Director’s Update – January 2015

Director’s Update — January 2015

Every month, the CTSI Stories Blog will post excerpts from ongoing conversations with the institute’s co-directors.HarrietKitzman2

Below, Harriet Kitzman, who is stepping down from her post as a CTSI co-director to focus on her stewardship of the institute’s “Collaborations and Services” pillar, reflects on her time as co-director and offers a few thoughts on the institute’s future directions.

Care to share some thoughts on your time as co-director?

Well, I was interested in joining the CTSI because of my commitment to translational science and belief in the need to ensure an interdisciplinary climate that supports it. I was particularly interested in understanding how the CTSI could foster strong relationships between the SMD and the SON and how those relationships could contribute to a vigorous and productive translational science institute. It has been a particularly wonderful opportunity to serve in this role during the changes in NCATS nationally and reformulation of goals and initiatives of the CTSI locally. Thinking about how new goals, structures and processes contribute to the integration of ideas and the development of novel approaches to science and public policy has been rewarding.

How do you think your approach benefited the CTSI?

My background is as a nurse and a scientist who has been conducting clinical trials of developmentally based nurse home visiting interventions of economically disadvantaged women and their infants in the community. Because of this, I bring a perspective that differs from others on the leadership team — one that contributes to challenging and creative dialogues. Have those dialogues created some new ways of thinking about translational science? I’d like to think that they have, but the paths to modified or new conceptualizations in the field are often indirect, not easy to document and even more difficult to declare as evidence that some group/activity has produced change. This is not unusual, for among the best team scientists, it is the integration of the unique perspectives and complex concepts held by individuals with great depth in their respective fields that leads to both subtle exploration and changes in world views and illumination of novel questions and hypotheses.

You’re not leaving the CTSI entirely, of course, but were just reluctant to sign on long term to the next leadership team. You’re still going to head the Collaborations & Services pillar. What should we look for in the future from that pillar?

From the literature and everything we know at this point in time, it’s person to person interactions — one-on-one, face-to-face interactions — that are often informal, but purposeful and centered around critical questions of the day, that are really the nexus for developing teams and team science. Everyone helps in the process of developing connections that lead to the interactions of scientists  by introducing others to people they think might be interested in the same problem. While often invisible to leaders, these connecting activities are a natural outgrowth in a climate where values as well as structures and processes support collaboration in science. So we need to ensure that we have initiatives in place that make those connections easier, and what we’re trying to do within the pillar is to consider collaborations in all initiatives regardless of location — not only those that are more strictly tied to the collaborations pillar. For example, the pilot programs and the educational programs have the potential to incentivize collaboration.

So we want collaborations to become integrated as a theme throughout the structure of the CTSI. Our pillar is primarily the unit that takes the lead ensuring that activities support their development.

Any final thoughts?

Clearly, we’re a institution with a unique set of characteristics: research-intensive, medium-sized, focused, private, and situated in an engaged community and region. But more importantly, collaborations are valued at all levels of leadership internally, and there is a desire to remove barriers that exist. Those characteristics allow for phenomenal flexibility in terms of developing structures and processes to facilitate collaborations and team science. So while we’ll never be the biggest, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be one of the most exciting, future-oriented translational science institutes in the country, one that embraces not only the medical center community but the entire university and community.


Previous director’s updates:

December 2014  – Karl Kieburtz offers his takeaways from the CTSI all-hands retreat.
November 2014 – Nana Bennett speaks to the expansion of the role of the CTSI’s Community Advisory Council.
October 2014 – Harriet Kitzman discusses the science of team science.
September 2014 – Karl Kieburtz talks about why the CTSI is beefing up its informatics team.
August 2014 – Nana Bennett discusses the new Population Health pillar.
July 2014 – Harriet Kitzman offers her takeaways from the Mini Summer Research Institute.
June 2014 – Karl Kieburtz gives an overview of the CTSI’s six pillars.

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