This entry is modified from text I prepared for submission to the search committee for the new bioengineering department chair. For the record, I also submitted a revised form of a previously prepared recommendation concerning the role of ethical, legal and social impacts on engineering education. I am interested in hearing what anybody out there thinks of this perspective.
My comments today focus on the need for the new chair of bioengineering to lead efforts in interdisciplinary collaboration, interdepartmental partnerships and translational clinical research.
The new chair must have a vision for more and better collaborations with clinicians. Such a perspective (and the skill to form and implement a plan) will ensure that translational research is not merely entrepreneurial, or “bench to bedside,” but is “bedside to bench to bedside.” Too often, it seems that clinicians, scientists and engineers are not on the same page. This is a problem in the increasingly competitive environment for funding, where there will be good science that does not make the cut. In the context of bioengineering, the proposals that will succeed will contain good science that is problem driven. It is easy to label this as lofty talk, but I believe it is possible to fulfill these ideals if the department chair possesses some particular skills and is willing to facilitate certain kinds of interactions. Some of my ideas are listed here:
- The chair should hold regular meetings with leaders from other departments and centers, and should make an effort to foster relationships all over campus. A familiarity with other centers’ research programs is important.
- The chair should freely offer statements to departmental faculty that start with the phrase, “Have you spoken with...?” The chair should be in the best position to synthesize new collaborations because she or he has relationships with other campus administrators.
- The chair could hold periodic department-wide meetings (with food) to offer a “State of the Department” address or to host feedback sessions.
- The chair could sponsor quarterly seminars that appeal (either in one talk or in rotating talks) to clinicians, applied and basic scientists. It might be necessary to hold such seminars at a location that enables clinicians to attend. Any event that mixes clinicians and faculty would improve our current state.
- The department should reiterate support for extending teaching and exam privileges to clinicians. Such clinicians could teach classes, serve on committees or co-advise students. More deliberate infusions of clinical experience would benefit students and faculty alike.
The bioengineering department at the UW is excellent. It is ranked highly in reputation and in revenue. This status is well-earned. I am surprised that there is not more interaction with the clinicians just down the street, particularly at the student level. Third-world diagnostics design might be more pertinent if trainees had some experience in the laboratory medicine department. Bone, heart or esophageal tissue engineers could learn a lot by interacting with orthopedic, heart or gut surgeons. I believe that a chair who has experience working in translational medicine and can communicate with engineers, basic scientists and clinicians will enable the UW to develop into the best bioengineering department in the nation.