Covid-19 has posed a challenge in every walk of our lives. Even though we haven’t been able to defeat it globally; we have definitely won over it in the pursuit of learning.
ACORD is an effective clinical trial design workshop, held every 2 years in Australia from 2004 to 2018.
However in the light of the pandemic, ACORD20 and ACORD21 were run entirely online as a distance-learning activity. It was a 6-day workshop based on the principles of collaborative, group learning to assist in designing an effective clinical trial for cancer researchers in the Asia Pacific region.
In Pakistan, we all gathered as a group to attend at Falettis Hotel in Lahore; the heart of Punjab. All the arrangements were streamlined by the Society of Medical Oncology Pakistan. Falettis is located in the center of Lahore, few kilometers away from what had been the whole of Lahore decades ago; the walled city. Falettis holds great historic value, being the emblem of the Colonial era and has served great personalities in the past, foremost of which had been hosting the father of the nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah in 1909.
My personal experience in the workshop had been of an observing participant. I flew from Karachi with four other participants additionally carrying my 4-year old son and 15-month old daughter alongside their father to babysit them during the day time. These are, I believe, the choices we have to make in balancing the passion for medicine and learning and motherhood so that everything runs parallel like a train track.
For a meeting being carried out in different time zones, our day used to begin at 7 am PST every day for 6 days. A super active interactive session of 180 minutes was followed by pre-recorded lectures spanning all aspects involved in a clinical research project from methodology to funding. The sessions not only focused on a broader perspective of carrying out research but also addressed specific details and queries of each individual keeping in view the intricacy of developing a precise concept outline and devising a scientific protocol from it. Each proposal was subjected to a healthy critique alongside the versatility of thought process contributed by each member. This intense routine was interspersed with breaks we took for breakfast, tea and lunch. However for me, 30-minute break would mean feeding myself in 5 minutes and feeding the kids in the rest of 25 minutes and slip out as quietly, leaving them to teach babysitting to their daddy for the rest of the day.
Another crucial challenge during the times of virtual learning is the constant threat of power failures and maintaining the streamlined internet connectivity. During the live sessions we kept trying to hush everyone and everything, ensuring that no one even stirs their cup of tea or drag their chair nearby to avoid the added sounds in the background.
On day 5 of the workshop, we had gala dinner with our local faculty at the very famous roof top restaurant “Haveli” which is located at Food Street in the old city area of Lahore. The place gives a mesmerizing view of Shahi Qila’ (the Lahore fort) on one side while the minarets of Badshahi mosque stand tall on the other, beautifully lit up under the dark sky. The scrumptious food and the ambiance add together for a perfect dinner.
The end of the workshop was marked by a virtual inter-cultural activity that everyone enjoyed to the fullest, exchanged their cultural norms and specifications.
I sternly believe that research and its components need to be incorporated at both the undergraduate and post graduate level as a thorough subject to build a strong foundation amongst early career aspirers. ACORD is a great opportunity under the umbrella of highly excelled mentors who can walk one through the process of protocol development step by step. It is indeed a great platform for early cancer researchers. If we keep on collaborating around the globe, we can face our fears and work on our short comings especially the ones that we encounter owing to resource constraint environment in low income countries.
At the end of the 6-day workshop, I have clear aims, objectives and end points which will be the stepping stones for my upcoming project. Overall, this has been a tremendous experience for me, not just with respect to the learning but I have returned to Karachi with a reassurance that my kids can reliably stay with their daddy without getting starved and constipated. I got to socialize with amazing colleagues and seniors who took special care of my kids even during the travel.
I look forward to more such opportunities in days to come.
Dr. Maryum Nouman