pulling out our Frank Lloyd Wright socks (a gift of my recently departed Dad). Other ways I’ve passed the Covid-time include studying for the Driver Theory Test (scored 40/40, yeah baby!) and—now that businesses have opened—finally getting haircuts and new glasses to match my improved prescription. I didn’t buy the Corbu specs (shown below) but they were fun to try!

Discovering Dublin: Phoenix Park in Isolation (2/)

Aongus and I hadn’t spent much time in Dublin’s very large urban park prior to Covid-19. We were, afterall, just returning to Dublin after two years in London.

Our last days in London for Christmas 2019, ending my two-year fellowship and heading home to Dublin.

I’d moved back at the start of January and got things organized. Aongus followed on February 5th. Luckily, I already settled back into the flat and gotten things arranged nicely when he touched down on the Irish tarmac–a full month before isolation set in.

A couple days after Aongus’ return, things got very busy for me at TU Dublin. I was appointed to Chair and launch a new degree program. We held the induction on February 14. We were four weeks into conducting modules that when the pandemic hit and campus buildings shut down. From then on, work was all from home.

When the Irish government asked us to keep inside a 2-kilometer radius from our homes, and only venture out for necessary purchases and daily exercise, I pulled out a map on the “2kmfromhome” app and very happily discovered the entry to Phoenix Park fell within our allowable zone. I loaded the radius map as my phone’s wallpaper for easy reference–that made Aongus feel a bit claustrophobic! He’s not used to such a small bubble. His parents, aunts and siblings live outside it. Sadly, he couldn’t see his parents anyway, as they live in a nursing home. There have been very few visits. His dad had symptoms of Covid but tested negative. His mom had no symptoms but tested positive–go figure. Both are doing fine, but lacking visits has really taken a toll on his dad, who is fully aware of what’s going on.

Considering the radius, I wasn’t quite sure where entering the park alone would get us. During an online School meeting, which we held weekly for months until summer break officially started, I mentioned in the chat box that we had the entrance to Phoenix Park in our allotted circle. A colleague said, oh how lucky! A friend of hers had the same situation. Catherine said it meant we could use the Park in full, as long as we were carrying verification of our address.

To me that made logical sense–afterall, the masses of Dublin living near the Park we couldn’t all stand in the first hundred feet of the entry gate.

And thus began…

Our love affair with Phoenix Park

Soon we cycled to the park using Dublin Bikes, with a picnic of left-overs in hand for sustenance.

That first day we didn’t make it too far, but on our next trip we discovered the expansive views of the field at the Pope’s Cross, with amazing views over the city of Dublin toward the Dublin Mountains.

Park it, Deer…

We also discovered the deer of Dublin, so calm and tame.

The deer cluster by gender–doe and children together, and bucks in their own groups. In the forested area shown at the top of this blog (with the nifty leg warmers, a gift from ‘me mum’), we once saw an organized lesson in being a male deer underway. There were three sets of young males with antlers joined, play wrestling, and one more deer–who appeared to be the coach. We didn’t get a photo that day, as we weren’t allowed by the Park Rangers to stop to observe. By loud speaker they announced “Keep moving. You’re here for exercise!” or something of that sort. They weren’t messin’ that day–taking no shite….

Fortunately, over time, the sense of panic and urgency has subsided. If you leave the deer be and avoid crowds, you’ll be okay. It is usually easy enough to stumble on crows if you don’t move far for the entry at Parkgate Street.

…and chill

The deer have really loved having the park free of cars–the park is so large that motorists have typically used it as a cut-through, taking their cars at high speeds to get to the other side without much regard for pedestrians and cyclists, families and children. High-speed and rude drivers in the park, along with the poor quality of the pavement in the cycle lane leading into and out of the park, had previously discouraged me from cycling there.

I had, however, cycled to the US Ambassador’s Residence once to hear a NASA astronaut speak at a Fulbright Ireland event. There’s a sizable slope going into the park that takes some determination to climb. I felt so unwelcome by the hill and the rough pavement of the cycle lane going in (the car pavement is nice and smooth here), that I had avoided this park in the interim. I hoped–and still do–that they will repave the cycle lanes near Park Gate. Can’t imagine what has kept that simple act from happening.

This is the back side of the US Ambassador’s Residence. It faces south, toward the Dublin mountains and the Pope’s Cross. (See, nifty leg warmers!)

Although we’d enjoyed our Dublin Bike adventure that first day, but realized we’d need our own bikes. My own had been stolen from my courtyard some years before, but our maintenance guy gave me a discarded bike as a replacement. I’d parked it on the balcony, but hadn’t much luck using it. Mostly, I needed a more comfortable saddle.

So, in March, I was quite pleased to discover that Pavlov at Bolton Bikes could get it back up and running. It’s heavy and I have to baby the gears, but it works and it has been nice and reliable. Bolton Bikes repairs and also sells used bikes. We were very fortunate to buy one for Aongus that suits him incredibly well. Neither of our bikes is a magnet for thieves, which is fortunate since rates of bicycle theft are off the charts right now in Dublin.

I didn’t even report the earlier theft–really no reason since the police don’t really investigate.

Our bikes have worked out fine. They really serve us well and we are learning to love them and the freedom they provide.

…enjoy a scenic overlook

On our second or third visit to the park, we found the far end, to the west, had the fewest people. We’d ride out there and eat a quick snack, tea, or sandwich before cycling back home.

Ireland had an amazing streak of glorious weather, in March and April. Perfect like this for several weeks. We discovered this stunning view at the far end of the park, and reaching it became a regular goal:

…and a quiet little pond

Over time, we ventured into the gated area around the pond. The water lilies were delightful; my photos haven’t done them justice.

Aongus enjoyed feeding crumbs to the ducks and geese.

Just be yourself!

As the weeks progressed this corner of the park remained sparsely attended. We encountered very few people and were even able to curl up with a book on occasion. Wild and free and happy as can be….

(…but not in America!)

Speaking of America, I felt safe enough in Phoenix Park to attend the very first Dublin-based rally in support of Black Lives Matter.

Stand up for what you believe…

I elected to attend the #BLM rally in Phoenix Park, as I believed there would be ample room for social distancing. This location meant participants weren’t likely to get hemmed in as I feared would happen near the American Embassy. My assumptions were correct.

There was plenty of space where we assembled at the driveway entrance to the Ambassador’s Residence. There was also plenty space as we processed slowly around the property in a long single-file line, and one the rear/southside of the house where we knelt for a minute of silence. Any groups were households that arrived together. Many couples and a few families, and many brave individuals as we did not know what to expect. I saw this advertised on Twitter, with two locations available so everyone could stay in their allowable zone (which, by this time was 5km, I believe).

