Monthly Archives: May 2013

How I Got Started Teaching – 301 (prerequisite 201)

A few years later, the British gentleman I had lectured for asked me to present at two more national meetings, one in New Jersey and one in Puerto Rico.  The political climate was more favorable, so I got the green light for both.


The timing of my presentation was advantageous.  A controversy regarding my lecture topic had been brewing in the industry.  Now I had a chance to share my thoughts on resolving the issues.

I gave my presentations and they went well, but one moment when lecturing in Puerto Rico was tense for me.  Excited about sharing my ideas, I was eager to get started.  With just five minutes left before my talk in a ballroom set up to hold 100 people, only three seats were occupied.  I looked over at the British gentleman who appeared unconerned.  When I asked him about it, he smiled and said, “oh yea, you’ve never been to Puerto Rico.  Their favorite expression here is ‘Mañana’ (Spanish for ‘tomorrow’).  We won’t start for at least another 20 minutes.”


Later that year, I got a call from the organization that the British gentleman (Dr. S.) taught for.  They said Dr. S. had recommended me for developing a three-day course on the topic that I had lectured on with him.  What, take a two hour version of a 20 minute talk and turn it into a three day course?  I had to really think about that.

I called Dr. S. and thanked him for the recommendation but asked him what I should do.  He said don’t try to do it alone – get someone who thinks like you to help.  I hung up and began to wrestle with this.  I knew I wanted to do the course but I didn’t know whom I could get to help me teach it.  I thought about people I had worked with before and other previous contacts in the industry but couldn’t think of anyone.  Then I remembered the person (M) who had lectured after me at the FDA conference.  I wondered if I could find his contact information.

I don’t know how I was able to find his number but I called M and he was very interested in working together to develop and teach the course.  We then set up some time when we could talk at greater length about how we should structure the course.


Our first step was to come up with an outline for the course and submit it as a proposal to the organization.  We wanted to develop a course that covered the entire subject from beginning to end.  We came up with the major topics that needed to be included and were amazed that we both quickly agreed what was important to include.  M made a really helpful suggestion about including a couple of workshops in the course so it wouldn’t be just lectures.  I suggested a Q&A session as a part of the course so participants could ask any question about the subject.  We put together the course outline, submitted it and then waited for the response.

The response we got was positive and we were asked to put together the course.  It was to be divided into twelve one and one half hour lectures over three days.  Once we broke down the topics over the three days, we decided who would work on each.  With that decided, we each began preparing 35 mm slides.  I knew preparing the course would take me away from my family so I began going into work very early on Sunday morning and working just until noon so as to minimize my time away from home.  I don’t recall how many weekends I did this but it probably took about six months to put all of the slides together.


The first time we were scheduled to teach the class was in July 1997.  The maximum class size of 46 filled up quickly.  In fact someone who had previously worked with me and had moved onto another company called me directly to ask if I would let him in the class since he needed the course prior to an FDA inspection.  So our first presentation had 47 participants and went very well.  We taught the course a second time that year in the fall for an individual company which also went well.

How I Got Started Teaching – 201 (prerequisite 101)

My association with the British gentleman teaching as a part of his course led to several more lectures over the next two years along with a second trip to Amsterdam.  All of a sudden this guy (me) that didn’t even want to make a 20-minute talk was on the lecture circuit speaking multiple times a year.  I was getting to really enjoy this extra activity.


Not long after getting started teaching, I received an invitation from the American Chemical Society (ACS) to give a talk at their national meeting in San Diego.  Their request was to present a paper about a couple of articles I had gotten published on the topic I had been teaching about.  I was starting to sense that I was stepping into the big league.  With my boss’s approval, I accepted and submitted an abstract for the talk.


Unfortunately just as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end; the political environment at work soured.  My boss came to tell me that I wouldn’t be able to give the ACS talk and that I would have to discontinue teaching with the British gentleman.  My time on the lecture tour had been short-circuited.  My next steps were to notify the ACS and the British gentleman that I was not going to be able to go forward with future lectures.


A few months later, my boss was sitting in my office talking about what had been going on at work that had caused the political difficulties.  He said that in spite of the fact that the ACS was a nationally recognized organization, he still couldn’t overcome the political climate.  On the other hand, he said if the FDA were to ask me to speak, that that would probably be fine.


As my boss finished saying that, my phone rang.  It was the FDA.  The caller had read the abstract of my talk from the ACS meeting and wanted me to present it at the FDA Science Forum in Washington.  I couldn’t have choreographed the timing of that call any better even if I’d spent months to plan it.  I had to explain that I actually hadn’t even written the talk but that I looked forward to writing it.  I thanked the gentleman for the opportunity and told him I would get back with him.  I hung up the phone and explained to my boss the other half of the conversation he had just heard.  We were both dumbfounded for several reasons, not the least of which was how FDA even got my telephone number.


