Saturday, July 15, 2017

Serendipity of Academic Travel

As an academic I travel a lot from conferences to giving invited seminars to living abroad in various countries when an exciting opportunity arises.

Travel helps to sustain that sense of wonder, which I believe is very important to overall creativity, including research, and to the enjoyment of life.

Of course, when one goes to conferences, gives talks, and holds visiting appointments at various universities, one gets to see people that one would expect to and this is in itself wonderful.

However, this blogpost is about the unexpected meetings, which make for pleasant conversations as well as memories, and help to make the world smaller and people closer.

For example, as readers of this blog know, for the past two weeks I have been in conferences in Europe.

One morning, while strolling for breakfast in Vienna, Austria, where I was attending and speaking at the EURO Humanitarian Operations (HOpe) conference, I came across the gentleman below.
Since I am a faculty member at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass I had to stop to talk to him. He is from Silicon Valley and his son had just graduated in May 2017 with his MBA from the Isenberg School. The Dad was proudly wearing his Isenberg garb that his son had given him. We chatted pleasantly about his son's experiences in our program and even about his favorite professors and activities while enrolled. The meeting made for a wonderful day being even brighter.

That weekend, when between a followup visit to the Vienna University of Economics and Business (which had been the venue for the EURO HOpe conference) and travels to the next conference in Kalamata, Greece (which I had co-organized), it was time to visit a new country. A short train ride from Vienna and we were in Bratislava, Slovakia, where my husband and I enjoyed the eastern European cuisine, crossed the New Bridge over the Danube by foot and then headed to climb up to the castle in the photo below.
At the castle, we were stopped by a gentleman who had noticed my husband's college cap.
He had also graduated from my husband's alma mater, Lafayette College, and was on a European holiday with his family. He works at the SEC. We exchanged business cards.

Now back at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, where I am a Summer Fellow (and had been a Science Fellow in 2005-2006), I had the pleasure of seeing another Summer Fellow - Dr. Elaine Chew. She and I, we believe, are the only two Radcliffe Fellows ever  to have PhDs with a specialty in Operations Research. Moreover, she and I are academic relatives in that her doctoral dissertation advisor at MIT, Professor Georgia Perakis, had the same dissertation advisor at Brown University as I did - Professor Stella Dafermos, so, technically, I am Elaine's academic aunt.
Amazingly, last year, at this time, which is the Trinity Term, I was a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College in beautiful Oxford, England. There were about a dozen Visiting Fellows at that time, representing different fields, including Dr.  Su Fang Ng, who was a Fellow with me at Radcliffe in 2005-2006! The photo below was taken in the garden at Oxford outside our offices.

And, the other evening, while taking a walk with my husband in the Harvard Square area, we were greeted by a big Hello! It was a neighbor of ours, whose family lives on the same street in Amherst, MA, as we do. He is now a postdoc at Harvard University. It was wonderful to catch up since we had not spoken with him since he began his doctoral studies at Dartmouth!
This week, we will be off to the IFORS conference in Quebec City, Canada, where thousands of operations researchers from around the globe will be presenting their latest work. We will see whom we meet because of the serendipity of academic travel.