Innovation: What our universities can learn from a medical research center

Well, I suddenly realized I have been off the blogging scene for quite some time. In many ways, my blog really does reflect my life. I got my Ph.D. and then everything went a little “offline” while I packed up my house, my life, my career, and moved it all to NYC. I have now been here for three weeks, and can I just say, “Hello, world.” This place is amazing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

After starting to settle in here, I have finally started my new job at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. In terms of this place as an organization, can I just say “Yes, yes, yes!” It is most everything I dreamed of in the university setting realized. For years now, I have dreamed of a place where research is driven by real-world problems and actually APPLIED to them. I have dreamed of a place that PRIZES innovation and change. I have dreamed of a place that promotes continuing education but also gets that learning happens outside of the four traditional walls of the classroom. I have dreamed of a place that realizes knowledge and brilliance was never meant to be locked up in an ivory tower. It was meant to be shared with the masses, distributed to the public. It was meant to change the world. Well, I have found these dreams realized at Mt. Sinai.

Certainly, I am sure I will find faults with the organization as any organization has them, but Mt. Sinai gets it. Ordinarily, I am bored by orientations to new organizations. Today, I was excited, even enthralled at some points. I will break down what is so groundbreaking about Mt. Sinai’s vision and policies. It is my hope that one day the university can be like this place. It ought to be like this place. In fact, I am saddened to realize how much innovation many universities lack when they should be the cultural center of innovation!

1. There is a symbiotic relationship between research and application. The Mt. Sinai Hospital/Medical Center’s lines are completely merged with the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. In short this means that research and clinical practice are ONE. In my research, I will be working with patients in clinical trials. I will be working alongside physicians, clinicians, nurses and staff. And they, in turn, will be applying the research done at the facility. It is this symbiotic relationship that makes Mt. Sinai a leader in its field. They get that the one can not exist without the other. Without the hospital, the researchers innovations would be pointless and impossible, but without the innovation and research, the hospital would not be as groundbreaking and highly rated as it is.

2. They encourage interdepartmental interactions. Here – they ENCOURAGE you to get outside of your department and interact with as many people as you can. Hello. Yes. Sign me up! So often, in the university, we are encouraged to stay in our department, but here they make it clear they want you interacting with as many people who are different than you as possible. Now that’s the way of the future.

3. They highly promote diversity. One of my favorite quotes from today’s orientation was “It takes diversity to promote innovation. If everyone is the same, nothing new is ever created or discovered.” Yes! Yes! Yes! This is the principle I have tried so hard to communicate to my students, and here it is preached at my orientation! Imagine how floored with excitement I was upon hearing this. Not only that, they highlighted that diversity is more than demographics. In addition to race, ethnicity, age, sex, etc., it is also about parental status, marital status, religious beliefs, income, SES, etc. I looked around the room, and I didn’t see a bunch of middle to upper middle class Caucasians (my usual world). I saw every race, nationality, multiple languages spoken, various SES backgrounds, etc. represented. And I thought to myself, “here innovation can happen.” And I have an organization that is PUSHING me to be innovative.

4. They promote all of their staff to be innovators. They offer tuition remission for continuing education, and they get that most of that can occur online or in a variety of ways. They provide countless free training and education classes. Their motto is that they want you to figure out what you do and learn how to do it better. THEN (get this because I’m excited!) CHANGE. Yes, they actually promote their employees to move around so that they do not become stagnant and instead continue to grow and change within the organization. They actually said, “We do NOT want you to be the same as you were when you started this job. We highly recommend our employees move around and learn new skills and new ways of thinking.” That’s right! What if the university was a place that challenged our students like this? You feel comfortable with English and Literature. Take an intro biology class. See what’s interesting and new about that. The world could change. People could be inspired and innovate.

5. They believe in their employees. Over and over again, they kept saying, “You are among the best of the best by being selected to be here. We want you to change the future of this institution.” What if we engaged our students that way? What if we reminded them that just by getting INTO college, they already have met a certain level of criteria. And what if we didn’t give our students a chance to “let us down” or be a “sub-par” student? What if instead, right from the beginning, we called them to a higher place? What if we got them excited about being innovators? I think more students would rise to the challenge.

So yes, I am excited to see how this all starts to pull together in the coming months. But let’s just say, I am excited to be HERE. And it is my hope that I learn some great techniques to perhaps bring to the university in the future.


About Megan Johnson Shen

I am a social psychologist graduating with my Ph.D. from Baylor University this May and moving to NYC this summer to start a new job as a postdoctoral researcher at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in the Cancer Prevention and Control Department. I love the brain, human behavior, and anything to do with understanding them better. I love research and a good dinner party. Fine wine and cheese - I'm there. Interesting experimental data? I'll probably show for that too. View all posts by Megan Johnson Shen

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