Presenting at Your Own Institution

Before we travel to national and international conferences to hear from other scholars, perhaps we should provide more platforms to learn from those within our own institutions, writes Ruth Gotian.

October 27, 2017
 
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During my academic career, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to receive three degrees from two educational institutions; one was a state institution, the other an Ivy League. And for the last two decades, I have had the distinct privilege of working with three top-tier institutions of higher learning. I led classes and workshops, participated in meetings, and learned formally and informally from spectacular, award-winning faculty members. The best part? They were right on campus and completely accessible to me.

While the institutions have differed a good deal from one another, one thing was remarkably similar: the faculty members who walk on the campuses are gilded on all the news channels, as they have won such prestigious awards like the Nobel, Lasker and Breakthrough prizes -- arguably, the pre-eminent awards in the biomedical sciences. Everyone knows who those faculty members are. They are so well-known that they are referred to by one name only, as we do with rock stars such as Prince, Madonna and Beyoncé.

However, I often wonder how many people actually know what these faculty members and others on our own campuses do and how they accomplish it. And while name scientists are at least acknowledged nationally and internationally, what about the junior or senior faculty who are doing amazing work but have yet to win the Nobel?

In my experience, I’ve found that we devote a great deal of time, energy and financial resources to recruit and retain the best and brightest in our industries. However, as we go through the routine of our workday, we know little about the work other people at our own institution are doing. To unearth this, we often have to travel to national and international conferences just to learn what the person next door  is working on. Besides the time and expense this requires, it diminishes our effectiveness at conferences, as it severely limits how long we can spend talking and networking with people outside our institution.

Learning what people within our own organization are working on can increase the institution’s prestige, morale, networking, collaborative opportunities and overall sense of community. Think about it: the more people who hear about the research, the greater the buzz and the link to the institution where the work is being done. The more we learn, the more we know. Why are we shying away from these benefits? Our faculty and staff members are recruited to give talks at prestigious institutions and conferences. Why do others view their contributions more readily than we do?

We all know an endless array of great people within our own institution we could learn from. We should not take them and their work for granted. Before we start prancing around the globe, perhaps we should start in our own backyards and provide a weekly presentation platform to those within our own institutions. Perhaps the ease and convenience of such talks will allow people to step out of their comfort zone and attend talks and workshops by people outside their immediate area of interest and expertise. By expanding our networking radius, our opportunity to learn increases. We cannot be afraid to expand our knowledge base. Having weekly campus talks by our own faculty provides an easy platform for others to pop in and learn. No registration fees, no flights and hotels to book, no full days out of the office. One hour a week to expand our horizons and give recognition to the remarkable work of our own faculty members.

Why stop with the faculty? Our institutions also have staff members who are at the forefront of innovation, as well. I would urge all colleges and universities to provide a presentation platform so that both faculty and staff members can speak about their research, programs and new initiatives. Cross-pollination among rank and department should be encouraged, and the weekly seminar series should be open to faculty members, students and staff members across all departments. Anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of what is learned by adults is done through informal means.

We can all -- faculty members, staff members and students -- learn from one another. Perhaps you are using a new software program, have a new idea for mentoring, have excelled in a technique in the lab, are the new resident expert in qualitative data collection and outcomes studies, etc. The list is endless. Before we fly in experts to teach us or have our own talented people go out to educate others in institutions other than our own, why not start by looking within? Why not develop a forum that sets the stage for sharing information from those who actually work at the institution and are deemed experts by our competitor institutions? Was not the reason we hired them because they are experts? As a cherry on the cake, the cost saving would be enormous, as our own people do not need to be flown in, placed in hotels or paid a per diem.

Those of you who are really bold might even consider the idea of a retreat. Department retreats are a common practice within biomedical education. Students and faculty members go off to enticing locations, present their research and engage in informal conversations, often about the most common denominator: their research. Frequently, collaborations are established at these retreats, as are key mentoring and professional contacts. I encourage all institutions to expand the retreat idea across all departments and levels of the hierarchy.

I am not advocating for the removal of outside experts or limiting our own faculty and staff members from flying out to be the experts at other institutions. Yet for the institution to have the opportunity to be a true learning organization, those talks should be supplemented by presentations by people who work and study right next to us. You never know what you may learn or whom you may learn it from. Be open to the possibilities.

Bio

Ruth Gotian is an adult learning and leadership specialist and the administrative director of the M.D.-Ph.D. program at Weill Cornell Medicine.

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