The Symposium had always been one of my favourite CSEG events and something that I looked forward to every spring in Calgary. The formula works well I thought, a full day of short, interesting technical talks, usually on a broad range of geophysics related topics, lots of coffee time to network and catch up with friends, clients and old colleagues plus of course a healthy lunch to enjoy, washed down whilst listening to an entertaining lunchtime speaker. So, I had set my mind on getting involved and therefore toward the end of the 2019 event, I gave Laurie Weston my details and “threw my hat in the ring” by way of volunteering to join the 2020 event committee.
Over the next 11 or so months the committee met regularly to plan and report on progress for the spring 2020 Symposium event scheduled for April 9th, under the great guidance and direction of Nanna Eliuk. It was fun, myself and Alex Daum taking ownership of speaker liaison, we set out to organize a strong lineup of technical talks and I must admit that having the leverage of Lee Hunt as our chosen 2020 Honoree helped our cause immensely. From the rest of the committee Dave Nordin had done an outstanding job with garnering sponsors, Doug Clark had arranged for us to be back at the Hudson Loft which was beginning to feel like a natural home for the symposium. Rik Gray and Launey Newell had procured very strong registration numbers thanks to great support from companies like CNRL, Husky and Cenovus to name but a few. The clock was ticking down and with a few weeks to go “our” symposium was going to be the best one yet, we were all utterly convinced. All of us on the committee were especially excited to hear Amanda Halls lunchtime talk on a topic from outside of the traditional oil and gas sphere.
Everything was ready, what could go wrong?
We all know what happened next when COVID-19 stopped the world turning and suffice it to say the 2020 Symposium was swiftly and correctly “postponed” until hosting a 200+ in person event became viable again. Everything in our world went virtual, ZOOM became ubiquitous with “remote collaborative meetings” and that is how the 2020 committee stayed connected over the summer. We met as a committee, enjoying the warmth of a Canadian summer from all corners of BC and Alberta often with picture postcard mountains or lakesides as real live backdrops. We were not going to give up on “our” 2020 Symposium and it was sometime around mid-summer, after consultation with some key registration stakeholders, that we decided to bite the bullet and switch gears to a virtual Symposium which would be held over 2 consecutive mornings in mid-Sept.
There were many new challenges naturally and the committee worked hard to rearrange speakers, sponsors, attendees, and award ceremonies all to be ready to go live via ZOOM on Sept 15th and 16th.
So how did it go? how did it feel? did we pull it off? would we do it again?
I have asked Lee Hunt (Honoree), Rob McGrory (Technical speaker) and Doug Clark (Committee arrangements) to help me out here. Rather than a (my) singular perspective, I wanted to share a summary of thoughts from a variety of angles before I wrap up. Thanks guys.
A Virtual Honoree’s Perspective – Lee Hunt
There is little doubt that although they are being honored, the Honoree of each CSEG Symposium is most concerned that the day prove valuable and educational to the attendees. The value question was foremost on my mind when Nanna and the Symposium Committee first approached me to be this year’s Honoree and remained so right through the event. When COVID came to dominate our horizon, to affect how we met, worked and gathered, the question of educational value resonated alarmingly. There was never any question that I would participate in the event in whatever manner the Committee needed, but we likely all wondered how beneficial, how effective a COVID era virtual Symposium would be. Especially given our lack of history with such a new set of protocols.
It takes nothing more than lazy arrogance to say that virtual methods are the wave of the future, that they work as well as the old ways—better, maybe—and we should all get used to them. And we can be certain that we will take up and own the lessons and methods of virtual meetings and working that we have fine tuned during the COVID societal disruption. Adding new tools to our pedagogic and cooperative arsenal is both good and positive. But we remain human beings, and human beings crave contact, learn best and work best together, at least some of the time. Organization of any kind always fights the second law of thermodynamics and requires outside effort; organization of a new kind—and in opposition to the human condition—requires even more labor. Virtual events can work and be effective, but only at tremendous organizational thought and effort.
