(Alternate title: I Would Write Something Profound About the Highs and Lows of the “Academic Lyfe” if I Weren’t So Dang Tired From Traveling.)
The reason for my trip to Greece was a conference that I found sometime last semester, hosted by the International Water Association (of which I am now a student member). The symposium’s official topic was “Water, Wastewater and the Environment: Traditions and Culture.” The themes of the conference focused on looking at the water management technology and infrastructure of the past as a way of learning lessons for the future.
Overall, the symposium was… somewhat subpar. The organization of the weekend was not great to say the least, and I felt like a bit of an outsider since I’m only a student and I wasn’t presenting a paper (as I learned that probably 90% of the attendees were). I got tired really quickly of having to explain to everyone that I met that no, I was not presenting, and yes, I am only a pre-master’s student on a gap year. (And also yes, I am from America, even though, yes, my name tag says Germany.)
However, I was able to hear a few very interesting presentations, meet some friendly people, and see some of Patras, Greece’s 3rd largest city.
My nerdy little Plan II heart was definitely right at home during a few moments of the conference. The first key-note speaker (and the only one who did not read verbatim off of cards or fail to show up) gave a great talk about the detriment of “environmentalist” pathos to the task of natural resource provision and conservation, which I thought was on point.
In the last session of the first day, I heard a talk from a PhD student at the University of Patras about using mathematical optimization algorithms to solve political conflicts about water allocation! Can you even imagine? What an exciting concept!
The first talk I heard on the second day was a wide, sweeping history of wastewater management trends and developments throughout history–nearly 4,000 years of history!–leading to today’s most cutting-edge treatments, like a reverse-osmosis procedure that Singapore is starting to implement as they attempt to create a self-sufficient water supply!
The woman who presented on the history of wastewater management was the only other American I met during the weekend, a college professor from Connecticut. (Apparently, she’s originally from near Scranton, PA, probably within 15 minutes of where my grandparents live… Die Welt ist ein Dorf!) We also had some mutual colleagues/acquaintances/people I met once when they were guest speakers in a class I was taking, from Austin, so that was cool.
I really enjoyed talking with her because she was basically the only person all weekend who actually understood me, maybe because of the cultural differences between American and European academia. The idea of changing fields, like I’m currently in the process of doing, is almost unheard of in Europe, in my experience. So it was encouraging to talk to someone who thought it was great (instead of totally weird) that I, a rookie, would attend a conference just out of curiosity!
(Also, I think Europeans have a different conception of space. I, as an American, wanted to take the opportunity to travel to Greece while I am already in Europe, because who knows when I would otherwise get to go? To someone who lives in Europe, Dresden to Patras is a loooong way to go for a conference you aren’t presenting at. Which, you know, they have a point. But the city of Houston is probably bigger than all of Greece so it’s all relative.)
Despite the frustrations of the weekend, like dealing with Greek lack of organization and having to miss Mass on Sunday, the conference gave me a lot to think about regarding my future career, and getting to hear the talks actually energized me to finish strong with my research this year! I’m toying with the idea of presenting my research at the DAAD conference I’m attending in July… we’ll see how that goes!