My trip to Washington the fall of 1994 was less eventful than my first lecture trip to Chicago.  I didn’t have any flight trouble as I did before but I did have to laugh when the FDA sent me my airline reservation information and there was a note at the bottom that stated if I was a government employee, that any frequent flier miles I earned were the property of the US government.  While the FDA covered my travel expenses, they didn’t cover the cost of preparation of slides (this was a time before PowerPoint).  At most national meetings, the expectation was to come prepared with 35-millimeter slides.  At many of these same meetings, I had seen FDA use overhead transparencies so knowing that was what FDA had used, I just prepared those.  That was not what they expected.


Since I was on an elevated podium and the projector was on the floor, I had to ask someone from the FDA to turn my black and white overheads.  Well I might not have had to sweat the flight getting there, but I was sweating now.  I was in front of probably 100 FDA regulators and I was going to teach them how they should regulate us—with overheads.  Knowing that I would be nervous speaking to the FDA, I had typed out my entire talk.  I still have it today but I don’t think I could go back and re-read it, as it would make me nervous all over again.

I can’t tell you how I did; I can only tell you that I got through it.  Following me was another industry person (with slides) who spoke on another aspect of this same topic.  I was glad to hear that he had a lot of the same thoughts as I did about how our industry should be regulated.  Over lunch, I struck up a conversation with him about how I hadn’t been able to give my talk in San Diego but then had the opportunity to write it for the FDA.  His story was equally interesting.  His boss was supposed to give a talk in San Diego but had backed out at the last minute so he had had to give it.  We both thought what a curious turn of events, that I was supposed to go to San Diego but couldn’t and he wasn’t supposed to go but did.  And thanks to someone within FDA reading the abstract of both our ACS talks, we were now presenting to the FDA.


How I Got Started Teaching – 101

As I think about the many years I have been teaching professional development courses, I wonder if the desire to teach is hidden in my family’s genes.  For it was in the field of chemistry, not teaching that I had pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees.  And it was these degrees that have been the foundation for a career in analytical chemistry that I have enjoyed for over 30 years.


It is interesting to note that in one way or another, all three of my siblings are also involved in teaching even though that was not their original field of study.  One sister went from retail management into teaching.  Another sister went from religious studies to teaching quilting and is now an art professor.  And my brother who is also a chemist is literally trying to teach the world how to harmonize standards in the research industry that he and I both happen to work in.  Each of us over our lifetimes has taken different circuitous routes to end up either full time or part time in teaching.

My path to teaching started in 1992 but also involved a desire to travel.  Being fairly young in my career, most of my business travel had been to the same few cities on the east coast where our industry is concentrated.


I longed to travel internationally, as my in-laws were enjoying at that time.  When I heard the stories and saw the pictures of their travels to Europe, I wondered if I too would have to wait until retirement to see the places I dreamed about.  But it was no less on one of these business trips to Philadelphia where the story begins to my teaching and my international travel.


It was in the summer of 1992 that I was asked by my boss to make a 20-minute presentation at a national meeting about an analytical topic I had been working with for about 10 years.  For the meeting agenda, I would give the industry perspective on this topic and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) would give their perspective followed by a 20 minute discussion panel where the two of us would answer questions from the participants.  I must admit that I am an introvert and didn’t really want to do this.  And besides, this would be my first presentation side-by-side with the regulatory authority of our industry, an activity that can be intimidating at times.  However, my boss “convinced” me that it would be both in my best interest and that of our company for me to make this presentation and so I agreed.

My first thought was how could I even talk about this topic for 20 minutes?  I came up with what I thought should be presented from an industry perspective and put some slides together.  Before I could even go through them to see how long it was, I found out that the FDA had canceled and I should make a 40-minute presentation.  So I added more slides.


The day came for the meeting and I walked in with what I thought was a 40- minute presentation.  Turns out, I had a lot more to say on the topic.  I took the entire hour, which didn’t even leave time for questions.  But the presentation was well received.  After it was over, a British gentleman came up to speak to me about the presentation.  He complimented me on my organization of the topic and my depth of knowledge of the subject.  He went on to say that my Southern accent was easy to understand.  I remember thinking, “What accent?  You’re the one with the accent.”  He then asked me if I would be interested in giving an hour and a half lecture on this subject as a part of a weeklong course he taught.  And to sweeten the offer, he indicated that one of the lectures would be in Amsterdam.  My first thought was could I talk on this subject for an hour and a half?  My second thought was “Wow, Amsterdam, international travel.”  I told the gentleman I would have to get back with him on the offer knowing I would have to get approval from work to do this.

Back in Memphis, I told my boss about the offer and he immediately thought it was great.  Again, he said it would be good for me and good for our company.  How could I refuse, especially with an international trip in the offing?

