Jan. 15 2016

Back-to-Back in Bethesda: Dean Linda P. Fried Serves as Visiting Professor

Linda P. Fried, Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health, demonstrated scientific and practical acumen at the National Institutes of Health on January 14, serving as a visiting professor in the “Lasker Lessons in Leadership” program.

Now in its second year, “Lessons in Leadership” is sponsored by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, with support from the International Biomedical Research Alliance. The program brings to the NIH top scientists who have become leaders in public health and medicine and who serve to inspire future leaders among fellows enrolled in NIH’s Oxford Cambridge Scholars Program and Lasker Clinical Research Scholars program.

Dean Fried’s duties began with a keynote lecture on the importance of communications skills for scientists during which she shared numerous personal observations as a public health researcher and clinician. Fried, who became dean of the Mailman School after a distinguished career as an epidemiologist and geriatrician, was outspoken about leaders’ responsibilities to share novel scientific insight as broadly as possible, keeping alert to the different ways individuals receive new information. Situating her definition of leadership in the writing of theorist Warren Bennis, Dean Fried delineated between managers, “who do things right,” and leaders, “ who do the right thing,” ascribing to scientific leaders in particular the critical need to communicate effectively.

“Leaders are people of long-term perspective who keep their eye on the horizon,” she said. “You need to understand, you need to publish, but changing how others think only happens when you can communicate it.”

In front of a room filled with young fellows from the Lasker Clinical Research Scholars and Oxford Cambridge Scholars programs, Dean Fried described several genres of communication with which scientists often struggle, including media messages, elevator pitches, and scientific abstracts, citing a fundamental difference between journalists and scientists, notably the latter’s interest in details that often complicate messages for general audiences and prevent good science from making a difference in people’s lives.

“I’ve learned from journalists to put the last line of my paper at the top whenever I speak with non-scientists,” she said.

Following the morning keynote, Dean Fried participated in a panel conversation with other scientific communicators, including Michele Hogan, executive director of the American Association of Immunologists; and with Linda Huynh, scientific writer, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and Tom Wynn, Chief, Immunopathogenesis Section, Laboratory of Parasitic Disease, both from the NIH. In a lively exchange, speakers responded to questions about measuring communications efforts, talking with funders in a competitive grantseeking environment, and—from a fellow who conducts stem-cell research—what advice they could offer when facing ideological objections to scientific inquiry based on intractable religious beliefs.

“Early in my career, I learned how to show up at an intimidating cocktail party and promise myself I’d approach three people I did not know to share my passion for my research,” Dean Fried advised the young scientists. “Communications skills like this will serve you beautifully for the length of your career.”

Following “Lessons in Leadership,” Dean Fried delivered a scientific lecture, “The Science of Frailty: Towards Understanding Loss of Resilience with Aging,” open to the entire NIH community. Credited with the 2001 operational definition of frailty, Fried set out to review two decades of research on this syndrome and projected the importance of additional understanding, particularly with the demographic shifts we have experienced in both the developing and developed world, where people now live more than 30 years longer than they did as recently as 100 years ago. Because frailty is a background vulnerability, it decreases resilience and increases risk of other conditions and illness, and yields important lessons for the improvement of prevention, screening, treatment, and the design of health systems in which frail individuals receive services.