In any case, I was glad to be able to do *something* to support the #BLM cause, and to achieve that without violating any rules. It was a very small thing, but I had to make a stand for justice and also stand in solidarity with my hundreds and hundreds of Black American friends, colleagues, and former students. And in memory of my honorary grandparents, Bush and Ravella and their daughter Dot. So many people I know and love who had the opposite of a head start in US life simply due to the color of their skin.

Incidentally, a newspaper photographer showed up and took our pictures at this rally, but as there weren’t any juicy scoops to be had, the pics didn’t go viral. Even a telephoto lens couldn’t make this particular crowd look too dense!

All the Guards and Park Rangers who came around expressed sincere support for the cause.

It was a lovely and heartwarming event, and a story you probably didn’t hear on official news outlets.

…just let time drift by.

Since lockdown, I’ve come to know and love Phoenix Park. I truly hope it remains a place that’s safe for families, children, and people of all levels of ability to use safely.

One last set of views out across the Dublin Mountains, daydreaming and soaking in the peace and quiet:

Racism in Science and Society

I just attended an online event called “Racism in Science and Society”. It involved an hour-long interview with Angela Saini, and it was supported by six or so organizations in Ireland, including Women in Research Ireland (WiRI) which a colleague of mine from the Marie Curie Alumni Association, Dr. Susan Fetics, helped establish. Susan was one of the moderators today.

Last social gathering of Marie Curie Alumni Association’s Irish chapter before Covid shut things down. Shannon Chance and Susan Feltics shown here. Susan was one of the organizers for today’s event.

I’ve read half of Siani’s book “Superior: The Return of Race Science” and have heard her speak in the past about this book as well and her prior book, “Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong“. I’ve heard Saini speak twice in person at UCL and 2 or 3 times now online.

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Angela Saini and the cover of her 2019 book.

Interestingly, Saini has two different master’s degrees, the first in Engineering from the University of Oxford and a second in Science and Security from the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Since I research engineering education and I also taught at a Historically Black College/University in the States for 15 years, I follow her work closely. Simply put: it’s close to my heart.

In this blog, I share content from Tweets I posted during the event. I’m sharing this because the event wasn’t recorded, so I wanted a way for others to learn about the topic and what went on today.

The event was well-organized and they sent helpful reminders. The hosts of this online event even provided a sign language interpreter. I wondered: if this method was more effective than auto-captioning?

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The host, speaker, and sign language interpreter.

Siani said medicine is keeping race science alive today, more than any other area. Medicine perpetuates the belief in genetic differences that don’t exist. Genetics is the last place to look, she insists, it’s best to look first at social and cultural factors.

Histories of oppression have led to differences in health outcomes, not underlying genetics.

But, even now during Covid, people jump straight to the racial myths, Saini says.

Saini says some of the most promising work to rectify racial myths in medicine is happening in the USA, as there is the recognition that racism is still occurring. There’s more happening in the USA than in Britain and elsewhere in the world, she believes, as in the UK (where she lives and grew up) there is clear reluctance to accept how pervasive racism is.

Incidentally, Saini is of Indian heritage and grew up classified as black in the UK, I learned from her book. This helped me understand why a UK-based collegiate of mine calls herself black, whereas she’d probably use a different term if she were of Indian heritage and living in the USA.

These ideas about race are steeped into us from a very young age. It’s all about power, she says. The dominant group frames their dominance as if they have some innate… superiority.

Saini left Twitter earlier this year due to experiencing abuse, which explains why I couldn’t locate her to tag her. Those with extreme views try to engage journalists and scientists via social media, and suck them dry. They and the algorithms they use are clever; often they have few followers but they cause frustration because they aren’t going to change their opinions but they demand ongoing conversation, they dish out abuse, and they drain energy that can go to something more productive.

Of course, for those without other outlets (Saini is a very well-known journalist in Britain), social media does give us a voice, she acknowledges.

I, for one, miss having her on Twitter.

She helped found “Race and Health” @raceandhealth, a group that looks at issues identified above.

Saini says she wrote “Superior” to get things straight in her head. She hopes readers share in some of this clarity she found by writing it.

She spoke about being surprised things have changed so fast right following the death of George Floyd, such as the re-naming of lecture halls and theaters.

I, myself, have seen Floyd’s murder as a tipping point. I’d been expecting things to boil over in the US–I envisioned another summer of 1968 as the only way that an adequate level of change would happen. Things just weren’t improving fast enough. It was one of the frustrations that caused me to leave the USA and move to Europe. I am glad to finally see change, but I am sad that it’s going to be painful to acknowledge the past and heal.

Recently, UCL announced, via campus-wide email I received, that it is changing names of a building and a lecture hall. Eugenics and race-science had a home at UCL, and the university is seeking to right some wrongs.

Saini says that universities need better systems of accountability; the balance of power in universities is still out of whack. Accountability has to come from the top. Groups like the ones hosting this session today need to work together to lobby universities for better accountability, she says.

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The sponsors for today’s event.

She ended by saying that our societies need to change through education and by teaching empathy from a young age.

I was glad to hear Saini say this, as my colleague, Dr. Carlos Mora, and I are working to study empathy in engineering education. And in a similar vein, I’m working to create a special focus issue on empathy in engineering practice and education to be released next spring.

Southeast Ireland: Cycling around Rosslare

Last weekend we tested out our new car-mounted bike rack. We researched good cycling routes, loaded the bikes for an overnight trip, and struck out Saturday morning for Wexford, the sunniest county in Ireland. On the island’s southeastern-most tip, County Wexford enjoys the highest number of summer days per year on the island.

En route to Wexford with bikes ready to roll.

We parked the car at our hotel in view of Rosslare Harbor, with its ferry port and boats to France, the UK, and elsewhere in Europe and fueled up with a sandwich.

Then we set out to find peaceful waters by bike. The port is the starting point for the Irish leg of a major European cycling route, with three sub-routes circling the area. It’s part of a larger European system of touring-friendly cycling roads.

Our cycling route this day totaled about 37 km and, with its loops, provided us options if we ran out of steam. We didn’t run out though! We chose tranquil little roads, were passed by the occasional car, puzzled at the road signs, and asked other cyclists for advice. GPS really helps with navigating roads in Ireland, but groping around can also be fun.