So back to the computer I went to prepare more slides.


The first time I was to teach was the following spring in Chicago.  My lecture was scheduled for 3:00 PM and so to save money, I planned to fly up the morning of the day I was to lecture since it was only a one and a half hour flight.  However, when I got to the airport, I found out my flight had been canceled.  I scrambled to make alternate arrangements and managed to land in Chicago only a few hours late.  However getting to Chicago was only the first of my challenges as the taxi driver got lost trying to find the hotel (this was before the day of GPS).  Finally, I managed to get to the course location at 1:00 PM just as lunch was ending.  When it was my time to present, I again found I had prepared too much material as my 1.5-hour lecture turned into a 2.25-hour lecture.  Fortunately I could go over and in the course evaluations, my lecture was well received.


The second time I was to lecture on this topic was in June and this course was to be in Amsterdam.  I remember thinking as I looked out of the window of the plane before we landed that soon I would be stepping foot on another continent, my first international trip.  Certainly not of the significance of stepping on the moon for the first time but for someone who had never even been to Canada or Mexico, still a momentous occasion.  Being jet lagged from the overnight flight, I fortunately had a day to recover before I had to lecture which gave me time to do some site seeing.  Exploring in a foreign country for the first time when you don’t speak the local language can be daunting but in Amsterdam, almost everyone can speak English.  Both the sight seeing and the lecture were a success.

I Don’t Hate Mondays

If asked, most people would say they hate Mondays for a variety of different reasons.  For many, the dread of another Monday means the end of a fun weekend and back to work.  For others, it may be an aversion to more fatal events.  Statistically, it has been determined that 20% more people die of heart attacks on a Monday and it has been speculated that more people die of all causes on a Monday.  Whether it is back to the grind or fear of the grave, people seem to have just cause for hating Mondays.


While I wouldn’t say that I love Mondays, I definitely don’t hate Mondays.  My perspective may well be influenced by my father who though he never said it to me, I suspected loved Mondays.  Being a minister, Monday was my dad’s only full day off.  Tuesday through Friday, my dad would work on church business.  Saturday, he would finish polishing up his sermon, and then Sunday obviously was church service, sometimes in the morning and evening.

Growing up, I was no big fan of Monday as for most of the year; it always meant going back to school.  I remember feeling this way all the way through college.  After college, Monday took on different meanings depending on my stage of life.

Early in my professional career, I actually looked forward to Mondays.  Not that I didn’t enjoy weekends but at that time, I was doing some quite interesting research.  I was an analytical chemist working with high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), an analytical tool that separates compounds in solution under high pressure.  I have always liking working with my hands and I used to joke that I had become a micro plumber working with this tool.  Using micro-bore tubing and fittings much like a plumber, connections are made between the various components of an HPLC.  And just like household plumbing, if fittings weren’t made good enough, leaks would develop.


When our kids were old enough to go to school, Mondays took on another meaning.  On our drive to school each day, we would pass by a house that had a ceramic duck on the front porch.  The unique feature of this duck was that the owner would have the duck dressed in an outfit appropriate for the season.  In the spring, it might be a bright yellow rain coat.  At Thanksgiving, it might be dressed up as a turkey.  The fun was seeing who would notice first if the duck had on a new outfit.  If I would notice first, I would shout out, “Duck alert, duck alert.”  But even when the duck was not sporting a new outfit, it was always fun to see him.


At one point, I recall someone saying to me that he hated Mondays and for some reason I started thinking about that.  Being a scientist and one who enjoys math and analyzing things, I realized that we spend 1/7 of our life on Mondays.  If someone hated Mondays, that meant that they hated 1/7 of their life.  That seemed like a pretty big portion of their life to hate.  From then on, I was determined to find ways to not hate Monday.

Thanks to the invention of iPods and the creation of podcasts, I make sure I at least get a good laugh on Monday.  What better way to go into the office than with a smile from laughing on the drive to work?  Being a lover of cars, I have always enjoyed Car Talk on National Public Radio.  Now my routine involves listening to the episode from the previous Saturday on my drive in.  Usually I am not very far into my drive before I am laughing out loud in the car.  Drivers around me probably wonder what is so funny about a Monday drive to work.


Even if you don’t like cars, there may be other ways to avoid the Monday blues.  Another way to look at it is after you have made it through Monday, you only have a four-day workweek left.  Who wouldn’t enjoy a four-day workweek every week?

As I approach retirement age and the time when I discontinue full time work, I know Mondays will take on a new meaning.  Whatever that will be, I will be happy to know looking back that I haven’t hated Mondays; I haven’t hated 1/7 of my life.  Maybe I will begin to love Mondays like my dad did, as it will be the beginning of a new adventure every week.