I have two issues I want to discus in this column. The first is very personal and the second is about the future of noise control conferences.
I just learned yesterday that my former major professor, Dave Tree from Purdue University, died. His obituary is in this issue. When I decided to go back to school to get my PhD, I looked at a number of schools. Frankly, the time I spent with Dave during my visit to Purdue was a major factor in deciding to go there. Dave spent the better part of a day with my wife and me. He was just as concerned about us finding a good place to live in West Lafayette and possible employment for my wife as he was about showing me the facilities of Herrick Labs. During my time at Purdue, I never felt like I was Dave’s student. I was always his colleague. The opportunities he gave me to do things I never thought possible stick with me today. I learned more about life and how to conduct myself in the world from Dave than I did about engineering acoustics. He was a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His humility and faith were something I carry with me today. While I was at Purdue and since, I have often had people ask about my major professor and be disappointed or express regrets that I was not able to work with one of the more famous professors there. I did wonder about that when I first started my graduate studies. However, I soon learned and still believe I was especially lucky. Dave taught by the example of his life and he always put my learning and growth ahead of his reputation. I will miss him greatly.
The other issue I wanted to discuss is the future of conferences. There is a lot of talk about virtual conferences and allowing people to remotely log in to participate in technical sessions at conferences. There are a number of issues around such exercises. Some are concerned that offering the ability to attend conferences virtually will reduce attendance and negatively impact the experience of in-person networking and similar activities at conferences. Establishing a fee structure for virtual attendees is also a concern. Perhaps the more fundamental issue is the impact of the key aspects of technical sessions—the exchange of information. Can the virtual attendee interact with the presenter in a useful way? Asking questions through an Internet link may be difficult or impossible in some situations. One could contact an author by e-mail or other means after the session, but this would not replace the experience of catching the person in the hall or at the end of the session for a talk about some key issue. There are also the issues of not being able to network in the hallway or meet with the vendors in the exhibition. This has to be weighed against the convenience of participating in a session from your home or office.
There are definitely some pros and cons to virtual conference attendance. At a time when many have commented that there are simply too many conferences, virtual sessions are a possibility that needs to be considered. I would very much like to hear from you. What do you think? Would you take advantage of virtual attendance? What would be the positives or negatives for you? I look forward to your feedback.
Jim Thompson, PhD, PE, INCE Bd. Cert