Posted on 10/09/2013
CELEBRATION DINNER FOR PROFESSOR CHRIS ELDERS, PICTURE GALLERY, FOUNDER’S BUILDING, ROYAL HOLLOWAY, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON (RHUL): FRIDAY 6 SEPTEMBER 2013
The following is the speech by Professor Bernie Vining (Vice President & Chief Geoscientist, Baker Hughes; Visiting Professor in Petroleum Geoscience & Chair Advisory Board, RHUL; alumni of King’s College, London) given at the dinner.
“Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. I hope you are enjoying this marvelous evening in these magnificent surroundings.It is certainly an honour and a privilege to have the opportunity to share with you some thoughts about Chris.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Chris over many years, starting back in the 1990s when I was with Exxon recruiting some of his high quality postgraduates. I believe that there are now in excess of 500 of Chris’ postgraduates in the petroleum sector worldwide and some are here this evening.
Chris, you have done an outstanding job over the years to build the M.Sc programme into a global leader. The high reputation of the course speaks for itself; an immense achievement. I understand that for 2013-14 there have been over 400 applicants; testament in itself to the high profile of the programme.Your experience, expertise, patience, commitment and dedication to many generations of students is well known.Furthermore, you are held in high regard, throughout the Department from the support staff to your peers.
As a geoscientist myself, my research is evidence-based. However, I have only limited data on Chris, primarily anecdotes. I should like to take this opportunity to select some of Chris’ many qualities and illustrate each by an example. I shall mention only 5 qualities, in no particular order. This should not take much longer than an hour!
- Firstly, dedication and commitment; long hours, long weeks, long months, long years! The Tyumen M.Sc programme in Russia provides an excellent illustration. Chris is the only person I know to possess an Aeroflot Gold Card. In addition to the provision of a parachute for each flight, I do not know the other benefits. I hear it said that Chris made 14 trips in one year; incredible dedication. The 0530hrs videoconferences linking Tyumen in west Siberia with RHUL show Chris’ commitment to keep engaged with his students. Allegedly, this commitment has resulted in him being a target for certain attractive Siberian ladies. However, to my knowledge, this is work in progress while they continue to evaluate the nature of his Oligarch status!
- Secondly, cultural sensitivity. The M.Sc programme has long been truly international, with students from all over the world. Chris is forever inclusive. The example here that I should like to cite is Chris’ many October “M.Sc Party Practicals” held at his home. I understand that attendance is mandatory. These events are most memorable. Chris cooks a diversity of dishes to cover the range of cultural sensitivities.
- Thirdly, attention to detail. Many of his former students will fondly recall all the hours spent reviewing their work. For example, their Powerpoint presentations; ensuring the appropriate font size, spelling, scales, colour schemes etc. I wonder. Could this attention to detail have its origins early in his doctoral studies when, having passed his driving test, Chris embarked on purchasing his first car. Car aficionados of a certain age will remember the “Allegro” – a classic! On the BBC Top Gear “Cool Wall” this car is at the “Very Cool” end. It had a gear lever on which were marked 5 forward gears. However, in reality, it actually had only 4 forward gears. Attention to detail is important.
- Fourthly, creativity and innovation. The longevity and high reputation of the M.Sc progamme is built on creativity and innovation underpinning high quality science. One particular example, as an illustration, is source rock geochemistry. The scene is Kimmeridge Bay in Dorset; an immature, world class super source rock outcrop. Chris has the Department mobile geochemistry laboratory, namely a blow torch and a test tube. He matures the source rock and expels hydrocarbons before the eyes of the surrounding students; creativity and innovation in action.
- Fifthly and finally, leadership and management. Building a world class M.Sc programme does not just happen. Leadership and management are forever required. For my example I return to the field again to illustrate this quality. This time it is the Pyrenees. The discipline is structural geology. Chris instructs the class to construct a regional transect in 2 hours; from noon to 2pm. The class goes off. However, one individual soon returns to ask Chris what he will be doing during this time. Chris replies that he will be down the hill on the river bank, under a shady tree, taking a siesta – leadership and management in practice!
The list of qualities goes on; friendship, a sense of humour with a raucous laugh. I hope I am conveying the picture.
Now to sum up. We are now back in the present. I am at the M.Sc Symposium yesterday. The success of the Symposium is a credit to Chris once again. I am reflecting, as you do, at the various presentations, when I was particularly taken by a quote of one of Chris’ students, Daniel Skomorowski and his presentation on the Valencia Trough. In his Acknowledgements slide, Daniel listed the names of those he wished to be acknowledged. At the end of the list was Chris. Daniel thanked Professor Chris Elders for his patience, guidance and expertise, and I quote “…..if this man can turn me into a petroleum geoscientist, then he must be a true miracle-maker”. Daniel he is! There are over 500 former students to tell you about it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please stand and raise your glass in a toast to Chris.Chris, on behalf of the Department and the petroleum industry, thank you for all your many contributions; a tremendous achievement. We wish you good health, good luck and every success and happiness in your big adventure Down Under. Enjoy it. Thank you.