Chapter 16: Changing Institutional Focus Under a New President

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Chapter 16: Changing Institutional Focus Under a New President

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Dr. Tomasovic begins this segment by comparing the leadership styles of John Mendelsohn [Oral History Interview] and Dr. DePinho, whose charisma, decisiveness and vision are reminiscent, he feels, of R. Lee Clark. Dr. Tomasovic talks about the impact of Dr. DePihno’s “Town Hall” session on 7 November 2011, when he announced that MD Anderson will now take a Moon Shot approach to curing cancer, focusing on five specific cancers (not yet announced). Dr. Tomasovic speculates on the cultural shifts this focused mission will create, influencing the commitment to global oncology, and educational programs.

Publication Date

11-11-2011

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Institutional Change; Portraits; Institutional Processes; Institutional Mission and Values; MD Anderson Culture; Building/Transforming the Institution; Understanding the Institution; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work; MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Snapshot

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

How do you see this influencing the growth of academic programs?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Well again, I think I alluded to that a little bit earlier. Academic programs is going to do well, if it figures out ways to be seen as an important partner in making this all work more effectively. Getting faculty on board fast, get them working well, giving them the developmental programs and the mentorship that they need to be really effective. Streamlining appointment processes for visitors and observers, and visiting scientists and post-doctorate fellows, and graduate students. Doing what they can to increase the quality of the schools, because high-level research faculty want high-level graduate students and post-doctorate fellows. Creating environments where helping do what -- their piece to help create the environments that really top students want to come here, really top post-docs want to come here. That'll bring -- that'll support the faculty that are already here, and it'll also bring in, helping recruiting new faculty that want that kind of an environment. So there, you know there are lots of things that I can think of that those -- those departments, they're the academic support departments, can do to make themselves valuable to Dr. DePinho and the faculty in that effort. 13

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Such as?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Well the -- so one of the things that Oliver and I were talking about today is, the trainee appointment process. Once individuals have selected our graduate school, how do we get the strongest ones interested in faculty at MD Anderson, how do we get them you know appointed and resourced quickly and appropriately so that you know they're not dealing with hassles. They can focus on their graduate studies, different experiments, they're not worrying about benefits mess-ups, problems with their salary, running back and forth with paperwork to try to get things done. Trying to make it a really coherent, smooth environment where faculty, and students, and post-docs can focus almost all of their effort on what they're really here for, and have minimal distractions and frustrations associated with the administration of the policies and procedures of their employment here. You know, is the library providing the highest level of quality? You know, are they doing the -- are they meeting the needs? You know, there's a lot of interest in spending on clinical effectiveness, you know the library's brought in some staff, (inaudible) are interested in these things, yeah some people directly working with clinical people to help them out. You know, are there -- is that an area the library needs to shift to more of that? What does a library need to do to support this moon shot? What does tele-health need to do to support the moon shot? So you know, kind of understanding where Dr. DePinho wants to go, and then thinking about everything that academic affairs does, and what is it doing that can support that, what is it -- what should it be doing, what is it not doing? What can it quit doing? Those are all things that can run through his mind, and then he can think about, for people to work on.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

What do you think would be happening within this vision to the educational programs for students?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Well you know I think they should certainly be stronger. You know the easiest one to refer to -- well the two easiest ones are -- well the big populations that we have that are educational programs are the graduate school of clinical fellows, residents and fellows, and post-doctorate research fellows. Those are our big academic affairs oriented populations. And as I alluded, there's a kind of a relationship between quality faculty and (inaudible) the very best graduate students and post-docs, are looking to work with the best researchers. And so they'll go where those people are, or the best clinicians. They'll go where those people are, and the very best ones know who the leaders are in the field. And they want to work with them, and they seek them out and try to -- and likewise, very strong research faculty, in particular know that you know, if they really want to excel, they need arms and legs, and brains. And they'll want to have the best graduate students and post-docs at the camp. And Dr. DePinho knows that very 14 well. He was invited by the post-doctoral association here, decided they wanted to set up an annual symposium, research symposium. And they invited him to be their keynote speaker. And he told them at the meeting that he deliberately changed his schedule, he had conflicts, but he changed it because he thought it was very important that he came and spoke to them. And he talked about what it took to become a great scientist, what you should be looking for to be a good post-doc, and how important they were to the activities of scientists like himself. And he gave an illustration of (inaudible) post-doc and brought up a new area, and he said I have, that he wasn't aware of, and made some very significant contributions. So he's very strongly aware of that, and when I escorted him back to the office area after that talk, I asked him as we walked along, what do you want to talk about? He wanted to talk about the search for the grad school dean. So he knows this, and so I think the quality of post-graduate education here will be very important on his agenda. And the faculty that he wants to have working here. And so I think they will become stronger, and that the necessary resources will be devoted to that, because it's a fundamental building block to do the moon shot, you know? A very smart faculty member his or her efforts are going to be leveraged dramatically by having this foundation of stellar graduate students and post-doctoral fellows are going to be challenging and pushing that individual. And synergizing with ideas and energy, and at least those -- well the faculty members got lots of diversions to his or her time, almost invariably, it's the post-docs and the graduate students that are working there six or seven days a week, 12 hours a day, you know executing and trying things.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yeah. I kind of wanted to shift gears at this point, so I wanted to ask you if there's anything you would like to add at this point about the institutional issues we've been talking about, or if you reflect on anything that you thought we hadn't covered adequately in the last sessions.

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Well you know my memory is like a three month span is about the extent of it. So you know I can hardly remember what all we covered. I didn't review you know a text, a graph or text or anything, so I don't really remember everything that we covered there. I think we had a very substantive conversation, and -- for quite a few areas, and I think I free flowed quite a bit, you had some structured questions, but I don't, you know I don't recall after the session thinking oh, I should have talked about this or that. So no, I haven't come up with anything that would fall into that category, and I certainly have had a little bit more time to reflect on what I perceive to be what will happen with Dr. DePinho's arrival. We were able to add a little bit more there, I had more chance to interact with him (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

And I can tell just from some of your choice of language and that there's a real mood of optimism and hope here. 15

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Yeah, I'm excited about it. I'm excited about it. And I think it will be really a lot of fun over the next few years, and I think he's really, really off on a wonderfully fast start.

Chapter 16: Changing Institutional Focus Under a New President

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