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.