While we generally confine our web postings to technical or commercial issues, the sudden loss of David Ogden is something that we simply cannot ignore. Others will be able to give a much fuller account of his scientific contributions, but just one of these was that he ran the Cell Physiology Workshop in Plymouth, now in its 37th year, and which has been a very notable achievement in its own right. Since Cairn has become deeply involved in the course over the years, we really would like to say something about that here.
David was one of a rather select group of research scientists, who was interested not only in pursuing new technical developments, but also in using them to acquire useful experimental data. As such, he always appreciated the full importance of the underlying technical basis of the experimental work. Particularly with the development of what were then newer techniques such as patch clamping, he realised many years ago that there was a clear need for practical technical tuition for people whose research interests were more purely on the experimental side.
And so the Plymouth Workshops came into being. While David was just one of the original organisers, he soon became the mainstay, and the course has effectively been his own for many years now. The very first course was run in 1984, and hence before Cairn had even come into being, but I was invited to give a personal talk about calcium measurements using optical techniques, which had been the subject of my postdoctoral work in Boston. This invitation was a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating professional period for me, so once Cairn became my fulltime occupation in 1989, I dared to ask David if he might like me to come and talk again.
This is when I began to appreciate his relaxed but highly effective management skills. Yes, he would love me to come and talk again, maybe even give a couple, or why not come and stay for a few days? All very casual, but greatly appreciated, to the extent that I have been there every year since. In fact I brought along our modular photometry system, with which I was able to record some experimental data, and which turned out to be very helpful for developing the data analysis software that I was writing at the time.
This was so useful, and the courses were so enjoyable, that it set the pattern that has continued to this day. But by 1993, I wondered if I might be outstaying my welcome, so I gave serious thought to whether I should continue. However, since nobody seemed to be objecting to my turning up every year, I decided to raise my game instead, so at least two of us have done so every year since! In 1993 it was (now our CEO) Jez, in 1994 it was (now Marketing Director) James, and every year since 1995 it has been (now Technical Director) Andrew. And some years there have even been three of us, so the link between Cairn and the course has become particularly strong, with us regularly bringing along a full set of equipment for one of the optical practicals.
This has been a fair amount of work for us over the years of course, and although our motives have always been noncommercial, the irony has been that the exposure it has given us means that our involvement has certainly more than paid its way. And perhaps more importantly, it has also been very enjoyable! David definitely knew what he was doing here, as when he was asked how he could run such a successful course for so long, he would explain that the key was to ensure that the teachers had a good time. In fact, the many of us who have gone back year after year have come to feel that we are members of a rather special sort of club, but which is exclusive only in the sense of the commitment to it that we all share.
But David’s organisational skills went way beyond the generation of this great atmosphere, although at least one of his other policies did also contribute to it. For the students, the day would start with a lecture, followed by practical work, but then with another lecture at 6pm to provide a natural end stop to that side of things. This was deliberate, to ensure that both students and teachers would interact socially in the evenings, rather than any competition developing to see who could stay working for the longest time. This ensured that everyone made fullest use of the experimental time available, which certainly seemed to drive its successful execution. It’s simple concepts like these that can sometimes make all the difference!
David was also able to secure regular and continuous funding for the course over the years, and here too he somehow managed to make it all look easy, whereas to do so in practice, over so many years, very clearly cannot have been. A particular story that he told was when one of the funding agencies was suggesting that the course should be paid for by commercial sponsorship instead. Cairn was far from the only Company who were loaning equipment to the course for nothing, so David just pointed out the equivalent monetary value of what everyone was already providing, and which would clearly be jeopardised if they were required to pay for the privilege as well. All such talk quickly ceased!
On a more general note, the courses have always run for a full two weeks, but with teachers only there for a week each and with several visiting lecturers as well, so the students have had the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of people, including commercial renegades such as ourselves. They have always been heavily oversubscribed, with numbers initially limited to just 16, although later expanded to 20 to help celebrate the course’s 20th anniversary. It means that we have collectively taught over 600 people, and with David being closely involved in the selection process as well as all the other administrative tasks that the successful operation of the workshops has required. This really has been no mean achievement, especially doing so alongside his own research activities, about which we are sure that others will be able to pay far better justice than we possibly could do here.