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.