End of the Line
I started working in the pharmaceutical industry in 1982 and throughout my career, held a number of analytical positions, initially hands-on working in the laboratory and then later managing multiple laboratories. In 2013, I wrote a series of blog posts about How I Got Started Teaching while retaining my full-time pharmaceutical positions. It was actually an interesting and circuitous route, with a couple of instances of serendipity thrown in for good measure, for a person like me who initially did not even want to stand up next to FDA and give a 20-minute talk, would not only accomplish that, but would actually turn out to enjoy it. What started out as a 20-minute talk that became a 40-minute talk when the FDA backed out and then became a 90-minute lecture as a part of another gentleman’s weeklong course led me to the development of a 3-day professional level course on Analytical Method Validation, a topic of extreme importance to any analytical laboratory in the pharmaceutical industry.
I co-developed the course with another analytical chemist I had met within the industry, and we taught the course for the first time in the summer of 1997. It proved quite popular and in 1998, the first full year of us teaching, we taught the course nine times which included five separate trips to Europe to teach. In fact, in the early years of teaching, the course was so popular that we actually had to turn down requests to teach because we were both limited by the number of vacation days we could take away from work for the course (our companies did not give us the time off). We even joked that we just needed to retire so we would have unlimited vacation days to teach the course.
In our first five years of teaching the course, we taught it more than 30 times and by the time we celebrated ten years of teaching the course, we had taught it over 60 times. In 2017, I wrote a blog post about us reaching the milestone 20th anniversary of us first starting to teach together. At that point, we had taught the course exactly 100 times to over 2,600 participants. With me retiring from full-time employment that year and my co-instructor having left his company and doing part-time consulting work, it seemed we were about to achieve that goal of being able to teach as often as we were requested. But then we all know what happened just two short years later.
We were actually scheduled to travel to New Jersey in March of 2020 to teach the course less than two weeks after WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The professional organization for which we teach quickly scrambled, and we were able to teach the course virtually for the first time where no one had to travel. Similarly, our trip to Amsterdam in May of that year also was canceled and so we taught the course for a European audience virtually as well. In the fall, our San Francisco course also became virtual.
Teaching the courses virtually, it was a completely different experience, not just for the two of us, but for the participants as well. We all missed the direct interaction of an in-person course and with what has become all too common, suffered through a few technical glitches as well. In fact, it no longer seemed as fun to teach just sitting in front of my computer screen rather walking back and forth in front of the participants.
Prior to the beginning of our first virtual course in 2021, the person who teaches with me told me he had decided to retire from teaching and only pursue the consulting work that he had been doing for a couple of years. We completed that course but with only three participants, decided not to try to offer the course again in 2021. That was okay with me as it really left me in a quandary as to what to do.
Throughout our years of teaching together, unexpected occasions arose where we each taught the entire 3-day course by ourselves. At an early age, the strain of being “on” for three straight days was manageable but as we both got older, neither of us really wanted to do that. So, I knew I either needed to find someone else to teach with or modify the course to reduce its length.
I explored both options but, the deciding factor for me was that over all the years of teaching, the two of us had really clicked together. We truly complemented each other in the technical knowledge we had, and we both had very similar and entertaining teaching styles, sometimes competing with each other to see who had the best vacation slide thrown into the mix of technical slides (see previous posts for an explanation). It really had been fun for both of us, and each time, we looked forward to the travelling and being together to teach the course. Not knowing how much longer I might want to teach and knowing it would be unlikely to replicate this same relationship with someone new, I really did not want to start all over again with another instructor.
So, I decided to convert it into a 2-day course that I knew I could do by myself as I teach another 2-day course on a different topic by myself. I eliminated some of the topics that we covered over the 3-day course, and I spent part of the fall of 2021 updating the slides. With the course restructured, we scheduled it for one of the first in-person courses in March of 2022, almost three years to the day from when our last in-person course had been converted to virtual. But only one person signed up so obviously the course was canceled.
Recently I met with the professional organization that sponsors these courses and learned that for 2023, all courses offered would be virtual only. When we discussed my course, we wondered if the fewer number of participants during the pandemic was related to them being virtual or if the topic had just run its course and was no longer as relevant. Or, maybe although unlikely, we had already taught most everyone that needed to better understand this topic.
Whatever the real cause, I suggested we discontinue the course as it was structured. Instead, I recommended that I take the most important topic from the course and create a 2-hour virtual course that could be taken on demand. If the intertest is still there for a paired down course, then I could pull together other topics from the previous course and create individual on-demand courses for those as well.
The organization accepted my recommendation which gave us a path forward. But it comes with the sad realization that this is the end of the line for this 3-day course that I have taught for so many years. Had I taught this year, we would have reached the 25th anniversary of first starting to teach it. As a result, the course ended in its 24th year in 2021 having been taught 111 times to 2,712 participants.
While I will miss teaching this course with my co-instructor, I have very fond memories of our years together. As I have written before, we got to see the world together traveling to Europe 45 times. And for a significant part of my 35-year professional career, I had the joy and satisfaction of sharing my technical knowledge with so many people interested in better understanding this topic. And above all, it was fun which is probably what I will miss the most!
Congratulations, David, on a course well taught. 45 trips to Europe is pretty amazing, and the benefit to your fellow professionals is unmeasured. My Grandma used to say, “When one door closes, another opens.” I am sure this will be true for you. And I agree with your assessment of virtual events. While there are many advantages, and it can be a positive experience, in some areas they do not measure up to in-person events.
Thanks, Betty! I will definitely miss the in-person teaching and I agree, we’ll see what other doors open up.
What a bummer! I’m so sad that this course has reached the end of the line, but really grateful for all the joy it brought you (and so many others!) so proud of you, Daddy.
Thanks, sweetie. I did really enjoy it and it was very fulfilling to have the opportunity to do it for so many years.