Thursday, 26 April 2012

Ducking out

So, what does the Director of SAMS really do? I could give you a boringly long list of responsibilities but I don’t want to send you to sleep on the keyboard (I have done that more than once – woke up on page 1013 of a document I was writing and had to delete 998 pages of fghytrkj etc). I start the week with plans; a schedule and a list of Outlook tasks with little red and pink flags plus some notions about longer term aspirations. Then reality happens. As John Lennon put it “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”. The email starts pinging in the manner of sonar sounds on WW2 films like The Cruel Sea. A smile, a frown, an OMG, a ‘THIS REALLY IS URGENT’ message from Lorna, my ever-patient PA, and new little red flags appear and old ones get re-prioritised.

Then a whirlwind hits the office. The Cabinet Secretary for Education (Scotland’s Minister of Education), Michael Russell is here with a small entourage. He takes a few sips from the coffee proffered by Lorna, asks some incisive questions (I like his questions because they make you think on your feet) and the whirlwind has gone. Tim (my Research Fellow who does most of the work on KnowSeas) is hovering with a bunch of graphs and a meaningful twinkle and slinks in before I can make excuses. Two minutes of small talk and down to business and he goes away with more work and more unanswered questions. “It’s the UHI grubbledubble committee” says Lorna (there are so many of them that I won’t bother with the real name) and I trail through to our boardroom VC with another bunch of papers and my laptop (a few more emails during lulls). The VC is magical because I can simultaneously see and talk with colleagues from as far away Shetland, Stornaway, Perth, Inverness and Timbuktu (well, I could if it hadn’t have been occupied by rebels). Constructing a university out of disparate colleges in such distant places is an awesome task and it’s hardly surprising that a lot of debate is needed; but it is happening and students are already getting degrees.

Ah, time for lunch; we have good food in SAMS and the best café view in the world; I head for the crowded table with bar chairs to join the random lunchtime conversations that make the whole place tick. Turbulent flow, tunicates, wind farms, babies, kayak trips, rock bands, DIY projects. Lunch over, I’m trying to write a talk for a meeting in Brussels tomorrow but the b***** pinging starts again and there are ‘must do’s’. OK, I’ll finish it at home. Happily, Lorna is already dealing with the routine stuff. Then there is a meeting of the directorate team. We meet once a week to coordinate our frazzled schedules and plan the next meeting of the SAMS Executive (the main engine of our management). My deputy, Ken, is responsible for operations; not easy with such a range of activities and facilities. Mark is the Associate Director for Research, Tracy is AD for Business Development and, until recently, Fran was AD for Finance. It’s great to have such a professional team and we work well together. And it’s all good humoured (otherwise we would be totally mad).

Four forty-five and no bad news emails. The ones about Government budget cuts tend to come late in the day like weary pigeons released from a turret in Whitehall a day earlier. But today is a ‘no news is good news’ day – and the sun is shining. Ben Cruachan has a light glazing of snow like the icing sugar on grandma’s angel buns before the era of profligate cup cakes. Somebody from NASA has sent me an email about their ocean animations and I let the rather large files download while I wander off for a cup of tea, chatting with one of my PhD students en route.

When I return, I run the ‘Perpetual Oceans’ and the Gulf Stream. It is mesmerising. In just a few minutes, it is possible to visualise the entire surface circulation of the world’s oceans and there is a fantastic animation of the North Atlantic Current showing the heat flow. The myriad eddies disperse heat as the current drifts across the Atlantic, eventually warming the northern European shores. I learned about this in primary school, secondary school and doing my degree in oceanography but the full impact only hits me now when the whole thing is so graphic. And my admiration for our glider team who manage to navigate our slow moving glider through this incredibly complex system in real time. Well worth spending time on this; the ‘wow’ factor is inevitable so invite some friends round with a bottle of wine…

And as a postscript, the tekkies tell me that I could change the email pings for something less intrusive. I did the same on my iPhone by changing the ring tone to quacking ducks. Last year when I was out sailing, I woke up early in the morning desperately searching for my phone. But they were real ducks…

1 comment:

  1. Wow! How do you find time for all of that AND writing a blog? :)