Link to USGS home page
Link to Water Resources Division home page

Water Resources Discipline

Research Seminar Series


Seminar Calendar

Live Seminar Webcast

Seminars on Streaming Video

Past Seminars

Seminar Coordinators: Past and Present

History: The Research Seminar Series Story
-as told by Ron Oremland

Directions and Information for Speakers

Maps and Directions

Links to other seminar sites:


Marine Geology

Volcano Hazards

Western Earth Surface Processes

Western Region Colloquium

Accessibility Statement

Privacy Statement




WRD Research Seminar Series History

-as 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...

The U.S. Geological Survey, Western Region Research Seminar Series URL is:
Contact Webmaster at:

Last modification: August 29, 2003