Issue #3/2015К.Sychev Systematization of the experience and sharing it with others – that's a worthy task
Constantin, how did you get the idea to create your own training course on chromatography?
I am working at the "Elsiko" company, which sells the chromatographic equipment and consumables. As one can say, that the biggest money is made on misinformation – everyone who is confused can buy anything at all. But if it’s possible to make money on misinformation, why isn’t it also possible to make money on reliable information? Moreover, sellers-misinformers leave this niche free, indeed, they create it themselves. Great, then I can sell something, clearly explaining why it is necessary. Of course, I fully realize that today in Russia the effectiveness of a device for the problem solving is not the most important selection criterion when purchasing. But there are those people to whom exactly the effectiveness is important. We are oriented precisely on these customers.
The idea to create a workshop on chromatography was originated in 2007-2008. Any sale of devices or columns requires an explanation why it is necessary to buy precisely these columns or devices. We, while attempting to explain it, are constantly confronted with the fact that buyers do not understand not only the explanation, but even the words that you say. Therefore, the idea erased – first teach "words", i.e. basic concepts of modern chromatography so then it would be possible to explain reasonably why for a particular task is better to buy one or another equipment. It seemed that if more people understand chromatography, our arguments will act better and we can sell more. Then the idea appeared to create special courses for experts in chromatography training.
Also, it was interesting for me personally. After all, why have I written three books? First – just to save the large amount of accumulated knowledge. And then I was curious to systematize them. The same was with courses – consider that I was just moved by curiosity. I have total occupational experience in chromatography – more than 16 years, the first work was implemented in the Federal Sanitary and Epidemiological Supervision Center in 1998. The huge scope of material was accumulated. For example, in postgraduate studies three instruments have been working simultaneously, checking my wacky ideas within three years. Hardly many people have similar possibilities, particularly operators in analytical laboratories. How to systematize all this experience and share it with others? It was the worthy task, which was interesting to solve.
Are specialized higher education institutions unable to do this?
In my opinion, today the chromatography is taught nowhere at all. Perhaps some people will disagree with me. Actually, there are designated departments of chromatography in the Samara and Voronezh universities and in a number of other universities. Recently, on the basis of the Chemistry Department of Moscow State University the application course on chromatography was organized. But frankly speaking, it can hardly be called sufficiently serious training. All what is taught there is very far from the applications tasks, from real problems that must be solved. But clear and understandable rules are required for practical work, how quickly collate the chromatographic conditions and get results. This precisely is taught nowhere – absolutely nowhere. Moreover, there is not even understanding of how these things can be taught at all.
Initially, I had no idea how the courses for specialists in chromatography should look. Well-developed course was managed to create just in five years – and this is only one course for development of liquid chromatography methods. Within five years I passed a way from an idea to its full implementation, having free time and recognizing the need to work in this direction.
In fact, if we talk about the development of methods, there is no systematic information at all, available to the public. Of course, there is the knowledge, but the know-how in this area is very carefully protected. The real application information on how the method is developed is contained within the confines of development companies. These are mainly small companies that directly develop methods, and larger corporations that produce devices and columns.
Of course, practical information is available on chromatographic forums in the Internet. Many problems are professionally discussed there; it is possible to communicate directly with many well-known specialists. There are other open sources. But all this information is isolated and fragmentary. It can help a specialist, but it is absolutarey not suited for quick learning of the basics. Our courses resolve this problem.
What are the peculiarities of your course named "Development of liquid chromatography methods"?
For me the most important thing consists in real help of the courses in practical work. Therefore, the emphasis was made on a fairly simple empirical rules derived from real experience. I explain the theory, but ultimately these explanations are confined to quite simple rules. For example, the large amount of knowledge – optimization of chromatographic separation. I specify in detail the basic provisions, explaining what and why, but finally it all comes down to one simple table and to the way of working with it. It is, in fact, the sequence of actions – what is the purpose, what should be done, what should be checked. You will not find such table in any book.
An important feature of the course – I’m trying to talk about complicated things as easy as possible. If the information is easily understood, it is deposited in the heads of listeners. I understood this principle when published my first book. I wrote it, can be said, just for my fun and I did not think that this simplicity would be the key to success. I remember that I was surprised to receive a lot of comments, all of which essentially were reduced to one thing: "Thank you for the fact that it is easy to read the book". Initially it was even slightly disappointing – there were so many interesting things in the book, many things I systematized and set out for the first time. For example, the chapter dedicated to chiral HPLC – nobody before me has written so about it. But everyone noted the simplicity. I did not aspire to it intentionally; it was important for me that information is perceived and stays in the minds of readers. I transferred the same principle to the courses.
Of course, people with very different backgrounds and from completely different fields come to learn. Therefore, at the beginning of the courses special topics are provided whereon I, in fact, test the audience, check the level of students’ knowledge. And I can tell from experience that chemists understand my courses best of all. They absorb information much better than experts who the whole life have been working in the analytics or only in chromatography, spectroscopy, but never were related to chemistry as such. First of all I tell about the chemistry of processes. Just on it the selection of chromatographic conditions was based, especially in liquid chromatography – this is the same chemical reaction, but it does not go until the end. Therefore, for chemists with good grounding and work experience, things are simple. With those people who do not have this base, but only practical experience, who studied on their own, through trial and error method, it is much harder to work.
How is it possible that people without the special chemical education can work at the field analytical chemistry?