Ladys Island

Our first stop: Ladys Island, also called Our Lady’s Island. The island itself is a bird sanctuary, and the peninsula beside it is accessible to people and is a religious pilgrimage site. We completed the pilgrimage route by bike. There was evidence of recent outdoor masses beside the castle-like ruin. We explored a old cemetery, recently reclaimed from the brush. There were many people walking and cycling in the area.

The church here reminded me of the one in Staunton, Virginia, called St. Andrews, where my grandmother went. Designed during the same neo-Gothic loving era, I’d say, and not terribly old.

Carne Beach

We enjoyed the sounds of all the lovely birds and then we struck out for Carne Beach. It was beautiful and blue and the water seemed warm enough for a swim although we didn’t try. We just enjoyed the sun, sounds, breeze, and colors.

Rosslare

Then we cycled a long stretch to Rosslare village and beach. It was packed with weekend holiday-makers so we didn’t stay long. Turned away from a restaurant at 4:30 PM, we decided it was best to find food without delay. Rosslare doesn’t currently have capacity to serve many in restaurants and it was full of blow-ins from Dublin, like us.

We cycled back toward the Harbor and were fortunate to find the last table at Culletons of Kilrane where we enjoyed one lovely plate of fish and chips and another of salmon-wrapped cod. The high quality of the food was a pleasant surprise! And pulled pints of Guinness to boot!

The pub we tried before this one was filled by funeral-goers from the burial we’d passed earlier in the day, near Lady’s Island. As an Irish person, Aongus is 100% certain the pub booking was linked to the funeral. This is the only possible explanation, he insists. As an American, I’m not sure I can explain how he knows, even though I read up on funeral rites in the book “How to be Irish” by Daniel Slattery. Actually, I’ve read that funeral chapter twice, but some details still evade me. 

After dinner, we returned to our hotel and settled in for the night. The cycle route here is lifted off the street and was safe enough even after a pint of Guinness, which Aongus says was rocket fuel for me. I virtually flew home. 

Breakfast wasn’t well organized at the hotel, but Supervalue did the trick. We ate on the back deck of the hotel, then packed up and drove back to Lady’s Island to soak in a bit more birdsong and delicate tranquility.

The highlight of our whole trip came at the end, with an impromptu invitation to lunch at the holiday home of our friends Richard and Geraldine. I’d stayed the night with them once before here in Rosslare, between days of RoboSlam events that our team conducted throughout county Wexford, but Aongus had never been to their home. 

As we’d only chosen this destination the night before, I messaged Richard on the way down to see if they might be visiting Rosslare on this particular weekend. 

Geraldine and Richard arrived in town after us, but welcomed us with (virtually, not literally) open arms! I thought we’d meet at a cafe or on the beach, but they were eager to have guests and graciously invited to their place, nicknamed “Five”. Try finding that on Google Maps!

This was my first time visiting with friends in person since mid-March, and it was really good for my mental health to reconnect with beloved others. I even got to expand upon my new-found knowledge of Irish politics and governance by sharing ideas and perceptions with them. 

County Wexford and the Hays family gave us a lovely weekend and we look forward to visiting both again!

Lovely outdoor lunch with Richard and Geraldine. Plus Aongus and Shannon.

Discovering Dublin: Last days of normal life (1/)

Something was about to change here in Dublin on the night of March 11th. I knew this, and thus felt hesitation as well as excitement for an interesting day as I headed into work on the 12th.

You see, TU Dublin had an Open Day planned to show female high school students about our apprenticeship courses. My colleagues and I had put a lot of work into planning this, although we anticipated things could change due to coronavirus. Later this day, life was to shift decisively about our world here in Dublin.

The Last Day ‘Open’ at TU Dublin

A glimpse of Bolton Street with drama in the sky.

We waited anxiously for word from the university about closures. In the meantime, we took care. Although plans went ahead and during this Open Day, the new norms of hand sanitizer and social distancing appeared. Wee conscientiously worked to hold intimate conversations about life plans at a two arm’s length–not an easy feat in a loud and active space like the lobby of Linenhall, home of the TU’s Dublin School of Architecture.

Attendance on this Open Day was higher than one would expect given the uncertainty of life, but not as high as the past year. Only a portion of those who reserved places made it to D2 that day. It was well worth my own four-block walk into work to meet girls from as far as Wicklow who’d ventured up to meet us.

Setting up for the day.

I provided tours of the facilities–bricklaying, plumbing, carpentry, metal fabrication, painting and decorating, laser cutting and 3D printing, automated fabrication–at Linenhall and Bolton Street where apprentices learn. Those taking our sampler program, “Access to Apprenticeship” get to use to all these workshops, and to complete a small project in each to help them determine which to specialize in by completing a full course.

At the end of the event we heard that campus buildings would close that night at 18:00; after this, classes would meet only online.

The BIM modules we offer in my program did indeed meet that night, all online, thanks to the collaborative working platform my colleagues use to teach BIM. Kevin Furlong, Barry McAuley, and Emma Hays took it all in stride and kept on delivering! I was truly impressed.

Working it out during Covid-19

I already worked half time on research, so I actually labored from home 50% of my working hours, pre-Covid. For me, work life after the 12th of March looked pretty similar to before–lots and lots and lots of time at my laptop. There was less variety, though, and much less human contact.

I missed feeling creative. I wasn’t able to blog, as I didn’t feel reason to celebrate during a time of fer and hardship.

I got work done, but not with my normal level of zest.

The first two weekends after the campus shut down, we weren’t yet asked to isolate (we never officially ‘locked down’) but the government was asking us to keep our distance from others.

My household has one other person, Aongus, and this fact has kept me sane during isolation. I’m glad I haven’t had to go through this pandemic living alone. That said, my guy has much higher exposure to the outside world than I do, and could inadvertently drag Covid-19 home at any time.

As you probably know, Aongus and I really enjoy our weekends. We love getting out, exploring the world, getting exercise, fresh air and sunlight. In fact, not feeling pangs of guilt for taking weekend off is a major reason I moved to Europe from the USA. You’ll recall that Aongus and I made the most of every minute in London during my two-year fellowship there. We had plans to make the most of our precious weekends together in Dublin upon our return.

A Sunday at Greystones Beach

Sliding into a new normal, we had a couple weeks to adjust to freedoms and habits that were slipping away. We were still allowed to drive and explore, but were required to stay away from others. Our gym was still open during this time, as well, though we were distancing.

On Sunday, March 15, Aongus and I drove out to Greystones, where we were able to distant from others on the beach. We enjoyed the solitude in the cool winter breeze off the Irish Sea.