The 2020 CSEG Symposium was a great success because the Symposium Committee and CSEG staff worked hard to make it so. It was a great success because these people learned how to host a virtual event, thought about how the audience could be engaged, prepared speaker and audience polling questions ahead of time, learned new systems, rehearsed them and backed each other up. It worked because the speakers were willing to play along, rehearse and cooperate with a new protocol. It worked because the sponsors chose to still support the event. They came despite the changes, and they came in numbers we had never enjoyed before. The CSEG Symposium worked because the audience showed up and gave it a chance. It worked because we all wanted it to work and were willing to make the choice and pay the price in time and effort. If we human beings could sustain this level of cooperation across society, COVID would already be gone.
But how did it feel as an Honoree? The first thing I could feel was all the people working in the background. There was a big team carrying out systems checks before, during and after the Symposium. I could hear some of it. I could see Nanna Eliuk, the Symposium Chair, addressing the audience, while at the same time keeping an eye on questions and communications coming in on both her phone and a secondary laptop. Nanna was multitasking in a way I had not seen much before. She, like the rest of the Committee, was working hard, harder than the audience could see or know. The hub of activity in the background was palpable. Scott Reynolds gave a tribute talk, about me, which I worried would feel awkward. But it didn’t. Scott did the best thing he could have done and spoke about the people I had worked with during my career. It was a lovely career because of the good humor, good nature and technical acumen of so many others. Thank you, Scott, for being one of those people. I also spoke at the event. I gave a technical talk, and during the coffee breaks delivered readings from my novels, Dynamicist and Knight in Retrograde. Being a virtual event, I could not read the audience, could not make eye contact with anyone to see if the ideas or words were finding resonance. I don’t really know how well my contribution went over, and I imagine that this was the same experience for all of the speakers at least to some degree. I also could not shake the hands of the other speakers, many of whom are good friends that I wanted to see. And although I was more than happy to read excerpts from my books during the coffee breaks, I missed being able to mix and talk with everyone who attended. On a positive note, Nanna asked me to sit with her during the question periods as a kind of back-up or cohost. That was fun. Nanna was great to work with and really brought the day to life for me. That little bit of live human interaction made the event as far as my experience went. By the second morning of the Symposium, it seemed like our rapport had become very strong and we worked together to try to tie and reinforce the things the speakers were trying to communicate.
How was it to be an Honoree and the 2020 CSEG Symposium? It was an honor.
Regards, Lee Hunt
A Speakers Perspective – Rob McGrory
Being asked to be a speaker at the CSEG Symposium was a privilege, especially considering this year’s honoree. Lee is arguably the first honoree from my generation. Lee had been in industry a few years before I had I arrived in Calgary. It did not take me long to notice that this young (at the time) geophysicist was full of energy and creativity. So, when I was asked to contribute a talk to honor Lee’s remarkable career, I accepted and endeavored to produce a talk worthy of Lee’s respect.
The challenges that 2020 has thrown at our community and our industry have capped off five years of (dare I say the most over used word in 2020) “unprecedented” dislocation. I am certain every reader of the RECORDER is aware of the attrition that has been experienced by the CSEG since 2015. We all know someone, colleagues, friends, and esteemed professionals that have lost their jobs. In fact, the challenges we have faced have not been experienced in generations. Western society has debatably entered a recession and economic dislocation not seen since the great depression, initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic. So, it came as no surprise when the Symposium was postponed in April due to the circumstances that we are all too familiar with.
What has impressed me so much was the dedication and resolve demonstrated by Nanna Eliuk and her team of volunteers and their motivation to not allow the pandemic to derail this event. Postponed yes! Cancelled no!!
The entire cadre of Symposium volunteers rallied and managed, under less than ideal circumstance, to successfully reschedule and re-organize the Symposium as a two-day event. This complete rethinking of the Symposium demonstrated, intellectual agility, real-time creativity, just in time problem solving, entrepreneurship, but most of all a tremendous sense of community. In other words, the Symposium and for that matter GeoConvention are so central to what we are as a community that COVID-19 “be dammed” – it is going to happen. In many ways what better way to honor a person who throughout his career has demonstrated many, if not all these same attributes. I cannot think of a better way to honor Lee Hunt and I was privileged to be part of it.
The resilience and dedication to achieving objectives are the hallmark of the geophysical profession, and the way in which the Symposium was able to happen, serves in my opinion, to underscore our resilience as a community that I am personally proud to call myself a member of. Congratulations to all involved, and again, congratulations to this year’s honoree for his tremendous contribution to our society, and of course to a remarkable career.
