Messed up

Sometimes I mess up, but it cannot always easily be avoided.

At some point in the past, I organized a field trip to the German island of Norderney for graduate students at the University of Twente. I was also involved in some of the teaching surrounding this trip. It had to do with wave action, coastal erosion and coastal defenses.

So I arranged a bus which was to depart from the university campus early in the morning and booked a hotel room for myself close to the university campus, which is at a drive of several hours from Amsterdam. It was late fall or winter. The evening before the trip, I was on the phone until the middle of the night with a party in the States. That was not part of my plan! After that call, I still had to traverse the country, but that went relatively well.

Because of roadworks, however, the campus temporarily was not signposted. I didn’t know that, and I was not familiar enough with the local roads as I usually took the train to travel to this campus. So I drove past it the following morning, ending up in the next town before I knew it. That meant that we missed the intended early ferry crossing to the island. It sucked!

Once upon a time in Amsterdam

In the past, mail servers probably used to break down more often than they do these days and one there was that time when one of my clients’ university’s mail server broke down. It took one or more days to get it up and running again.

My client in the States was about to submit a grant to NSF and wanted a final editing round, but was unable to send me the materials because of that server breakdown. The grant submission deadline was on Monday at noon, in the US. The material finally arrived on Saturday afternoon.

I buckled down. On Sunday, I worked till about 6 in the morning Dutch time, sent the last bits to the US, and took a shower. Then I headed to the airport because I happened to have a day trip to Spain booked for that day.

(The client received a partial grant. NSF found the plan too ambitious to award it full funding. Kudos to that particular client, who went on to accomplish amazing feats.)

Once upon a time in the east

Prepare to chuckle!

For the University of Twente, I once cooked up a 2D modeling exercise for some of their graduate students, together with UTwente’s RenĂ© Buijsrogge. It concerned a fictitious tidal river in which engineering works were about to take place. I wanted to tweak the parameters in such a way that the students got to see the influence those parameters have. It can make the difference as to whether a house gets flooded or not.

Now, keep in mind that none of this was part of my own more chemically oriented university training, but with a good mind and a good enough background, you can tackle other areas as well. That is what I often do, and enjoy.

Anyway, here is the thing. I couldn’t get the numbers to work out! Oh, how frustrating! I am sure I felt incredibly stupid at the time. I am sure that is also what I looked like to one or two of the folks at the University of Twente for a little while, with their physics and civil engineering backgrounds.

What was the problem? My calculator’s batteries were running low, and instead of alerting me to that, it was producing bogus results. With new batteries, everything suddenly added up again. Phew!

It all worked out perfectly well. I enjoyed teaching the practicals, and after one of the practicals, in the elevator, one of the students told me how much she liked the practicals and how well they matched the theoretical material, taught before, and partly written by me.

This project was the result of having chatted with a friend of a friend at a birthday party.

Once upon a time in the Netherlands

Through my business SmarterScience, I offered presentation skills training before the idea that university scientists might want this became popular. This was after I joined Toastmasters of The Hague (TMOTH) to brush up on my own presentation skills. Discovering Toastmasters was the result of a conversation with Lencola Sullivan at a Dutch-American Friendship celebration of the Amsterdam American Business Club.

One of TMOTH’s members was an Australian guy who used to train Shell staff. I’d noticed Shell staff’s impressive skills at a recent event of women geoscientists’ organization Gaia. So I approached him, as communication is a crucial part of science. Together, we designed a series of workshops targeted at scientists.

No university ever benefited from the high-level training SmarterScience offered in the area of communication skills, but on the day when I had just decided to discontinue those workshops, NATO C3 called.

NATO also employs scientists and they wanted their people to radiate more enthusiasm. I called Pinkney Froneberger of ICTB and asked him to provide those workshops because my Australian associate was in Turkey at the time and Pinkney does a fantastic job. I knew Pinkney from a Berenschot workshop on dealing with cultural differences and then we discovered that were also both members of the Amsterdam American Business Club.

That’s the kind of networking that I love!