And we learned that lunches and loos were few and far between. From this day forward, we packed sandwiches whenever we ventured out, and planned ahead for long period of loo-less-ness.

The difficulty finding these that day told me that things were going to change more radically. We drove to some favorite spots hoping for lunch, but couldn’t stop because they were packed with people.

We did, however, find joy in simple pleasures: an apple, the sunshine, and loving company.

Holi-day at Bull Island Marshes & Dollymount Strand

St. Patrick’s Day was a holiday, so we made another trip trip to the sea, still pre-lockdown (to use the phrase lightly–we’ve never officially ‘locked down’ in Ireland to the degree of many other European countries).

Although Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade had been cancelled, and tourists discouraged from coming, we residents were still allowed out, but asked to keep our distance.

Aongus and I headed out to Bull Island, by car, as was typical for us before coronavirus. Walking and Dublin Bikes were our other main forms of transportation, and where they didn’t bring us, a bus or car would. “Back then”, we would never have dreamed of cycling to Bull Island or Dollymount Strand; they seemed so very far away.

Bull Island is a favorite among Dubliners though, and when we arrived the beach looked far too crowded to allow the distance I required, so we instead explored the marshes.

My colleague Damon Berry had recommended that I check them out, and this was the first time I latched onto the idea. Aongus and I had a nice picnic in the dunes.

Of course, we hoped to find passage across to the beach by way of the dunes, but the waterways prevented that. Nevertheless, we enjoyed discovering a tranquil strip of Bull Island where few people venture.

By the late afternoon, the beach had cleared out (it was the bottleneck along the wall that had presented the problem passing others) and we were able to visit the strand, which is called Dollymount.

As you can see, Dublin is quite chilly during March, but any opportunity to go outside, walk, and soak in the sunshine is prized.

Isolation begins

The lifestyle we had known was quickly sliding away. Soon after our visit to Bull Island, the period of isolation began. Aongus and I essentially hibernated for weeks. I was able to keep working from home. He, as a construction site project manager, was able to do some limited amount of work from home and was allowed on site, alone, occasionally, to do essential work, or check for security.

As we have a range of grocery stores (Fresh Market, Lidl, two Centras and a Daybreak) within 1-4 blocks of our flat and the food supply chains serving Dublin never let us down, we were able to source food easily and have learned many new recipes with what we can find in these stores.

That 2km radius we were allowed to travel from home for the purpose of exercise kept us sane, and we looked forward to weekends, hoping and praying for sunshine.

County Kerry: A day in Dingle

The Irish government has allowed domestic travel since June 29, and has been encouraging residents of the Republic to holiday inside the country to help revive the Irish tourist sector. Aongus and I were happy to oblige and we headed out for a four day weekend to the west of Ireland.

Unbelievably, my Irish man—born in Dublin and raised speaking Irish—had never been to Dingle! This rainy little fishing village is a favorite of Americans, and I’ve visited several times since my inaugural trip there in 2003.

The Fish Box is just to the left of Dick Mack’s Pub, across the street from St. Mary’s Church.

This particular overnight stay in this lovely little town included dinner at The Fish Box (amazing!), bed and breakfast at Bambury’s Guest House, and a kayaking trip guided by Irish Adventures.

And yes, we saw Fungie first hand, just 30’ or so away. Such a friendly and adventurous dolphin who has graced Dingle Bay since 1983. The tourism industry loves Fungie, with hundreds and sometimes even thousands of people boating out to visit the people-living dolphin daily.

On our kayaking trip were four learners—a couple from Cork and a mum and son from Dingle—and two instructors. A family of five got their own guide and travelled apart from us.

It was such a treat to pal around with Irish people enjoying their own home place. Truly an ideal time to visit. Especially since the seas were too rough for boating two days before and two days after our own outing. We really lucked out!

The pubs of Dingle were still closed during our visit, so there were no trad music sessions to enjoy, but we were able to do a little shopping. I picked up some exercise gear in hopes of our gym opening next week, and I also purchased a Cornwall Seasalt brand scarf to replace the one I dropped at Bonobo’s of Smithfield in February that so unkindly was never handed over to the lost and found.

Social distancing was easy in Dingle and we look forward to exploring more of Ireland as time, weather, and government guidelines permit. We were so very thankful for this one precious day of fun and glorious weather.

New-ish cap!

Special thanks to Noel of Irish Adventures for excellent instruction and leadership of the tour as well as his gift to me of an Irish Adventures baseball cap. They had actually run out of new caps, but gifted me one off their very own head! And it’s already perfectly broken in. Pop it in the wash and it’s good to go!

The photo gallery below shows an approach to Dingle via the Connor Pass (with new Wild Atlantic Way signage), the town of Dingle at sunset, and our morning out on the weather. Stay tuned for more pics of Kerry to come!

Ethics in Engineering: Calling for a Revolution

The platform Engineering Matters aired Podcast #59 on “Empowering Ethical Engineering” on June 25, 2020.

Bernadette Balentine is the host of Engineering Matters, and in podcast 59, she featured guests from Mott MacDonald, Canada’s Corporation of the Seven Wardens, Engineers Without Borders UK, the University of Leeds, the UK’s Institution of Engineering and Technology, and me, a Visiting Professor at UCL. You can find it at this link.

The podcast tells a fascinating story about a catastrophic bridge failure that happened in Canada, explaining how the overall engineering profession there responded by developing and adopting a strict code of ethics.

The overall podcast is 37 minutes, and I’m featured only briefly (around minute 28.5). In this post, I’ll provide a little more detail on the work I’ve been doing that led me to be included.

As you probably know, I was a Marie Curie Research Fellow at UCL for two years, and I still serve as a Visiting Professor there at UCL. I have a keen interest in the built environment and I’m also a registered architect in the States with LEED-AP credentials. My research specialty involves how people learn engineering and architecture.

During the Fellowship, Engineers without Borders UK came to me asking for help with research idea. As a result, my team and I conducted a small-scale qualitative study where we interviewed nine civil/structural engineers practicing in London about their perceptions of ethics and, specifically, of global responsibility—what it means and how they enact global responsibility in their day-to-day work. I reported this research while speaking with Bernadette for the podcast.

Bernadette asked what factors we had identified that prevent engineers from acting on ethical beliefs. Here’s some of what I said:

Even when early career engineers see opportunities to do something in a better, more ethical or responsible way, they often have trouble getting the idea accepted. Cost and time constraints limit their choices. Small and private projects nearly always prioritize cost and over environmental or social sustainability. 