Regards, R.J. (Rob) McGrory P.Geoph
A Symposium committee members perspective – Doug Clark (Arrangements)
The 2020 CSEG Symposium was my fourth as a volunteer committee member and I must admit, I thought it would go smoothly since I was very familiar with its planning and execution – after all, I had served in speaker liaison, Chairperson, and Past-Chairperson roles. This time around, I was handling the arrangements – most of the physical elements of the meeting (including venue, meals, display materials, day-of logistics, etc.). I was building on the success of previous years and couldn’t imagine that anything could go too wrong – that is until the threat of COVID-19 began to emerge.
Not surprisingly, none of the committee members had any experience with a global pandemic but just four short weeks prior to the Symposium, that’s what landed in our laps. I remember with crystal clarity, the discussions we (Nanna Eliuk, Jim Racette, and I) began having as speculation of “… a Calgary outbreak...” grew: What health protocols would be needed? What would the implications be if we had to cancel or postpone? How long would the outbreak last? Could we hold the Symposium virtually? Well, within a matter of days, it became increasingly clear that a large, in-person event was not going to be a viable option as government emergency measures started to be announced – on March 12th, the CSEG officially notified its membership that the Symposium was postponed. I commend all the Symposium Committee members for the urgent and considerable behind the scenes legwork that was done once the postponement decision was taken. Being so close to the Symposium date, all the moving parts that comprise the meeting needed to be addressed and paused.
In a very real sense, this committee organized two complete Symposiums for 2020; the physical, in-person version that had just come to a halt, and the reconstituted version that was destined to become virtual. As we have all undoubtedly seen in 2020, many aspects of our work and family lives have become virtual – fortunately, the technologic tools have developed to meet and facilitate those virtual needs to a large extent. And by “virtual”, I really mean “on-line”. Initially a largely unknown application, Zoom has emerged as a key on-line meeting tool – the committee was fortunate to have access to the Zoom Webinar tool through the CSEG office. A huge debt of gratitude goes out to Alyssa Middleton at the CSEG office for her help in getting us set-up with Zoom – and all while very pregnant with twins no less! As a committee we worked diligently to best translate the physical Symposium into a Zoom on-line form. We really focused on some of the fundamental issues: How do our incredible sponsors derive value in this new format? How do we engage and stimulate the audience? How can we maximize speaker/audience interactions and ideas exchange? How do we pull this off in real-time?
So, we all rolled-up our sleeves and tackled these challenges head-on, looking broadly for ideas and examples of what others had done in this brave new virtual world – a world that has become very familiar now for most of us. I was pleased to see that our work paid off and the two-day, morning session version of the Symposium went off without any significant hitches. Spanning April 2019 through September 2020, this has undoubtedly been an unusually long-haul effort for this committee. We have received positive and useful feedback from the many attendees which will be used to inform the 2021 CSEG Symposium – in whatever form that ends up being. As has been said many times during this pandemic: “Together, we will get through this.” and for the organizing committee of the 2020 Symposium, this was a case in point.
Regards, Doug Clark, P.Geoph (Recently retired)
Thank you, Lee, Rob and Doug, for providing your three different perspectives on the first virtual symposium.
All four of us agree that we achieved a couple of mornings of excellent educational stimulation in this adapted environment and that as a CSEG community the symposium was a great success. The only downside being the loss of the “human” connection that we are all still feeling every day and probably will continue to do until we are all jabbed up and vaccinated, hopefully by next year and before the planned 2021 CSEG symposium event.
An especial thanks also goes out to all the ongoing sponsors who continue to support the symposium.
The event would also not be possible without the hard work each speaker committed to, to entertain and educate us.
I have volunteered again for the 2021 committee and the event is provisionally planned for Sept 12th with Marco Perez being the upcoming 2021 honoree. I do hope that we can be back in-person at “home” in the Hudson Lofts, I keep my fingers crossed. I also hope to see you there too.
Last thing, please keep a look out in early 2021 for upcoming communications regarding calls for abstracts, sponsors and registrations for the 2021 CSEG Symposium event.
Bye for now. Andy