Research Seminar Series History
told by Ron Oremland
The most "interesting" parts of the story
are the most unflattering to the USGS at the time. The seminars
were few and far between (about 2 per year), and were very stodgy
and formal. In addition to the speaker, they were also composed
of a 3 member panel of senior-level scientists that each got about
5 minutes to present formal criticisms of the speaker's presentation,
which the speaker was expected either to rebut or plead a "mea
culpa." The seminar was ponderous, the process took well longer
than an hour, and was stilted and boring. It functioned more like
an inquisitional tribunal slated on the humiliation, confession,
and summary execution of the speaker rather than an opportunity
for a scientist to enthusiastically air one's research to their
colleagues. I only remember Sam Luoma giving a talk, which to his
credit he did rather well, but he has always walked with a slight
limp ever since.
Frank Trainer, the WRD Branch Chief at the time, noted that there
was a distinct lack of volunteers (both internal and external) to
give these seminars. At the time I had just emerged in his eyes
from being an annoying and obnoxious dissident to someone on the
professional rise, so he ventured to ask my opinion. He confessed
that there was something wrong with the seminar series because there
were no volunteers to give one, or much of an audience present even
on the rare instance when one was offered. He inquired of me what
I would do to correct this farce. I suggested that its format be
changed from that of a firing squad, to a simple academic model
based on open dialog. Just give a speaker a blackboard, overhead
or slide projector and let them talk for about 45-50 minutes on
their favorite topic. Leave 10-15 minutes for questions at the end.
People with additional questions can ask after the talk or go to
lunch with the speaker. Absolutely do away with a "tribunal"
review of any sort.
I told Frank that it was really no big deal to accomplish this,
just do away with a stupid and intimidating format and you'll get
plenty of speakers and a good audience.
For my outspoken heresey of the status quo, I was made the first
seminar series organizer and asked various colleagues from inside
and outside the USGS to give talks. I think we had 2 - 3 per month.
It was no big deal and it worked rather well. After my running it
for a few years Ken Bencala took it over.
That's all folks...