Early-career engineers can influence material selection and thus carbon footprint to some degree, but many other decision are out of their scope of work. Crucial decisions were made long before they got involved. They select materials, run calculations, and make more detailed decisions, but they are often involved in a small portion of any given building or infrastructure project. Even when they see an opportunity to do better on a private project, their client usually only accepts it is the idea if it also saves money or time. 

That said, larger public projects provide more opportunity to protect the public good—and they hear about public discussions. But it’s other professionals, such as architects and planners, who often drive those discussions. On the other hand, the senior managing engineer we interviewed was quite able to affect things on a large scale; he had quite a lot of sway in decision-making and frequent opportunities to protect public Health and Safety. He took pride in doing so, and he also reached out to help mentor others to develop such skills. 

Early-career engineers told us they lack reliable tools for calculating environmental and social impacts of various options. Quite surprisingly, most don’t recall having discussions in university about sustainability. While they say ethics was probably covered in their professional practice classes, none of this was covered in a way that was “sticky” enough for them to recall it. Most learned about this after university, through CPD courses, their own research, and company induction programs on Health & Safety and anti-corruption with an implied focus on anti-bribery. 

Overall, the early career engineers in our study expressed: 

  • A lack of tools for demonstrating benefits of environmental or social action
  • Some degree of shortfall in training/preparation
  • Feelings of disempowerment due to decisions being made further up the business or by clients who didn’t value sustainability

One of the most important findings of our study was that the engineers felt empowered to act on job-site Health and Safety more than other areas. Job-site Health and Safety was the one thing, they said, that consistently trumps cost. They were also clear on company rules for reporting gifts.

This led me to wonder: Might we use the levers that facilitated sweeping change across job-site H&S and anti-bribery to facilitate quick change in other areas related to ethics—specifically environmental and social aspects of sustainability and justice? 

A helpful example was relayed by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, Korean Airlines went from having one of the world’s worst flight safety records to one of the best, and they did this by changing their own culture (with help of consultants) to allow individuals to raise concerns and challenge authority without personal retribution, without fear of reprimand.

I believe engineers need more of this type of empowerment and protection. The narrative Bernadette Ballantyne has woven on “Empowering Ethical Engineering” illustrates how Civil Engineering in Canada did precisely this.

It’s well worth a listen, regardless of whether or not you “engineer” things!

The Iron Ring worn by Canadian engineers after taking their oath to protect Health and Safety of all. Learn more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Ring and on the Engineering Matter podcast.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for more details of our study, as we prepare various findings for publication in research journals. Many thanks to my research collaborators Inês Direito, Rob Lawlor, and John Mitchell, and the Advisory Board appointed by EWB-UK to help guide our work. Financial support came from the European Commission via my Marie Curie Individual Fellowship and a grant to EWB-UK from the Royal Academy of Engineers UK.

LSBU Sustainability conference on now, featuring Creativity research

London South Bank University (LSBU) has an event on this week called “Sustainability and Climate Action Events Series – Carbon, Climate, Energy and Resources” (for info and registration click here).

As I’m a Visiting Professor at LSBU, supervising Ph.D. student Thomas Empson who is one of the organizers of this event, I’m one of many in attendance. Thomas studies the role of creativity in creating sustainable design solutions. He looks at engineering and architecture. Thomas is also LSBU’s Sustainability Project Manager.

I’m so proud to be this researcher’s Ph.D. supervisor. He, Shushma Patel, and I have made an excellent team.

The week-long event kicked off earlier today and Thomas delivered an insightful presentation on his Ph.D. research on “Enabling Enterprising Engineers” and featuring work by HKS architects and Enfinffers for Overseas Development (EFOD).

Thomas Empson delivering welcomes, introductions, and cutting-edge research.

Thomas’ Ph.D. research project is coming together beautifully and he will be presenting his viva (=defending his dissertation) in August. We got a sneak preview today! This event, the LSBU Provost, Professor Pat Bailey, told us at the 9.30am Welcome and Introduction is the largest online event that LSBU has ever hosted. Thomas is one of the two main organizers for this LSBU conference. He’s done this alongside his research work.

As I’m working on various projects throughout the day (including our own online EER Meet Up for tomorrow afternoon), I’ve tuned in and out of the LSBU event. However, I was there “with bells on” for the 11.30am session led by Thomas!

The topic was “Creating Sustainable Development: Measuring the positive ecological, economic and social impact of the Katchumbala Maternity Unit.” Thomas presented his research and then hosted two high-profile panelists: Dan Flower, a Design Director for HKS Architects, and his dad, Ian Flower OBE and Founder of Engineers for Overseas Development (EFOD).

Thomas has been studying aspects of creativity and (environmental, social and economic) sustainability. He has evaluated several case study projects to assess creative practices, processes, outputs, and impacts. The case study he showed today was for the Katchumbala Maternity Unit in Uganda.

Thomas hosted two high-powered designer/activists who made this hospital a reality. It’s a father-son duo with an engineer dad and architect son.

The Hospital generated many positive environmental, social, and economic benefits.

There were also benefits ot the organizations involved:

Thomas has studied creativity within this project and has created a number of really helpful and useful models for assessing sustainable creativity. I’ll share those models with you later, as they are a significant contribution to the knowledge base and have been tested through empirical research.

Today, the audience got a sneak peek at these models and won’t have to wait until Thomas’ viva.

LSBU has loads of interesting sessions planned for the week–why not join in to learn more?

Architect-cheers! Fully licensed as an Architect

Is that Architect-cheers or Architectures? Today I’m cheering that my updated license has arrived!

With so many moves across ocean and seas, some of my mail never reached me–including an invoice from the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation in my home state.

Every two years I pay fees to keep my Architectural Registration current, entitling me to practice in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Every year, I also pay fees to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards to hold a Council Record, which is a national-level endorsement that makes getting registered in additional states easier.

I don’t stamp architectural drawings, so I don’t really *need* to hold a license, but I like to stay current and support the licensing and professional development system. Plus, it’s been nice chatting with the folks at NCARB and VDPOR who assisted me along the way. I’ve always believed that being licensed with up-to-date knowledge makes me a more effective architecture and engineering teacher.

By holding a license in Virginia, I’m allowed to use RA or Registered Architect after my name. By holding a council record, I can use NCARB as well. And then there’s LEED-AP, which indicates I hold a credential in Energy and Environmental Design, also earned through rigorous testing.

