Big Ideas, Small Talks

KristinaMJohnson

Kristina Johnson, CEO of Enduring Hydro and former undersecretary of Energy
(source: Public Domain)

Small talks are the bread and butter of graduate life. You know, those little pamphlets pinned to billboards across campus? Well, some of them don’t advertise an n’th tutoring service. They don’t advertise a social club, a new search engine or even a “Four year-old computer CHEAP!!!”. No, some of  these pamphlets advertise small talks, in rooms you didn’t even know existed, by people which the unassuming presentation belies their extraordinary background.

On Wednesday May 28th, the McGill Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design held one these conference talks on “Renewable Energy and the role of Engineers”. The talk was given by Kristina Johnson who was on campus to receive an honorary doctorate. She is an incredibly distinguished woman who held many prestigious positions, but who donned her engineering hat for the occasion. Well, that hat and the one of former undersecretary of Energy under Steven Chu during Barack Obama’s first term. Her role boiled down to this: she had to manage a 10.5 billion dollar portfolio of investments in renewable energy with the goal to reduce the United-States’ carbon emission by 83% based on 2005 emission levels by 2050. This is not a small feat.

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A lighter jacket, a lighter mood

Photo by Kristina Kasparian

Wasn’t it just yesterday when we were blogging about the new year and all the winter festivities Montreal had to offer? It seems that some of us have had our noses far too deeply buried in our thesis work and manuscripts to have fully grasped that spring is here! (Alternatively, it could very well be fright and denial, given that the months and seasons are rolling by at a much greater speed than that at which our research work is progressing).

Yup, it’s time for possibly the most drastic change of season of the year. We’re so used to winter that it takes a bit to notice the change. We start to see signs of it – often subtle – like a crocus peeking out of the still dry, leaf-covered, unturned winter soil. Another sure sign is when every single person around you has a bad cold and, try as you might to immunize yourself, it’s sadly only a matter of time until you catch it too. Other times, the signs are not subtle at all, but rather quite blatant – like this year’s 25 degree weather in the middle of March, throwing us off kilter as we dug out clothes that we usually only inaugurate in mid-June. Still, we know the sneaky tricks Montreal can play, and are reluctant to get our hopes up. “Is it spring?” we wonder, “are we done with our coats and boots for good?“, secretly bracing ourselves for that one last crazy snowfall that could very well blanket the whole town just in time for Easter. But waking up to a symphony of bird-calls in the morning, and watching the trees bud makes you feel pretty darn sure that the time has come to bid winter farewell. Soon enough, it’ll be summer in this glorious city.

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Everybody needs energy

 

Note: my graduate research is focused on switchgrass, so conflict of interest alert!

I’ve been musing a lot about energy lately, so I finally decided to muse it all into a word file and this is what happened:

 

Left to right: an early steam engine, oil platform, nuclear plant, the future. Sources: Wikimedia commons

Energy could be the biggest issue in the world today. Its tentacles creep into nearly every sphere of public policy. In the era of climate change obsession, the sources of the energy we use to build and power our societies are under increasing scrutiny. The question is, how can we imagine meeting the planet’s insatiable demand without stifling ourselves in the process?

 

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“I’m so tired!”

Photo source: http://gbengaadebayo.com/fighting-fatigue/

If these words have been escaping your mouth much-too-frequently these days, you’re not alone. It’s a tricky time, December — not only the end of the term, but also the end of the year. For those of us taking courses, it’s crunch-time now with final papers, projects and presentations. It’s also a popular period for conference submission deadlines (hence lots of data analyses, writing and then of course spending more time editing than writing in order to meet the impossibly low word-limit). It’s also a time for wrapping up all those things that you expected to be done with by now, things that you don’t want to roll over to the new year. Now begin the perhaps-satisfying, perhaps-stress-provoking “what have I done this year?” reflections, along with the “what are my priorities for the new year?” reflections. In sum: lots of things to do, lots of reflections, not lots of time.

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