Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Looking back at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego

Side note - I don’t think I have to give much background to what I will be writing about. If you clicked the link with its distinct title, you probably already know. Usually we write this blog in third person, mostly because it's administered by a handful of us and we like to try and keep things serious and sciency, but for the purposes of this post, I will just write it as “me”.

It has been almost 40 years since the great physicist Richard P. Feynman wrote: “In physics the truth is rarely perfectly clear, and that is certainly universally the case in human affairs. Hence, what is not surrounded by uncertainty cannot be the truth.” I feel like this quote captures how I feel, so much so that I might as well begin with that. 
Presenting my chapter poster.

So about “me” – my name is Elza Linina, you may or may not know that for the past year I have been a part of the student chapter board. For me it has been full of surprises and unexpected events. But for now we’ll focus on the annual SPIE Optics + Photonics conference in San Diego, CA. As you can probably tell by now – I was the one awarded with chapter officer travel grant and had the opportunity to go.

The beautiful San Diego.
Due to plane scheduling I was to arrive in San Diego a day early so I hadn't planned to encounter any other student chapter members. However, I was a 5 hour flight away from San Diego – still in Washington DC – when someone approached me and asked if I was heading to the SPIE conference.  I guess physics students with their thick glasses and large poster tubes can be easily recognized. Turned out they were also heading to the same hotel to stay for the time of the event which was a huge relief, because honestly – I hate taking the cab by myself. So that's how I met the first person that within less than a week I would call a good friend.

A dragon sculpture on display at
the San Diego Museum of Man.
In all fairness I think the nature here in Latvia is quite something and that our capital (especially the Old Town) is beautiful. But I must admit that I found San Diego very alluring. It felt unusual to see palm trees instead of the wonted oaks or pines. Since I was there a day early I had the joy of exploring some of the museums as well as the famous Balboa Park itself. I was also surprised to see how many excellent pieces of the best-known European artists The San Diego Museum of Art holds.

Optics outreach games 2015.
The day of Leadership Workshop arrived unexpectedly and I was feeling a little anxious in the morning. You can never imagine all the possible ways you could embarrass yourself in front of others (not that I lack confidence; just that representing the whole chapter as well as the only one from your country is a little flustering).  But it was more than I could have ever hoped for. I met so many lovely people and absolutely fell in love with Jean-luc Doumont's lectures. We discussed what a great leader is or isn't (and I will not give it away here because you have to be there to really understand). 

One of the poster sessions .
And from that point on it all went into this crazy swirl of early breakfasts, first-rate workshops, splendid posters, brilliant talks, magnificent lunches, cunning advice from professionals in the field and friendly dinners. I wish I could explain it somehow, but just like the quote I started this with – I must say the days seem a little surreal and uncertain when I recall them. But that is how I know it really happened.

On display at the exhibition.
 It feels like I spent an eternity with the people I met there – it could not have been just 4 breakfasts, we definitely must have had at least a hundred together, because I don’t usually make good friends easily. After this short while however I have already made many plans to visit some of them and at least for now we are still keeping in touch. 

I wish to thank SPIE for this great experience, my chapter for granting me the opportunity to go to San Diego and all the lovely people I met there.
Right after the student leadership workshop - everyone feeling inspired. 

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