In the States, the designation AIA is probably the most widely recognized architecture tag after one’s name, and although I’ve been admitted to the American Institute of Architects, I am not an active, dues-paying member so I can’t use those letters now. The fees add up too fast! It would be great to get Chartered as an Architect over here, through RIAI (Ireland) or RIBA (Britain). As you can see, this is all very complicated. The standards, codes, and construction practices vary so much from one country to the next, that each of these would require additional study, testing, fees, and ongoing country-specific professional development.

To get this little piece of paper from Virginia back in my hands, I needed to complete a series of training modules and tests to show I have current knowledge of best practices in the States. I used downtime over Christmas and the pandemic–along with NCARB monographs–to study:

  • Sustainable Design Part I: Green Building Standards and Certification Systems
  • Sustainable Design Part II: Integrated Design
  • Sustainable Design Part V: Trends in the Profession, Performance, and Practice
  • Accommodations for Seniors
  • The Hidden Risk of Green Buildings
  • Building Design and Security
  • Building Envelopes Part I: History and Types
  • Barrier-Free Design and the 2010 ADA Standards
  • Improving Building Performance Part I: Building Performance and Post Occupancy
  • Improving Building Performance Part II: Planning, Conducting, & Applying the POE

Perhaps due to COVID it took a month for the envelope I sent to Virginia with the reinstatement application, check, and proof of CPD to arrive at the office in Richmond. So slow, despite the fact I paid €8.70 (nearly $10) to send registered mail. In the meantime, I’d given up hope, called and found them all in the office and fully caught up with all incoming mail, so I paid by credit card using old-fangled fax technology. Yep, Irish mail is slow, but US use of fax and paper check indicates banking technologies could stand to be updated. The envelope arrive a couple days later, and the folks at Virginia DPOR very conscientiously mailed my paper check back to me. I got it a week ago.

Today, I discovered a new license in my postbox, complete with correct and current address. I’m delighted to have it in safely hand!

A new wave in conferences: Green and Inclusive via online options

This blog post shares ideas from a breakout “coffee chat” at the May 14th 2020 Big EER Meet Up, hosted by UCL with sponsors including REEN and TU Dublin. Our breakout session asked: Can we make future conferences greener and more equitable by providing online participation options?

It may be of use to people planning conferences for engineering education, engineering education research (EER), and beyond.

Title slide listing speakers for the coffee chat.

Shannon Chance initiated this coffee chat due to her concern for reducing the environmental impacts of conference attendance. Being part of the Marie Curie network (MCAA-UK) had made her aware of the scholarly paper on “Evaluating features of scientific conferences: A call for improvements” by Sarabipour et al (2020). This paper formed the basis of discussion. Shannon feels particularly compelled to develop viable solutions as she is the Chair of the Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN) that coordinates the bi-annual Research in Engineering Education Symposium (REES). REES 2021 is to be held in Perth, and REES 2023 is scheduled for Hubli, India. Although Shannon is passionate about bringing the global community of engineering education researchers together and helping build EER capacity, she’s concerned that so few can be involved in REES due to cost and distance. She recognizes economic inequality of access to the physical event as well as the environmental toll related to academic travel.

This coffee chat was intended to be informal. It was facilitated by:

  • Dr. Shannon Chance – Chair of REEN, from TU Dublin and UCL
  • Dr. Valquíria Villas-Boas – REEN Board Member, from the Universidade de Caxias do Sul
  • Dr. Inês Direito, from University College London
  • Dr. Carlos Efrén Mora from Universidad de La Laguna

The overall event was globally supported and attended. This graphic lists the co-sponsoring organizations:

Logos.jpg
 (Intense)

The session abstract explained:

Through informal discussion, participants will share experiences of online conference participation, its benefits and drawbacks, and explore how non-pandemic EER conferences could adapt to include rich and rewarding participation for those who can’t physically attend. We will explore recommendations recently published by Sarabipour et al (2020) who believe “Many meetings could still be improved significantly in terms of diversity, inclusivity, promoting early career researcher (ECR) networking and career development, venue accessibility, and more importantly, reducing the meetings’ carbon footprint.” This non-reviewed paper examined “over 260 national and international academic meetings in various disciplines for features of inclusivity and sustainability” and its authors “propose solutions to make conferences more modern, effective, equitable and intellectually productive for the research community and environmentally sustainable for our planet.” With such enthusiastic participation in recent online EER seminars, could EER possible lead the way?

Several resources are available for attendees. Anyone with interest can access them:

A very diverse group attended this coffee chat. We briefly describing introduced ourselves as, for instance:

  • A teacher of engineers
  • I like to work in teams
  • Was on the organizing committee for a conference transitioned to virtual last month
  • I am planning/organizing a conference in pre-college engineering
  • An architect
  • I’m current president of the Student Platform for Engineering Education Development (SPEED) where I found out how passionate I’m about Engineering Education 🙂
  • I consider myself a citizen of the world. I have lived in 4 countries and 7 different cities, and my family has 3 different nationalities.
We had about 17 attendees in all–good turn out for such a serious topic.

We started by asking participants to take a minute to type into the chat about an enjoyable experience you’ve had in EER virtual learning recently, or provide a short reflection about being a “virtual” or a “face-to-face” person.

