In the end of January, I will officially begin my faculty development leave as a Fulbright–Palacky University Distinguished Scholar in Olomouc, Czech Republic. I will be working with long-time colleagues and friends in the Department of Analytical Chemistry from the end of January through the end of June. I am pleased, personally and professionally, to have this experience and honor, but I am most excited to be able to pay forward some of what I have learned over the years. While this is a Fulbright position primarily related to teaching, I will be interacting with students at the undergraduate and graduate levels, helping students design experiments and present results from their thesis and dissertation research.
I have had the desire to develop international collaborations since I began graduate school. As a PhD student under the late Harold McNair at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA), we regularly worked with visiting scientists from countries all over the world, such as Brazil, Italy, Kuwait, and Russia, to name a few. The diversity in personal and professional culture exemplified by these visitors was highly motivational–our work could make an impact, not just locally, but globally.
Back in the 1950s, McNair was a Fulbright Fellow in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. I was enamored by how he had turned that experience into a means for globally educating scientists in the field of analytical chemistry. He traveled the world and sought to “pay it forward” by passing on his knowledge of separation science. He often conveyed stories about his exploits, travels, and interactions with scientists. His experiences were captivating to hear. Many of those scientists are now immortalized in written texts and are considered the pioneers in separation science, hailing from all over the world. I wanted to have that experience.
After I finished my PhD studies, I accepted a post-doctoral position in the Department of Analytical and Food Chemistry at the University of Vienna, Austria, under the tutelage of Dr. Wolfgang Lindner. Lindner had been active in international student exchanges for many years; during my stay, the laboratory was engaged in an Erasmus student and faculty exchange program with the Department of Analytical Chemistry at Palacky University. Karel Lemr visited Vienna from Olomouc, and I had the opportunity to work with him to investigate molecular interactions using mass spectrometry. Later, one of Lemr’s students, Petr Frycak, visited Vienna. We worked closely together and were fortunate to perform research sufficient enough to co-publish our work in Analytical Chemistry, a first for Petr and I. Karel and Petr quickly became good friends of mine. After completing his PhD degree, Petr came to work with me as a post-doctoral fellow in my second year at the University of Texas at Arlington. Petr’s work was instrumental in my being able to attract my first federal grant and to earn tenure at U.T. Arlington.
Since that time, I have essentially had continuous interactions with Lemr, Vladimir Havlicek, and other faculty and students at Palacky University–too many to name here. While I am not a stranger to Olomouc, opportunities for student and faculty exchange have been primarily one-way; CZ students and faculty have visited U.T. Arlington to a much greater degree than vice versa. Further, exchanges and interactions have been significantly limited in the past years due to the pandemic. It was my goal to embark on an extended stay at Palacky University as a Distinguished Scholar to rekindle our working relationship, and so that I can have my own opportunity to “pay it forward” by teaching and mentoring students in analytical chemistry. Now, that opportunity is coming to fruition.
I plan to write to you regularly about this experience in future LCGC Blog posts. I’ll tell you what I am teaching and learning. I will tell you about my experience abroad in the Czech Republic, and I will tell you about some of the great research that is being done there. Traveling is one of the best parts of an academic job, in my opinion. This feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity about to happen, so I hope you will not mind if I share a bit of it with you as it unfolds.