Editorial: The Spring Thaw Reveals Surprises | AIChE

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Editorial: The Spring Thaw Reveals Surprises


imagesMid-March marked one year since the beginning of COVID lockdowns. Now, as we move into April, I find myself reflecting on what has been a tumultuous and unprecedented year. Many of the things that once seemed impossible are now old hat: connecting with coworkers over Zoom and Teams, putting together a print magazine without reviewing paper printouts, conducting a completely virtual AIChE Annual meeting, etc. In many ways, these accomplishments demonstrate our collective resilience in the face of extreme adversity.

Spring brings hope. Now that we are seeing the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, AIChE staff members are in the initial stages of planning a return to in-person conferences and events. With any luck, our first in-person events will take place as soon as late summer.

Spring also brings melting snow. As the world thaws, the fun things we’ve forgotten over the winter are uncovered — pools, BBQ grills, hiking trails. Likewise, several nasty surprises are in store — potholes, snowmelt-related flooding, and unfortunately for those of us who live in cities, dog poop. After a year of the pandemic, I often think fondly of the fun things that I’ve missed, like seeing a Broadway show or taking a vacation. But, naturally, I have not considered what unfortunate surprises an end to the pandemic may bring.

As the vaccines roll out and states begin to lift restrictions, I find myself asking “What’s next?” Can the world go back to the way things were? Should it? For example, now that so many workers have proven that they have the drive to complete their tasks effectively from home, should they be forced to adhere to the old, traditional office policy once it is safe to return to work? In my local area, restaurants were granted special permission to expand their outdoor seating into sidewalks and parking lots. A few city streets were even closed down to cars to allow room for outside dining. Although this may have created a headache for some drivers, I saw the increased pedestrian space as a major benefit to city-dwellers. Should these restaurants now be forced to pack away their outdoor tables, even though they’ve suffered financially over the past year?

One of my favorite parts about attending in-person conferences is the deferential exchange of business cards. Each new card that I receive is a physical reminder of the network I am building. In the years prior to the pandemic, I noticed that fewer and fewer people had a business card to exchange. In the post-COVID age, will touch remain taboo and the exchange of business cards die out altogether? It is my hope that business cards (and other print media) will remain relevant, and won’t become a casualty of the pandemic.

Virtual events, like the upcoming 2021 AIChE Virtual Spring Meeting and 17th Global Congress on Process Safety (GCPS) to be held April 18–23, allow people from all over the world to easily converge and present their ideas and research. In many ways, COVID has leveled the professional playing field for those unable to travel due to time, budget, lack of childcare, or disability. But as more people become vaccinated and restrictions are lifted, it’s difficult to say if virtual conferences will remain popular in the years to come. Like the melting snow, the end of COVID is sure to bring surprises — many will be good, but perhaps, a few not so good.

Emily Petruzzelli, Editor-in-Chief


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