I’m very quickly learning what my graduate program is really about. It turns out that what goes on in my classes pales in comparison to the importance of what I do at conferences, parties and meetings. Not that my classes aren’t important and interesting, but so much of what I learn in my classes I could just as easily learn by reading on my own or on-the-fly in the context of a job. What I’m really here to do is to learn two things: how to network, and, more importantly, how to make things happen. The latter is critical. For so long I have filled my head with great ideas for projects, but always with a sense of frustration because I had no idea how to make those projects come to fruition.
How to Make Things Happen?
The fundamental question has always been, how do I take my idealism, my integrity and my passion, and apply it in practical, tangible ways? In essence, that is why I came to grad school.
Moving Forward with the ESA Project
As I mentioned in my previous post, now that we are getting into the nitty-gritty of my semestre-long project in the graduate seminar class, I am realizing that even in a project that seems to be very well defined and therefore constrained, there is room for bold, innovative proposals. The specific proposal I am referring to is the idea that the Ecological Society of America could offset some of the emissions resulting from 4,000 people flying to its annual conference by paying the money to have an energy audit done at the host hotel or convention center. In exchange, the hotel would agree to implement those recommendations made by the energy audit company that have a payback period of less than, say, three years.
When I came up with this idea, however, I felt lost because I had no idea how to find out the details of what an energy audit costs and what sort of a contract could be used. So I decided to do a google search and simply call an energy audit company at random and ask for some help. I called a place in Oklahoma City, mentioned that I am a Brown grad student (always helpful), and was told by the secretary that someone would call me back. Sure enough, next day I get a call from Ed Jacobi, the Sr. Project Engineer at an energy audit company.
I explained my question to him, and he told me that he would do a little research into where the ESA has held and will be holding its conferences, and get back to me with a rough estimate of cost. A few hours later I received an email with some great info (the estimated cost is $.25- $.35 per square foot) as well as suggestions for how the contract could be structured (the auditing company could, in part, be paid with the energy savings that they guarantee will happen given certain actions). The biggest surprise was that it turned out Mr. Jacobi has a PhD and is a LEED certified Sr. Project Engineer!
Be Bold in Thought; Bolder in Action
What I took away from this success was, apart from a lot of confidence, the realization that in order to make a bold idea come to life one has to take bold actions, even if that means randomly calling companies and asking for help. Certainly not all of them will be as willing and excited about assisting as Mr. Jacobi, but this is how great ideas become great realities. Again, this isn’t something I learned in the classroom, but it was exactly the kind of thing I came to Brown to learn. The lesson moving into the future? Be bold in thought, and even bolder in action!
Here’s another great example of what schmoozing and networking can accomplish. Last night I came home after a long day of classes, meetings and readings. I checked my email and saw that Celia, a fellow grad student, was planning on walking downtown to see a brief film about how GM drove the trolley cars of America out of business, and wanted to know if anyone wanted to join her. At first I hesitated, but then I said to myself, well, this might be an opportunity to meet someone, and you never know, that someone might know someone that will land you a dream job. So despite being tired and desirous of spending my evening studying, I went. Now, I should mention that I’m not very good at networking; in fact, it’s something I’ve been consciously trying to work on. And when we got there someone had just finished speaking and now everyone was just chatting away.
I didn’t feel very comfortable, but little by little I started shaking hands with people, and soon enough I met some people that had just started a bicycle advocacy group in Providence. I mentioned to them my idea for a Bike Share project in Providence (another great idea which I had no idea how to make happen) and they, with great enthusiasm, invited Celia and I to a meeting next week to discuss the idea. Again, this is how great things happen. Just by forcing myself to get out there and shake hands with people I may have opened myself up to making the bike share project happen. Furthermore, it could become my thesis. And it could even lead me to a job after I graduate. And even if nothing comes of this, I repeat, being bold in action is more important than boldness in thought, and greatness seems to always be lurking, waiting to greet those that seek her.
And so I move boldly forward. . .