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Discussing Strategy

This fall will mark the launch of the formal process to develop the university’s next strategic plan, a document that will serve as the blueprint for our activities over the next seven to 10 years. Strategic planning is an essential function for an institution such as Rockefeller, and it will be the focus of much of my efforts over the coming months, so I want to take this opportunity to explain how it will work.

As you know, Paul Nurse led a similar process when he joined the university in 2003. His strategic plan led to the creation of several very successful initiatives, the centerpiece of which has been the construction of the Collaborative Research Center. The implementation of this plan is still under way, as those who work near the active construction sites can readily attest. Nevertheless, now is the time to begin working on Rockefeller’s next chapter.

Much has changed in the world over the past eight years. Science has continued to advance at break-neck speed, powerful new technologies have been developed — including the ability to sequence the human genome for just a few thousand dollars — and, of course, the funding landscape in the sciences has been drastically altered. Federal money has grown tighter, the financial markets that generate income from the university’s endowment have become much more volatile, and there have been changes within our network of friends and donors. The most successful organizations all embark on regular periods of self-reflection to ensure that they will continue to be successful as the world changes, and Rockefeller must do so as well.

Our planning process has, in some sense, already begun. Starting last spring and continuing during the summer, I have met with virtually all of our 74 faculty members and the active emeriti faculty. I have also begun meeting with research faculty, ADARC researchers and administrative departments, a process that will continue into the fall. These meetings have provided an opportunity for me to learn about the Rockefeller community and its history, and I have found them to be been uniformly stimulating, informative and enjoyable. They have left me excited by the innovative science under way in our labs and impressed and heartened by the widely held loyalty and affection people have expressed for this unique institution. They have also provided an opportunity to hear what many of you consider to be the major issues facing us in coming years.

These informal consultations are now giving way to a more formal planning process. Over the next few weeks we will finalize the membership of a strategic planning committee that will include faculty representatives from a range of research areas and career stages. This core planning committee will meet regularly during the fall to discuss big picture issues as well as more in-depth details of Rockefeller’s operations. The committee will be advised by a series of ad-hoc groups that will focus on specific areas (such as the hospital, the resource centers and IT), and will consult widely with colleagues and coworkers as it proceeds, so that as many ideas as possible can be considered and included. Our goal will be to conclude our discussions by the end of the fall and spend the winter months drafting a plan that can be circulated, refined and finalized by the beginning of the summer. The Board will vote on it at their June meeting and, if approved, it will guide the university’s financial and operational decision making beginning in the 2012–2013 fiscal year.

Although we are only at the very beginning of this process, my discussions with many of you have highlighted important areas for us to focus on, including:

Faculty recruitment. Any plan for our future must include a continued focus on hiring the most creative and dynamic faculty. Although the open search has been highly successful, it will be important to assess whether there are opportunities for improving this process. Are we accessing all the most talented junior faculty candidates? What is the optimal balance between junior and mid-career hiring? What type of search will yield the best mid-career candidates? How many faculty should we aim to hire over a five-year period? Clear answers to these questions are needed to guide our recruitment activities.

 Research portfolio and programmatic development. Closely related to issues of faculty recruitment are questions about what fields and technologies we want to invest in. Where can we as a small institution have the most impact in the coming years, and how can we build on our existing strengths? And how can we ensure that our faculty have all the resources needed to be successful in their research? These considerations will help prioritize fundraising and investments in new instrumentation and infrastructure, and help shape our recruiting.

Translational and clinical research. Our hospital is a unique and powerful resource and a large segment of our faculty have interests in disease research and translational applications. How can we maximize the impact of the hospital, and are there things we can do better to bridge the gap between laboratory discovery and disease treatment? This is an area that is of keen interest not just to faculty but also to our Board and supporters, and where my prior experience in industry can be of some help.

Education. How well are we fulfilling our mission to mentor and develop future generations of scientists — not just our graduate students but also our postdocs, and even other types of trainees, such as undergraduates and high school students who do research in our labs? Are we recruiting the best people, supporting them properly and giving them the tools they need both to make an impact here and to be successful once they leave?

As our strategic brainstorming progresses, we will also touch on many other areas, including our collaborations with neighboring institutions, the upkeep of our aging south campus buildings and issues of governance and administrative transparency. I have been impressed with the quality of our administrative functions, but as a matter of course it will also be important to assess whether they can be made even more efficient and effective.

And it goes without saying that a central focus will be on finances, making sure that our operations over the next several years will remain stable, and developing a fundraising campaign to replace the recently concluded Campaign for Collaborative Science.

Developing a strategic plan is labor-intensive, but it’s my belief that the conversations we have over the coming months — among the faculty on the planning committee and with students, staff and laboratory members in formal and informal gatherings — will be both insightful and rewarding. I hope and trust that I can count on all members of the Rockefeller community to participate in this process to the full. Your input is essential to our continued success as an institution over the next decade and beyond. I look forward to working with you on what promises to be a most exciting — and essential — project.

 

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