  • Virtual conferences are great for being able to attend with less time & money commitment. However, we need better ways to meet people at virtual conferences.
  • I love teaching on a chalkboard! I miss being in the classroom with my students. I am enjoying the interactions that I have with students during virtual lectures, but it feels like the balance of control is much more strongly with me, and I have to remember to give students space to contribute the disruptions that are more natural in the classroom.
  • I loved this [online Big EER] conference!
  • Easy access to EER community across the world. I have loved attending session that are open ended questions about how we navigate online teaching and learning, and everyone can share what they have been doing.
  • I find that being a virtual participant is more environmentally friendly by avoiding air travel. it would also be easier to attend more events than I would in person.
  • Current time is forcing us to adapt quite rapidly to the virtual context, it is important to make the most out of this experience.
  • I prefer being a face to face person; I am more of a “face-to-face” person because I like to see people’s reactions and smiles.
  • I’ve enjoyed getting together with architects and engineers for informal chat.
  • I participated od EDUCON 2020 and I had a great experience participating in workshops.
  • I’ve had more productive and enjoyable small group meetings with my pastoral supervises since lockdown – better than when they are physically squashed together in my quite small office.
  • I enjoyed getting to know a larger group of people (and new topics) in EER that otherwise it would not be possible.
  • I enjoyed being able to meet persons from very different backgrounds and cultures.
  • Many of the most positive and engaging online experiences I have had, have been since lockdown.
  • It’s been nice to travel the world from the comfort of my house while enjoying engineering education research.
  • I’ve been very impressed with how smoothly it has run, and how easy to participate.
  • During this Corona crisis period I have had the opportunity to attend conferences, webinars that I would not have been able to attend in person in a normal period.
  • Last Dec the SEFi working group on ethics organized a two day workshop that integrated online participants in all sessions: online presentations from the team of Virginia Tech (Diana Bairaktarova & Tom Sealy), Q&As taking questions from online participants, mixed breakout tables with both in person and online participants. The workshop had 60% in person participants 40% online participants.
  • Easy access to EER community across the world. I have loved attending session that are open ended questions about how we navigate online teaching and learning and everyone can share what they have been doing.
  • This experience today has been great – lovely to feel connected to people and conversations that I would normally be far away from.
  • Also have been thankful for the opportunity to attend conferences/meetings that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to due to my reluctance to be away from home.
  • Yes, you can “attend” many more conferences in the same time and less expense.
  • Also much more awake for conference sessions (sometimes getting a decent night’s sleep can be difficult in hotel rooms).
  • I think though that it is harder to build the connection with people who you don’t already “know”.
  • There was a webinar by the folks who ran LAK 20 online on two weeks’ notice. The policy was to have speakers present at a time appropriate to their timezone and upload immediately afterwards so that people in other timezones could see the talk.
  • And somehow interacting with my normal face-to-face colleagues via online seems almost natural – the connectivity is there.

Then, Shannon presented ideas from Sarabipour et al (2020), who say:

Science is a global endeavour and we as scientists have the responsibility to make conferences more affordable, environmentally sustainable, and accessible to researchers constrained by geographical location, economics, personal circumstances or visa restrictions.

Sarabipour et al (2020)

There’s a need to modernize and to improve: 

  • Diversity
  • Inclusivity
  • Career development and networking, especially for early career researchers (ECRs) 
  • Venue accessibility
  • Environmental impact, carbon footprint (Sarabipour et al, 2020)

Many can’t travel, for example:

  • Early-career researchers
  • Researchers from young labs and low- to middle-income countries 
  • Junior principal investigators (Sarabipour et al, 2020)


There is inequitable access regarding:

  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Health and mobility
  • Geographical backgrounds
  • Career stage (Sarabipour et al, 2020)

Geographical inequity:

  • Visa inequity
Maps in the paper by Sarabipour et al (2020) provide a visual comparison of Germany, Iran, Argentina, and South Africa–green you can go without a visa, grey you must purchase a visa.
  • Travel requires resources: time, physical exertion, and family management, as well as funding.
  • “The less wealthy subsidize the expenses of the speakers, who usually attend scientific meetings free of charge.”
  • Registration fees can be steep and “Large conferences are often hosted in expensive cities as there are many accommodation options for large crowds, while conferences in more affordable locations are typically smaller in size.” Food often costs more there, too!
  • “Women and researchers from racial and ethnic groups, who are under-represented in various fields, are the least likely to be offered opportunities to speak at meetings in their discipline”.
  • “The experience of presenting at meetings for early career researchers (ECRs) and minorities who attend has not improved appreciably”.
  • Digital conferences and discussion forums can, in fact, serve to assist communication between early career and senior researchers since writing a comment or question in a forum can feel less intimidating than approaching an established scholar in person.” (Sarabipour et al, 2020)

Environmental Toll: CO2 emissions

  • “Global aviation as a country ranks among the top 10 emitters”
  • “Conference attendance represents 35% of a researcher’s footprint
This was one of four maps provided in Sarabipour et al (2020). For one person, “Flying from Perth, Australia to London, United Kingdom and back for the annual Immuno-Oncology summit 2020 generated about 3,153 kg (3.47 tons) of CO2. There are 109 countries where the average person produces less CO2 in a year”. It’s equal to a full year’s emissions of all the brown areas on this map. This is the same path that Inês and I plan to take to Perth if we are lucky enough to attend REES 2021.

Participants commented:

  • This financial impact will be exacerbated in the current economic climate.
  • That’s a great point @Shannon. We’re teaching Sustainable Development Goals, but attending conferences can have a huge negative impact.

A participant from the US queried:

  • The “environmental impact” from a single conference is miniscule.
  • Of course, this assumes that you believe that CO2 emissions are harmful …
  • We need a better way to “meet” people in online venues.

The last point gained support from other participants:

  • Agree – it’s difficult to do accidental networking/meeting in online conferences – tend to stick to talking to people you already know/recognise.
  • I agree.
  • Absolutely. Many interesting conversations/networking happens in less structured settings – coffee breaks, etc. How can we ‘create’ these opportunities online?

Shannon shared some Recommendations from Sarabipour et al (2020) that could apply in EER:

  • Replace in-person national and international meetings with more ground-based travel to regional meetings
  • Hold small and large meetings fully online or connect regional conference hubs digitally by live-streaming the conference [possibility for REES 2021+EERN-UK/IE]
  • Make research results more accessible globally via virtual access [eg, REEN database] and pre-printing
  • Foster digital networking by investing in relevant, immersive and interactive experiences [do more of these]
  • At physical conferences:
    • Stop generating junk (paper, souvenirs, badges)
    • Organize well-planned networking activities
    • Include public outreach & environmental clean-up (Sarabipour et al, 2020)
Graphic from Sarabipour et al (2020) of key considerations to take into account in planning any conference.

Next we discussed a question posed by Val: Why and how would making EER conferences greener impact you as an EER researcher?