I really wonder how they do it. Often the staff comes to analytical laboratories quite by accident – simply because vacancies are opened. In the best case people come with some general knowledge of chemistry. Somewhere they will read something, somewhere they will hear something. Slowly they learn themselves, but the absence of special training – both theoretical and practical – does not enable the large majority of them to solve any complicated tasks. And the bad thing is not even the lack of basic knowledge, but its replacement with a set of myths. In some cases it is even harder to retrain these people, even with experience in chromatography, than those who have never worked with a chromatograph. The powerful psychological counteraction is met – because they have already formed stable stereotypes. For example, many people feel intuitively that the longer is the chromatographic process, the better the resolution will be. It’s the absolute myth, not based on anything, and the most important it is wrong. Just all people feel so – such as the longer the laundry is washed, the cleaner it will be. It’s intuitive very simple model. And it can be very difficult to debunk such myths.
I can give one illustrative example. One of my listener that attended courses three times, over the years could not develop the method of separation of a pharmaceutical compound and adhesive components wherein this compound was included. Either clearance was bad or the final compound was lost. She suffered torments for a long time with solid phase extraction, with different methods of sample preparation, but without any result. She constantly asked me questions about the solid-phase extraction, until I finally asked directly: "And what’s the problem?" When the task was formulated, I asked for a sample, put an ionic column, where all the glues, of course, are not retained, and in a few minutes I get the desired chromatogram. That’s all I say, the method is ready. So, she did not believe me – she thought that it was some kind of trick. Although she was in my courses three times and she knew all theoretical explanations of what was happening. It took six months of inspections for her to finally acknowledge that the method worked – so strong the developed stereotypes were. So, I repeat, sometimes it is easier, when a person does not know anything, than to fight with myths fully formed in mind.
To which kind of people are your courses the most effective?
To those who are engaged in the development of methods. For them, according to comments, our courses – is a godsend. But there are not many such students. The courses are useful for specialists who are interested in very clear and specific questions. It is the easiest to work with them: if someone specifically can say what troubles he has, he will get an answer; and the most important – he will be able to understand it. There are cases when students come to the courses at their own expenses, afterward to work in analytics – there are vacancies, which require a certain qualification.
Overall, perhaps one of the most important advantages of the courses – people begin to understand that their problems can be solved in principle. After all, when specialists stew in their own juice, are closed in the walls of their laboratory, they just lose their faith in that their problems really can be solved. The courses help to break this
self-doubt, as they teach in particular to solve practical problems
Is it possible to find a way of integration of your courses or your teaching methods to the present university system of training?
Similar ideas occur regularly. For example, a year ago we were discussing this possibility with V.Yu.Ryashentsev, director of the State Institute for Training and Retraining at M. V. Lomonosov Moscow State Academy of Fine Chemical Technology. For me certainly, it will not be difficult to read the part of my course in high school, and I will not ask special fees for this. But the problem is that such approach will be unmethodical. Even a good workshop with many invited lecturers leaves complete mess in the minds of listeners. Everybody tells something own, which often doesn’t not match with what another person says. Imagine – the lecturer says one thing and then I start saying that it is the opposite. I attended such events and I see that they are quite meaningless.
Therefore, if we are talking about training of practitioners, the most competent – is to organize a training system. It would be useful and beneficial to all parties.
Do you still write your books at the same time as teaching the courses?
Yes. In the coming months it will be reissued the book "Practical Course of Liquid Chromatography", first released in 2012 with the support of Shimadzu. It will be updated in the application part.
In addition, I am finishing the work on another project – the book in English "HPLC Method Development". It is designed for professionals of sufficiently high level, but it will include all the materials that I present in the courses. Of course, it is oriented to foreign readers, but it will be possible to buy it in Russia. Then, perhaps, it will be published in Russian as well.
What was the purpose of publishing your book in English? Do you have an intention of entering the international market?
Certainly. The new book – is, in fact, the promotional material of the new direction of our "Elsiko" company. It is about columns selling abroad, and the most important – about development of methods to order. The domain www.elsico.eu has already been reserved under the project. It will be the website that will enable to communicate with us and to order the development of methods of HPLC separations. The niche by itself is very interesting. However, it is not clear how this activity will be commercially successful. Today, overseas just the development of methods of HPLC separations is considered unprofitable business. The profit appears if it is ordered to the company not only to develop the method but also to perform the measurements themselves. It is true because the method can be sold only once, and services for the measurements performance – repeatedly. So I do not expect too much to get big profits from the project. Rather, I am driven again by the interest – how this service for the development of methods will be really popular. Theoretically, there is no problem, just it is necessary to try. Especially as now this niche is actually free. And if the project is successful, it will be in fact a worldwide precedent.
Is there a real demand for such kind of services?
The potential market exists not only in Europe and in the USA. There are other states, e.g. India. It is a huge country and fully English speaking. All technical literature and technical communication – are only in English. And if in Europe or in the USA there is a mass of own highly qualified specialists, in India certainly the situation is not better than in Russia, and even worse. The market there is just huge, for example, in the pharmaceutics – at present, production of so many generic medicines is concentrated in India. With tighten requirements to their quality control and variety of methods it creates enormous scope of activities for development of chromatographic separation methods – unless, of course, you are able to quickly select the chromatographic conditions. Moreover, for manufacturing companies that do not have research departments it is more profitable to pass for outsourcing the development of methods than contain expensive qualified staff. Since we are specialized in particular on development of methods, we have certain optimism.
The similar approach should be effective in Russian pharmacological market too. It is much more profitable to order the development of methods than to perform it themselves. After all, it requires a highly qualified professional, whom it is possible to look for very long time. And after finding such professional, it is easy to lose him, because the high-level professional will always look where pay more and where interesting work is. Such employees are required where the development of methods is performed constantly, and at production plants are mainly talking about routine analysis. Therefore, the development of methods of such analyzes is more profitable to pass for outsourcing, keeping their running and validation.
There are markets and a lot of potential possibilities – it remains only to use them competently. We have ambitious plans, stay tuned!
Thank you for the interesting story.
С.Sychov was interviewed by S.Zhokhov and O.Shakhnovich