  • Possibility to attend conferences via online would be very helpful for me as a researcher from SA without lots of funds – I would love to attend REEN 2021 but I don’t see how I’ll afford it.
  • Better access to far away and more conferences.
  • It would allow me to attend more conferences, since I wouldn’t normally fly to more than one conference per year for environmental considerations (would prefer not to fly at all).
  • Overall it would make easier to attend conferences if they are virtual. But also, it is easier to make connections in person.
  • Positive impact: more opportunities to attend events and meet people that I wouldn’t otherwise; ‘feel good’ reducing carbon footprint. Negative impact: human interactions are more challenging online.
  • With online conferences might see more female researchers participating, especially mothers with young kids who might find it difficult going away for a longer period of time.
  • I have never been to a REEN conference due to child care considerations, but I would definitely engage online.
  • Online conferences are less disruptive to teaching schedules – you can conduct your teaching and dip in and out of sessions.
  • Sometimes it’s difficult to physically travel to a conference fitting it in around teaching commitments.
  • Is it easier now to justify virtual conferences and meetings? Now we need to do it due to the Covid.
  • But if we want to build networks we have to do that intentionally.
  • I would like for online events to have ‘online dinners’ ‘online coffee breakout rooms’ where people could chat by video in an informal manner or to continue the discussion following a talk.
  • I suspect online conferences would encourage me to take a “chance” on hearing talks from people/projects that I was not aware of before.
  • I think that having online events makes it possible to design smaller, more frequent gatherings rather than trying to do mega-events.
  • When I was in Australia for a year, they told me how much time it took to get anywhere!
  • Some thoughts here on ‘virtual socialising’ at a virtual conference here http://www.parncutt.org/virtualsocializing.html
  • I am certainly more interested in attending a one day event online than I would be to attend a weeklong online event.
  • Totally agree with [above comment]! ASEE, for example, can be overwhelming. The sessions you want to attend have limited places. The colleagues you want to reach/get in touch with are difficult to find in the crowd!
  • I think virtual conferences actually make the physical conference more productive – you can read someone’s research, interact with them online, and if there is traction, you can meet in a physical conference and this will be more productive as you already know each other.
  • Totally agree – mix of virtual & physical is ideal.
  • Yes!
  • I had a glass of wine before talking to Eric Mazur 🙂

Next we discussed the question: How could online participation options work in EER?

  • Can do online collaborative workshops with colleagues at different institutions easily. Definitely easier to attend than in real life but would be my personal preferences to have a hybrid somehow – but unsure if I am at a conference if I would be interested in doing the online version of that….
  • Maybe maintain a certain topic coffee break every x weeks. This way we can meet people with the same topic interests. (Like group writing meetings.)
  • You have to be much more strategic in designing interactions – you just can’t have as many talks in a day, or such quick turnaround between talks, as you would in a physical conference. Large amounts of parallel sessions would be disastrous, I think. Today was a good model – multiple time zones, and everyone speaking was a keynote.
  • The same way works face to face.
  • Combination of keynote sessions, workshops, and less structured formal sessions. Other idea would be to provide the option to join ‘interest’ groups.
  • Would be nice if live streaming/recording of sessions would become common practice. Enabling online participation for in-person conferences. For conferences which are solely online based, including online informal sessions.
  • I went to REES in Bogota, 2017. It was a great experience. The sessions were very interactive. Very different from those conferences where you have 10 minutes to present your paper, nobody asks you a question and that is the end. I think that the way the sessions were run could be done virtually too.
  • Another random idea I would like to share: There are conference apps (Whova at https://whova.com/virtual-conference-platform/, Conference4Me) that have networking features (you can meet other attendees with similar interests). This could easily be extended to online conferences. Also, these apps could be extended to accommodate attending multiple conferences at one time, so you could make up a personal schedule of events from both conferences.
  • Haven’t been to REES either – distance was the reason.
  • I think we need to add ‘bring your own drink session’ to these online events!
    • 🙂
    • BoD
    • Well… this event was, after all, called BEER 😉
    • I agree with you Ines. Also if there were options for people to set up their own private meet-ups within the conference software – just as we would do when we form small groups during tea breaks.
  • Actually the REES format forces you to engage. Perhaps this could be a feature that can be built into an online session.
  • It’s also good to share recordings later – many colleagues couldn’t join due to timezones.
  • If you have a gap between the session and discussion, you might lose people.
  • Based on the number of online attendants today, there is a real need for this type of events.

Shannon posed ideas of holding smaller, regional conferences in alignment to share resources and conversation virtually, for instance:

  • The winter meeting of EERN-UK & Ireland could be aligned with REES 2021 scheduled for December 5-8 in Perth.
  • REES 2021 could broadcast some presentations and virtual attendees (such as those gathered on another site, or in their own homes) could submit questions using, perhaps, Padlet as implemented successfully at REES 2019 in Cape Town.
    • Another alternative to Padlet is Jamboard.
    • Agreed!! I was thinking of Padlet yesterday!
    • @shannon, I agree totally
    • Shannon, its a good idea, I am thinking of two or more research groups in different places meeting, individually, and then sharing their discussions with others.

Shannon noted that we need to implement sliding scales for registration fee, or somehow recognize that people from lower-income countries can’t access many of our events physically. Comments on that included:

  • The conferences that still have big fees are those run by societies that are trying to support their ongoing expenses.  I have seen major conferences where the fee is as low as $30.
  • I’m attending an audio conference coming up virtually but the fee is still $175. Not sure why.
  • Educon2020 had different fees for people from low income countries.
  • ASEE, for example, makes a lot of money at the annual conference to support their headquarters and staff.  Despite the $500 registration fee, they are still taking a hit to their sustaining fund.

By audio, we noted that conferences that had to quickly shift online had made payments out, that would be lost.

  • That point about sunk costs is a good one. The conferences that have paid a lot of up-front fees are mostly this spring and summer. Moving into (northern) autumn, we should see some of the fees come down.
  • Speaking of broadening participation, a virtual conference is a great way to get your students into the academic community at an earlier stage in their education.

One participant said she was new to EER and, in attending this Big EER Meet Up, found this academic community very welcoming. She said she felt much more welcome that in her home/technical discipline. She asked what our experiences were.

  • Shannon described her transition from architecture (teaching in the States) to engineering education in Europe after she attended SEFI 2012 and experienced a very warm welcome.
  • @shannon, I agree with you. I am a physicist and EER community is much, much more receptive than the Physics community.
  • Agreed, also more receptive than Aerospace. Feels like a real community. Inclusive 🙂

The session lasted 1.25 hours, and it drew to a close, participants added:  

  • Great discussions everyone – sorry I can’t stay much longer (it’s supper time in this household) – looking forward to ongoing discussion about moving online!
  • I need to leave now, this was a good conversation. Thank you to everyone for organising and participating.
  • I will also ditch… fake SA winters are hard work! Thanks Shannon, Inês and Carlos 🙂
  • What a great day, and final session. Take care everyone.
    • Bye Diana! Great work!
    • Bye Diana. It was great to see you. And what a fantastic presentation!
    • Thank you ladies! hope we can meet soon. SEFI was also moved online this year.
    • I know. Very sad about that.
  • Diana asked: Why is it so difficult to close this meeting? I enjoyed it too much! If you organize any events or online talks including ethics, drop me an email please so I can include them in the SEFI newsletter!